As we celebrate Christmas on Saturday and the Feast of the Holy Family on Sunday we should recall how strange the story of the Incarnation is. God Himself came down to earth, the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary, and the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, was united to a human nature in the person of Jesus of Nazareth through the hypostatic union, and He, God and man, was the Christ. This same Jesus Christ revealed Himself as the Son of God during His public ministry, and He eventually gave His life in atonement for sin and for the salvation of the world. Therefore both the creche, the scene of His birth, and the Cross are signs of the self-emptying of God and His sacrificial love for the world.
In the incarnation God condescended to become one of us. The word condescension is usually a pejorative meant as an insult, because it means that someone who feels they are superior to others stoops down to their level. God, however, truly is superior to us. God is uncreated while we are created. He is infinite and we are finite. He is the Creator and we are creatures. Therefore, St. Paul says, “For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man” (Philippians 2:5-7). Jesus Christ became one of us for our benefit, not for His. In emptying Himself Jesus didn’t stop being God, rather He took on the nature of a man. He condescended to become a creature, to develop and mature in the natural way, to be obedient to Mary and Joseph, and to follow the laws of men.
St. Paul continues after the quote above, “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a name which is above all names: That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Phil 2:8-10). Jesus’ entire earthly life is an example of God’s love for us, and His greatest act of love is His death on the Cross. The humility of Jesus is that He didn’t take advantage of His Divine prerogative, even though He truly is God, but that His Divine love led Him to the Cross.
The love of God is not merely sentimental. Sentimental means marked or governed by feeling, sensibility, or emotional idealism, and love can certainly provoke emotion, very strong emotion. However, the love of God, and the type of love He desires us to show, is governed by reason, not emotion. It is concerned primarily with doing good for other, not making them feel good, and it has real consequences for our lives.
So, as we celebrate Christmas this weekend and for the next few weeks, we’ll celebrate with a lot of sentimentality. We’ll gather with family, put up lights and decorations, participate in family traditions and customs, and exchange gifts. Let us also remember that Christmas is a celebration of the love of God, which lead Him to become one of us, to live with us, and to give His life for us in the torturous death of the Cross. May the love of God also have a real and lasting effect in our lives leading to repentance, conversion, and growth in holiness.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.