Christ’s coming into the world was not like that of a sightseer to a strange city, but rather like that of an artist visiting his own studio or an author paging the books he himself has written, for in becoming incarnate, the divine Word was tabernacling himself in his own creation.Fulton J. Sheen In the Fullness of Time
It is a strange time to be a Christian. We live in a world where scepticism abounds, where trust is in short supply, and where the yearly celebration of Our Lord and Saviour’s Nativity has become an excuse for consumerist excess. In the midst of all the madness and froth of our modern existence, I’d like to take a few minutes to explore the profound mystery which we celebrate tonight.
In a stable attached to an inn, in a backwater town in the far corner of the Roman Empire, a woman gives birth to a son. It is a birth which has been foretold by the prophets: salvation will come from Bethlehem, the town of David, and from the line of David. Unlike the ﬁrst David, who sends a man (Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba) to die, so that he may sin, the second David will gladly die to save all humanity from its sins, even those who kill him. The ruler and shepherd of Israel will reign in glory hanging from a tree like a common criminal. The ﬁrst people to come and worship him are shepherds, ritually impure men, outcasts from Jewish society. It is a life that begins and ends on the margins, among those whom the world despises and casts aside. This doesn’t look much like how the world understands glory, indeed it doesn’t look much like how the world understands God, and that is, I suspect, the point. If we try and understand what we are celebrating in purely worldly terms then we will go horribly wrong.
As he ponders the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation, St John begins at the beginning, taking us back to the beginning of Creation so that we may discern the loving purposes of God, in the midst and messiness of human history. It ends with the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, the forerunner who even in his mother’s womb leaps for joy to announce the coming of the Saviour of the World. He bears witness in his life that all might believe: he sets us the example of how to live a Christian life – we are in all things and at all times to bear witness to Christ, the Saviour of the World. It may cost us dear – imprisonment, torture and even death, but throughout the entire world and for all of the last two thousand years Christians have done just this, to bear witness to the truth regardless of the cost, so that the WORLD may believe. The world knew him not, and still fails to know him, to recognise him, but their failure does not mean that we should lessen our efforts; rather we should proclaim the saving truth of God’s love all the more and live lives which embody that truth and make it real and visible to the world, which make it credible, trustworthy, and attractive.
To those who received him he gave power to become children of God – through faith we enter into a relationship with the God who creates, who redeems and who loves. It isn’t about giving our assent to philosophical propositions – the salvation of humanity is not about logic, but love.
And the Word became ﬂesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth. The Word becomes ﬂesh – God becomes a human being in the womb of a virgin, ‘the invasion of time by eternity’. God tabernacles among us and the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, becomes the Ark of the New Covenant for the New Israel, the People of God.
‘God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is and it remains for us a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives up a Son. Such is the spirit of the angel’s message to the shepherds: “Peace upon earth, good will to men … and this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall ﬁnd a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.” A Son is better than an explanation. The explanation of our death leaves us no less dead than we were; but a Son gives us a life, in which to live.’ [Austin Farrer Said or Sung pp. 27, 28]
God gives us a life to live – with Him and each other, a relationship through which we may grow, fed by His Word and Sacraments, so that His grace may perfect our nature and that we may live that divine life of love poured out on the world in His Son and the Holy Spirit, so that the world might believe and all creation resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, the consubstantial and coeternal Trinity, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.