Inscribed on a fresco above the altar in the chapel at the Hammersmith House are these words from the beginning of St. John’s Gospel: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Full of grace and truth. These words capture the mystery of the incarnation – God becoming one with us in our humanity in Jesus Christ. Christmas is a celebration of the beautiful mystery of our God sharing fully in our human life and experience. That God chose to enter fully into our humanity and into the human condition speaks to me about both the nature of God and of the human person.
While God became human to save humanity and to draw humanity into His divine life, we often reduce this mystery to the final acts of Christ’s life – His death and resurrection. However, the mystery of our salvation is first encountered in the very life of Christ Himself. This is because in the incarnation God became human in Christ to show us how to be human. By becoming one with us through becoming one of us, God is saying “let me show you how to be human, how to be this wonderful and beautiful being that I have created in my image and likeness.” In this, Jesus is indeed God’s answer to every question we have about ourselves.
Our lives are filled with questions to which we have no final answers. These are questions about who we are, the meaning of it all, the immense suffering in the world and so on. The increasing complexity of our social and technical life coupled with the diversity of competing worldviews confuse us and fill us with anxiety. The scale of suffering and injustice in our world both sadden us and confront us with our own helplessness to do anything meaningful to alleviate these evils. Our relationships are so often filled with tension and conflict. We yearn for excitement, we long for love and we seek deeper meaning in our experiences. In other words, we find it very difficult to simply be human.
When we speak about Jesus coming to teach us how to be human we do not simply mean this in its practical or sentimental aspects. We mean it in its deeper sense. While we certainly do learn from Jesus how to be compassionate and forgiving, just and peaceful, it is in His very being that we begin discover the truth of our being. Our identity is to be found in His identity, and the truth of who we are before God is discovered in Him. When we begin to understand this, we begin to understand the mystery of Christ. When we come to some understanding of the mystery of Christ present in our own humanity we begin to glimpse the meaning of our existence and the purpose of our lives.
The central and defining feature of the incarnation and life of Christ is total self-giving. In the incarnation Christ forgot his divinity and took on humanity, He lived in obedience to the will of the Father, and gave of Himself completely in service of others. Finally, on the cross, He poured out His life in an act of total self-giving so that we might have life. He lived in love and lived for love. We are created in Love and made for love – our lives take on a deeper value and an elevated dignity when we see that the self-giving of Christ is precisely what we are called to imitate in our lives. The continuous outpouring of himself in compassionate healing and loving service was a natural consequence of his identity. The very same holds true for us. When we generously give of our selves in loving service to others, not only do we begin to experience joy in our lives and peace in our hearts, we also discover the mystery of our own being. We come to the liberating realisation that to be human is to love. In this moment we begin to realise all our beautiful and powerful potentialities as a human person. In this moment we begin the journey that will ultimately lead us to share in the divinity of Christ, just as He shares in our humanity.
Blessings for a joyful Christmas and may all good things be yours in 2018.