Monday, September 8, 2008

Why Keep Christ in Christmas?

First posted on Dec 24, 2007, on a different blog

The Christmas season has come to mean a time of presents and of spending time with loved ones, a time of happiness and warm fuzzy feelings - except for when it becomes the stress of getting done all the things that need to be done in the time they need to be done by, and a depressing reminder of who and what you've lost. "Keep Christ in Christmas," they say. Aww, that's real nice, but get real - what has He got to do with my crazy life now? Credo ut intelligere, in the words of St. Augustine: Believe, that you might understand.

Believe what? Well, let's start with creation (yes, I know many things start at creation, and perhaps you're sick of hearing it, but the beginning of humanity is a very good place to start). "God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27 RSV). We were created out of love by the Being Who is perfect love - and we were created "in the divine image." Love finds its perfection in communion (as is clearly seen in the Trinity), and as we were created to be perfect, it's no great leap to say that we were created for communion in love with that perfect Being Who created us.

However, our original parents screwed up. Whether you account it as pride, disobedience, or something else altogether, they nonetheless fell from God's grace and were cursed and exiled from the primordial paradise they'd been given. From that moment when sin entered the world, things were no longer the same between man and God. God no longer walked with Adam in the garden; instead they communicated mainly through the sacrifices Adam offered to God. Their sin was passed on to their children and to their children's children. The essential goodness of man's nature had been compromised and was getting harder and harder to see.

But it wasn't all bad. "O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam, / which gained for us so great a Redeemer," proclaims the priest in the exsultet at the Easter Vigil. For amidst all the curses laid upon our first parents as they were kicked out of Eden, there is found a promise: "I will put enmity between you (serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel" (Gen 3:15 NAB). Because of this great sin of Adam and Eve, God promised to one day send a redeemer to bring humanity back to the communion He created us to have with Him.

Many years passed. God made covenants with his people, who, in their sinfulness, successively broke each one. These covenants were for the people's redemption; because they were now unable to keep from sin, God gave them laws (so they would know what was sin), but they had not the strength to keep them. Abiding by God's law is impossible without supernatural grace.

And so, in the fullness of time (i.e., when God so fit to do so), God sent to mankind a redeemer. In order to share this redemption with all humanity, this redeemer had to be fully man. However, history had made clear that no mere human, no matter how holy, had the grace or the power to effect this redemption. So, in a shocking and unexpected move, God sent His divine Son, mysteriously joining His perfect divinity with sinless humanity, to redeem the world.

But it doesn't end there! This redeemer exemplified virtue, spread the Truth of God's Love to others, and liberally distributed healing (both external and internal) for years. He allowed Himself to literally be the scapegoat for his people, the creature on which everyone's sins are cast and which is sacrificed to God to abate His wrath for their transgressions. Holding nothing back, this God-man received from His fellow humans a death that was brutal and torturous to His Body and His soul. He accepted this for our sake, and was Resurrected from the dead for us as well. In this, He accomplished the redemption we so desperately needed and made it available to all of us.

What does it mean that He made redemption available to all? Simply that He has undone, in a sense, the sin of our first parents, and has opened for us the gates of salvation, of perfect communion with God. When He sent His Holy Spirit among His disciples at Pentecost, He opened the floodgates to the last thing they needed: grace! For while God's law, which leads to true freedom, is unfollowable by mere mortals, we are now gladly given the grace to see it through, thanks to Jesus.

So what do we celebrate at Christmas? Christ's coming - in the Incarnation, at the end of time, in our hearts, in the Eucharist. Because He came in carne ("in the flesh"), the riches of heaven of everlasting communion with God and each other, are available to all - even, in a lesser way, here on earth. When He comes again at the end of time, the redemption that He has brought us will be fully realized. In the meantime, He comes to us in many ways, but two of principal importance: 1) When we welcome Him into our hearts and give Him control of our lives, we are brought that much closer to living the perfect life He has planned for us, and 2) In the Eucharist, the Liturgy of heaven on earth, in which we literally ingest into our bodies the God of the universe in the humble forms of what to all appearances are bread and wine. This is our closest earthly glimpse into that communion with Him that is heaven - how awesome it is to have God - Body, Blood, soul, and divinity - inside of us!

And that's why everyone needs Christ in Christmas: Because this season is not about a superficial sense of, "It's time to feel happy and loving now," but is instead a celebration of the fact that, through the birth of Jesus the Christ, the gates of heaven have been opened to us by a God Who loves us more than our tiny brains can fathom, and that real happiness - even on earth - is available to all who ask. Merry Christmas, my friends.

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