“There has fallen on earth for a token/A god too great for the sky./He has burst out of all things and broken/The bounds of eternity: Into time and the terminal land … ”
In those opening lines of his poem, “Gloria in Profundis,” G. K. Chesterton provides a small but brilliant glimpse into the great mystery of the Incarnation and the joyful feast of Christmas. How, really, can such a marvelous truth be expressed fully? Actually, it cannot be expressed fully, and that is part of the wonder of it all: The indescribable and all-powerful Creator dared and designed and deigned to become man. “And the Word became flesh,” wrote St. John in the great Prologue to his Gospel, “and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
The many readings for the Christmas liturgies present a glorious mosaic bursting with prophecies uttered and fulfilled, genealogies recounted and realized, proclamations uttered and received, and love poured forth and embraced in faith both quiet and ecstatic. Throughout, there is a constant movement from God to man and, in response, man to God, a circle of direct communication flowing from the gift of divine communion.
God always initiates; he proclaims words of promise and he shines a great light into the darkness of human history. The Virgin Mary, we hear, “was found with child through the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:18). God breeched the walls of the world through the faithful fiat and welcoming womb of the sinless Jewish maiden. And this without the fearful shouts that accompanied the emperors, but with joyful, angelic exclamation.
The readings make mention repeatedly of God’s proclamation, appearing, coming and speaking — and doing so in definitive, earth-shattering terms. The opening chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews states, “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son” (Heb 1:1-2). In John’s Gospel, the entrance of the Word into creation is described as light shining into darkness, just as light broke into darkness at creation: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (Jn 1:9; see Gn 1:3-5).
When light meets darkness, there is division. The world rejects the light because it claims to be above such division; in reality, the world rejects the definite lines and clear shape of the Incarnate Word, who scandalizes with his particularity — born of a first-century Jewish girl in Bethlehem! — and with his perfect power: “He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him” (Jn 1:3). This divine paradox has always been a source of consternation to those who do not accept Christ; it has always been a source of joyful consolation for those who accept him.
So, what is the point of Christmas? The Catechism, in one of its most unsettling and glorious paragraphs, quotes St. Irenaeus: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God” (No. 460). The Son has come so we might become sons; a God too great for the sky dwells among us. Merry Christmas!
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.