When we think of the birth of Jesus Christ in terms of the fullness of the mystery of the Incarnation our understanding of Christmas changes.
'Christmas becomes more meaningful for us because in a very real sense Christ is being born in each one of us, the apex of creation. And he will continue to be born in us until his Incarnation attains absolute fullness, and we reach our full stature as God’s children.'
The Incarnation continues on our altars, in the reality of the Church as His Risen Body and in each one of us who have been Baptized into His death and Resurrection. Consequently, the Incarnation is not a one time event, but a continual unfolding of Christ’s presence in creation. We can see this for ourselves if we take a closer look at the three examples already mentioned.
“When the time of his Passion was near, Jesus told the apostles that he would return soon, and they would see him again” (Jn 16:16). So where is he? One place we clearly find Him is in the Eucharist, where He is made visible to us every day on our altars. During the Passover meal, Jesus said, “…this is my body” (Mat 26:26).
Earlier in his ministry, he said that he was living bread, and we must eat his flesh (Jn 6:51-58). Many left him as a result (Jn 6:66), but he let them go because he knew their hearts. Although we can only see him with the eyes of faith in this present age, the Eucharist is Jesus whole and entire--body, blood, soul, and divinity. This means that the Eucharist is a continuation of the Incarnation.
The Incarnation is also as visible as the Church itself. It is visible in two respects: as the Mystical Body of Christ and as the Bride of Christ. In the first respect, we can say that Christ is the head of the Mystical Body, and the members of the Church make up various parts of the Body. The Mystical Body is a spiritual reality whose head and members, like the parts of our own bodies, are so closely united to each other that they constitute one living body. Saint Thomas Aquinas put it this way, “Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person” (qtd. in CCC 795).
The second respect in which the Incarnation is visible as the Church is as the Bride of Christ. Speaking on marriage and Christ‘s relationship to the Church, Saint Paul writes, "The two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31-32). In a certain respect, the term “one flesh” indicates that we only realize the fullness of our humanity when we are in relationship with another. The most profound and visible sign of this truth being the one-flesh-marital union between a man and a woman (JPII, Original Unity,73-77).
The Church echoes Saint Paul when it says, “Christ and his Church thus together make up the ‘whole Christ,’ Christus totus” (cf. CCC 795). Imagine, just like the fullness of man and woman depends on their being one flesh, so too has God willed that the fullness of the Incarnation should depend on Christ becoming one flesh with the Church. This is astounding!
Perhaps this is even more astounding when we recall that we are the Church because we are members of His Body. So it follows that the Incarnation is also being formed in each one of us. We can visualize this formation if we return to the term “one flesh.” When viewed from another perspective, one flesh refers to the shared humanity between a man and woman. Adam said, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” (Gn 2:23). But this term also refers to Adam and Eve’s offspring. When Eve says, “…I have produced a man” (Gn. 4:1), she is referring to the human nature of their child.
Similarly, when we are baptized, we acquire a new nature. Jesus says, “Flesh begets flesh. Spirit begets spirit” (Jn 3:6). Thus, beginning with our baptism and nurtured by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, our human nature is being divinized, for “we are children of God” (Rom 8:14). And it is our hope that one day when Christ looks upon us, he will say, like Adam, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
When we think of the birth of Jesus Christ in terms of the fullness of the mystery of the Incarnation our understanding of Christmas changes. It is no longer a remote event. It is near to us, drawing us in and making us a part of it. Consequently, Christmas becomes more meaningful for us because in a very real sense Christ is being born in each one of us, the apex of creation. And he will continue to be born in us until his Incarnation attains absolute fullness, and we reach our full stature as God’s children and become a “little less than the gods” (Ps 8:6).
1. Pope John Paul II, Original Unity of Man and Woman, St Paul Editions, 1981
2. United States Catholic Conference, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Washington D.C. 1994
Michael Terheyden is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. He is greatly blessed to share his Catholic faith with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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