Christmas: Wonderful Exchange

"When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run half of her swift course, your all powerful word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven from the royal throne” (Wis 18:14-15) “...and Mary gave birth to a son, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). It was night. The universe turned silent. Mary held the child, her heart full of wonder. Joseph, her husband, sensed—no less than Moses by the burning bush—that the place where he was standing was holy ground (Exod 3:2). Then others came to worship: shepherds from the nearby fields, sent by angels; magi from the East, led by a star.

In Bethlehem, around the child, a small group gathered. In the presence of a mystery they perceived but hardly understood, the bond of faith held them together.

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Twenty centuries have passed. Year by year, as the seasons turn, “all who received him, who believed in him” (John 1:12) gather around the child. The mystery has not aged; it is as fresh as it was in Bethlehem, and it has the same drawing force.

In the child our hope is fulfilled.

Through the coming of the child heaven and earth are bonded together; no created power can ever put them asunder.

Our small planet has become a sacred ground, more than Mount Sinai ever was. Wherever we walk, whatever we see, the things we touch belong to a universe that the holy, strong and immortal One not only embraced but of which he became part. Now he belongs to us. He was born from a woman; he is of our kind; he carries the blessings and the burdens of our flesh and blood; he eats the bread we bake and drinks the wine we prepare. As long as this universe breathes, he is present in it.

This divine presence has transformed the world. The whole of creation is groaning in travail; and not only creation, but we ourselves (Rom 8:22-23). All that exists is linked to eternity and marked by a divine destiny—something sensed by believers but not revealed to human eyes. One day, however, on a day known to God alone, the trials of the present day will end. The hidden glory of God’s children will be manifest and creation will unfold in all its magnificence.

The Scriptures confirm that in the beginning and from the beginning, God had a plan. He wished for a holy city where his dwelling would be with his creatures, with men and women who would be his people and where he would be with them (Rev 21:2-3). He wished for a city that would have no need of sun or moon for the glory of God would be its light, a city where all nations would be at home. This will be our home.

In his promises, our hope unfolds.

God’s incarnation, so the church fathers tell us, goes hand in hand with our divinization. In faith we find it, in hope we hold it, in love we live it. “So faith, hope, love abide; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). The proper celebration of Christmas demands that faith and hope should find their fullest expression in love.

But how to love well?

The pattern is set by our Savior: “Although he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God something to be grasped but he emptied himself taking the form of a servant, becoming as human beings are” (Phil 2:6-7).

We are called to follow the pattern: although we are in the form of human beings, we must not cling to our earthly expectations but must empty ourselves, blending into the plan that Wisdom conceived and that daily events reveal along our pilgrim way. It is a discovery of God’s love. As St. Ignatius says in the Spiritual Exercises, we must consider “how God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth...in the heavens, the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle.” Yes, even in the cattle—even if they become furious and disorderly! God’s love is still at work in them. In such immersion in love, no room is left for despair.

But that is not all. Because we are invested with divine nature, because we received our share in a wonderful exchange, we have a mission, the same one that brought the child to Bethlehem. We are sent into a broken world to bring hope to “those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). In a world torn by violence we are called to be witnesses to the tender mercies of God. The perfection of love comes in the undertaking of this mission.

Enough words. It is Christmas night: let silence speak.

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