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Aren’t you awed by the feast we celebrate on Christmas?
Think about it: Almighty God became a human being, with all our limitations, without losing his divinity. As St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians says, quoting an early Christian hymn, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself” (Phil 2:6-8).
He most assuredly humbled himself. As the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, he was and remains all powerful. As St. John’s Gospel says: “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:3).
But he “emptied himself” when he became human. He began as an embryo like all other human beings, then a fetus and finally the baby whose birth we celebrate on Sunday. A baby completely dependent upon other humans to care for him. That’s how much God the Son humbled himself.
Why did he do that? Here’s what St. Pope Leo the Great wrote: “In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind” (from the Office of Readings for Christmas).
St. Athanasius put it more succinctly when he wrote, “God became man so that man might become God.” He meant that someday, after we die, we will actually share in God’s divinity in heaven. It’s what we pray for in every Mass when, during the Offertory, the priest adds a drop of water to wine and says, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
However, we could not share in Christ’s divinity if he had not taken on our human nature. Since the sin of Adam and Eve, humans had been shut out of heaven. We had to be reconciled to God, and it was God himself who determined how and when that would take place, as the quotation from St. Leo the Great above said.
That reconciliation could not be accomplished by just any human being, but it required a human to do it. So God the Father sent his Son to become fully human to achieve that reconciliation.
As John’s Gospel explained, “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16-17).
Our Scriptures tell us that Jesus has existed from all eternity, from that quote in the second paragraph to the one immediately above. He was not a man who somehow became God. He was God who became man, because of God’s love for us. Isn’t that amazing?
It’s true that we mere humans have difficulties understanding how someone can be both human and divine. Trying to figure that out is what caused all sorts of beliefs early in Christianity, some of them emphasizing Jesus’ divinity at the expense of his humanity and others his humanity at the expense of his divinity. He was both at the same time.
As a human, he “advanced in wisdom and age” (Lk 2:52). He knew hunger and thirst, and slept when he was tired. He wept. And, of course, he suffered and died. When he prayed, he didn’t pray to himself, but to his Father.
But, of course, he also did things that humans can’t do: He walked on water, calmed a stormy sea, multiplied food, raised the dead, and forgave sinners. This was his divine nature.
So let us rejoice at Jesus’ birth. We see him in a lowly manger in a cave in the small town of Bethlehem, on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. But we know that he is the Savior of the world. We’re awed.
—John F. Fink