Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Mary gave birth to a son . . . wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in the manger because there was no room for them at the inn” (Lk 2:7). A child is born. This is the wonder of Christmas. His birth is announced by angels and shepherds hurry to find Him. Kings from afar fell to their knees and worshiped Him. The devout Simeon held the child, believing that the promise of salvation was fulfilled in Him. Elderly Anna recognized the child as the long-expected savior.
What we are celebrating at Christmas is not the birthday of some great person. Nor are we simply celebrating the mystery of what it is to be a child. Something more has happened. “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). This child is God’s own Son. God has become one of us. He has united Himself to our humanity. The child that Mary held, that the angels announced, that the shepherds and king sought and that Simeon and Anna rejoiced to see, is the mystery of God made man.
From His earliest days, this child’s life would be marked by conflict and hardship. He was born in a manger on the outskirts of Bethlehem because there “was no room for him in the inn,” a hint perhaps that He would not be welcomed by His own people. His parents fled to Egypt to protect Him from harm. Simeon predicted the child would be a sign of contradiction and that sorrow would pierce His mother’s heart. The Gospels reveal His life as one marked by the acceptance of some and the rejection of many. The child in the manger becomes the man on the cross.
And why did God become man? We profess the answer every time we recite the Creed: “For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven . . . and became man.” He became man for our sake. “Christ is born: sing glory! Christ has descended from heaven: go out to meet him! Christ is on earth: lift yourself up . . . for he who belongs to heaven is now on earth” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 38).
I invite you to visit the manger in your parish church or if you have one in your home to spend some time quietly looking at the infant. Personally, to this day, I enjoy visiting the manger whenever I enter a church during the Christmas Season. As I look at the child and realize He became a child for me, indeed for all of us, and that in the years that followed His birth He showed us the way to eternal life, my faith is strengthened and my hope renewed.
The Fathers of the Church often noted that God became man so that we could share in His divine life. The Word of God became the Son of Man to open the way for us to receive God, to allow God to dwell with us. Through baptism we share God’s life; we live in Him and He lives in us. Does not this fact remind us to see Christ not only as a child in the manger but to see Him also in all whom we meet? The mystery of the Christ Child and the meaning of Christmas should not be confined to one day in the year. They continue whenever we recognize our dignity as bearers of divine life and welcome Christ as He comes to us in others.
A blessed Christmas to you and all whom you love.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham