In the Garden of Eden, Satan convinced Adam and Eve to doubt God’s trustworthiness. He enticed them by telling them a lie, that they would not die as God had warned them if they ate of the tree. They put their trust in the devil rather than God. Death and Sin did enter the world and the enemy of God captured humanity and bound us by his deceit.
God responded by coming to us as a baby, the most trustable, vulnerable and humble creature possible. And yet, his mission was not cute and cuddly; he came to fight. He came to overthrow Satan, our oppressor. This Christmas, let us recover this reality that gives strength and purpose to our celebrations, and without which, Christmas degenerates into a hollow, dissatisfying experience.
The philosophy professor and Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft has observed this same phenomenon about Jesus in general, saying that contemporary Christians have managed to undo the miracle of the Wedding Feast at Cana, where Jesus turned 180 gallons of water into wine, ignoring the miracle Jesus did or thinking it not possible. Jesus, whose arrival and rescue mission to save the world used to be utterly captivating, has been turned into the most boring, mundane person around in an unbelieving world.
In Christ’s time, Father John Riccardo of Acts XXIX points out that no one had a lukewarm reaction to him. “During his public ministry, when contemporaries of Jesus met him, they had one of two radical responses: they either dropped everything and followed him, or they demanded, ‘Kill him!’ No one ever yawned, shrugged and said, ‘Meh. Nothing to see here’” (Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel, p. 103). Just look at the events surrounding his birth for confirmation. The shepherds gazed at him in wonder, the three wisemen brought him kingly gifts, and Herod tried to kill him.
What has happened that most people have a lukewarm response to Jesus today? There are many possible answers to that question, but I think among the top reasons is that people think they already know what Jesus means and has to say. They haven’t encountered him in a personal way and experienced the freedom that comes from his healing and forgiveness. And so, Christmas is just another time to be with family and have a party. We as Christians are called to help our families and society recover this holy day’s deep meaning.
Father Riccardo speaks about doing this with an unusual analogy. The little infant Jesus, he says, is like an ambush predator. An ambush predator is an animal that usually employs camouflage or a hidden position from which it scans its environment for prey. Once it spots its next meal, it bides its time until it launches a quick, surprise attack on its prey.
Similarly, Jesus became one of the very creatures Satan despised and then waited 33 years to launch his final attack. Surely the devil knew that Jesus was healing people and casting out demons, but when Christ died on the Cross, Satan thought he had won. Instead, he who is life itself conquered sin and its consequence of eternal death at that moment. Satan fell prey to the trap set for him in a manger decades earlier.
This is what we celebrate at Christmas. This is what the carols, the decorations, the presents, the Christmas trees, the Nativity scenes and Christmas Mass are meant to commemorate. On this day 2,000 years ago, the fight for our liberation began and we rejoice over that at Christmas. The eternal love of the Father is revealed to the world, in Emmanuel, “God with us.”
This year, after so much suffering, let us recover the purpose and joy of celebrating the beginning of the end for our greatest enemy. Let us give thanks for the gift of Jesus, who came to be with us (Lk 1:23) and who will remain with us until the end of time (Mt 28:20).
I encourage you this week to take to your prayer in adoration or in a quiet place the following quote from St. Leo the Great, Sermon 22. Let the truth penetrate your hearts!
“When, therefore, the merciful and almighty Saviour so arranged the commencement of His human course as to hide the power of His Godhead which was inseparable from His manhood under the veil of our weakness, the crafty foe was taken off his guard and he thought that the nativity of the Child, Who was born for the salvation of mankind, was as much subject to himself as all others are at their birth. For he saw Him crying and weeping, he saw Him wrapped in swaddling clothes, subjected to circumcision, offering the sacrifice which the law required. And then he perceived in Him the usual growth of boyhood … Meanwhile, he inflicted insults, multiplied injuries, made use of curses, affronts, blasphemies, abuse, in a word, poured upon Him all the force of his fury and exhausted all the varieties of trial: and knowing how he had poisoned man’s nature, had no conception that He had no share in the first transgression Whose mortality he had ascertained by so many proofs. The unscrupulous thief and greedy robber persisted in assaulting Him Who had nothing of His own, and in carrying out the general sentence on original sin, went beyond the bond on which he rested, and required the punishment of iniquity from Him in Whom he found no fault. And thus the malevolent terms of the deadly compact are annulled, and through the injustice of an overcharge the whole debt is cancelled. The strong one is bound by his own chains, and every device of the evil one recoils on his own head. When the prince of the world is bound, all that he held in captivity is released. Our nature cleansed from its old contagion regains its honourable estate, death is destroyed by death, nativity is restored by nativity: since at one and the same time redemption does away with slavery, regeneration changes our origin, and faith justifies the sinner.”