—by Sister Elise Saggau, OSF
Every year, during the Advent and Christmas seasons, the Church calls us back to contemplate the incredible mystery of the Incarnation. The Hebrew Scriptures put before us, through the prophets, all the promises God made to the human family. And the Gospels proclaim how these prophecies were fulfilled on a cold winter night over 2000 years ago in an unimportant little Roman colony in the Middle East. Over the centuries, the story has been romanticized greatly, taking on the character of a kind of folk tale. And even this folk tale seems sometimes to be suffocated by an overwhelming tsunami of commercialization.
Nevertheless, year after year, the Church, a voice in the wilderness, tirelessly brings us the original story again: “The time is at hand; reform your lives. God is on the way!” This is a time drenched in grace like dew that covers the earth on a cool morning, like rain that falls on parched ground. Out of our need, out of our fear, out of our poverty, we long for this life-giving grace and yearn to believe in it, for it offers us hope.
The story of the Incarnation is really our story. It is the exact meeting point of God and human beings. We so often think of God as some kind of remote power or super-human energy that has somehow set this whole creation thing going and then stepped back to see what would happen. Such a cold deistic view of God is not Christian. It is impossible for God to step back from anything God has chosen to be involved with. At the very first moment of creation, God freely decided to get involved with you and me and with all created being. Absolutely everything God does, God does with free, unconditional, absolute, and irrevocable love. This is very hard for us to understand and accept because we, of ourselves, do not naturally love this way. Yet every Christmas, we celebrate that God came among us as one of us so we could love like God and be like God and share God’s own life forever.
Francis of Assisi was profoundly moved as he contemplated God’s coming among us as a human being in Jesus Christ. This reality filled him with awe. He understood that we human beings are essentially poor, that, of ourselves, we actually are nothing. Everything we are and have has been given to us by God in love. We are totally dependent on the God who lovingly and freely created us and who holds us in being. When Francis talked about poverty, this is what he was talking about—the recognition of what we are before God. When he thought about this little newborn baby lying in utterly poor circumstances, son of an equally poor mother, it moved Francis to tears. That this little human being could be a full manifestation of the God of all creation astounded him and wakened in him the most ardent and grateful love. It made him want to laugh and sing and shout and weep, so that is exactly what he did. Francis was a man who really expressed his emotions!! For him, the gospels came alive and were made present in highly charged dramatic action. Word and deed were as one. To know the story was to become a participant in it, to play a role in it, to live it in such a way that its power became irresistible to others.
At Christmas we honor the amazing and profound reality of the Incarnation. God became human (exactly the same kind of human that we are; there isn’t any other kind of human). God, in human flesh, was “at home” in a created, limited and unfinished universe. We do not understand this. We speak these words, but they sound ridiculous to us. Yet we continue to contemplate this mystery and it continues to teach us who we are and who God is. We look at a poor little baby and we see God. Is this possible? Yes, it is. We look at a poor woman with a newborn child and we see the Mother of God. Is this possible? Yes, it is. We look at our own poor flesh, heading downwards towards death, at our own very narrow, shadowy, and generally unsatisfactory lives, and we see God at work. Is this possible? Yes, it is. We look at this incredibly messed up world situation, somehow believing that goodness will prevail. Is this possible? Yes, it is. We look at a man dying on a cross though he is totally innocent and we say: God does this for us. Is this possible? Yes, yes, yes, it is. We say yes because we believe in the Incarnation. We believe that all creation is so beloved of God that God is right here in it with us. We believe that the story, the adventure that we are in, has a good ending. We believe that it matters, that we matter, that matter matters, that the whole universe is on its way to some splendid and unimaginable fulfillment.
In awe and wonder, then, let us contemplate this mystery—the mystery of God, the mystery of ourselves, the mystery of creation. Let us accept our lives as gifts, as Christmas gifts, and not squander them in meaningless efforts to promote ourselves. Let us weep with compassion at the poverty and destitution into which our God has entered in order to be with us. Let us laugh and shout at the wonder of it all—that God should have chosen US!! That God should genuinely want to be with US as one of US!! Let us make a feast of joy because God has come, and nothing again will ever be the same.
Photo caption: S. Francis & S. Clare of Assisi in adoration of the infant Christ by Josefa de Obidos (17th C.). Public domain.