Christmas, a marvelous exchange!By: Bishop James V. Johnston
“O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” —(Liturgy of the Hours, Antiphon I of Evening Prayer for Jan. 1)
One of the traditions that family and friends look forward to at Christmas is the exchanging of gifts. As we prepare to celebrate the Christmas season, which begins with Evening Prayer and the vigil Mass for Christmas on Dec. 24 and extends through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 9, 2012, we do well to ponder and appreciate The Gift we are given.
To gain a deeper appreciation, we can turn to the prayers of the liturgy for help. The opening prayer or collect for the Mass during the day on Christmas provides a good example. The prayer reads, “O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it, grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity …”
In this marvelous exchange, each of us certainly got the better part.
Generally speaking, it is sometimes difficult to fully comprehend what God has done. We do not realize, nor could we, how blessed we are that God would humble himself to save us and set us free, to turn our lot from being lost and at enmity with God, to that of being sons and daughters of God. As St. John jubilantly puts it, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn 3:1). None of this would have been available for us had the Incarnation of Christ not occurred (God becoming man).
In so identifying with us, assuming everything of the human condition except sin, Jesus would offer himself, taking our sins upon himself. In the words of St. Paul, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). One of the greatest preachers on the Christmas mystery in Church history, St. Leo the Great said, reflecting on what Christ accomplished, “Weakness is assumed by strength, lowliness by majesty, mortality by eternity, in order that one and the same Mediator of God and men might die in one and rise in the other—for this was our fitting remedy. Unless he was God, he would not have brought a remedy; and unless he was man, he would not have set an example.”
These saving events, these mysteries of our redemption, are transmitted to us through the sacraments. In essence, the sacraments are the extension of the Incarnation of Christ. In space and time, they allow us to encounter the person of Jesus “in the flesh.”
As we celebrate Christmas, let us enjoy the traditions that bring us back to the joy of childhood, those that draw us to enjoy the beauty of the season, and that bring us peace. Let us also not miss the greatest “gift exchange”: God took our nature so that it might be possible for us to be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt 1:4).
Bp. Johnston’s prayer intentions for January are:
For those trapped in the prison of addiction; that they find hope and strength in the love of Christ.
For those who are experiencing profound loneliness, that they may experience the presence and comfort of God’s unconditional love.