But God, out of His immeasurable love for us, didn't send someone else to save us. He came Himself. And He came into this world not as a king in a palace, but as a baby in a cave.
What's more, He didn't have to. The sin of our first parents closed off to us the possibility of Heaven, and if He wanted to, God simply could have willed that we be saved from our sins, and that would have been that. But God's love for you and for me is such that He came to do it Himself, here on earth, as one of us. That stupendous fact "that the love of God for us is so extravagant as can hardly be believed " says much about God and much about us.
First, God didn't have to come to earth to save us, but then again, He didn't have to create us at all. If He hadn't created us at all, He still would have been perfect in every way, and totally blessed in Himself. Why, then, did He create us? So that we could share in His life in Heaven. Simply put, the Son of God became a man so that men could become sons of God.
What, then, does Christ's incarnation say about us? First of all, it says that we human beings must be magnificently created and of inestimable worth if our nature could be taken on by God Himself. We must be worth salvaging if God came to earth to save us. As we read in the Gospel of St. John, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (3:16).
Sometimes, we can be tempted to think that Christ didn't really become like you and me. After all -- we say to ourselves -- How could it be that God would take on human flesh and live as a real man while remaining really God? Our Faith tells us that in the Incarnation, Jesus became truly God and truly man a man like us in all things but sin.
As St. Cyril of Jerusalem so memorably wrote some 17 centuries ago, "If the Incarnation is a fantasy, salvation also is a fantasy. Christ was twofold in nature: man in what was seen, but God in what was not seen. As man he ate truly as we do" for He had like feelings of the flesh with us but as God He fed the five thousand from five loaves. He died truly as Man, but raised [Lazarus] who was four days dead, as God. He truly slept in the ship as man, and walked upon the waters as God.
But lest Christ in His humanity seem a cold and distant reality, consider this passage from the pen of the Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset, offering us a glimpse into that fateful cave in Bethlehem where a real Mother held a real Baby, the child Jesus, at whose birth the angels sang for joy:
The maiden has lifted up her adored Son, has wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and holds Him in her arms. The Child Jesus leans His head upon His mother's breast, and His serious infant eyes look down upon all of us over Mary's supporting hand. Then He snuggles up to her closer still and lifts His little right hand now it is raised in blessing over the shepherds who come in. She must sit down with the Child so that the visitors can look at Him properly. The old chieftain from the East creeps forward on his knees towards the two and holds out a golden censer perhaps the Child Jesus might find delight in playing with it; -- listen how nicely the chain rattles! The Child's hand waves in the air for a moment and it kicks contentedly, then His hand sinks like a little token of love down upon the old man's head.?
This is the reality we celebrate at Christmas: the reality of God's love for us. It really happened in a dark, cold cave in Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity emptied Himself of the glory of Heaven and became a baby boy to save you and me from sin and to make possible for us the hope of Heaven. Christ is not a figure from the mists of history, and still less is He a pious creation of our own minds. No, Christ is a person and He lives! Christmas is the time we ponder that mystery, so ancient and so real. Christmas is the time we recommit ourselves to the daily struggle to become in our daily lives what He is, just as in Mary's womb, Christ became what we are.
Undset concludes: "And when we give each other our Christmas presents in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars. He gives us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused. And to save us from our own foolishness and from all our sins He came down to earth and gave Himself."
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
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