“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
Of all the Christian feast days which have been observed by the faithful throughout the centuries, the feast of the nativity is perhaps the most widely celebrated. The name of the Holy Mass in honor of Christ’s birth, or Christmas, has somehow even become integrated into the winter celebrations of non-Christians. I guess the joy of the feast is just that infectious! Of course the problem is that, as the meaning of Christ and the Mass are slowly drained from Christmas, the holy day is becoming nothing more than an empty cultural shell. Not for Christians, though, because we know why the nativity matters.
The joy of this season for us is not the fleeting joy of materialism and warm sentiments, but the true and everlasting joy of reconciliation with God. In the person of Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, humanity and divinity entered into perfect communion. There is much that is inherently mysterious about the incarnation, despite the valiant efforts of two millennia of brilliant theologians, but the significance of this event is inescapable. There is now no question that God understands our trials. No matter what state of life we find ourselves in, no matter what depths of suffering we sink to, we know that almighty God has been there and intimately understands.
Not only did Christ give us a personal connection with God, but He was born to be a sacrificial victim for us. In the nativity, the way was opened up for us to salvation from the corruption and death we see all around us. Let’s not forget that all of this could not have come to pass were it not for the cooperation of a humble young woman who was to be the Lord’s mother. The Early Church Father Irenaeus said:
“Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:22:24 [A.D. 189])
Mary is called Theotokos, a Greek word which means God-bearer or the Mother of God. Through a mysterious action of God’s Holy Spirit, she immaculately conceived a child who was God Himself. While this was a singular event in history, we are all called in a certain way to the role of Theotokos. This point was made by Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent book “Light of the World”.
“The birth of God was one of the major themes for the Church Fathers. They said that God was born once in Bethlehem, but that there is also a very significant and profound way in which he must be born again in every new generation, and it is to this, they thought, that every Christian is called.” (Pope Benedict XVI, “Light of the World”)
Let’s be God-bearers this Christmas, as we celebrate the most important event in human history. Through our example, we should show the world the non-violent, sacrificial love of Christ, who entered the world as an infant in a manger and conquered it from the cross.