Grace and mercy to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.
“As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”
The sentimental family Christmas is a double-edged sword. For there are those who are absent from the family, whether by distance, death, divorce, or defiance. Christmas dinner can be wonderful, except for those who have no one with whom to share it. Christmas presents are eagerly anticipated, except they lead many to use money irresponsibly, and teach children to focus on a Santa instead of a Savior. And all of these things expose the very things the sentimental family Christmas seeks to cover up – our families are touched by loss, conflict, and division; many are at their core quite lonely; and we seek a balm for our woes in food and drink, pleasures and possessions. Yet we are left with an emptiness that is not filled by those things we thought would make life wonderful, or at least tolerable.
So if those things that we thought would make this a “December to remember” are finally bankrupt—and threaten to bankrupt us both economically and spiritually—what then is Holy Christmas truly about? Simply this: God the Father had issued a sentence of death for our race. Yet the “Son heard this judgment, and, laying aside His royal diadem, He went forth, sprinkled ashes upon His head, clothed Himself in sackcloth, bared His feet, and mourned and wept over the condemnation of His poor slave” [Bernard of Clairvaux]. This is the meaning of the incarnation. This is why we gather on Holy Christmas. Not because the Baby Jesus is adorable on account of His cuteness. He is adored because He became a penitent for us, was baptized for us, was hungry for us, had nowhere to lay His head for us, was tempted for us, was taunted for us, was wounded for us, was slain for us. The Prince became a slave, so that we who were slaves to sin and death could be liberated from this bondage.
Seeing such a magnificent exchange, how can I not be filled with shame and sorrow, knowing that it was my rebellion that caused the incarnate Lord to suffer so? How can I continue in sin, when I see what a remedy my sin necessitated? But how can I not also be filled with joy, seeing the extent of God’s love and favor? Would that, as the Word became flesh, so He would also remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, a clean heart and a right spirit, to walk the rest of my days here in righteousness and purity, no longer captivated by the darkness but receiving Him who comes to me!
“He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” Not only was there no room for Him in the inn, we must admit that there has been often no room for Him in our hearts and lives. For we too have loved the darkness more than the light. We would rather make excuses than repent. We would rather hold grudges than forgive. We would rather resent what others have than be thankful for what God has given us. We have not taken up our cross and followed Him, but we have done what was right in our own eyes.
We deserve only punishment, yet He comes to shower us with gifts!
He deserves only goodness, yet He endures vile abuse for our sakes!
Amazing! The Word becomes flesh not to speak words of retribution but words of pardon. Adam said to the Lord, “I heard Your voice … and I was afraid … and I hid myself.”Thus the Word comes among men as a helpless infant, humble, showing us that He wishes not to terrify but console. The presence of the Lord brings terror, so the Angel of the Lord immediately declares, “Fear not!”
Removing our fear, the Holy Church this joyous day rejoices at how greatly the Word has dignified our nature. For in becoming flesh, He became One of us, while retaining completely His divinity. Had God not become man, our human nature would not have received the remedy that only the divine nature can give. Thus St. Peter says that God has “given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” [2 Pt. 1.4]. He who filled the tabernacle of old with the Glory of His presence, He who has tabernacled among men in the Word made flesh, has made you a tabernacle, a temple of the Holy Spirit by Holy Baptism. What place does the devil have in you, then? Therefore put off the old man and his lusts. Unto us a Child is born, and you have been made children of God, not through blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man – but born of God.
On this joyous morning, God becomes Man so that God, as a Man, might die for men.
This joyous morning, God becomes Man so that man might be made like God.
This joyous morning, God makes us glad by the gift of His life.
This joyous morning, God makes us glad by destroying death, and the fear of death which so long has held us in bondage.
This joyous morning, God makes us glad by the costly sacrifice the infant Jesus comes to offer – costly, yet given to us freely.
O Christian, receive the sacrifice He offered for you! For “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” Receive the Word made flesh for you. Receive the flesh He gives to you. On this joyous morning, the incarnation happens again in our midst. For in the Supper He instituted, we still behold His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.