December 17, 2003

A Christmas Message
From Friar Jack

by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

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The God of love is the original gift-giver

A wonderful custom of gift-giving has always been closely connected with Christmas. This is rightly so because the feast of Christmas celebrates the extravagant and ultra "super-gift" that God first gave us—the total gift of God's very self!

At the Incarnation, God handed over to us not a brightly wrapped box of expensive jewelry, a bottle of rare wine or a gift certificate to a five-star restaurant—all of which are generous gifts. No, God gave us the total gift of himself in the form of Jesus Christ. Amazingly, in loving obedience to his all-loving Creator, the Divine Word volunteered his entire self to carry out God's saving mission on this earth.

We read about it in the Letter to the Hebrews. When Jesus was coming into the world, the Letter tells us, he said to the one who sent him: "'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'See, God, I have come to do your will, O God.' ...And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:5ff).

The birth of Christ is already total gift

One of the great insights we draw from those words is that already with the Incarnation and birth of Christ—many years before Jesus' death and Resurrection—we have received God's total self-gift. As the late, renowned Scripture scholar Raymond Brown put it, "Some theologians have so appreciated the love in the incarnation that they have wondered whether that alone might not have saved the world even if Jesus was never crucified."

When Pope John Paul II came to Bethlehem's Manger Square, during his great Jubilee visit to the Holy Land, March 22, 2000, he affirmed in a similar vein that both Jesus' Incarnation as well as his Passion express this same great mystery of God's all-out, unconditional love for us. "The silence and poverty of the birth in Bethlehem are one with the darkness and pain of the death of Calvary," the pope said in an address at Bethlehem. "The Crib and the Cross are the same mystery of redemptive love; the body which Mary laid in a manger is the same body offered up on the Cross." All of us, I can only suspect, need to upgrade our appreciation of the enormous gift that God offered to us that first Christmas.

To the Birth of Christ and the Death/Resurrection of Christ, we can add a third mystery or event which offers to us that same supreme gift. I am speaking of the Holy Eucharist, the gift that Christ left us on the eve of his death, and a gift that commemorates and truly embodies the same loving and total self-gift of God. The point is that God is always giving himself totally for us.

God is always loving us

The following short poem may at first seem a little too earthy or flip to use as a conclusion for this musing at this awesome time, but I ask you, in the spirit of "good will" promoted by this season, to interpret it generously in the light of what has just been said.

Does God only pucker at certain moments
of one's life?

No way!

He is the wildest of lovers.

(From Love Poems From God by Daniel Ladinsky)

May the mystery of the Incarnation help us realize how wild and extravagant is the gift of God's infinite love for us! Have a joyous Christmas!

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