“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place,
For Christian faith, Christmas is not simply the recalling and celebration of the birth of a great historical personage but the birth of a whole new world, the world that begins in, and springs, from this one child whom Christians recognize as the Son of God who has become the Son of Man, the new Adam who redeems the old Adam’s offspring and brings them Eternal Life. This child is himself an offspring of Adam, a true member of our human race, but he is so very much more. He is at once the child of Mary and the Eternal Son of God the Father. The shepherds come to honor the one whom the Angels described to them: a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. He is their Savior, and our Savior because he is Christ the Lord, the Lord who is God, and who is now made one of us.
It is amazing how Christmas continues to be celebrated in countries that once were largely Christian but are no longer Christian in any deep sense. The child honored at Christmas in these secularized, formerly Christian societies is not truly believed in by the vast majority of the people who are now only nominally Christian. Most people in western societies do no longer believe that Jesus is truly
the Son of God, God made flesh. What the Christian faith professes about this child is considered by most secularized westerners to be a kind of lovely fairy tale or myth made up by
Christians, a beautiful story, but really just a story meant for children to believe, like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. It’s still a lovely holiday tale, a myth that supports a feeling of good will and gift giving, and paid holidays, but that’s about it.
But for Christians with genuine faith, what we are celebrating today is the most important historical event ever, the greatest event that seals the goodness of life and the goodness of this world. Today, God was born into this world, and the world received its creator and redeemer in the child born of Mary. This event obviously did not immediately and totally change this world, as we see from the child’s own poverty stricken birth, but it did change the whole course of history and the essential contours of human existence. History is no longer an open question as to how it will end, for good or for evil; it will end in the triumph of goodness, the complete victory of this child over all evil. For not only will He raise all the dead and establish those who believe in him in His glory, but He will also use his divine power to transform the whole universe into a new creation, completely devoid of any trace of evil.
But this future total victory begins for us now if only we believe in Him, and this is what I meant by the assertion that he changed the essential contours of human existence. Jesus Christ infinitely enlarged the existential possibilities for every one of us, for he opened the way to heaven and our sharing in the very life and happiness of God. Human existence is no longer limited to the possibility of finding some limited and transient happiness in this world. No, the horizon of man has literally been expanded to infinity; God has become human, so that man can truly become divine, can truly share in the divine, intra-Trinitarian, mutual love and knowledge of God. And this tremendous new life begins here, in this world, where we can share God’s self-knowledge by the gift of faith and the Trinity’s mutual love by the gift of charity. The saints are now the measure of our humanity and its possibilities even in this world, and we have been given the grace to become what they are. Listen once more to St. Paul writing to Timothy:
He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
In Paul’s words, we hear the meaning of Christmas in a nutshell: he was born that we might be reborn and made totally new by the grace of His Holy Spirit, a grace that makes us truly Godly men and makes us “heirs in hope of Eternal Life.” That is the true gift of Christmas. May Jesus Christ be praised – now and forever, Amen.