The Incarnation: “And the Word Became Flesh… “

As we celebrate Christ’s birthday, let us remember the reason for the season! “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). God’s love is so great for each one of us, that he sent his Son to enter our humanity and live among us. God wants us to know Him, in the flesh! He became man, just like us in all things, except sin! Through the Incarnation, the Word became flesh (John 1:14), and we celebrate this Incarnation on Christmas Day.

Far greater than any gift sitting under the Christmas tree, or sitting in our driveways, adorned with ostentatious bows, is the gift of Christ Himself – in our hearts. God’s gift of Himself, via the Incarnation, is a piece of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. God’s master plan required Jesus to enter humanity, not only so that we could come to know and love God, in the flesh, but also so that Jesus could redeem us from our sins and make us holy in God’s sight.

The gift of Christ, in our hearts, is a gift of pure love. By Christ’s gift of Himself, we come to know and love the Father. Son and Holy Spirit. Through the teachings of Jesus Christ, as both God and Man, we’ve come to learn that as omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent as God is, He will not force His love upon us; He will not force the gift of salvation upon us. It must be our choice to decide if we will accept Christ’s love. Also, we play a part in our own salvation. It is up to us to decide whether we will accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

So, the plan unfolds anew today, with the babe in the manger. Will you accept the gift of Christ’s love? Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God; conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary? Will you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior? I pray that you will say “yes” to these questions, and by doing so, accept the gift of Christ’s love on this Christmas Day.

From all the Theology faculty at Saint Joseph’s College, we wish you a blessed Christmas season filled with God’s love, peace and joy. May your new year be filled with hope, patience and trust in Christ’s generosity, mercy and forgiveness.

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all our readers from the Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program.

Adoración_de_los_pastores_(Murillo)

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.

When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.

All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Luke 2: 15-20

 

The Domestic Church, Mercy, and Christmas

Today’s liturgical readings—especially the Gospel—highlight, among other themes, the importance and dynamism of the mission of the Christian family.  This is significant in light of the recent Synod on the Family, and because of our pilgrimage of faith within Advent and Christmas of this holy Jubilee Year of Mercy.

By “mission of the Christian family,” I am referring to its three-fold baptismal priestly, prophetic, and kingly calling: to be holy; to proclaim and witness to the truth about Christ and His word (John 14:23); and to be an instrument of love and mercy in our world so much in desperate need…(see Lumen gentium, or LG, 9-13, 31 and Familiaris Consortio, or FC, 50-64 for roughly equivalent explanations of the mission of the Church, shared by its laity and the domestic Church, the Christian family).

Dom church

Mary, a “type and outstanding model in faith and charity” (LG 53), also is a type of the Church (LG 63).  As such, she reflects the three-fold mission of the Church—and therefore of the domestic Church.  Her words at the Annunciation, “May it be done to me according to your word,” from today’s selection in the “Alleluia,” echo the reference to Christ in today’s reading from Hebrews 10, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’“   This sacrificial self-offering underscores the core meaning of the baptismal priestly calling of holiness of the Christian family—self-oblation and corporate familial self-giving through prayer and the sacraments (FC 55, 62).  In a special way, in this Holy Year of Mercy, the Christian family must seek forgiveness from God and each other and contemplate the face of mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Misericordiae Vultus, or MV, 4).  In today’s Gospel Reading (Luke 1:39-45), Elizabeth proclaims that Mary is blessed among women, and blessed also by believing that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.  Her tenacious trust in and loyalty to God’s will is the baptismal priestly model to which the domestic Church must aspire.

In the Gospel reading, the Virgin Mary also illustrates the prophetic calling of the domestic Church by bringing Jesus to others, i.e., to Elizabeth and the unborn infant John the Baptist, and then proclaiming His power and salvation in her subsequent Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 (just beyond the reach of today’s Gospel reading). The third calling of the Christian family’s three-fold mission—to advance the kingly reign of love—we see as well in our readings.  In Luke 1:39-45, Mary exercised empathy and compassion toward neighbor in her fearless and other-centered journey to Elizabeth, six months into her pregnancy.  “Showing mercy” (from rahkam and Ἔλεος), practically the equivalent of “having compassion,” is the virtue—grounded in humility—most supremely demonstrative of charity.  Pope Francis also specifically beckons us to exercise this virtue during this Year of Mercy: “Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are.  In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us…” (MV 9)

What gift can the Christian family—including each of ours, and any family, to the extent possible—give this Christmas to the Christ Child?  As the magi did, so too our families can each (try to) give Him three gifts.  The first is the baptismal priestly gift of itself—of dedicating ourselves as a family, by sacramental grace and prayer, to loving Christ and keeping His word.  The second is the prophetic gift of bringing the truth about Christ and His teachings to others.  And the third is the kingly gift of loving neighbor especially for God’s sake.  In offering this, our families will exercise great compassion, first on members of our own, but also on others most in need—even enemies.

The sacrifice of our wills, our passionate effort to share Christ and His words, and our compassionate love for Him in our neighbor, at home and far away—inspired and guided by the Mother of the domestic Church—will transform our families, our culture, and our Church.  This can be our gift to the Christ Child during this Advent and Christmas season and Holy Year.

Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Jesus was a real person!

The eternal Word, born of the Father before time began, today emptied himself for our sake and became man.

Antiphon 3, Evening Prayer I
Christmas Day

A baby is born in Bethlehem, and all the world is changed. God has become man. I’ll say it again – God has become man. All religions are not the same. A baby is born in Bethlehem, and all the world is changed.

Christianity is the only religion to claim the God-Man. Other faiths claim prophets, or representations of a spiritual entity, but only Christians claim that the God they worship, the God they claim created the heavens and the earth, became a human being and lived among us in the flesh.

I can recall the first time that this fact really struck me. I was a student in Rome and was on the Scavi tour at Saint Peter’s Basilica. We were at the tomb of Saint Peter, and I was looking at his bones. Now, my family had a custom of visiting the cemetery, usually at Christmas and Easter, placing flowers at the graves of our relatives, and praying for them. As I was “visiting the grave” of Peter the Apostle, the thought occurred to me that this was similar to visiting my grandparents’ graves. Then I thought, “Oh my gosh, Peter was a real person!” Then, immediately following, “If Peter was a real person, then Jesus was a real person!” Thus began my insatiable appetite for all things theological. I just had to learn everything I could about this Jesus – this very real person who walked this earth.The_Nativity_of_Jesus_Christ_by_logIcon

The Incarnation is a doctrine of faith unique to Christianity. When this doctrine is ignored or underappreciated, Jesus can become anything from a wise prophet to Santa Claus. He is neither. He is the God-Man, the perfect, intimate unity of God and human. He is the One who, by His death and resurrection, makes it possible for all humans to be intimately united to God the Father. Therein lies our Christmas joy!

A baby is born in Bethlehem, and all the world is changed.

 

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Theology Programs at Saint Joseph’s College Online.