In this wonderful, often hectic time of the year that we call Christmas, do you ever feel the need to call yourself back to basics as to what Christmas and this season are all about?
Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas! I also love the trappings of Christmas, at least most of them. I love the food, the presents, the Christmas trees, the wrapping paper, the stockings “hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.”
I take delight in the food, especially the sweet treats baked at home and that come by way of mail. I love the green, red, blue and white lights, the gatherings of family and friends. My wife, Eva, and I relish the excitement on our children’s faces on Christmas morn as they run downstairs to see what awaits them under the tree as she and I look on through bleary, blood-shot eyes that usually have not seen more than an hour or two of sleep from Christmas Eve.
I want our family to delight in these things, too…and they do! Yes Christmas, including the trappings, is a big deal to us. But I remind myself, and Eva and I try with some frequency to remind our kids, that the decorations, presents, Christmas movies and shows, et. al., are not the main event.
The main event is THE EVENT. And THE EVENT, the central point of all this, is that on Christmas what we are celebrating, or should be, is the manifestation of God in the flesh in the Person of the Infant Jesus, the Infant of Bethlehem.
The immensity of this mystery transcends us and yet is imminently with us. A little more than 2,000 years ago, the Lord of the Universe, the Alpha and the Omega, God Himself, became man. Not only did he become man, but in taking human nature, he became an embryo, and after nine months of development in Mary’s womb, the infinitely mighty Lord was born as a baby, in a stable in a cave, amongst animals, in a mess. Isn’t life like that? It is good, it is worthy, but this life is messy.
In this supreme act of divine condescension, he was born in poverty and laid by the Mother of God and his foster-father, St. Joseph, in his first bed, a manger of straw. This is why it is so important that central to our Christmas celebrations must be the crèche, the Nativity scene, begun by St. Francis of Assisi to commemorate and to help make tangible this great mystery of faith.
And all this was done on his own initiative, by the power of God the Holy Spirit, through the complete and total consent of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But why? The Church gives us four primary reasons why God became man:
- To reconcile us to God the Father. He who is eternally from the Father, and the only begotten Son of the Father, came for our salvation. This had been lost through the Fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. He made atonement for our sins to put us “at-one-ment” with the Father, so that we could have the opportunity to have life and joy everlasting. In his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, redeems us. What does it mean to redeem us? It means he “buys us back” from slavery to the ravages of sin, death, and the evil one. His very name, Jesus, means “God saves.” Jesus is the one Savior, the one Mediator between God (the Father) and mankind.
- Jesus does this so that we might know God’s love for us. God is love. He has never stopped loving us. He will never stop loving us, any of us. He cannot stop loving us, for he is love. Jesus is love enfleshed. He wants us to share in this love by living and dying in the state of grace, so that we might experience his love both in this life and forever in heaven.
- Jesus came to be our revelation and model of holiness. Holiness is only accomplished through the giving of ourselves and the abandonment of selfishness for selflessness. The greatest symbol of this self-giving love that God has for us is the crucifix. But there is no Cross without the Crib. Pope Benedict was fond of emphasizing that in a certain sense the nativity, the crucifixion, and the resurrection make up one mystery. Put another way, there is no Easter without Christmas.
- God became man to make us partakers of the divine nature. He remained what he was (God) and became what he was not (man). God desires royalty for each and every human being. He wants us to share in his divine majesty. Every human person has great dignity because every human being is made in God’s image. But because of the incarnation and paschal mystery, and our immersion into that mystery through baptism, the Christian is adopted as a son or daughter of the Father. We become sons in THE SON. We receive much more than the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the magi laid at the feet of the Christ-child. We are given a share in the divine life of God. Our inheritance, so long as we cooperate with God’s grace, is eternal happiness, joy, and peace.
In a world so in need of peace, in need of God, it can be helpful to remember that without Jesus, peace on earth and goodwill toward men simply becomes a cliché. Let us seek peace and comfort in the poverty, humility, and simplicity of the Infant Jesus. Let us let ourselves be surrounded, as he was, by our Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the choirs of angels, the shepherds, the magi, and yes, even the animals at the manger. Let us adore him. Dear Infant Jesus, I love you! Merry Christmas!
(Jim Gontis is the Director of the Diocesan Office for Evangelization and Catechesis, and the Director of Sports Ministry for the Diocese of Harrisburg.)
By Jim Gontis, Special to The Witness