(This column by Bishop Donald J. Hying originally appeared in the Dec. 22, 2005, edition of your Catholic Herald as a Scripture reflection. Because of its powerful message, we share it with you again during this blessed Christmas season.)
Because Christ entered into human history, the apostles proclaimed the Gospel to the ends of the earth, martyrs gave up their lives rather than their faith and a new philosophical understanding of the person emerged.
Because of Christmas, soaring cathedrals rose over Europe, universities and hospitals opened their doors and missionaries sailed across oceans in wooden ships.
Because of what we celebrate today, four churchwomen were murdered in El Salvador for their stance with the poor, a pope sold his fisherman’s ring to aid a slum in Brazil and a wrinkled woman in a sari lovingly pulled dying people out of gutters.
The church has never gotten over the wonder of the Incarnation, the startling truth that, in the person of Jesus Christ, this one specific human being living at one historical point in time in a precise geographical place expressed in the fullest possible way the union of God and human nature.
God had entered his own creation to redeem it and restore it from the inside. In his mystical theology, St. Bonaventure expresses this burning, passionate love of God who desires nothing less than complete identification with every human being.
Christmas changes everything! If God is one with us through the power of Christ’s Spirit, alive and active through the church, life is radically different for us. God is not out there somewhere, unreachable and unknowable.
In the tender vulnerability of Christ’s humanity, God has completely united his life with ours. This enfleshed Divine Word has become the language of our own human experience; Jesus explains us to ourselves.
How telling it is that Mary and Joseph could not find a room for the birth of Jesus. In a world of sin, violence, sorrow and selfishness, there was no room for this tiny, warm God who had come only to love and heal.
Is there any more room for God today? Is there space for justice and peace? Is there room for prayer and virtue? Does God truly hold center place in our lives and our global society? If we sometimes feel that God has been pushed into the corner, then it is to the corner that we must go.
There is a tendency within us to want to clean up the Christ story, to make it respectable, orderly and dignified. In so many ways, it was none of that. God was born of an itinerant mother in an animal shelter with smelly manure and dirty shepherds. God died on a bloody cross, scourged and rejected, cut off as one accursed.
We cannot romanticize the Christian narrative without decreasing its potent reality. God comes to us in all of the messiness and lunacy of the real world to save us as we are, not to redeem some idealized version of ourselves.
The Incarnation of Christ powerfully proclaims the humility and vulnerability of God. Setting aside the majesty, glory and safety of heaven, the eternal Word empties himself completely, assumes the radical limitations of our humanity and runs the terrible risk of being misunderstood, rejected and killed by his own creatures!
Divine Love gives itself away in a total act of self-donation. In the Christ event, we grasp the very essence of God, who pours himself out completely for us.
As disciples of this passionate, incarnate Christ, our lives, too, will be marked by humility and vulnerability. How else can we love others with this self-emptying divine life unless we leave our comfort zones and surrender our insulating pride? How else can we give birth to the Word unless we go to the dark corners of this world?
Yes, the manure will smell, the shepherds will be uncouth, the stable will be cold, the scourging will tear our flesh, and the cross will kill us. Often, the way of Jesus makes no rational sense at all, and we do our best to live the pieces of it that we can. But Christmas challenges us to go all the way. Have a blessed one!