Print Issue: January 2, 2003
Christmas Reveals God's Sublime Love For All People
By Father Joseph Fahy, CP
The Christmas-Epiphany season is a very appropriate time to reflect upon the dazzling array of rich biblical and liturgical themes which they celebrate. The principal motive for the incarnation of the eternal Son of the Father becoming man, assuming a human nature, is the all-consuming love of God for men and women. "For God is love" (1Jn 4:8,16). Love is the very nature of God. All of the intimate relationships among the three divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and towards us creatures and all creation, are motivated by a sublime love wishing the good, that we cannot remotely fathom by human criteria. This boundless love which exceeds all human knowledge is especially resplendent in the incarnation: "God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him . . . not that we have loved God but that He loved us . . ." (1Jn 4:9,10). The Gospel of John encapsulates this most consoling truth: "For God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son . . . that the world might be saved through Him" (Jn 3:16,17). We make ours the prayer of St. Paul for the first Christians of Ephesus "that you might have strength to comprehend . . . what is the breath and length and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3:18,19).
The child conceived in Mary's womb, "the angel of the Lord" tells Joseph, "you will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). The name Jesus means "God saves." Another striking name for the infant is "Emmanuel which means 'God with us'" (Mt 1:23), a major theme throughout Matthew's Gospel. Christ is Emmanuel, "God with us," in manifold ways. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them: (18:20). Emmanuel identifies with our needy brothers and sisters who are "hungry," "thirsty," "stranger," "naked," "prisoners," as Christ considers "whatever done for one of the least brothers of mine, as done for me" (25:35-40). Emmanuel is present in His Church built upon the "rock" who is Peter (16:18), and with those sent in His name: "whoever welcomes you welcomes me" (10:40). Christ always abides with us in the Eucharist: "This is my Body . . . This is my Blood" (26:26-28). The last words of the Risen Lord are: "And remember, I am with your always till the end of the world" (28:20).
Mary gives birth to her Son, her "first born." The term "first born" indicates that Jesus was to have the privileges and responsibilities that Hebrew tradition conferred on the first born son, as consecrated especially to Yahweh (Ex 13:2; Nm 3:12-13) and as having to be ransomed (Nm 18:15-16). St. Luke prepares for the moving scene of Jesus being presented in the temple. "As it is written in the law of the Lord, every male child that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord" (Lk 2:22-38). There are inscriptions in ancient cemeteries on the graves of women dying as they gave birth to their first and only child with the word "firstborn." One of them is "In the pains of giving birth to a firstborn child, fate brought me to the end of my life."
God's Son, "the Word," the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, equal to the Father and Holy Spirit, assumed a true humanity equal to ours "except sin" (Heb 4:15). "In the beginning was the Word; the Word was in God's presence, and the Word was God" (Jn 1:1). Without ceasing to be who He had been from all eternity, "true God from true God," the "Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us" (Jn 1:14).The Word which contains the "fullness of divine life," (of the Godhead) "became flesh," "pitched His tent among us . . . when the fullness of time arrived born of a woman": (Col 1:19,2:9: Jn 1:14;Gal 4:4). "The Word made flesh" replaces the Ark of the Covenant or Tabernacle containing the tablets of the Ten Commandments, as the new location of God's presence on earth.
The first preface of the Masses for Christmas echoes this scriptural testimony. "In the wonder of the Incarnation . . . In Jesus Christ we see our God made visible." as Jesus explains to Philip at the Last Supper: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9). Jesus' life, deeds and words reveal in a most congenial manner, as clearly as we limited humans can understand, who this loving God is: "compassionate and gracious, patient, ever faithful and true, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin" (Ex 34:6,7). The second and third Christmas prefaces, respectively, express these moving sentiments: "Today (Christmas) you fill our hearts with joy as we recognize in Christ the revelation of your love," and our profound human dignity: "Your (the Father's) eternal Word has taken upon Himself our human weakness, giving our mortal nature immortal value."
"The lowliness of the Infant did not diminish the majesty of the eternal Son of God." The human nature of the Child was united with the divinity of the Word in the Person of the Son of God (Heb 4:14).
My prayer for you is the prayer of the liturgy of Christmas and Epiphany:
"God sent His angels to shepherds to herald the great joy of our Savior's birth. May He fill you with joy and make you heralds of His Gospel. Amen" (Solemn Blessing of Midnight Mass). "The wise men followed the star, and found Christ who is light from light. May you too find the Lord when your pilgrimage is ended. Amen" (Solemn Blessing of the Epiphany).