Have you ever noticed how many of our popular, secular Christmas songs are not about the day itself but rather about hope and longing as that date draws near? Some are quite hopeful, even optimistic: “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Others stress longing more than hope: “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” is self-explanatory. So are “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” and its adult variant, “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
Finally, some couple hope with fear of failure. Think of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” or “Last Christmas, I Gave You My Heart.”
Here is a new question: Have you ever wondered what Christ wanted out of Christmas? Obviously, in his human nature, he does not predate his own birth. What does not yet exist cannot desire anything. But as Eternal Son of the Father, Christ does exist before Bethlehem. So, what did our Lord want from Christmas? What was he trying to achieve by being born among us?
Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, desired to bring all of humanity into the utter fullness of salvation.
The answer is clear, even if the question comes in from an odd angle. Our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, desired to bring all of humanity into the utter fullness of salvation. He wanted, in concordance with his Father’s will, the absolute, sinless re-creation of our humanity, and nothing less than that. Humanity was to be once again, as sinless as the day God created it. And with the coming of the Savior, it was to be raised to a divine life that it had not received in its first act of creation.
Did Christ get that? Was his hope and longing realized? No, it was not. But can God’s desire, God’s will, be frustrated? Of course it can. The ability to do that came with our gift of freedom, and every sin that we commit is just that, a frustration of what God wants, a denial by us of God’s desire.
But let’s be clear. Countless souls have been redeemed by Christ and raised into the glory of his divine life. If there are some who have not been saved, it is because of their own free will. So what began in Bethlehem must surely be judged a success. Yes, but…
God redirects human history, but God does not rewrite it. In creating it, God condescended to abide by it. So what about the longing, the hope that at least some portion of humanity would fully respond to what was given in Christ? That some of us, maybe even only one of us, would take in Christ’s grace and quite literally become the new creation he intended, one free from all sin, full of grace, and utterly redeemed?
Everything Mary is and everything she does is the gift of God’s grace in Christ.
Was that deep longing of Christ, his deepest Christmas desire, denied? No. Today the church affirms and balances two absolute truths. First, everything we have and are comes to us as the gift of God’s grace. And secondly, God always respects our freedom. Yet today, on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, those two truths all aligned, and Our Lord’s deep desire is fulfilled.
Everything Mary is and everything she does is the gift of God’s grace in Christ. By his prevenient grace, she was conceived sinless. By her own free choice, in cooperation with his grace, she ever remained. And in the Virgin of Nazareth, one singular soul freely offered an absolute yes to the savior.
For all its promise, Christmas has a way of disappointing all of us at one time or another. It might have been that way for Christ as well. Great and small saints would have been forgiven their sins and welcomed into his fellowship. Everyone would have cooperated enough to be saved by God, yet in none would his flawless gift of his very self, his divine and human self, have been met with an equally flawless reception in one who is only human.
Yes, Christ did come close to having his deepest desire denied him. But then she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).