As a Franciscan, Christmas is the celebration of the most terrific moment in human history: God became like us to be with us. Being born into poverty, surrounded by animals and filth, and visited by those who were far from being ritually clean (shepherds and foreigners), it is a time to recognize how the triune God works in and through the mundane, gritty, material aspects of our existence, appearing to us in the least expected of places. It is an act of humility, love and justice.
Which brings up a pretty significant question if you ask me: Why? Why did God choose to lower himself by taking on an imperfect form and nature? Why did God “empty himself, taking the form of a slave”? Why did God come to be with us?
My guess is that the majority of people would answer this question having been largely influenced by some form of atonement theology. “Jesus came to save from our sins/to offer a sacrifice in our place/to pay our debts.” For many, Christmas is significant only in its relationship to Easter as it is the foreshadowing for what is to come, for what really matters. This is evident in the way most answer this popular medieval question: “Had humanity not sinned, would Jesus still have come?” The answer that I most often get, and the one that is most popular in the history of the Church is “no”. Without even realizing it, Jesus is relegated to utilitarian role in which he is a use to us.
But as Franciscans have said for centuries, and as I would like to humbly remind, there is more to Jesus than just some divine “get-out-of-jail-free” card. Jesus is the second person of the triune God, existing before all creation, and the one through whom all was created. Jesus existed well before we did, and his coming to be a part of creation was not some afterthought of God to fix a mistake. Rather, it seems to me that he would have come, even if humanity had never sinned, for the sole reason of being in relationship with us. God taking on flesh is certainly a way to make a blood sacrifice, but it is also a way to become our brother, our teacher, our example of holiness, and our king. God planned from the beginning of time to be with us in this very intimate way, to know and love us, and for us to know and love him.
May you have a blessed Christmas as we celebrate together the mystery of the God with us and yet who is still yet to come.