All this happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin shall be with child and give birth to a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel," a name which means "God is with us."Now, these words are not foreign to the world. Cultures across the globe have similar myths about some god manifesting himself in human form via a pure maiden. What makes this particular story so special, so enduring, so different from the rest?
(Matthew 1:22-23; cf Isaiah 7:14)
The promise it holds.
Allow me to delve into these verses and share my insights. I remind everybody I have no formal training in theology or exegesis. Please read this with a big grain of salt.
Let's begin with the phrase "All this happened". In the context of the narrative it refers to the scene where St. Joseph was visited by an angel and told to take the soon-to-be-born Child and His mother under his care. But did not this take place because all "this"--the whole of salvation history from Adam and Eve to this point in time--happened? If it were not for the "happy fault", the "necessary sin of Adam" as proclaimed in the Exsultet, all the covenants of the Old Testament, and all the prophecies related to this, especially these words from Isaiah, this moment of encounter between messenger and man would have never taken place.
To me, this is the first part of what makes this virgin birth story so different. As far as I know, while others have tried to explain why there is evil in the world, only this one goes to say that it will be rectified and in this manner. Only this one gives us the hope of salvation and delivers. Why would it not be intriguing?
The next phrase which grabbed my attention was "the virgin". Today's world sneers at the concept of being pure, unadulterated, undefiled, untouched, wholly clean. In an age when humanity wants to experience everything no matter the consequences, this is the one experience of which they want no part. They must like looking at their existence through a lens stained with Original Sin.
Adam and Eve knew better but knew too late. Once they disobeyed, they couldn't see the face of God again. The impure can never look at the pure without realizing what is missing. That's why redemption was promised. That's why a pure vessel in which to carry the Son of God was needed. That's why that singular act of grace known as the Immaculate Conception happened. Mary had to be sanctified before she could receive the Source of sanctity. She became the model and example for the rest of humanity.
This is what make this story so special. We are not left to our own devices. God has promised never to abandon us. He shows us how we are to prepare as He makes His preparations to bring us back into the fold. God still loves us, despite at times how we choose to respond to that Love.
Which brings me to the third phrase upon which I dwell--"God is with us." Emmanuel. God has always been with us, even when we don't want to be with Him. That most radical concept called unconditional love. An idea around which the world cannot wrap its collective head. It fails because the head is not enough. It calls for the heart, the very core of our existence.
Augustinian restlessness, damaged but never destroyed by the Fall, is the energy which drives us to seek what we lost in Paradise. We search for it in everything created, but never in the Creator where it will be found. So to make it easier, God comes to dwell with us in a form we recognize--our own humanity. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, fully divine, became fully human because we relate to persons. And it is in that relationship where redemption is fulfilled.
That's what makes this story so enduring. In the Greatest Story Ever Told, we are invited to partake in the Greatest Love Story Ever Told. Made in the image and likeness of our Triune God, we are called to reflect the love indwelling in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by our love for Him and our neighbor. We are only able to do this by the example Jesus Christ show us by His life, death, and resurrection.
While we celebrate His coming as man once a year, He has always been among us.
Let us truly "see our God made visible" and so be "caught up in love of the God we cannot see."
Hodie Christus natus est.
Enjoy my previous Christmas Eve Reflections: