Christmas is not an event within history but is rather the invasion of time by eternity. (Hans Urs Von Balthasar)
Eternity Is Not Linear
From our point of view, the Infant Jesus was born in a moment in history more than 2,000 years ago. People see time as linear, measurable and so view the first Christmas from their point of view as creatures who are bound by time. This egocentric view completely misses the real ramifications of the Incarnation in our lives.
Rather than fondly recounting the tale of Christ’s birth as if it were simply a charming tale we tell children on December 25th, we must stop and really think about this mystery. The fact that God became a man should baffle our mortal minds. If we step back and at least try to view the birth of the Son of God from the point of view of the Holy, Immortal, Almighty One, we can begin to open ourselves to a reality of cosmic proportions. The Eternal God entered time. He also invades us personally if we allow Him to implant Eternity in our mortal hearts. The real wonder of what actually took place on the first Christmas can happen every day in the heart of each believer.
The very first Christmas was the invasion of time by Eternity. It is both a reality and a mystery, a sacred moment changing all of history. We can only respond by being still, in awe of God who became a man, and the fact that Eternity entered our timeline.
With the Nicene Creed, we answer by confessing: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man.”
Taking up St. John’s expression, “The Word became flesh,” the Church calls the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation as the Incarnation.
Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2 NRSVCE). Such is the joyous conviction of the Church from her beginning whenever she sings “the mystery of our religion”: “He was manifested in the flesh.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church486)
Embrace the Incarnation
It is still possible for even pragmatic adults to welcome the Child of God into their hearts during the season of Christmas. We too can choose to welcome this new life into our darkness, which anchors us to the mundane. We only are required to turn our eyes to the Infant Jesus in silent expectation, waiting to be filled with light and hope. We must have the trust of a little child who waits with joyful expectation.
Do I Wait Stoically or Expectantly?
Do we wait stoically or with joy each Christmas? Do we wait like a jaded adult who is closed off to any spiritual surprises after years of unanswered prayers or do we wait as a child, a child who trusts that his daddy will keep His promises? Come to think of it, how many of us actually expect anything to happen to us on Christmas morning? When we are secretly cynical, we will not receive a thing, not a thin ray of Light and we will cement our cynicism in place for another year.
As we wait, secretly longing for the dark, empty places within us to be flooded with His light, we should look to our children to teach us how to wait for the Christ Child to be born anew in our hearts. They trust and believe the words of both their earthly and heavenly fathers. Think of a young child, eyes twinkling, barely able to sit still and contain his excitement because he knows that his dad will never give him a stone instead of a loaf of bread. Yet as the child waits, he also enjoys even the strike of a match, delights in a single flame of the Advent candle because he is open and enjoys simple pleasures. No wonder Jesus tells us,
Then he said, “In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3 NJB)
Instead of the word change, some versions use the word converted; some use the word turn. The Greek word for turn or change (στρέφω strephō) is in the passive voice (straphēte). This means God must be the one who changes us; we cannot convert or change or turn ourselves and become like little children on our own. This transformation does not happen by gritting our teeth and forcing it to happen. We must acknowledge we are powerless and ask the Father to do it in us. Just like a small child asks their daddy to help them. It is humbling but in the face of eternal mysteries, it is the only possible response. Anything else would be arrogant.
He Will Come Again
Simply ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit and become a point of light, united with God to shine in the darkness this Christmas. God always answers, always fulfills His promises. God always comes to be born anew in our hearts. Eternity will break into our timeline whenever we ask.