In the first reading of the Christmas mass at night, the prophet Isaiah proclaims,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 9: 1).
These prophetic words from Isaiah truly express the greatest challenge of the spirit of Christmas: Christmas is to see and walk towards the light amidst the darkness of our lives and our world
The gospel story is the epitome of the triumph of the light despite the darkness that covers our world. There is darkness in the night, and yet the radiance of God’s love is in the child. The winter is cold, but the baby brings the fire of God’s love to earth. The baby is so small and helpless; and yet he is the Word, who in the beginning was God and was with God. The humble animals surround the child, but the angels of God sing his birth. The child is poor and lowly in origin, and yet all the power of God is his. The stable is lowly, but it is the king of kings who is born into it.
The wonder of Christmas is the story of God coming down from heaven and embracing the world and humanity despite all its darkness, messiness, sinfulness, and muddiness. The wonder of Christmas is God’s becoming human by not resorting to human power, prestige, wealth and fame.
The wonder of Christmas, however, is not just God coming down to become human. The wonder of Christmas is also human going up to God by welcoming God’s word and plan in human life. The greatest joy of Christmas for humanity is this very sublime dignity that God has imparted to all of us through Jesus Christ–the opportunity to partake of God’s divine life and all its qualities–peace, justice, wisdom, joy, unity, generosity and prosperity.
Saint Athanasius, the renowned fourth-century bishop of Alexandria and the greatest apologetic of the doctrine of God as the Trinity, in his classic work, Incarnation of the Word, said that the incarnation of Christ occurred not just in order for God to become human but also for human to go up to God. Similarly, the Benedictine monk Julian of Vezelay (c. 1080 – 1165) highlights the double movement of the Christmas wonder–God’s becoming human and human becoming divine:
And so from his royal throne the Word of God came to us, humbling himself in order to raise us up, becoming poor to make us rich, and human to make us divine.
It is in this light that Mary’s yes is very important to the Christmas story. Mary’s fiat (yes) is a turning point in the history of the world. The turning point involved the incarnation as God’s coming down from heaven to become human and Mary’s yes which represents humanity’s aspiration of going up to God. Mary’s yes is the prototype of humanity’s yes, or more precisely, Mary’s yes represents humanity’s yes par excellence.
Mary’s yes is replicated by the shepherds who came to worship the baby in the manger and the different characters in the Christmas story that we have heard during the 9 days of Simbang Gabi or Christian academy. They are all part of the wonder of Christmas.
The wonder of Christmas is not just the birth of Jesus. The wonder of Christmas is also the response and participation of Mary, John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Joseph, and many other prophets and characters who allowed God to make them an instrument of God’s plan and dream for all humanity and creation, are all part of the Christmas wonder. The wonder of Christmas is not merely God’s action; it includes and necessarily involves human response and participation.
We can never, therefore, experience the wonder of Christmas if we become passive observer of the great event of incarnation. You are part of the wonder of Christmas. God wants you to be part of the wonder of Christmas. We can be part of the wonder of Christmas not through the baby-cult, admiring the cute baby Jesus on the manger from the outside but not receiving Christ from the inside of our being. The wonder of Christmas is the reception of the Christmas story into our lives and like Mary, John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Joseph, and many other prophets and characters, it is allowing ourselves to become instruments and heralds of the building of God’s kingdom, here and now.
This Christmas, let us once again welcome in wonder and awe the greatest event of God’s coming into our lives. Together with the whole world let us bow down and adore our savior Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us humbly receive the birth of Jesus in our hearts and resoundingly accept our becoming part of the Christmas wonder.
A most blessed Christmas to all!