The mystery of Christmas has a unique power to fascinate the human heart. This incredible mystery of God taking flesh, of manifesting Himself in the person not of a great ruler but of a helpless infant born in the humblest of circumstances, has surprised and thrilled the human race for centuries and even in the midst of a society that does not always seek to follow the divine will of this little child, the enchantment of the mystery of the Incarnation – God made flesh in this divine infant – has not ceased to captivate the hearts of those far from and near to Him.
This is the great mystery of Christmas – not only that God would want to take flesh to heal our broken humanity, but that in that very flesh born of the Virgin Mother this night (day), Jesus Christ would win redemption for the ancient curse born by the human race since the time of Adam. God did not need the Incarnation. We did.
That night 2,000 years ago, Mary gave Her little child more than a human nature. “Unless She would give Him the capacity for suffering, He could not suffer. He could only feel cold and hunger and thirst if She gave Him her vulnerability. … He could not know the indifference of friends or treachery or the bitterness of being betrayed unless She gave Him a human mind and a human heart. This is what it meant to Mary to give human nature to God. He was invulnerable; He asked Her for a body to be wounded. He was joy itself; He asked Her to give Him tears. He was God; He asked Her to make Him man. He asked for hands and feet to be nailed. He asked for flesh to be scourged. He asked for blood to be shed. He asked for a heart to be broken. The stable at Bethlehem was the first Calvary. The wooden manger was the first Cross. The swaddling bands were the first burial bands. The Passion had begun. Christ was man” (Houselander, p. 73).
Christ tells us that He came into the world so that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). He is born this day in Bethlehem of Judah not so that He might have life, but so that you might have life! He is born into this stable with the ox and ass standing by not merely for example, not merely for moral instruction, but to accomplish the work of our redemption. Already at the beginning of His earthly life is contained the reason for the Incarnation, that you might experience new life in Him.
Life is something of which our world stands in desperate need. At the height of World War II, a young woman in England reflected on the gravity of moral and physical destruction happening all around here. She wrote, “In the face of all this I sit here in a bombed city and say that because a girl surrendered herself to God two thousand years ago, human nature can be constantly new; life always young; and everyone bring not death into the world but the miraculous life of the Spirit: everyone a bearer of Christ into the world” (Houselander, p. 83).
As She brings forth Christ to the world, our Blessed Mother merits the title of Theotokos, the God-bearer, the Mother of God. She bore Him in a singular way as no one else could, can, or ever will because the birth of the Son of God that we celebrate today will never be repeated in the entire history of the world. However, you and I are called to be Christ-bearers even today. His nativity that we celebrate today is not merely an event that happened long years ago, but a reality that God wants to bring about in the world today through you.
We are in “a moment where the world needs great draughts of supernatural life, needs the Christ-life to be poured into it, as truly and as urgently as a wounded soldier drained of his blood needs a blood transfusion” (Houselander, p. 85). This life of which our world stands so desperately in need will not come through a committee, a governmental policy, or an NGO. Christ did not manifest Himself to the great and powerful on that Christmas night, but to the lowly of the earth – shepherds watching their flocks by night. As He looks upon you today, you who have come to honor the mystery of His incarnation and nativity, He says, “It was for this hour that I came into the world, so that you – yes you! – might become the Christ-bearers who can restore the world to life, and give humanity back the vitality of love” (Houselander, p. 85).
Mary, the mother of Jesus, became a Christ-bearer by a total surrender of Her life to Him and to His Holy Spirit. She did not think of God in merely abstract terms. To Her, God was concrete and real. He was a living communion of persons with whom She was called to have a relationship. She did not fully understand the archangel Gabriel’s message that She was to become the Mother of Her own Redeemer, but She accepted God’s will with humility and grace – “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy will.”
Mary’s attitude of surrender to God and even to Her own Son are the model that you must take up if you are to be, like Her, a Christ-bearer – if you are to bring that Divine yet truly human Infant Jesus with you from this church today. Christ made Himself totally dependent on Mary. For nine months of pregnancy and during the early years of His life, like any young child, He was totally dependent upon Her and St. Joseph. This dependency is not just a mystery to contemplate as we gaze upon the crèche, though. It is a mystery to be lived here and now.
Christ was dependent not only upon His Virgin Mother. Now, He is dependent upon you. Christ needs you to bring His presence into the corners of the earth where only you will go – into your family, into your friendships, into your job, into our community. This will not be easy. The Christchild came not merely to be admired by shepherds, animals, and wise men. He came to suffer and to die and to rise from the dead and thus to win redemption from our sins, to win the abundance of new life that He desires us to experience. You too will have to suffer into order to bring Christ into the world, just like Mary must have suffered upon the long road to Bethlehem, already far along in Her pregnancy.
As we celebrate the mystery of Christmas, the God we long to see face to face reveals Himself in the person of a little child. This is part of the thrill that we experience at Christmas, knowing that it is the God we long to see in Heaven who has drawn close to us. As one poet described it:
And our eyes at last shall see Him, / Through His own redeeming love; / For that child so dear and gentle, / Is our Lord in heaven above, / And He leads His children on, / To the place where He is gone. / Not in that poor lowly stable, / With the oxen standing by, / We shall see Him, but in heaven, / Set at God's right hand on high; / When like stars / His children crowned, / All in white shall be around.
My brothers and sisters, we are called to become Christ-bearers like His Mother so that others too might encounter the mystery of Christ’s love, but also so that we might transformed into Him. In the stable of Bethlehem, God took on our very human nature in the person of Jesus Christ so that the humanity that you and I possess might also be transformed – “when like stars His children crowned, all in white shall be around.”
That promise of transformation is not just for the halls of heaven but is a gift offered here and now to Christ’s disciples in the mystery of the Eucharist, where the very body, blood, soul and divinity that Mary laid to rest in the manger of Bethlehem is offered to us. Surrender your life to Christ like Mary did by making the Eucharist the highest priority in your life, because the Eucharist actually is that divine Infant who relies now on you to bear Him into the world.
I invite you to join silently in this prayer of surrender to Christ as we give our lives to Him this Christmas, just as we celebrate Him giving His life to us: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me. Amen.”
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, A.D. MMXIX