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 usthe 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 restaurantall 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).
One of the great insights we draw from those words
is that already with the Incarnation and birth of Christmany
years before Jesus' death and Resurrectionwe 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
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?
He is the wildest of lovers.
(From Love Poems From God by Daniel
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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