What are we really celebrating at Christmas?

pax-christi-nativity

The short answer to this question, of course, is “We celebrate Jesus’ birthday.”

But if we stop there, and regard the holiday as just another historical anniversary, we would overlook the life-changing truth: God became man, and was born of the Virgin, to fulfill his saving plan for you.

Jesus knows us, intimately and personally, because He is truly God, the Son of the Father. Existing from all eternity, He thought of us and loved us, eons before He created us.

That’s why the Son descended from heaven and became a baby in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus was undertaking a divine mission to redeem us from our sins and make it possible for us to enjoy life with God forever.

Therein lies the radical newness of Christmas, its fundamental difference from the usual events of human history. Instead of receding ever further away from us over time, Christmas marks a new stage of the relationship between God and humankind – a relationship that is ongoing, touching each one of us, and drawing us toward union with God.

Benedict XVI has spoken movingly of the meaning of Christmas:

At Christmas, therefore, we do not limit ourselves to commemorating the birth of a great figure: we do not simply and abstractly celebrate the birth of the man or in general the mystery of life…

A great light really was lit: the Creator of the universe became flesh, uniting Himself indissolubly with human nature…made Himself tangible to our senses and our minds: we may now touch Him and contemplate Him.

Thus the Word of God “is a ‘Word’ addressed to us…a Person who is concerned with every individual person: He is the Son of the living God Who became man…”

We rejoice that God is not a “remote being, Whom it would never be possible to reach, but a God Who made Himself our neighbor and Who is very close to us, Who has time for each one of us and Who came to stay with us.”

Quotes from General Audience of December 17, 2008

Engaging the Gospel – Most Holy Trinity

Most Holy Trinity: Gospel – John 16:12-15

God’s interior life as Holy Trinity is “a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone, or even to Israel’s faith, before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit,” as the Catechism notes (237):

The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – reveals Himself to men and reconciles and unites with Himself those who turn away from sin (234).

As St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389) wrote,

the Old Testament proclaimed the Father clearly, but the Son more obscurely. The New Testament revealed the Son and gave us a glimpse of the divinity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit dwells among us and grants us a clearer vision of Himself (quoted in 684).

Through the revelation of the Holy Trinity, we see that God exists in an eternal relationship of love, and He “freely wills to communicate the glory of His blessed life” (257) to us:

By the grace of Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we are called to share in the life of the Blessed Trinity, here on earth in the obscurity of faith, and after death in eternal light (265).

Question for reflection: When have I felt that God was leading me patiently into a deeper knowledge of Him?

Christmas: a feast of God’s personal love for us

I think God must have said to Himself: Man does not love Me because he does not see Me; I will show Myself to him and thus make him love Me. God’s love for man was very great, and had been great from all eternity, but this love had not yet become visible…Then, it really appeared; the Son of God let Himself be seen as a tiny Babe in a stable, lying on a little straw.

— St. Alphonsus Liguori, quoted by Fr. Gabriel in Divine Intimacy, p. 83.

May these poignant words of St. Alphonsus help us to grasp more fully the meaning of Christmas. Jesus’ birth isn’t simply an historical event from long ago, which we may feel is too distant and remote from us.

It does involve us, in a deeply personal way, for the Eternal Son of God became man with each one of us in mind. The Lord thought of every human being that has ever existed, and ever will exist. Loving us with a personal love, He acted to save us from our sins and restore us to His friendship.

This same Jesus, Who humbled Himself to come as a vulnerable infant, continues to come to us – preeminently in the Eucharist.

When fashioning the entire arc of salvation history, God carved out our own special place within His design. We belong to this divine love story, if we would only accept Our Lord’s invitation.

One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, expressed it thus:

In the night of eternity, you were chosen by the Father; in the holy night of our Savior’s birth, you were remembered in the heart of God’s newborn Son and made His brother and sister; and now the Father draws you to His loving heart: With My Son, born in the stable, you have become My dearest child. With Jesus you are celebrating a birthday, reborn unto God in the holiest of nights.

— The Church’s Year of Grace, Vol. I, p. 213.

Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 1:39-45

Because the Virgin Mary had just conceived Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, her “visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to His people” (Catechism paragraph 717).

“Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as ‘the mother of my Lord’” (495).

We join in Elizabeth’s greeting whenever we say the “Hail Mary,” which includes key phrases from this Gospel passage:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth is the first in the long succession of generations who have called Mary blessed….Mary is blessed among women because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord’s word (2676).

Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother (2677).

Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her (2682).

In this way we honor God, Who Himself has assigned her this mission in salvation history:

Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it (964).

What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ (487).

Question for reflection: How have I welcomed Mary in my own life?

Nativity of Mary: the ‘origin of every feast’

As with all celebrations of the Blessed Virgin, today’s Nativity of Mary ultimately refers to Christ.

The birthday of Our Lady heralds the coming of Our Redeemer. We rejoice at Mary’s arrival in the world because she is the Lord’s chosen who will be the Mother of Christ.

With her birth, salvation history takes a momentous step forward: the birth of her Son draws ever closer. The one from whom the Eternal Word will take His flesh, is now here. God is working out His plan of redemption!

From Dom Gueranger’s Liturgical Year:

Andrew of Crete calls this day a solemnity of entrance, a feast of beginning, whose end is the union of the Word with our flesh; a virginal feast, full of joy and confidence for all.

‘All ye nations, come hither,’ cries St. John Damascene, ‘come every race and every tongue, every age and every dignity, let us joyfully celebrate the birthday of the world’s gladness.’

‘It is the beginning of salvation, the origin of every feast,’ says St. Peter Damian, ‘for behold! The Mother of the Bridegroom is born. With good reason does the whole world rejoice today; and the Church, beside herself, bids her choirs sing wedding songs.’

— Vol. XIV, pp. 148-49.