Of the whole gamut of myths, legends and fairy tales that have been told in human history, not even the most outrageous or outlandish can compare with the message that we can so easily take for granted. It is the message first delivered to poor shepherds as they tended their flocks in the early hours of the first Christmas day. The message was simply unbelievable, yet because it was delivered by an angel sent by God, they immediately believed without question the greatest news that the world has ever received. It is simply that the all-holy and utterly other, the God who created the world, in the beginning, was made flesh and was born in a humble stable at the back of an inn in a small hamlet of no importance.
The full meaning of the Christmas message
The full meaning and implications of this epoch-making event would take a long time to penetrate the hearts and minds of all who initially just wanted to bend their knees and adore. Even the greatest of the prophets had never foreseen that the Messiah whose coming they had indeed foretold, would, in fact, be none other than God himself, made flesh and blood in a poor and tiny little baby dressed in swaddling clothes. In one of his Holy Sonnets, John Donne the metaphysical poet perfectly sums up this profound truth:
‘Twas much, that man was made like God before, But, that God should be made like man, much more’ (Sonnet No 15).
But that is not all. What they had never even conceived in their wildest imaginings was that the reason why God had chosen to become man in the person of Jesus Christ was so that through him, he could enter into other men and women through love to transform them into the image and likeness of himself. To use the word so dear to the Fathers of the Church; so that we could be divinized. If I could add another stanza to John Donne’s sonnet I would write: ‘Twas much, that God was made like man before, but that Man should be made like God much much more!’
It took a long time before the full meaning of the Christmas message came to be realized and understood, and it took Jesus himself to explain it. Even then it took him more than two years preparing the ground before he felt his disciples were ready to take in the deepest and most profound truths that have ever been taught. It was at the Last Supper that Jesus finally explained to his disciples the sublime consequence of what had happened on that first Christmas day. These mainly uneducated men were the first to hear the most mysterious and moving words that had ever been spoken. In the past, Jesus spoke in parables and in ambiguity, but now he told them clearly, speaking directly and to the point. In the future there would no longer be any misunderstandings about who he was, and why he had come, and what he would do, and would continue to do for them. To begin with, they met him as the best friend they had ever had, but then they came to believe that he was much more than that. He was the one all the Jews had been waiting for to fulfill the promises that God had made through the prophets. Then, he led them on and taught them the full truth that they never imagined before. Some had come to believe it would be God himself who would come to inaugurate the new world order in which he would reign as King. Others believed that it would be a very special man, an anointed man, the Messiah who would come to rule them.
Prophecies Fulfilled in Jesus
Gradually they came to see and to believe that in Jesus both prophesies had been fulfilled. Yes, he was a man and the Messiah, but the Messiah was also the embodiment of the living God himself. What finally happened far exceeded all expectations. Now, as they listened, Jesus summarized all that he had taught them—but in such a clear and distinct way that if there may have been misunderstandings in the past, there could be none in the future. Now they were taught to understand truths that all the wisdom of the world had never conceived before. The God who was embodied in his flesh and blood was his own otherworldly Father. And to have met him was to have met his Father and his infinite all-consuming loving, embodied in human flesh and blood.
But let the deeply moving words of Jesus speak for themselves. When the Apostle Philip asked Jesus how they could see the Father, he replied. ‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’ (John. 14:10). Then he led them on to a truth so utterly incredible that it must have shaken them to the very foundations of their being and taken them the rest of their lives to understand fully. His words were simple and unequivocal so there could be no misunderstanding:
‘Anyone who loves me will be loved by my Father too. Then we will come and make our home with him. Make your home in me as I make my home in you’ (John 14:21-24).
This is the world-shaking news that we are reminded of each Christmas as we celebrate the first coming of Christ in history so that he can come to us every day of our lives in mystery, to make his home within us here on earth. But this is only the prelude to his final coming in Majesty to call us all into our ultimate home in heaven hereafter, where, together with all we love and hold dear, we will be totally engrossed in our Father’s love to all eternity.
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