"Merry Christmas" as Let Earth Receive Her King
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have touched- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. I John 1.
Christmas comes this week; and now we remember that the virtues of Advent hope, peace, and joy point beyond themselves to the reality of Christmas- literally, of the Mass that is said to honor Christ, who has come in the flesh. Christmas is above all the celebration of the Incarnation of God.
This is the Christmas gospel: for the sake of our salvation, God has taken on forever every facet of our human existence- conception, dependent infancy, youth, family life, death- and He has returned it all to His Father. And thus the Catholic construal does not posit an idea of grace as a kind force that is foreign to us, which displaces and rejects the creature in order to replace it with something else. Rather, the Incarnation means that the very life of God has been infused into our very flesh, into the lineage of David, from the dust of the earth which forms the rocks that would cry out to their Creator if mankind did not. We believe that the coming Kingdom of God is advanced with every prophetic moment of that peculiar creaturely cooperation with the Creator made possible by the definitive work of grace that began in and from the womb of Mary. At Christmas we recall the fundamental thing: as prophesied and promised for long ages, our God is indeed Emmanuel. And thus it is of the essence of the Christian faith to rejoice at Christmas in the fact that God's Incarnation has changed everything. The promise of the Emmanuel is actually become true; our God is really with us.
If God is to be God with us, it is no unreasonable leap to rejoice that He is God with us, abiding in all the tabernacles of the world, from which comes the grace that flows through the waters of baptism, through the laying on of hands, through the bodies of man and wife, through the oils of unction. As the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer once put it in The Cost of Discipleship, the body of Christ which was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger takes up space on earth. As God with us, His presence and His grace remain with us in real ways, open in love to our sight, our taste, our touch. It is not the case that the Lord of the dusty Judean roads, the Gallilean Sea, and the Last Supper is now only amenable to the spoken word, the written text, and the pious memory. The Incarnation has consequences; He is with us.
At Christmas, the Christian's worship is imitated by the world's anonymous, inevitable, inadvertent witness to God's gentle invasion of His world's weary spinning. Our Advent candles have been joined by a billion little light bulbs, our gratitude for divine mercy is imitated by the annual round of generous gift giving, our Eucharist is mimicked by the joyous feasting in every holiday home. The world makes space for Christmas. At Christmas, we visibly rejoice in the one God, who in Christ has forever taken up our space. Even so, Lord Jesus come.
Merry Christmas to you all!