The beauty of Christmas is that we sense a wonderful closeness to Christ who is Emmanuel—“God with us”. It is also special in that we are celebrating the birth of a child, something that naturally gives us all a spirit of newness and a fresh start. What took place in Bethlehem and Judea some two thousand years ago is indeed far off in terms of time and distance, yet in a very real sense we do not look on from afar, because the events narrated in the gospel on Christmas touch us today, here and now.
First, reflecting on the birth of the eternal Son of God as a human being, we should realize that this birth means that all our encounters with God are not interactions with a distant or detached “god” who requires attention and appeasement in order for us to win his favor. Rather, we encounter “God with us” as Isaiah the prophet says (Isaiah 7:14; cf. Matt 1:23), a God who rejoices in being close to his people. In fact, God so treasures us that he desires to become one with us in Jesus of Nazareth: “…and the Word became flesh”, as we read in the prologue to the gospel of John.
This unity with humankind does not simply emerge as a sort of “plan B” in response to sin, it reflects and makes complete the creation of humanity as God had intended it in the first place. When the eternal Son of God became incarnate, we were able to see clearly what it is to be divine, and what it is to be human, and thus we could realize the heights to which God desires to exalt us in and through Jesus. Through the birth into our world of the Son of God all of us are enabled to rise to share Christ’s divinity, since he has come to share in our humanity.
Second, Christmas gives us the hope of having yet another new beginning. No matter how often we have failed or fallen short in some aspect of life, we are all lifted up by Christmas because we see the boundless potential that a newborn brings. Everyone rejoices in the birth of a new baby: people naturally smile upon seeing an infant, they want to hold the baby and marvel over its eyes; even people who usually present themselves as “tough” are softened in spirit when they behold the tiny fingers and hear the gentle cooing of a newborn. Babies in short remind us of the possibilities that once lay ahead of us when we were infants.
We may have lost or squandered some of those possibilities, but the birth of the baby Jesus not only reminds us of what could have been, it also gives us the chance to begin anew. Jesus’ birth on Christmas was followed by decades of life, filled with all of the happiness, disappointments, successes, and pains that fill our lives. Eventually, the same Jesus born in a manger in Bethlehem would give over his life for our sake on the cross, freeing us from sin, as well as from the hopelessness that often accompanies patterns of sin in our lives. Just as he shared in this sequence of events of human life and death with us, so too we will one day share fully in the victory brought about through his divinity, and the new beginning and the eternal life that lies beyond it.
The birth of the Christ child is God’s pledge that he will bring to fulfillment in the joy of the resurrection the work of redemption begun in Bethlehem. May the bright promise of the infant Jesus be with you and your loved ones always!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.