Planting the Seed
(From the December 20, 2013 Catholic Calendar)
Consider what we celebrate at Christmas. “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The Eternal Word of God took human flesh, entering our world—in fact, the world of His creation. We repeat these words of the Scriptures almost daily when we recite the Creed. “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” (Nicene Creed).
Think about this for a moment. God took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became a little baby. He was born not in a palace but in a manger. The crib of the Son of God was a trough where animals fed. His earthly mother was a humble—albeit exceptionally graced (Luke 1:28)—virgin from Nazareth. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:12), a detail often overlooked. Swaddling clothes are long strips of cloth binding an infant to keep them from moving about. Even at His birth, we are reminded that Jesus will be bound when He submits to crucifixion.
Reflect on what Christmas is all about. It is not about a Grinch that stole Christmas or Rudolf’s red nose, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” or a performance of the Nutcracker—as entertaining as all of these traditions may be. Christmas is about the Word of God becoming flesh, like us in all things but sin. In this simple truth lies all the mystery of what we remember and celebrate at Christmas.
What great love God has shown us in this moment of Incarnation! The Incarnation is a moment of re-creation. God is remaking the world. He is giving us a new Adam. “The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven” (I Corinthians 15:47). St. Paul reminds us, “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one” (I Corinthians 15:49). We must not forget that the name Adam is the identical word in Hebrew used for man. In becoming flesh, God has given us a gift to be remade by sharing in the new-man, conformed fully to the image of Jesus Christ.
God spoke of this image at creation. What did He say? “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:27). Blessed John Paul II reminded us that this implies that man is defined by his relationship with God. Man can never be reduced to the worldly. No other work of God’s creation has the dignity of sharing in God’s image. Man is the icon of God. “[M]an can neither be understood nor explained in his full depth with the categories taken from the ‘world’” (General Audience of September 12, 1979, #4).
We are not beasts—although through sin we at times act like it. We are not machines. We cannot be replaced with robots. Our value is not measured by what we can produce. We are not commodities. We cannot be bought and sold. We have a dignity that comes to us from the will of the Creator, and even though at times we do not live up to that dignity, the Creator loves each and every one of us and offers us the gift of being re-created in His Son, Jesus Christ. God created us in His image, male and female He created us and saw that it was all good (Genesis 1:27, 31). When we forget this truth, we are always less than what we are meant to be.
And, now, in the fullness of time, God sends us Himself, clothed in human flesh, because He knows that left to ourselves we will self-destruct. Left to ourselves we will think we are merely animals, machines, to be discarded and thrown away. And this is where too many today find themselves—lost, without meaning, alone and abandoned. God does not want this. God wants to show us what it means to live more fully in His image. So He sends us the perfect image of Himself, the new Adam.
Think about Christmas for a moment. In the midst of all our noisy and busy preparations for the holidays, think about what Christmas means. The Word of God became flesh. He did so for a reason, and the reason is bigger and better than anything that the world can offer. The reason is found in every act of kindness and charity, when we act not as a machine or a beast but with the love and compassion of a child of God, the image of God.
Look to the manger to understand this. The mystery of this image will not be found on a holiday tree or in a sanitized “happy holiday” greeting. It will certainly not be found in the selfish ambition of this world. Instead the mystery is wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, warmed by the breath of a donkey, nursing at the breast of a Virgin—all so mysterious, as mysterious as a God who would create us in His image.