The Gospel passages proclaimed at the Vigil and Midnight Mass of Christmas root the Nativity of the Lord, in the family history and lineage of David as they tell the story of the birth of the Savior. The Gospel writers proclaim that all of the aspirations, hopes, prophecies and promises of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, are fulfilled in the birth of this Child, the one named Jesus; born of the Virgin whose name was Mary.
The Mass of Christmas day uses the Gospel of John to unpack the deep mystery in these profound words: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US” (John 1:1, 14).
John’s Gospel is the most theological of the four Gospels containing the matured reflection of the early Church on the significance of what we celebrate on Christmas. The words rendered in English “dwelt among us” can be literally translated as “he pitched his tent among us.” The God of the whole universe who dwelt in inaccessible light, whom no man had ever seen and lived, became a man. He became a vulnerable baby. He lived (he lives) among us. He became one of us, a human person and made his home with us. He continues to live with us as we live our life now in him.
Paul, writing to the Christians in Corinth told them, “As God is faithful, our word to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ but ‘yes’ has been in him. For however many are the promises of God, their yes is in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory” (2 Corinthians 1:18-20). The Eternal Word entered into human history, into time, and opened it to eternity. In his Incarnation, his nativity, his saving life, death and resurrection, the “YES” of God is given to the whole world. Love is born on Christmas Morn and in him the world begins again.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The Eternal Word, coexistent with the Father and the Spirit in the perfect unity that is Trinitarian love, became a real man in real time and real history. He understands who we are. He truly entered into the entirety of the human experience and in him it has been forever transformed. Love is born today and in him the world begins again.
The One through whom the Universe was created entered into time and the world is now being recreated anew in him. As a pre-born child, Jesus sanctified all mothers’ wombs by dwelling within the first temple of his beloved self-chosen mother. This is the greatest argument against the horror of abortion. In Eastern Christian iconography, Mary usually appears with the child in her womb blessing the whole world. The icon is called “Platytera” (she who is more spacious than the heavens). The icon speaks to the mystery. Mary’s womb became the Ark of the New Covenant. And, at the nativity she placed her Child in the Crèche; now a throne for the Christ. Thirty-three years later she would hold him once again in her arms at the foot of another throne, the cross.
The Christian faith claims that God is more than an idea; more than the summit of all the aspirations of the human heart. He is more than a first mover who got it all started and remains distant. Rather, our Gospel proclaims that God can be known and wants to be in communion with us. He gives himself to us. God is love, wrote the beloved Apostle John (1 John 4:7-9). Love gives himself away to the beloved and the beloved is transformed. God so loved the world he created that when it became separated from his Love through sin, he did not stop loving. He sent the Incarnate Word, his Son, who came among us as a helpless, dependent and vulnerable child. He pitched his tent among us. He became like us, so that we can become like him and live for eternity in an intimate communion of love in, through and with him.
He had friends; some hurt and betrayed him. He had fun. He laughed and rejoiced as a real human person! He was comfortable celebrating at a wedding. This child whom we adore in the manger grew and became a man with a passionate love for the entire human race. His Sacred Heart broke from the pain and loss occasioned by our alienation from him caused by our own sin, our choices against Love. He wept over Jerusalem! He wept at his friend’s funeral. He understands the pain of betrayal because he was betrayed. He overcame doubt and fear. Doubt and fear are not sin. How we respond to them is what matters. They present us with a field of choice, inviting us to believe and to trust.
Sin is an abuse of the freedom to choose given to us by God (CCC, 1733). Our capacity to freely choose to love is what constitutes the “Imago Dei”, the image of God in each one of us. That capacity to choose was wounded by original sin, the great rebellion. Freedom was fractured and the cross is the splint which restores it. Because of sin, all men and women have a propensity to make wrong choices. Classical western theology calls this concupiscence. We could not overcome its effects on our own. We needed to be saved by one like us.
Because he has been born we are given a new way on which to walk. We are invited to live our lives “in him”. We have been given what the beloved disciple John calls the “power to become the children of God” (John 1:12). By grace we now have the capacity to choose to freely love and be transformed into the image, and the likeness, of him who is Love incarnate, Jesus Christ. We are made “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
This Savior who pitched his tent had room for everyone within his loving embrace! He still does, within the embrace of his Mystical Body, the Church. He loved ALL men and women, not just the loveable, or the pious. In fact, he was known to associate with sinners, like every one of us. And in that association, he gives us the graces we need to be converted and made new by cooperating with him and living our lives in his Mystical Body, the Church.
He was fully human and fully divine. He lived the fullness of the human experience in a very real body with real emotions. He laughed, cried and wept. He perspired and felt fatigue. In fact, he felt every emotion and in him our emotions can be transformed. The early Church Father, Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzus), reflecting on the Incarnation proclaimed, “Whatever was not assumed was not healed!” The entirety of our human experience was assumed by Jesus. He is now at the right hand of the Father in a Resurrected Body! The work of salvation and redemption will only be complete in each of us when we too are raised up with him.
This claim sets our faith apart from every other major religious tradition. We proclaim the salvation of the whole person and the entire cosmos, upon his return. Do we understand the implications of this? Or do we live the Christian life as though our bodies and the created order are somehow bad or less spiritual. We profess in our ancient creed that we believe that we will live in resurrected bodies in a new heaven and a new earth for all eternity in an eternal communion of love. Yet sometimes we live as though the physical, and the human, is somehow divorced from the spiritual. It is not.
The “flesh” (in Greek, sarx) that the scripture warns of as a source of temptation is not our body, which is good, but our tendency to sin. The “world” that we are warned not to befriend in the letter of James (4:4) is not the created order, which God made as a wonderful gift for us and called “good” in the creation account, but the system that attempts to squeeze the Creator out of his creation and invites man to live as though he does not exist.
Because Jesus Christ has been born, we are now given a new way on which to walk. We have been given what the beloved disciple John calls the “power to become the children of God” (John 1:12). Through grace we receive the capacity to choose love and to be transformed into the image, and the likeness, of him who is Love Incarnate, Jesus Christ. We can be born again, anew, in him whose birth we celebrate.
Christmas invites us to live a unity of life, to become comfortable “in our skin” by being fully human, enjoying life, living and loving as Jesus lives and loves, beginning now. Sometimes, Christians live lives that are perceived as anything but fully human. Who is drawn to a man or woman whom they feel will not have empathy for their own weakness? However, they were and they are drawn to Jesus Christ. He wants to live in us and invites us to live in him.
Christmas reminds us that in the “fullness of time” God came among us. Heaven touched earth and earth has been elevated through this encounter! The all-powerful God who made both heaven and earth became a vulnerable baby and chose to give himself to his creation in order to create it anew.
The eternal One entered into time. The separation between the entire human race and the One who fashioned us for himself has now been bridged. This Child whom we come to adore is our Redeemer, our Savior, and our Deliverer. Through his saving life, death and resurrection, he begins the New Creation. Oh the mystery of this moment, the grandeur of this Feast of the Nativity!
We sometimes miss another profound foundational truth of the entire Christian Mystery. The Incarnation continues through the Mystical Body of Christ and in each of its members! The Word still “becomes flesh” in and through each of us who have been baptized into him, into his Body. His tent is still being “pitched” among all men and women. That tent is his Body, his Church.
Together, we who are now incorporated into him through Baptism as members of his Body are called to spread the tent-pegs and make room in the tent of the Church for the entire human race. The same Word through whom the universe was made is the Word through whom it is now being redeemed and re-created. That transformation will finally be completed when all things are reconstituted in him in the new heaven and new earth.
On the wonderful day called Christ-Mass, the world pauses at a manger. The great event of the Nativity of the Lord touches every man, woman and child. The world is presented with the Christian proclamation that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Let those of us who bear the name Christian manifest the fruits of the Incarnation and the deeper meaning of the Nativity of Jesus. Let us be a Christmas people and offer through the witness of our lives the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, to a world waiting to be born.
Merry Christmas! O come let us adore him. Love is born on Christmas Morn and the whole world is born anew.