It seems to me that, despite the FoxNews and other cries of a “War against Christmas,” there really is no such thing. Instead, there has been what I think is a much more insidious problem with Christmas that has creeped up over the course of decades and centuries, exacerbated by the increased commercialism and individualism of our (particularly) North American culture. Christmas has become just one more holiday alongside the rest and that to me is the greatest problem. Unlike Independence Day (of whichever country you choose), Memorial Day, St. Patrick’s Day, the Annunciation, Presidents’ Day, and the like, Christmas is not a day for remembering what has only happened in the past. It is not a time for us to pause and, in passing perhaps, reflect on something that took place two thousand years ago and bears little to no impact on us today. On the contrary, Christmas marks the most important moment in Salvation History — the Incarnation, the coming of the Lord, the birth of a child who reveals to us the unseen God, makes visible the invisible and shows us that God’s Reign unfolds in the making of the impossible possible!
Today my reflection begins with what God has done for us in coming to be born as one like us. Do we really pause to consider the significance of that? Francis of Assisi understood this very well. It is the reason why he saw Christmas as the most important feast of the entire Church calendar. He didn’t dismiss the importance and solemnity of Holy Week or other times throughout the year, but realized that if God had not become incarnate, had not entered our world as one like us, then the rest of it would never have happened nor mattered.
What captivated Francis so much was the staggering reality that God is perfectly humble. His reflections on Christmas, the Eucharist and the Cross all focus on this humility of the Creator that would stoop so low to us as to enter our world as a helpless, entirely needy infant; Appear in the simple and most common elements of bread and wine; and suffer and die an innocent death on the Cross for us. At times Francis was remembered to be overwhelmed at the humility and poverty of a God who would do — and continues to do — these things.
That’s what is so amazing about Christmas. Unlike so many other days alongside which this day gets placed, Christmas is a celebration of what God has done and, perhaps more importantly if overlooked, a celebration of what God continues to do for us!
This morning’s readings reveal a glimpse into the overwhelming significance of what God has done for us. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that before the birth of Jesus Christ, God was known in “partial and varied ways.” It was through Creation, Scripture and prayer that the Hebrew people knew the Lord, followed the covenant and came to understand the loving relationship of the Creator in their lives. But, the reading tells us, now we know God in the most perfect, complete way. Just as we can come to know another person only through a real, human relationship with him or her, so too we came to know God through a human relationship.
I like to say that before that first Christmas morning, humanity used to know God like one knows somebody online. You can learn a lot about somebody, even communicate with that person on Facebook, Twitter, through blogs and the like, but you cannot know them, just know about them. This is a contemporary way of looking at the what the Letter to the Hebrews is saying.
But, with God’s entrance into the world as one like us, the game has totally changed. Jesus Christ is the game-changer par excellence! The way that humanity related to God previously had become outdated and finally recognized as imperfect, because, whereas once we were able to know about God, now we can personally know God.
Following the online analogy, what we celebrate today is much more akin to God deciding to finally meet us at a cosmic Starbucks for coffee, or to a favorite restaurant for dinner, or go for a lovely walk in the park with us. No longer did we have to rely on the “varied and partial” ways of coming to know about God, but we forever benefit from the most significant game change in all of human history. It is something that continues to alter our world, move the hearts of saints and sinners alike, shift the relationship between God and humanity forever. This is what we celebrate today.
Happy Solemnity of the Incarnation!