Do you remember when your first child was born? You were so filled with love that you would have done anything to protect and nurture this tiny little person God had entrusted to you. Just seeing this child sleeping peacefully filled you with a surge of love that you had never experienced before. This was your child, and you wanted nothing more than to love him and to feel the love that he had for you.
As deep and as life changing as it is, the love that parents feel for their children is just a shadow of the love that God, our heavenly Father, has for us. He created us out of nothing. He formed an entire world for us to live in—a world of beauty and complexity that reflects his glory and his love. He gave us each other so that we could develop relationships that mirror his love, mercy, compassion, and justice. And he promised us that he would be with us always, until the end of time.
Day after day, our God showers countless blessings on us through the beauty of this world and through the grace of friends and family. He does it all because he loves us—and because he wants us to love him in return.
A Giant Step. This interplay between God’s love for us and his desire for our love runs throughout Scripture. He called Abraham to be the father of a whole nation that would be in a covenant relationship with himself. In the Book of Exodus, we see God setting his people free from slavery so that they could love and worship him freely. Through the prophets, God revealed his determination to bring his wayward children back to him. Over and over, God demonstrated how deeply he wanted to draw his people to himself. Through signs and wonders, through priests and prophets, through kings and shepherds, God revealed his compassion and love.
Then, to everyone’s amazement, God took a giant step forward. He didn’t just perform miracles. He didn’t just speak through prophets. He took on actual human flesh and became one of us—like us in every way but sin. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, became a man and dwelt among us. Through this miraculous birth of a baby in a manger, God told the whole world, “I will spare nothing, not even my own Son, to bring you into a loving relationship with me.”
So when you look at the baby Jesus in the manger this Advent, remember that this child is the greatest gift we have ever received. Then, show Jesus your gratitude by worshipping him and offering him the deepest affections of your heart.
Joy and Sacrifice. Every time we celebrate Mass, we “proclaim” Jesus’ death and “profess” his resurrection until he comes again (Memorial Acclamation). We tell God how grateful we are that Jesus died to save us from sin. But the Easter miracle that we celebrate can never be separated from the Christmas miracle, when Jesus “came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” (Nicene Creed).
Easter is all about Jesus’ sacrificial death and the joy of his resurrection. But Christmas is also about sacrifice and joy. We know the joy: Christ is born! But this great, joyous event came at a great cost: the Son of God left the glory of heaven and entered a world darkened by sin and death. In a sense, Jesus’ birth was as great a sacrifice as his death. Let’s take a look at some of the elements of this sacrifice.
A Human Body. Jesus took on a human body just like ours. He was born as a helpless infant totally dependent on Mary and Joseph. As time passed, his body underwent all the natural changes that every person feels, including hunger, pain, thirst, and tiredness. He was subject to physical weakness and the natural limitations of having a mortal body. All of this was most plainly evident when, after an agonizing scourging and crucifixion, his body finally gave out, and he died.
Yes, Jesus was transfigured. Yes, he walked on water. And yes, he rose from the dead. Clearly, on certain occasions Jesus broke the bounds of his bodily limitations. But his normal, everyday experience was very much like ours.
Human Emotions. When it came to emotions, Jesus revealed his divinity and humanity in a unique and moving way. He showed us how God truly feels about things, but he showed it to us as a man. He was “moved with pity” for a man suffering from leprosy (Mark 1:41), for a grieving widow (Luke 7:13), for two blind men (Matthew 20:34), and for a crowd of hungry people (Mark 8:2). He became angry with some of Israel’s religious leaders (3:5) and became “indignant” with his disciples (10:14). He felt sorrow at the thought of his own death (Matthew 26:38). He was deeply troubled and wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:33-35). Most of all, Jesus loved people (Mark 10:21).
A Human Intellect. Scripture says that Jesus “advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52). Here we enter into the great mystery of his full humanity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that Jesus “would even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience” (CCC, 472). He was subject to the limitations of being born into a certain body in a certain place and in a certain era. In his humanity he didn’t have full knowledge of all things. We can see this most clearly when we think about what Jesus must have been like when he was a little child. But at the same time, because he was the eternal Son of God, Jesus knew everything he needed to know in order to fulfill his divine mission.
A Human Will. Scripture points to yet another paradox. On the one hand, Jesus says, “I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (John 6:38). Yet he also told his Father, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus was always in perfect harmony with God’s will. But at the same time, he had to submit his human will to his Father’s will—and sometimes, that was a difficult, painful choice (Hebrews 5:7).
Everything Has Been Saved. Why is it valuable to spend time thinking about how Jesus was fully human and still fully divine? Because we all long to be close to God, and every time we contemplate Jesus, we are drawn nearer to him. We get a deeper sense of the sacrifice he made, and it touches our hearts. Seeing how much he loves us, we come to love him more deeply in return, and we want to follow him more fully.
Jesus gave up his place in heaven and assumed a human body, just so that he could save our fallen, mortal bodies. He took on human emotions so that he could redeem our fallen emotions and teach us how to love. He took on a human will so that he could lift up our fallen wills and empower us to choose life over death. Jesus became fully human so that he could redeem every part of who we are. As St. Gregory of Nazianzus once said, “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.”
If Jesus was not fully man but only God inhabiting a human body, he would not have known the joys, fears, weaknesses, temptations, struggles, and victories of human life. He would not have had to weigh options and contemplate decisions because he would have always known exactly what to do or say in every situation. He would not have known how hard it can be to resist temptation or to grieve the loss of a loved one. His suffering on the cross would have meant very little. But he did take on our full humanity. And because he did, he was able to save us—every aspect of our spirits, souls, and bodies!
Love Begets Love. At Mass this Christmas, we will hear that familiar passage from the Gospel of John: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). These words don’t have to just wash over us. If we spend this Advent season contemplating what it meant for Jesus to take on our human flesh, we’ll find ourselves filled with praise and gratitude for what Jesus gave up for us. We’ll also find ourselves filled with love for our heavenly Father, the One who created us, who sustains us, and whose love for us knows no bounds.