“The Word of God, born of the Father before time began,
Humbled himself for us today and became flesh”
Antiphon – 1st Vespers, Christmas Day
In one of his Christmas sermons Pope Benedict says: “God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign….: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love.”
The mystery of God’s incarnation is also the mystery of our deification. In the one person Jesus Christ a divine and human nature are united. The Son of God becoming Incarnate gives us a share in his divinity. “O Christian be aware of your nobility it is God’s own nature that you share” (St Leo) “O Wonderful exchange, our creator took on a human body and was born of the virgin, he became flesh without a human father and has bestowed on us a share in his divinity”
The far off event in Bethlehem 2000 years ago is truly fulfilled and understood only when it becomes a present reality within ourselves, uniting us with God now. The Incarnation has never ceased and never will. God’s choice to take on human nature, human flesh and blood and mind and feeling is as real and immediate now as it was in Bethlehem. Karl Rahner suggests that the final coming of the Lord is not a second coming, but in reality the fulfillment of the one coming which is still in progress at the present time.
The humanity that Christ takes on today is ours. The flesh and blood, the hearts and minds he claims as his are our own. We must, each of us, be Christ incarnate, Christ in the flesh, for every other person. Our task is to give Christ human form and human life. Christ clothes himself today in our humanity and touches those around us through our loving kindness. This shows our nobility as human persons. His coming sanctifies and consecrates our whole being and sanctifies and consecrates our common life together, so that whatever work or act of service we do for each other is done to Christ.
“When the sun rises in the morning sky you will see the King of Kings coming forth from the Father like a radiant bridegroom from his bridal chamber.” With Mary we receive the Word made flesh, we welcome him into our hearts and bodies and minds and feelings and show forth his loving kindness to each and all. This is our vocation, to be one with Christ in love and worship and to show him forth in our behaviour, in our values, in our choices.
There is no mention of a feast of Christmas before the 4th century. In a Roman calendar, compiled by a certain Philocalus in 354 AD, we find the first clear reference. At the head of the list of feasts then celebrated there stands the simple inscription; “On the 25th December, Christ is born in Bethlehem of Judaea”. The NT does not indicate the time of the year when Christ was born, Luke does tell us that it occurred while Quirinius was governor of Syria and that was roughly between 8 and 6 BC. The choice of this particular day was determined by a pre-Christian festival in Rome, that of the “Invincible Sun”. According to the calculations of the time, 25 December was the date of the winter solstice. That was the day when the sun appeared at its weakest but from that day the sun grew stronger and brighter. The church took on this pagan feast and gave it a new meaning, the birthday of Christ the light of the world. The conqueror of all darkness who is the Sun of Justice, Splendour of the Father, Dawn from on high”.
“Light bearing Christ come down to us and light in darkness sow.” Christmas is a feast of light, a light which is a symbol of Christ who is the light of the world, also celebrates the victory of light over darkness.
Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all into more loving and caring people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed.