“The Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). Each Christmas we listen to these words; each Christmas we sing these words: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/Hail the Incarnate Deity!” “Word of the Father/Now in flesh appearing.” Even those who have little or no knowledge of Jesus Christ know and may even sing these words at Christmas. Yet how many of us ever pause for a moment to reflect on the meaning of these unusual words? How many of us are stopped in our tracks at the sudden realisation, each Christmas as if for the first time, of the riches contained in these well-loved carols which we bring out and dust down every year? The Church prefers us not to sing Christmas hymns before Christmas is actually here, although certain carols may be sung in the last week of Advent. This surely helps to enhance the wonder of the Birthday of Our Lord.
We sing of a Mystery, an incredible, amazing, wonder-filled truth: that the eternal, living, active Word of God – he who was with the Father above and beyond time; he through whom all things were made – came down from heaven to live among human beings. “Lo, within a manger lies/He who built the starry skies!” He who made the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, became a tiny, helpless, vulnerable infant, dependent on his mother for nourishment, for tender care, for love, for his very life. “Tears and smiles like us he knew” but – and we may marvel at the almost unbelievable truth – “that child so dear and gentle/Is our Lord in heaven above!”
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” How can any one of us truly comprehend the enormity of these few little words? You couldn’t make it up; it would be too unbelievable. Like the shepherds, we come each year to the stable to see a little baby lying in the crib and like them, we can hardly even begin to grasp the significance of the world-changing event which we celebrate on this day. We know that we are in the presence of a great Mystery and like those first visitors 2000 years ago, we can only fall on our knees and wonder and worship. “Worship we the Godhead/Love Incarnate, Love Divine!” Wonder that the Lord through whom all things were made became a tiny child in an animal’s feeding-trough in a cold and draughty barn; worship the God who, in his great love for His children, entered into human history in the lowliest form of all. In doing so, he willingly exposed himself to all the indignities and dangers to which a human child is vulnerable. Just think of the dangers facing the unborn child in our own time.
“How silently, how silently/The wondrous gift is given!” Our God has stepped into our world, into our time, and transformed it and us utterly. “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God, in his incredible generosity has given us the perfect Christmas gift: a gift that is given, not lent; given with true love, not grudgingly; never counting the cost; a gift that cannot be returned; a gift that offers us the chance to move into God’s time, into God’s everlasting today. We who gather to celebrate the anniversary of that first coming in human flesh are so much more fortunate than our brothers and sisters who are left out there in the cold of unbelief, because we know what we are celebrating; we know whose birth we are celebrating. How sad it is that we do not always act and speak as if we believed in this knowledge. Yet each Sunday we profess our belief that the eternal Son of God, God himself, because of his great love for us – for me and you – left his glory above, that glory which lies far beyond our time and space, to become one of us – not a strong grown man, not a powerful earthly king, but a tiny, helpless baby, born of a human mother into a world full of dangers, peopled by those whose mockery and hatred and unbelief have echoed down through the centuries to our own day.
“This was the moment when Before/Turned into After” (U.A. Fanthrope). God has entered into human history and we can never be the same again. As another poet says of another occasion: “All is changed, changed utterly/A terrible beauty is born” (Yeats). As we look at the baby in the crib and wonder how and why, we don’t really need complicated explanations or theories; we already know the only important answer to any of our wondering questions – “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not die but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In His goodness and wisdom God gives us each year the chance to wonder all over again at this simple truth, the chance to adore the Infant Jesus and to worship our God made flesh. God came down from heaven to become Son of Man so that He might raise us up to become sons and daughters of God (cf CCC 460).
This Christmas, we may not be able to sing these lovely carols together but we can still sing them in our hearts and give thanks for the most precious Gift of all.
“Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die. born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
Eileen Clare Grant