Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 20, 1999
Marriage of earth and heaven
In recent decades, we have had a tendency to downplay the feast of Christmas, to emphasize how it is secondary to the great paschal mystery of Calvary and the empty tomb where our salvation was made real.
But Christmas too is a grand feast in our church, one that is foremost in the hearts of the people. With the birth of our Lord, we celebrate an incredible mystery - the marriage of earth and heaven. It is a mystery other faiths which believe in one God say cannot exist. God, they say, is so far from us that he could never become so intimate. We are so beneath God that we could never be raised up to share his divine nature.
But that is not what we believe. The early Fathers of the Church wrote time and again that the Son of God became human so that we might become God. In one of his Christmas sermons, Pope St. Leo the Great said, "The supreme and eternal essence that stooped to save humanity raised us up to share its own glory but did not cease to be what it was."
The Liturgy of the Hours proclaims, "He who contains the universe dwells in a stable. He is laid in a manger and dwells in heaven."
The liturgy also uses Psalm 45, an ode for a royal wedding, on Christmas Day. During Advent and the Christmas season, it repeatedly refers to Christ as the bridegroom. At first, this might seem to be an odd choice. But Christmas changes everything. It is the feast of the birth of the Eternal Lover. It is also the feast of our being called out of nature to live the supernatural life. We are God's adopted sons and daughters.
If some religions say God is so remote from humanity that he could never be like this, other religions say the human task is to be absorbed into God. But if God created us to absorb us, why would he have bothered to create us in the first place?
God does not obliterate our identity, but rather honours our freedom and rejoices when we use that freedom to do good. Through Jesus, we see divine life can be communicated to us and that such communication does not wipe out our identity.
This communication takes place through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. At Christmas, we see the Eucharist made real. We see Jesus, the Son of God, laid in an eating trough. We see the Son of God as the Bread of Life.
What great mysteries we baptized ones have been given the privilege to participate in! Instead of our being absorbed into God, God is absorbed into us. Through him, we have been given the power and the grace to transform all creation into his likeness.
Through the birth of our Lord, God has given us hope. He has enabled us to put aside a decrepit existence oriented to our own survival and pleasure and to live in a communion of love with him. This communion begins now. It is rooted in the sacraments, carried beyond the walls of the church through prayer and loving action, and achieves its final fulfillment in the everlasting kingdom.
Christmas is the linchpin for this. It is through Jesus' humble birth that the marriage of earth and heaven is made real. God has raised our dignity by coming into our midst. He has also stimulated us to live up to that dignity by faithfully employing the freedom he will never take away from us.
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