The Humility of the Incarnate God
(Midnight Mass Readings: Isaiah 9: 2-7, Titus2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14; Mass During the Day: Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-6, John 1-18.)
Introduction to Mass
On Christmas Day we commemorate Jesus' birth: God's appearance in human form, his final revelation of himself in human history.
To extend his mercy and salvation to us God made himself present in circumstances of poverty and indignity. This shows us the way we should follow in order to embrace his salvation and become his true children.
Prayer and Blessing over the Crib
Lord and Father, you sent your Son to be the saviour of the world, to lead your children out of despair and sinfulness
into the light of your love. Be present to us now as we celebrate the mystery of your Word made flesh, the birth of Jesus Christ, who humbled himself to enter our human state, so that we could share in your divine life.
Give new courage and hope to your people, who trust in your love. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The God who came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ is very different from the sort of God human beings would dream up for themselves.
We know this because we live at a time when many men and women do just that. Christianity as it has been traditionally understood isn’t much in vogue, in our society at any rate. Many of the settled articles of faith or doctrines are considered lacking in credibility. Large areas of the Church’s moral teaching are regarded as outdated and irrelevant.
Instead people – if they are interested in a religious outlook at all - build their own personal religion. They construct their own framework of meaning to impart a sense of significance to their lives. Under the heading of spirituality they amass various notions which they consider either uplifting, enriching or in some way helpful to their personal development.
And although much of the jargon they employ is contemporary this is actually a modern version of an old practice: fashioning “God” in our own image, inventing a version of God which is really just a projection of ourselves or what we consider to be our more exalted tendencies.
The Christmas mystery on the other hand - God’s Word come among us directly, in the person and mission of Christ – stands opposed to the whole idea of God as something we invent out of certain attitudes and character-traits we find attractive.
The Christian faith, like the Jewish faith before it, is founded on the experience of God going out of his way to reveal to us, in concrete historical events, what he is actually like.
We know God and God’s true character not from the workings of our own imagination but from the initiatives he has taken to make himself known to us: in the mysterious call of Abraham, in the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt under Moses, in the vehement demands for solidarity and justice articulated by the prophets – and of course ultimately in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
“God spoke to our ancestors,” says St. Paul, “at various times…and in various different ways”. But now, “he has spoken to us through his Son”. This is the principle that the Christian Church is founded on: God isn’t the creation of our thoughts or reflections. He has spoken and revealed himself to us, and we have to listen and look out for the traces of his presence and activity.
I go back to my original point: the real God doesn’t conform to any image human beings would invent for themselves. The real God doesn’t conform to the images that have been invented down through the centuries: images of great power, authority, dignity.
In view of the fact that Christianity has often proved itself as capable as any man-made religion of upholding structures of power, status, wealth, comfort, and class, it’s worth re-focusing out attention on the real circumstances of God’s Incarnation: his choice of poverty, precariousness and insignificance rather than great power, privilege or strength.
We’ve made the symbols of Jesus’ nativity – the stable, the crib, the straw, the shepherds, the animals – cosy and homely. But in doing so we’ve subverted their real meaning: that when God came into the world more completely than ever before he renounced any form of power or majesty and subjected himself instead to the discomfort, the anxiety, the indignity and ostracism which has always been reserved for the poorest and lowliest members of society.
That’s why, incidentally, it was St. Francis, the “little poor man” of Assisi and the saint who especially came to recognise God’s presence in circumstances of poverty and humility, who was also responsible for popularising the imagery surrounding the story of Jesus’ birth. Francis understood the meaning of the imagery, as revealing God’s true character.
So if we are to gain anything from the readings we’ve listened to again during the Mass for Christmas Day, let’s try to gain a better sense of the qualities, the commitments and the values God has put forward in making himself known to us. Let’s ask God to encourage and strengthen us to embrace these qualities and commitments and values in our own lives so that, as St. John says, Christ’s coming will give to all who accept him the “power to become children of God”.