Witnesses in court trials are required to take an oath to tell the truth, the words of the oath containing the phrase: “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” It’s comprehensive because sometimes telling the truth isn’t revealing the whole truth. What we say may be true but it’s not the whole truth. It’s true but there may be more; it doesn’t go far enough. It’s incomplete.
As we contemplate the meaning of Christmas we often hear people speak about “the real meaning of Christmas.” I’m sure you’ve heard it said that the real meaning of Christmas is all about children. That’s true, but it’s only a sentimental thought. We are all captivated by the sight of our children opening beautifully wrapped presents, their faces aglow, their eyes wide open in joy and wonder. That’s the truth, but not the whole truth even though it’s a lovely event.
Christmas is for families, we are told. That is quite true. Certainly you have received Christmas cards depicting Mary, Joseph, and the child Jesus in lovely settings, usually painted in a holy, heavenly light emanating from the Star of Bethlehem beaming down its light from heaven above. The Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday immediately following Christmas thus emphasizing the fundamental importance of the family. Yes, Christmas is for families and for their bonding together. That’s the truth, but not the whole truth.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. That is certainly true. The secularists and atheists don’t want that to be a public celebration and would change it to be the celebration of some sort of Winter Festival with Father Frost substituted for Santa Claus, Santa Clause be the contraction of the name St. Nicholas, a Christian saint.
Christmas celebrates the birth of our Savior, God’s promised Messiah. That’s true. In celebrating it, however, we should not think of His birth as the beginning of His existence. Having said that I want to go a bit more deeply into our belief that God the Son existed from all eternity along with the Father and the Holy Spirit without a beginning. Because that is so, what we are really celebrating is the fact that God Himself became human flesh and blood, became one of us, and thus entered into our human nature and human history. That’s something that is stupendous, so stupendous that the theologians refer to it as the miracle of the Incarnation. The miraculous birth of Christ is the incarnation of God the Son in human flesh and blood.
It makes a whole of sense when you stop and think about it. After all, how else could God make Himself really known to us? Oh, He could send us angels, He could raise up prophets and holy men to tell us about Him, or He could let Himself be known to us in awesome events taking place in nature. Actually He has done all that but we just didn’t get it. So God went the whole distance and in doing so removed any distance between Himself and us – He became Man.
I realize full well that this fundamental belief of Christians is heavy fare coming to you in the midst of your preparations for Christmas. You are busily concerned with buying gifts, preparing for parties, and are trying to get a whole lot done in your pre-Christmas preparations, but when else am I going to have the opportunity to share these ideas with you? The truth that God comes to us in our own humanity is vital and essential to how you and I think about God and His fundamental relationship with us.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us their reports about who Jesus Christ is and what He is all about. Each uses his own particular techniques in teaching us. With that in mind we need to see how St. John begins his own presentation of Christ to us. The way he begins his gospel, His good news about Christ, points up my message for you today.
St. John begins with a prologue – an introduction to his testimony about Jesus Christ. John was a teenager when he became one of Christ’s closest disciples. He went on to live until his early nineties which means he gave a lot of thought to his message, to what we know of as the Gospel of St. John, a gospel account he wrote in his old age.
With that in mind, listen now to the first part of his prologue. It goes to the heart of what Christmas, what the Incarnation, is all about. It sets the stage for everything St. John has to say about Jesus Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
You have all heard that before, many times. But how many times have you stopped to consider what it is really saying? That’s what we are doing right now.
St. John is telling us that Jesus Christ is the human expression, no – more, the human reality of God’s Word made flesh, God’s self-expression and self-revelation of who He is. God has something He wants to say to us, something He wants to give us, namely His love and His very own life. In His love for us God wants to share His life with us. Why? For no other reason than He loves us and wants to be united to us.
You know as well as I do that there is distance between ourselves and God. This distance is not God’s doing, it is not His will. It is our doing. Sin and the evils we have perpetrated are the cause of the distance. And there’s nothing that we can do by ourselves to close the gap. We need God to do that. And so He sent us a Savior to bridge the chasm between us and God. Before that Savior came to us we were powerless to bridge the gap. With God’s gift to us, with the Savior He has given us, we can bridge the chasm.
Most marvelous of all is the fact that God sent His Savior to us not simply to live among us but actually become one of us in our very nature. That is the astounding miracle that happens each and every time we celebrate Mass and you receive Him in your own humanity in Holy Communion. God becomes one with your body and blood with His Body and Blood. Because of the Incarnation God becomes one with you. Each Mass is another Christmas. That’s the truth, the whole, and nothing but the truth.
About Charles Irvin
Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”