Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.
Tonight/today we rejoice, for on this day “a Child is born to us, a Son is given us; His Name is Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:5).
On this day a Savior is born to us: God who became man while remaining God. At His Incarnation nine months before, God the Son assumed our nature without losing His own, and He whom the entire universe could not contain was enclosed within the womb of His Blessed Mother.
As Pope St. Leo the Great puts it: “The supreme and eternal being that lowered Himself for man’s salvation, has raised us up to His own glory without ceasing to be that which He had been.”
Moreover, He comes into the world being born a tiny, helpless Infant. “Infant” comes from the Latin infans, which literally means one who is incapable of speaking (fari – to speak). O wonder of wonders: the Eternal Word is born an infant, lying silent in the manger; yet there, in the silence of the stable inBethlehem, He teaches us a great lesson of humility and poverty.
“Christmas not a mere anniversary of Jesus’ birth – it is also this, but it is more – it is the celebration of a mystery that has marked and continues to mark mankind’s history: God Himself came to dwell among us (cf. Jn.1:14), He made Himself one of us.”
These are the words that Pope Benedict XVI spoke in a catechesis on Christmas just a few days ago. Yes, truly, with the birth of Jesus Christ – the Son of God who became man – all human history is now divided: there is the time before Christ (B.C.), and the time after His birth which we signify by the letters A.D. – anno Domini – “the year of the Lord.”
And this is most fitting and proper, because the Incarnation and Birth of Our Lord is the culmination of all creation, of all human history. With Christ’s coming, with God having entered into time by taking human flesh, all of creation is now touched in some way by His divinity, by His presence; and more importantly, with Christ’s redeeming work, we who are baptized into His grace are truly made partakers of His divinity, sharers in the divine nature.
And it is here that we must come to grasp another great truth of Christmas: that Christ’s Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, encompasses not only His joyful birth where the angels sing His praises, but also His agonizing death and glorious resurrection.
Our Lord’s redeeming work begins to visibly unfold on the day of His birth, but it points to and culminates in His Self-offering on the Cross and His rising from the dead, and is perpetuated at every Mass, where Jesus makes his Incarnation concrete and present to us in the Eucharist, in which we receive the Body and Blood of Him who was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit and born on Christmas Day.
And let us not forget that Christmas takes its very name from “Christ’sMass.” What would Christmas be without the Mass, in which Jesus comes to nourish us with His Body and Blood, so that He may be the supernatural Food for our souls to strengthen us to love as He loved.
In fact, the whole of the Christmas mystery is explained in that one word: love. “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son” to offer His life on the Cross for our sins, and to feed us with His Body and Blood and thereby transform us, who are sinners, more and more into Him.
The Gospel account of the Birth of the Savior wonderfully foretells this great mystery of the Eucharist and our union with Christ through It.
St. Luke tells us that Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, which literally means, in Hebrew, “House of Bread,” and that Our Lord was laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.
Thus, here we are told, in a symbolic way at Christ’s Birth, that He Himself is our Living Bread come down from Heaven who will nourish our souls to be united with Him and, through union with Him, attain of Eternal Life in the Kingdom.
This truth was captured beautifully in one of my favorite Christmas poems, The Nativity of Christ, penned by the English martyr and poet, St. Robert Southwell. It reads in part:
Man altered was by sin from man to beast;
Beast’s food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh.
Now God is flesh and lies in manger pressed
As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh.
My dear friends, let us, on this Christmas, thank God for the great gift given to us, His Son, born for us this day: Our Savior, the Eternal Word who took our mortal flesh for us brutish sinners to refresh.