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What Is Christmas?

Posted on December 25, 2012 in Holiday

I don't normally write this kind of stuff... not this bluntly... not this... well... plainly. And I don't know why I chose to do it now. But the following are my thoughts on Christmas. I don't speak for my Church, for which She is probably rightfully very grateful. I don't possess the charism of infallibility. So I am probably missing the mark in some (many) areas. I didn't spend weeks or months crafting these words. I sat down and started writing them on Christmas Eve and finished it in two hours with no editing other than running it through Emacs' spell-checker. Its long and rambling, probably with many grammatical and stylistic problems. But they are my thoughts, such as they are.

There's a line in Revelation that says "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." It refers to the door of our hearts. But Christmas is where God didn't just knock on the door. He knocked the door of the universe down and entered His creation physically. As one of His creatures. We call it the Incarnation, meaning "to take on flesh". We believe God literally became man. A true human being... all the while also being truly God. Yes, we can't understand it. So like everything we can't understand we've made up a name for the union of a Divine and human nature in one being: the hypostatic union. But how does that work? I don't know.

The idea of Someone from Outside entering the universe... of God choosing to become man is incomprehensible to many, scandalous to others and even blasphemous to some. The Jews reject incarnationalism on the grounds that God would never lower himself that way and they offer various other reasons as well. Islam views the idea of the Incarnation as "shirk". Its the sin of idolatry (worshiping a human) and polytheism. They don't get the idea of three persons in one Godhead. I can't be too hard on them for that. Its another thing that humans can't wrap their heads around. We can only come up with analogies to try and imperfectly explain it. The ancient pagans didn't even have a concept of Someone who was from Outside. Their ideas of gods weren't a Creator that created everything but merely anthropomorphizations of various forces and phenomena of nature. Their gods and goddesses weren't really supernatural, from outside of nature, but actually supremely natural: they were nature. Even Buddhism has a hard time with the Incarnation because they don't view the universe as something good that needs saving. They seem to view it as an impermanent place of suffering that one should only be bent on escaping in order to achieve permanent happiness. I think they probably have seen a few truths there, but they haven't got it all. But I can respect that they are looking for it diligently.

My apologies if I've mischaracterized any of the other faiths I've mentioned. I've gone by what I've read and what various practitioners of those faiths have told me. If I've gotten something wrong, assume I made the mistake, not them. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Heh!

But we believe God inserted himself into His creation. Why? We believe He did it to save us and only He could do it. Why did we need saving and why couldn't we do it ourselves? Well... we broke creation. God created it... the physical universe... and called it good. He created us and called us good. We are spirit and body and God called us good. There are many philosophies and religions that believe that the material world, or maybe just our flesh, is weak and evil and only the mind or soul is good. There is no such dualism in Christianity. We are an integral whole made of matter and spirit and that single whole was created good. The existence of evil is not a requirement to allow good to exist.

God is a being of extravagant joy, goodness and love. He doesn't have joy and goodness and love. He is joy, goodness and love. And in His extravagance He chose to create creatures that He loved and could love Him back. He didn't create robots programmed to love Him because that would not be love. That is only programming. I'm a software developer. I create programs all the time. Those programs have no capacity to love me. Although sometimes it seems they do have the capacity to hate me. :-) God gave us free will so we could freely choose to love Him. But that kind of freedom means that we could also choose not to love Him.

So we have that choice. That's not to say that it doesn't matter which choice one makes. The choice not to love or the choice to do evil is not the right choice. But we have to have the freedom to make the correct choice in order for it to be real. Without that freedom we would be automatons going through the motions of our programming and it would be meaningless.

Inevitably, humanity made some wrong choices. Into the good universe where there was no evil and there never had to be any evil, we took a sledgehammer and started whacking away at it. Death and disease and brokenness entered. We broke Creation. Yes, there's the whole issue of Satan and all his minions (I love saying "minions"... I wish I had some minions... but that's another story). But he had no power over the creation... or us as part of it. He could only trick us into making the wrong choice. We chose unwisely... just as Satan/Lucifer did before the Creation. Satan is responsible for his plight and we are responsible for ours. We broke the world.

Satan's just an angelic being. Fallen, yes. But he's not a peer of God, equal in power but opposite. He's a creature just as we are. But he's a different kind of creature, made of spirit, existing outside of time and of much greater power and knowledge than we are. He made his choice with full knowledge and consent, with no other being lying and cajoling him into it. And as a spirit existing outside of time, his choice is eternal.

But here's the good news, we live in time. Our choices, while we live in time, before we die and pass into eternity, can be changed. We can choose to change. We can repent of evil (that sounds so fire-and-brimstoney, eh? Repent! ). We can choose to love.

So wait... that sounds like we can save ourselves, right? We just change our minds! Hooray! And they lived happily ever after! Unfortunately, no... not quite. God is not only in His essence, goodness and love. He is also pure and just. We call it holiness. And we stupid creatures misuse our freedom given to us by that infinite holiness and commit an offense against it and break creation! What's the sentence for that kind of offense? An offense against the infinite. Infinite justice demands an infinite penalty. But God doesn't impose that sentence. We impose it upon ourselves when we make that choice. We're choosing to turn away from God.

And God respects the freedom He gave us. If we choose to separate ourselves from Him, He will not force us back. That would abrogate the freedom He gave us and turn us into automatons running a program. It is from God that we have our life and without Him we have none. If we choose to turn away from Him, we are turning away from life and towards death. And because of His love for us, He will respect our freedom and let us go. Any parent of adult children who sees them heading down the wrong path knows there's a point at which they can no longer control their lives and have to let them go. They still love them and always hope (and pray) that they might turn around before its too late.

Well, here's more of that good news. God does too. He wants us, individually, to turn around and come back. He'll take us back. That's part of God being love. Love is merciful. But there was still a problem. That offense against the infinite. Do we finite creatures have the capacity to satisfy the needs of infinite justice? Of course, not. God is both love and mercy and holy and just. And God is true to His nature. There are some things He cannot do. He cannot go against His nature. He cannot lie, He cannot do evil. He must satisfy both His love and justice.

So if we finite creatures can't satisfy infinite justice, who can? An Infinite Creature. So God steps into time, takes on flesh and pays that debt to justice that He didn't owe for a people who had a debt that they couldn't pay. That ending on Calvary with scourging and nails and blood and death of an infinite, perfect, Divine being satisfies infinite justice. Death is destroyed. The resurrection proclaims it. And we are free to turn around and go back Home.

And it started, in time... in "the fullness of time"... with a baby in a manger. Why? Why not a big booming voice from the sky announcing God's salvation and God descending to earth in flesh, unmistakable and ready to be cut down by us puny humans to satisfy both love and justice? Its that free will thing again. God can't reveal Himself to us that way. He is so far above us that such a revelation would strip us of reason and comprehension. We would have no choice but to kneel down in worship. That's probably what will happen later on... you know... where its written that "every knee shall bend"... whether they want to or not. But that's later, at the end when there's no more time. But now, with time still running, our free will must be respected. Even Moses was not allowed to see the face of God, but God said He would pass by and allow Moses to see His back. Some translations even go so far as to say that Moses was only allowed to see "God's backside". But both "face" and "back" or "backside" is symbolic language to use for a Being that has no physical essence. But the point is that nobody can see God revealed so directly and live... or not have their free will stripped away. You cannot look upon infinite Truth and Love and not choose it. So God will not reveal Himself so directly to us that it takes away our will.

So He comes to us in the form of a little baby. A helpless, lovable baby does not instill fear or awe or tear away our reason with pure, infinite Truth and Love. He comes to us in as innocent and as normal a way as possible. In much the same way that most of us enter the world... only under even more humble circumstances.

He comes to us in a humble, comforting form just as we Catholics believe He comes to us now, physically, in the Eucharist. Not in the form of a baby, but He comes in the form of bread. Bread whose substance is now the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, not just a symbol, of that baby born in the manger in Bethlehem. And why Bethlehem? Bethlehem, in Hebrew and Aramaic, the language of Jesus, means "House Of Bread".

Merry Christmas!

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