“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” — John 1:1-5, 14
This year, before Christmas, I decided I was going to reread all the Gospel references to the Incarnation. Of course, we spent all of Advent hearing Scriptures proclaimed to us that spoke of the coming of Christ, as we were told to make ready. Then, on Christmas day, we heard at least one of the nativity narratives as we looked upon the figurine of the newborn baby Jesus now gently resting in his crèche beneath the altar. This year, however, I wanted to re-experience the nativity story in its totality. Between a late finals period and scrambling to get gifts in time for Christmas, I felt as though I had missed Advent, or at least rushed through it.
I felt as though I had failed to build the spiritual anticipation due to one of the greatest days of the year: the day we celebrate the Savior’s birth. Moreover, I realized I didn’t really appreciate this miracle we celebrate as fully as I should. I’ve always been a huge fan of Easter—to me, that is one of the most spiritually moving days of the year. The Crucifixion—God’s sacrifice—and the subsequent Resurrection have always touched me deeply. To me, those were the mysteries of profound bearing upon our Christian life. The Incarnation seemed only a necessary prerequisite, and one that had become grossly commercialized, as an otherwise non-religious population derived some unexplained comfort from the thought of a baby lying in a manger, surrounded by some donkeys and sheep.
Praying through this joyful mystery and re-reading the Gospel accounts kindled in me the deepest sense of joy and wonder this Christmastime. While I’ll never understand this God we believe in and all of His ways in entirety, I can honestly say I have a deeply rooted, newfound appreciation for the consequence of the Incarnation—what it reveals about God’s nature and the way in which man relates to Him. That being said, as I read through the Scriptures this Christmastime, I still had no grasp on the significance or even the basic meaning of some words that were very familiar to me.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Of course, I knew enough to associate “the Word” with Jesus. That was a moniker I’d heard used for the Lord on countless occasions. I also knew that we believed that Jesus was God—that He was with God the Father from the beginning of eternity, and that, together with the Holy Sprit, they made one indivisible, omnipotent, entirely transcendent yet immanent God of all Creation. But I didn’t really understand what it meant to say that Jesus was “the Word,” or that God could be equated with a unit of speech.
Sitting in Mass today, it started to make sense. As Catholics, we believe that we all belong to a Creator. We believe that He made us not because of some Divine need, but that He created us out of Love. And it is out of this Love that He desires to have a relationship with us—that He desires to be born into our hearts and into our world. However, true love requires a choice. Both parties must choose to love each other. It is a mutual act of the wills. That is why we have free will, for, if we hadn’t been given this gift, we would be no better than robots, who cannot truly love because they cannot choose to love or to unite their hearts with their Creator. They cannot do anything other than that which they were designed to do, which speaks not of loving service but of slavery.
That being said, man continually chooses to make himself his own god—to worship self over the Creator. This damages the relationship between man and the Divine. How could a man seeking to satisfy his desires by lying with someone other than his beloved not damage their marriage? It does. However, the God we worship as Christians is the perfect embodiment of Love. He has Love at the core of His very being. He is Love. That is why He can choose to love us as opposed to reacting as the hurt and heartache might cause Him to. He shows us that love is an act of the will, not the subjection to emotion, and, concordantly, He designs a plan to bring us back to Himself, to bring us back into His arms, even when we have struck at the chords that bind us together in covenant with Him.
As Catholic Christians, we refer to this plan that has unfolded over the course of millennia and continues to engage us today as “salvation history.” In other words, God has had a plan from the beginning of all eternity to love us and to bring us back to Himself, and it has manifested itself over the course of history as man grew in relationship with Him. We read about it from the start of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. God creates man, but man acts against Him. The clear punishment for this type of sin is a divorce of sorts, if not death. Why would a God who created man to live in loving relationship with Him want to pursue a man who determined he didn’t want Him? Why would a God who loved all of His Creation, declaring it good, allow a man who killed another, or posed a threat to the good of others, to continue to live?
The answer is He created man out of love. He knew that, having the freedom to choose, man would inevitably fail to reciprocate this love at one time or another. He knew that this would be painful. But still He loved. So He set out to make a way for man to mend his relationship with the Lord even when man fell short or denied his relationship with the Lord completely. This was with God from the start of Creation.
That is where Jesus Christ comes in.
In spite of all of man’s sin, God promised that He would still love those He had created. He promised justice, mercy and restoration, again and again throughout the Old Testament. Again and again, the Lord vowed to make good on the promises He made to Abraham—to bring His people back to Himself, to prosper the work of their hands, and not to withhold His steadfast love from them. In the Scriptures, which we believe to be the divinely inspired Word of God, He gave us His word that there would be deliverance from the punishment that was due to us.
Now, that, in and of itself, should be pretty remarkable. The word of God was pretty powerful. It was by God’s words that the world was spoken into being. He said, “let there be light,” and there was light. God did not have to use hands or tools to create matter and bring it together in a way that would later facilitate the development of human life and the universe as we know it. He simply willed it to be and it was.
More than that, the God we profess, being all things good, was also perfectly truthful. If He said He would renew us in His love, we should have had no reason to doubt Him. Nevertheless, God knew that it wasn’t enough to tell us that He loved us. It wasn’t enough to promise us His presence, or to have some scribes write down that we would be forgiven. He had to show us. He wanted to show us how much we were loved. That is why we have the Incarnation. That is why we have God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ was the Word, with God from the very beginning. He was the promise of love and fidelity! He was the way to redemption God promised us! Indeed, God became man that we with our hardened hearts, being slow to believe, might see with our own eyes, with our own hearts, the otherwise nebulous and inexpressible love of God we had been told of so often that it had become cliché and dismissed.
Read the Gospels. The love of Jesus Christ is not cliché. The Love of God is not something that can be contained by a single unit of language. It is something best understood when it is experienced, lived. That is why God’s word became flesh and dwelt among us, and this, my dear brothers and sisters, is the Gospel of the Lord in whom we trust—the Way, the Truth, and the Life forever, amen.