On that night, God became man

Published 10:31 am Thursday, December 19, 2019

The most apt definition of Christmas, it seems, is one not often used.

It is the “Incarnation” meaning that “God became man … and dwelt among us.” No one in the fold of Christian believers believes otherwise, but somehow this belief is minimized among the season’s goings-on.

Recently Pope Francis wrote a letter commemorating the first recorded Nativity Scene by St. Francis of Assisi, and in the letter, he recalled that the Lord Jesus in a bed of hay cried, took milk from his mother, played and slept — just like all babies do. When you envision it, it is a startling view of God becoming man.

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An act of two natures, human and divine, co-existing in one God. Necessary, because God in his divine nature, can neither die nor suffer. Essential though because we needed one who could. Thus, he was made flesh like us, in all things except sin.

Calvary came to Bethlehem that night. That road began that night.

But over the years in the mounting secularization of these holidays, in songs and “Santas” and so many shopping days until Christmas, we have let this one fact go. That adorable little babe in the manger looking like the rest of us was God, and in all his humanness, like ours, was one day going to die.

That is something to believe.

I remember a priest once saying at a Midnight Mass that we should try to imagine loving an animal so much that we’d become like one, take on his nature, and even die for him. It’s not an easy image nor a comforting comparison. But God becoming man is something akin to that. And that is what this Christmas is: God becoming man.

This is what it means.

In the meantime, though, it has become the things that it is not.

When I was young, a family member could do a spot-on British accent that made “Saint Nicholas” into the “Santa Claus” I knew. You just half-swallow the “N” in Nicholas and elide it with the “o.” And it sounds like Santa Claus. I love that even now.

But I also remember going to bed at 7 on every Christmas Eve so that I’d be awake at 10 to prepare for the processional that brought the Christ Child into church at midnight on that day.

He was real, he was there, and he was one of us.

Sometimes it’s very necessary to reclaim what we believe. Sometimes it isn’t easy.

For a large part of my life, I wanted nothing more than to be smart. I wanted to be intellectual, rational and right. I still do. But it’s not enough. Nor all.

Even though there’s no Midnight Mass here anymore, nor children carrying the Christ Child in procession anymore, I do believe in redemption being both possible and actual because on the night that Christ was born, he became like me.

I, on the other hand, have yet to be like him.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.