Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Merry Christmas! It is such a joyful thing to see everyone gathered here together on this Christmas Eve to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and the mystery of the Word made Flesh. Tonight, we kick off the twelve day feast of Christmastide – yes, you heard that right, twelve whole days… so get ready to party! There is, after all, so much to celebrate at Christmas, for this is the festival of the very thing that makes Christianity possible at all, the very thing that gets this whole thing off the ground: the Incarnation of the Son of God. We’re talking about the union of God and humanity here, of heaven and earth, Word and flesh – that is what has arrived into the world on this most holy night! And joining in spirit with the shepherds as they made their way to Bethlehem, we find to our wonder and surprise, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Though we find him as a newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, it is the Lord himself who has made him known to us. For this is no ordinary baby; he is none other than the Son of God, fully divine, given for the life of the world by the infinite love of God the Father and the holy devotion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his mother, the Mother of God. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,” the Prophet Isaiah foretold, “ and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’”
Christmas is the event that reveals to us the incomprehensible mystery that God is Love. We should not take this mystery for granted. On our own, we can know lots of things about God that are entirely true – that God is one, that God is powerful, that God is infinite – and maybe there are other things that you know or believe about God that might be true just as well. But the stunning truth that God is love is not one that we could have discovered on our own. We all know that love is only possible within some kind of relationship. Love is not merely the “fact” that someone else exists, but is rather the response to that fact and to that special someone who exists with us: a spouse, a child, a friend. And the keyword there is that this special someone exists with us – love requires the intimacy of being near to one another. Before we can love someone, we have to encounter the one whom we are to love – and, perhaps just as importantly, we have to be encountered by them.
But if love requires intimacy – the nearness of a relationship – then this would mean that the love of God in itself would be completely unknowable to us. For God infinitely transcends even the deepest knowledge that we can discover by ourselves and escapes our grasp at every turn. So, if love requires intimacy, then God can only reveal his love for us by coming near to us. Otherwise, we would be left with all of the things we could figure out about God on our own that, however true they may be, would not include the knowledge that God is love.
This is precisely what Christmas is all about, though. Throughout the entire Old Testament, the people of God were bound to the covenant that God had established with them; the terms of which were summed up in the great commandment to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, with all their souls, and with all their minds. They could only do this because God had entered into a relationship with them. But within that relationship, the people of God still had to wait with bated breath for this mysterious promise that, as Isaiah said, “the Lord himself will give you a sign,” the sign that “a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel, that name means “God with us.” That was always the plot of the story from the beginning: that God would come to be with us. All of the momentum, both in Scripture and in the entire universe, was heading towards the promise that God “will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore,” as declared by the Prophet Ezekiel; that “My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God had promised from ancient times that, one day, he would come and dwell with his people.
Well, my friends, that day has come – thanks be to God! It came in the lowliest and most unexpected of settings: a stable, a place of last resort for a poor expectant mother and her betrothed in a far-off colony of the Roman Empire. But despite all of the appearances to the contrary, this was the site where “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” This is the place where “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father.”
If God would have remained unknowable – if God had been content to evade the furthest reaches of the human mind and heart as the God whom “no one can see and live” – then perhaps it would be understandable if we concluded that God was either a distant mysterious force best to be avoided or was simply irrelevant to us down here on earth. But because of Christmas, God has ensured that neither of those conclusions are possible. While it was once the case that “no one [had] ever seen God,” things are different now and will never be the same again. Because now, the Son of God “has made him known.” The baby who is born this day is “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation,” St. Paul tells the Colossians, “for in him… all things were created through him and for him [...] and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).
So the radical truth of Christmas is that the infinite distance between God and the world has been crossed by the only one who could cross it: God himself. And “being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7), God has come to be with us and the intimacy on which love depends is now possible and real. The God who is love has made himself known by entering the world as one of us. And his entrance itself is proof enough that it is the love of God that has come, for only a God who is love would ever bother with the unimaginable humility that was required to cross the distance and take the form of a servant.
I said earlier that love can only exist within some kind of relationship, which is precisely what would be impossible between humanity and God unless God were to descend to the world and make himself known. We are not capable of loving God unless God becomes available for our love – and that is entirely up to God. As St. John reminds us in one of his epistles, “in this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son…” (1 John 4:10). While we have to encounter the one whom we are to love, what we find in the birth of Christ is that God has encountered us first. And this encounter is so complete, so full, so all-encompassing, that every human being is embraced by the love of God that has come to us this day in the person of Jesus Christ. For God to unite himself to humanity, for the Word to become flesh, is simply what this embrace is. Our humanity, with all of its weakness and vulnerability, has now been taken up into God, for the only power that could bring together such seemingly incompatible things as God and humanity is the love of God. Before Christ performed a single miracle, before he worked any signs and wonders, his very body was already the sign that he was love incarnate, man divine. In that manger, tended by the love of his mother, this baby had already fulfilled the promise that God would make his dwelling among us; that God would be our God and we would be his people because he would be of the people himself.
Each Christmas, we find ourselves therefore encountered by the love of God that has embraced our humanity to himself. All that is left for us to do is to go and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us. So come and see, taste and see, that the Lord who is good is none other than the God who is Love.
Merry Christmas! Amen.