Christmas 2016 came some days ago, and, as with every Christmas day before this year’s, it came with great anticipation both from Christians and even the secular world as well. Of course, at the center of every great expectation is a great object or event that is worth every second of the wait (or at least is expected to be). The Great Event at the center of our Advent waiting was Christmas. And what is “Christmas?” To put it in a brief but substantive way, Christmas is the Word becoming flesh.
However, even with the great anticipation that always builds with the coming of Christmas, it too often appears that when Christmas day comes everything seems to be over the next day – even for us Christians. Our Lord, the King of the Universe, God Himself, has just made it to His crib, and we are already off to the next thing, celebrating another babe (Baby New Year). Oh, how I have been guilty of this as well. Even the secular world can be found still “celebrating” Christmas, or at least the “holiday season,” with its gleeful offerings of sales and 50 percent markdowns. Now, of course there is nothing inherently sinful in taking advantage of the sweet post-Christmas deals, but we have to be mindful of how the world and the devil can prod at the flesh to make us lose sight of the Great Event that has just occurred on Christmas day. Most of us receive a lot during this season and should be thankful, but the hubbub of all the extra sales does well to incite the greed, gluttony, and attachment to the things of this world already present in a fallen human nature.
But the truth is that Christmas day is only the beginning. Moreover, Christmas “stopping” all together after Jesus is born is a serious problem among Christians that needs to be fixed, but that’s another article for another day. For the Catholic, the Christmas season has just begun according to the liturgical calendar. “Christmastide” leads us all the way from the day our Lord was born to the Feast of His Baptism. As a side note, the pre-Vatican II calendar had Christmas time going all the way till the Feast of Jesus’s Presentation in the Temple (Candlemas) on February 2! The “12 Days of Christmas” song (leading to Epiphany) was no joke!
So, Christmas is still going on but in what ways? Jesus is born, so we are in a state of rejoicing at the glorious fact that the Word has indeed become flesh among the children of men. However, Christmas is still happening in at least one other way that is distinct from celebrating Jesus’s Incarnation and Birth, which are events that already happened two millennia ago. If Christmas is the Word becoming flesh, where is this still taken place today for us to celebrate it? To ask the time-honored question, where’s the beef? Where’s the flesh?
The only place it can be – at the Mass.
So, if Christmas is happening at Mass, where is the Nativity that comes with it?
On the altar and in our bodies.
Every time we receive the Eucharist we have the chance to make a manger in our souls for Jesus to dwell, be born, and bring life to our souls. We have the chance to become little “Marys” (“Marios” for the fellas) and hold the incarnate Word within us. Furthermore, because we are Catholics and believe the things we do about the Eucharist, what I am saying is not just cliché-sounding pious talk. In a real sense this can actually happen by taking in Jesus’s very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. By the use of Jesus’s words during the consecration the bread and wine become the very same flesh of the Incarnation and dwells amongst us in the earthen vessels of our bodies. Christmas comes to be, quite literally, in us. But, just like 2000 years ago, He comes secretly and in silence, this time behind the appearances of bread and wine. The Babe Christ is born upon the altar in the hands of the priest, and waits for us to come to Him as magi bearing the gifts of our souls, for the Lord pines not for gold and myrrh but for our very shoddy and sinful selves. We are a broken good. A second-hand toy of the devil, we were discarded after first use. Yet, God still wants us. Through Jesus, God salvages us from the trash-heap of a fallen world, repairs, restores, and grants to us a new purpose – to be His very joy, presents to the Father by hand of the Son wrapped by the Holy Spirit. Though, God bought us on a Black Friday, we did not come cheap. The price of His only Son was a hefty debt to pay; yet, He spared no expense. He had to have us out of His great love. But in order for us to be His possession we must first have Him as our only possession. We must freely give ourselves away.
Once in the hand of our Father, God doesn’t stop there. He still pursues us. He comes for us daily in the Sacrament of the Altar. He seeks not only to have us, but also to be in us, and once there He begins to work from the inside in order to pull us closer to Himself. The reception of the Eucharist works to accomplish everything the very first Christmas sought to do. Check the Catechism.
“The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God . . . (CCC 457).
The Eucharist purifies us from venial sins and strengthens us against losing our newfound friendship with God.
“The Word became flesh so that thus we might know God’s love . . . ” (CCC 458).
God is love (1 John 4:8), and so any sacrament that is Himself, as the Eucharist is, will therefore be a sacrament of love. When we frequently commune with the Body and Blood of the Lord we come to know both Him and His love better and better. We then begin to love as He loves, totally and without reserve, for He gives Himself totally and defenselessly in the Eucharist.
“The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness . . .” (CCC 459).
It is the will of the Father that Jesus gives Himself totally and defenselessly in the Eucharist, and by His exposition to us He teaches us how to become holy – through submitting ourselves to the will of God out of love for the salvation of souls. The first Christmas sent Jesus on the way to the Cross, and thus the small Christmases that occur during Mass must send us on our way to ours.
Finally, “The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature.” (CCC 460).
To partake in the Eucharist is to partake in the divinity of Christ as he gradually forms us to become what we eat. The Catechism goes on:
“For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”
Again, the very mission and intent of the Incarnation is reenacted when we receive Him just as Calvary itself is reenacted upon the altar. You have only to say “yes” and give your fiat by the “amen” right before you take Holy Communion. Don’t let your souls become a crowded inn with no room for Jesus.
Let him come home to you.