Nativity of the Lord (Day)
A virgin gives birth to a son. That son, her son, is also the Son of God. He is the Son of God and the Son of Man, the Savior, the Messiah. His name is Christ Jesus, the one sent to save us from sin and death. On the Cross, he becomes sin and death, and now sin and death are dead, no longer masters of the Father's human children. We belong to Him and Him alone. We can say that Christ became man and died to save us. To rescue us. To heal us. We can say He ransomed us from the Enemy. We can even say that He adopted us as sons and daughters, as heirs. All true. All good and beautiful. But one of the more ancient ways of talking about what Christ did for us at his birth comes from St. Athanasius ca. 318AD, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (CCC 460). TA says this means that, “[t]he only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods” (CCC 460). Every year, on the Nativity of the Lord, we celebrate the birth of the God-Man, Jesus. We also celebrate the moment, the historical instant, that God graced us with the gift of the possibility of becoming Christs. Each one of us becoming Christ. Our salvation is our entry into the divine life of the Blessed Trinity.
Yes, on this festive occasion – with the decorated trees and presents and table-bending platters of food and Jingle Bells playing in the background and Santa Claus – we have to talk about God becoming Man so that Man might become god. You came to a Dominican priory for a Christmas Mass! So, you asked for this. All the traditional Christmas stuff is decoration for why we are here. Twinkly camouflage that decorates an ancient and venerable take on what it means to be saved in Christ. The birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem is our birth into the divine life, into the possibility of being wholly united with God after our time here is done. As far back as St. Peter writing to the churches in Asia Minor before the end of the first century, we hear that our salvation is a matter of participating in the life of God: “...he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature...” Our sharing in this life right now is what life in Christ is all about. Sharing in His life for eternity is what it is to be deified. To be made gods by God Himself.
Now, we could spend weeks unpacking what deification means for us, and the novices will be doing just that when I get back from visiting my dad in January. But the Cliff Notes version is this: God became Man so that Man might become God. That's what we are celebrating this morning. Our entry into the divine life through the birth of the Christ Child to the BVM in Bethlehem. As I noted earlier, there are simpler ways of thinking about your salvation – as a rescue, as a healing, as a ransom. All of these have their place in the story of the Church. But each one also leads us to think and speak about our daily lives in Christ in a particular way. If your salvation is a rescue, e.g., then you need to ask yourself: why am I constantly needing to be rescued? Why do I keep getting lost or putting myself in danger? If your salvation is a healing, then you need to ask: am I healed just once for all time? If so, why do I keep getting sick with sin and need to be healed again? What happens to your daily life in Christ when you think and speak about your salvation as “sharing in the divine life” of God Himself? What happens when you begin to take seriously the truth of the Son's Incarnation and understand that you yourself can become Christ?
Here's what could happen: you stop thinking and speaking about your life in Christ as if it were nothing more than a legalistic scheme of moral purity. You stop thinking and speaking about your life in Christ as if it were little more than conforming yourself to middle-class American values and expectations. You stop thinking and speaking about your life in Christ as it were limited to robotically repeating the words of a favorite devotion, or being satisfied with doing the absolute bare minimum under Church law. IOW, what happens when you begin to take seriously the truth of the Son's Incarnation and understand that you yourself can become Christ, you stop thinking and speaking about your life in Christ as if you are the source and summit of your salvation and solely responsible for getting yourself into heaven! As partakers in the divine life of God Himself, you and I are imperfect Christs being made perfect by grace. As such, our daily job is to receive with praise and thanksgiving the graces God pours out on us and put those graces to work for His greater glory. Sin is our willful failure to participate fully in the divine life. We have been given a great Christmas gift – Christ Jesus. And our year-round task is to become more and more like him just like he became like us – fully human in all ways except sin.
And so, on “The Twenty-fifth Day of December...in the 149th Olympiad; in the year 752 since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the 42nd year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father...was conceived by the Holy Spirit...born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man...” On that same day in the same year, in virtue of Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection, you and I were given – freely given – the gift of our salvation: to become Christs in the flesh, to be made sons of God, heirs to the Kingdom; priests, prophets, and kings to bear witness to His glory in the world. Yes, we are rescued, healed, ransomed, adopted, and saved. But by far the greater gift, the greatest grace is our freedom to become Him whom we love. The Son born of Mary in Bethlehem. That son, her son, the Son of God. The Son of God and the Son of Man, the Savior, the Messiah. His name is Christ Jesus, the one sent to save us from sin and death.