We prepare to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. But this is more than just a birthday! We are really celebrating an incredible truth about God. We have been given the gift of knowing God. Now God, perhaps, could have let us know all this by some kind of spiritual vision into each of our hearts and minds, or, perhaps, by some prophet speaking words which came to him from God. Yet, these methods had been used already and were not enough. Instead, God chose to become manifest in our flesh. God chose to use matter, our material reality, in order to show forth the divine.
He did not just use tablets of stone or rock altars or burning bushes. No, this time, God sent his son, Jesus, to tell us all we need to know about God. Most of what we now know about God could not be known except by this coming of Jesus in the flesh.
First of all, we now know that God is a communion of persons. God is not an isolated being who knows nothing of relationships. In fact, now we know that God is love and love is relationship – that loving relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This now becomes for us the real model of what our relationships should be. As in the Trinity, our relationships should be between equals even when we are different; they should involve the gift of our self to the other, not the use of the other. We would not know any of this about God if Jesus had not come to tell us and show us this truth. Instead, now we know what real love is.
Second, we now know that God loves us. Sure we may know that God wants us to behave in certain ways and to give glory and honor. But because God became one of us so as to die for us and thus save us from our sinfulness, we now know how much God loves us. This is not just the love of Jesus for us, since he was the one who died for us. This is also the love the Father for us, since he willed his own Son to die for us sinners, unworthy as we are. What human parent would will that for a child? Without Jesus, we might think that God is a powerful taskmaster who just expects us to obey or be destroyed. Instead, we now know that the love in the Trinity is also a love meant for us.
Third, we now know that God does not just love our souls, but loves all that we are. Our bodies and this material world are not things to be discarded, to be ignored or to be abused. Rather, they really are all temples, housing God’s creative power and God’s redeeming love. God sent his Son in our flesh demonstrating that God loves all that we are, wishes to redeem all that we are, and so bring all that we are into his divine love. Without Jesus, we might think that we must escape our bodies and this world or, at the other extreme, that we can do whatever we want with our bodies since they don’t matter. Instead, we now know that we are body and soul and thus valued and treasured by God.
Finally, we now know that God does not want us just as individuals, but as the body of his son, Jesus. Just as God is not an isolated individual, neither are we meant to be isolated individuals. We are meant to be one with God and one with each other. That is why Jesus established the Church to be his body – so that we might worship God together, that we might grow in holiness together, that we might love and serve one another together, and that we might help bring salvation to the entire world together. Without Jesus, we might think that it is only about God and me. Instead we know that God is a ‘we’ and that God intends us to be a ‘we’ as well.
Now, if we do not believe that Jesus is God, then all this knowledge is in vain. But if we believe that Jesus is God, that he came in the flesh more than 2,000 years ago, and that he died for our salvation, then everything must be different about us and the way we live our lives.
A Blessed Advent and Christmas to you all.
Bishop Earl Boyea is the fifth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.