The inexhaustible truth and beauty of Christmas has brought forth in past ages a large number of human attempts to put into understandable language something of the mystery and reality of Christ’s nativity. This Christian contemplation of Christmas continues into our own time and is expressed in a stream of moving words and images, which touch but can never exhaust the humanly incomprehensible marvel of the infinite God’s Gift of Himself to us.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, speaking on Christmas, says, “What does it mean when we call this God a living God? It means that this God is not a conclusion we have reached by thinking, which we now offer to others in the certainty of our own perception and understanding. When we talk of the living God, it means this: This God shows Himself to us. He looks out from eternity into time and puts Himself into a relationship with us. We cannot define Him in whatever way we like. He has defined Himself and now stands before us as our Lord, over us and in our midst. This self-revelation of God, by virtue of which He is not our conception but our Lord, rightly stands, therefore, at the center of our Creed.”
“A profession of faith in the story of God in the midst of human history does not constitute an exception to the simplicity of our profession of faith in God, but it is the essential condition of its heart. That is why the heart of all our creeds is our “yes” to Jesus Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary. We genuflect on Christmas at this creedal clause, because at this point the heavens and the veil beyond which God is secluded, are swept aside, and the mystery touches us directly. The distant God becomes our God, our Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). But, because it was the Word that became Flesh, we must ever again strive nonetheless, to translate into our human words this first creative Word, which was with God and which is God (John 1:1), so that in those words we may hear the Word.”
Although a great theologian and doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine was also a wonderful pastor and the Bishop of the Diocese of Hippo in North Africa. In that capacity he preached a homily every Christmas at Midnight Mass and at Masses on Christmas Day. Fortunately, some of his people wrote down and collected what he preached, and so we even today are able to profit from his sermons.
Once he said of Jesus, “He is the One through whom all things have been made and, on Christmas, Who has been made in the midst of all things. He is the Revealer of His Father and the Creator of His mother, the Son of God through His Father without a mother and the Son of Man through His mother without a father. He is great in the eternal day of the angels but small in the time-conditioned day of men. He is the Word of God before all time and the Word made Flesh in the fullness of time. Maker of the sun, He is made under the sun. Disposer of all ages in the bosom of His Father, He consecrates Christmas Day in the womb of His mother. In Him He remains while from her He goes forth. Creator of the heavens and the earth, He is born on earth under the heavens. Unspeakably wise, He is wisely speechless. Filling the universe, He lies in a manger. Ruler of the stars, He nurses at His mother’s bosom. He is both great in the nature of God and small in the form of a servant, but His greatness is not diminished by His smallness nor His smallness overwhelmed by His greatness.”
Saint Augustine said, “Man’s Maker was made man that the Bread might be hungry, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired from the journey, the Truth might be accused by false witnesses, the Judge of the living and dead be judged by a mortal judge, Justice be sentenced by the unjust, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Vine be crowned with thorns, the Foundation be suspended on wood, the Strength be made weak, the Healer be wounded, and that Life might die. Wake up, O human being! For it was for you that God was made man. Rise up and realize it was all for you. Eternal death would have awaited you had He not been born in time. Never would you be freed from your sinful flesh had He not taken to Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. Everlasting would be your misery had He not performed this act of mercy. You would not have come to life again had He not come to die your death. You would have perished had He not come.”
Chrysostom and Leo
Saint John Chrysostom, also a marvelous theologian and doctor of the Church, was at the same time a Pastor and the Patriarch of Constantinople, where he too preached eloquently at the sacred liturgies each Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
He said, “Behold on Christmas a new and wondrous reality. The angels sing and the archangels blend their voices in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt Christ’s glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth and man in heaven. He Who is above now for our redemption dwells here below, and we who are lowly are by divine mercy raised up. Bethlehem this day resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices. Ask not how. For where God wills, nature yields. For He willed. He had the power. He descended. He redeemed. All things move in obedience to God. This day He Who is born and He Who is becomes what He is not. He is God become man, yet not departing from His Godhead.”
Pope Saint Leo the Great, the 45th Bishop of Rome, the 44th Pope after Saint Peter, once said in a Christmas homily, “Although Jesus shared in our infirmities, He was not a partaker of our sins. He took the form of a servant without the baseness of sin, raising up what was human, but not lessening what was divine. Emptying Himself, the Invisible made Himself Visible. He came down to us, to Whom we could not on our own ascend, that we might be brought back from our former bondage and from worldly errors to His eternal blessedness.”
He said the purpose of Christmas “was to give the human race a wondrous grace so that iniquity might return to the ways of innocence, old age to newness of life, strangers might be received by God as His children and without any claim be capable of entering into an inheritance, that the evil-living might begin to live righteously, the parsimonious become generous, the incontinent chaste, and the earthly might become heavenly-minded.”
May yours, dear readers, be the merriest and most blessed of Christmases. I pray that our Savior might be born anew by His grace in your souls.
Editor’s note: this article originally appeared on CE on Jun 9, 2007.