26 December 2011
God Sees His Son
Nativity of the Lord, Mass during the Day
Have you ever noticed how everyone seems to soften in the presence of a baby? It makes sense that mothers are very soft and tender in the presence of a child because of their motherly instincts. But it even happens with the gruffest, toughest men. In the presence of a baby even the sternest face can be softened by a smile, and the epitome of a man’s man starts talking gibberish, trying to communicate with the child and get it to smile back.
Today we rejoice in the fact that, in the fullness of time, right when God wanted it, when all the conditions were as God knew in His Divine Wisdom they needed to be, the invisible God who could not be seen, the Word through whom all things were made, and without whom nothing came to be, became visible in the flesh. God was made known to the world as a baby. While we have grown used to this fact over 2,000 years of Christian activity, this was unthinkable, truly awesome, and even somewhat scandalous to Jews and Gentiles alike.
In the past, as we heard in the second reading, “God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets.” From the very beginning, when God created Adam and Eve in His own likeness and walked among them in the Garden of Eden, God had wanted to be close to the crown of His creation. He wanted to be with us in all things. And even when, through Adam, sin entered the world, He continued to reveal Himself partially to the Chosen People: to Abram, telling him to leave Ur of Chaldea and go to the land of Canaan, where he would become Abraham, the father of many nations, and in the form of three visitors to announce the conception of Isaac, the son of the promise; to Moses in the Burning Bush and on Mount Sinai; to all the Chosen People in the form of a pillar of cloud and fire, leading them through the desert; through the prophets, those chosen by God to speak for Him to a people who constantly preferred to wander away from God, rather than be close, especially Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Ezekiel, and others.
But this was always a partial revelation of God. In Bethlehem, when Jesus was born, we had the chance to see that God had fulfilled the prophecies that a Virgin would bear a Son and would name Him Emmanuel, God-with-us. In the Nativity of Jesus according to the flesh a marvelous exchange took place, what the Church Fathers called admirabile commercium. In this great exchange, God took our sinful nature to Himself, though He was free from sin, and united it fully to His divinity, so that we could live forever in heaven united to the Son. In the words of St. Athanasius: God became man so that man could become God.
This is what St. John is speaking of when, in the Gospel passage we heard today, he writes, “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision by of God.” In Baptism we were made members of the Mystical Body of Christ, and our nature was joined to Christ, just as Christ joined His nature to ours at the Annunciation, which we celebrated 9 months ago.
The Gospel, the Good News that this truly is should astound us! Because if we have been baptized and united to the Mystical Body of Christ, then when God looks down on us, he no longer sees a child born of natural generation, but His only-begotten, beloved Son, just as when Mary and Joseph looked down at the Christ child, they did not just see a baby, but the eternal God in flesh. In baptism, where we are born again by water and the Spirit, we become a son or a daughter in Christ the Son.
This participation in the Sonship of Christ is no small thing! “To which of the angels did God ever say: You are my son; this day I have begotten you? Or again: I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me?” Because Jesus joined our nature to His, humbling Himself to take on all that it means to be human: hunger, thirst, pain, temptation, we have a higher dignity than the angels of God. You are a higher creation than an angel, because Christ was not an angel, nor did He become one of them. He chose to join our nature to His, and so we join in the dignity of Christ who is “as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
Do not cheapen, then, the great gift you have been given this Christmas, the gift of knowing that we can be united to Christ. Do not count as worthless the great gift of being a part of His Body, the Church, with all the great gifts and duties that come along with membership in the People God has claimed for His own. As Pope St. Leo the Great wrote in his Christmas sermon:
Acknowledge, O Christian, the dignity that is yours! Being made a partaker in the divine nature, do not by an unworthy manner of living fall back into your former abjectness of life. Be mindful of Whose Head, and of Whose Body, you are a member. Remember, that wrested from the powers of darkness, you are now translated into the Light and the Kingdom of God. By the sacrament of baptism you have become the temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not, by evil deeds, drive out from you such a One dwelling with you, and submit yourself again to the bondage of the devil. Because your price was the Blood of Christ; because in strictness He shall judge you Who in mercy has redeemed you, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.