How could God, who exists outside of time, enter into time and take on a human body? The great theologian Fr. Romano Guardini said he tried to intellectually understand this and failed. But a breakthrough happened for him when a friend made a remark that struck his heart.
At Christmas, we receive a gift that is at the same time mysterious and profound. And the fact that Jesus’ birth occurred 2,000 years ago adds to the mystery. If you went to Christmas Mass during the day you heard St. John describe the Son of God’s entrance into the world. “In the beginning was the Word,” he wrote, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”
In his book “The Lord,” Fr. Guardini explains the Gospel passage by saying, “Let us consider carefully what this means: the everlasting, infinite Creator not only reigns over the world but, at a specific ‘moment,’ crossed an unimaginable borderline and personally entered into history – he the inaccessibly remote one!” It is easier to think of God as just “up there,” Fr. Guardini says, but instead he freely chose to enter into our imperfect reality.
That led him to write: “Before such an unheard of thought the intellect bogs down.” In our day, it’s difficult for most of us to see beyond the materialistic rituals that are marketed as Christmas, let alone contemplate the deeper truths of God’s entrance into the world.
Fr. Guardini was able to move beyond his intellectual impasse when a friend made a remark that we all should contemplate. “But love does such things!” his friend said. The comment did not explain anything further to his intellect, but it aroused his heart and enabled it “to feel its way to the secrecy of God. The mystery is not understood, but it does move nearer …” (“The Lord,” p. 18).
We know that in order to understand a person or the world around us, we must ask what its purpose is. This holds true whether we are talking about water, sunlight, a tree, you, me, and even the Son of God. Jesus’ purpose in becoming a man was to make known the heart of the Father and carry out his will; it was to make love known. St. John confirms this truth in his Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16).
When we celebrate Christmas, we praise and adore God the Father for sending Jesus to us, for placing his divine love and power squarely in our midst. As we pray and think about how a child grew into a man who carried out this mission, seeking the will of the Father, each of us should reflect on what the mission is that God has given us and how we are carrying it out.
Every one of us has a God-given calling – a vocation that, if we faithfully fulfill it, brings his presence into the world and brings his kingdom nearer. Before Jesus was born, St. John wrote, “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him” (John 1:18). This was the mission that fulfilled through his ministry, and his Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Now, each of us is commissioned through our Baptism with the joyful charge of making the love of the Father known to the world. In the fifth century, Pope St. Leo the Great preached in one of his Christmas homilies: “Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all.”
Pope Francis reinforced the relevance this teaching for our time when he opened the Holy Door at St. John Lateran and preached, “This third Sunday of Advent draws our gaze towards Christmas, which is now close. We cannot let ourselves be taken in by weariness; sadness in any form is not allowed, even though we have reason (for sadness), with many concerns and the many forms of violence which hurt our humanity. The coming of the Lord, however, must fill our hearts with joy.”
We have joy because, as Fr. Guardini reminds us, “love does such things.”
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I pray that you will know this same joy, which comes from opening yourself to the truth of who you are before the Father, receiving his inexhaustible mercy, and bringing it to others. May the tender love of the Trinity bless you and your families this Christmas Season!