People just can’t wait for Christmas. Children count down the days. Parents look forward to seeing their children open gifts.
Extended families eagerly anticipate holiday gatherings. For many people, Christmas is a time to get away from normal routines and celebrate with loved ones.
Of course, all of this is good, but as believers we have an even better reason to look forward to Christmas: we are celebrating the coming of Emmanuel, “God with us,” the One who “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:23, 21).
Yes, Jesus is God with us. And yes, he came to save us from sin. These are two of the most inspiring, encouraging truths we could ever learn about our Catholic faith. They tell us how much God loves us, and they tell us how much he wants to work in our lives. So let’s explore these two truths this Advent. And let’s do it by focusing on the three people who most embody these truths: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Each of them gives us a unique window into how our lives can change as we embrace Jesus, the One who has come to be with us and to save us.
Jesus, God with Us. On the one hand, God has always been with us. He created us out of love, and when you love someone, you don’t abandon them. He stayed with us even after we had fallen into sin, and he promised never to leave us.
The Hebrew Bible is one long story of God’s faithfulness to his people. We see it in stories of people like Abraham, Moses, and David. We see it in the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert and in their long history of ups and downs in the Promised Land. God never left them!
But then, after nearly two thousand years of staying close to his people, God did something far more powerful than he had ever done before. He didn’t just stay “with us” in a spiritual sense; he actually became one of us and lived among us as a man like us in all things but sin. There’s a passage in the Bible that beautifully emphasizes this distinction between God’s work before and after Jesus came among us:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
While the words from Hebrews place the accent on God’s desire to reveal himself in a more powerful way, John’s Gospel emphasizes the graciousness of God and the glory of God. John tells us, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
St. Paul described Jesus’ coming among us from yet another viewpoint. Paul emphasized the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ taking on human flesh:
Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
So there it is. When Jesus came to be with us, he came to speak God’s word in a new way. He came to reveal God’s love in a new way, and he came to sacrifice himself for us in a new way.
Jesus, the Savior. But the question remains: did Jesus really have to take on such a high-stakes mission? Did he really have to make such a big sacrifice?
According to an old saying, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” In other words, if a situation is bad enough, you will do something extreme to remedy it. Now, we would all agree that the idea of the infinite God becoming a finite human being is very dramatic. So he must be responding to something rather “desperate,” right? It must have been quite a serious need he came to address.
If our greatest need was for a medical breakthrough, God could have inspired a doctor to come up with a new cure. If our greatest need was for political stability, he could have sent someone to take up the throne of King David again. If we needed financial reform most of all, God could have raised up a talented economist or entrepreneur to help create jobs. But that’s not what God did. No, he sent his Son to become “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
That was our greatest need. Sin was the biggest obstacle to God’s plan for his beloved creation. Of course there are other obstacles, like social injustice and poverty. But those are all issues we can resolve on our own. Sin, however, is something so deep in us that we can’t overcome it without God’s help. And that’s exactly what happened on Christmas Day.
Jesus’ incarnation was God’s way of answering our greatest, our deepest, and our most pressing need. Yes, Mary and Joseph cooperated with God. Yes, their willingness to welcome Jesus into their lives was necessary. But Christmas is about God’s desires and his plans more than it is about the heroic decisions of Mary and Joseph. It’s about a heavenly Father who was so committed to his creation that he sent his only Son not to condemn us for our sin, but to save us from it (John 3:17).
Love Does Such Things. But why would the Son of God leave heaven and come to earth in the first place? Why would he give up so much power and freedom to submit himself to a mortal body? There can be no other reason but love. He became Emmanuel, God with us, because he treasures us so deeply. God created us so that he could share his love with us, and he couldn’t bear the thought of not having us by his side.
The more we grasp the magnitude of God’s love for us and for everyone around us, the more we will appreciate everything that happened on Christmas Day. Not only will we feel the comfort and peace that are often associated with Christmas, but we’ll also find a deep joy and gratitude toward the Lord welling up in our hearts. We’ll find ourselves thanking and praising him for stepping in to rescue us from sin. We’ll rejoice that he has opened heaven to us. And more than anything, we’ll want to know his love more deeply and to love him in return.
Mary’s grasp of God’s love is the reason why she pondered everything that happened to her (Luke 2:19, 51). Elizabeth rejoiced, and the baby John leaped in her womb because they were moved by that love (1:42-44). It’s the reason Simeon and Anna rejoiced when they saw the baby Jesus (2:25-26, 36-38). And it was God’s love that moved Joseph to accept his vocation as guardian and provider for Jesus and Mary (Matthew 1:18-25).
God wants us to discover this love as well. He wants to draw us closer to his heart, just as he did for Mary and Joseph. He wants to fill us with his peace, as he did for Simeon and Anna. And he wants to bless us and make us fruitful, as he did for Zechariah and Elizabeth. But no matter how much God wants to do these things for us, very little will happen if we don’t come before him and ask for these blessings.
It’s not enough to believe in a God who is in a far-off heaven. It’s not enough to believe that Jesus was born in a manger or that he died on the cross to thousand years ago. Especially during this season of grace, God wants us to experience personally how precious we are to him. Now is the perfect time to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see Jesus as God with us and to warm our hearts with the experience of his salvation in a life-giving way.
Show Us Your Salvation! If you want to know God’s love more deeply during Advent, there is one simple thing you can do: spend time each day reading and pondering the Gospel stories about JesusR#8217; birth (Matthew 1:18–2:23; Luke 1:5–2:52). Let these stories tell you how deeply God wants to be with you. Let them show you the lengths to which he has gone to save you and bring you to heaven.
Meditate on the words you read. Then, as you picture the various scenes in your mind, keep telling yourself that this baby in the manger really is God. He really did humble himself and come to earth so that he could be with you and so that you could be with him. He knows who you are. He knows everything about you—your hopes and dreams, your worries and fears. He knows the challenges you have faced, the victories you have experienced, and the road that lies ahead. He sees it all, and he is determined to be with you every step of the way.
Let Jesus, God with us, become God with you this Advent.