Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life.”
— Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
As the new year gets rolling and the Christmas season ends with the Feast of Epiphany, the revelation of Jesus Christ to the world, it behooves the faithful to be reminded of the paramount mission and value of every Christian’s life: salvation of the world, starting oneself and one’s loved ones.
Wow, some believer on the street might remark. It’s hard enough trying to cover the rent and utilities, make the food budget fit, send job or college applications, finish the weekly class report, or deal with school bullies without having to deal with the redemption stuff. Or worse: rebuilding flattened homes and decimated communities after some “Act of God” like Haiyan.
How can anyone think of heaven with such earthly burdens weighing on him or her?
Answer: Do them together, imbuing the earthly with the heavenly.
In fact, there is no other way to be Godly, but to lift the world and its flaws, foibles and fiendishness to the sky. Indeed, if being heavenly meant running away from the concerns and challenges of earthly life, then it would have been pointless for the Son of God to become human.
Let’s repeat that: It would have been pointless for the Son of God to become human if being heavenly meant running away from the concerns and challenges of earthly life.
For in becoming flesh, the Eternal Word was precisely aiming to show humankind how to live the holy, perfect, Godly life not as disembodied angels, but as men, women and children with bodies and souls, material, social and spiritual needs.
In His 33 years with us, Emmanuel was giving His beloved creatures clear and unmistakable lessons in the Godly manner of living human lives.
The divine in the human
Okay, so we’re supposed to live as God would in our everyday lives. How?
We get a bit of that lifelong learning every Sunday in the Gospel reading. Last weekend, the divine kingship of Jesus was proclaimed, both to the lowly shepherds and the learned Magi.
But the Lord did not come with a conquering army, a marching band, or a retinue of attendants carrying gilded vestments. He did not possess immense wealth or wield dominating power. No pork barrel, no nukes, no limos. Just the utter helplessness and innocence of an infant, surrounded by the poverty of farm animals.
The lesson in divine humanity should be clear: If we are to live as God did and wishes, we must not embrace the trappings of wealth, power, and position. And if we happen to be gifted with them, as the Magi were, then we should offer them to the Lord and the least of His brethren. Not to hang on to privilege and prerogative, as Herod sought in massacring the Holy Innocents to kill the prophesied king of Israel.
Encounter and embrace the Lord
There is a further and even more important lesson in the manger scene replicated in churches and homes during the holiday season. Christian joy comes not in grimly complying with some immutable edict from the sky, chiseled in stone tablets and enforced with fire and brimstone.
Rather, it is the delight and peace of welcoming the Holy Child, not unlike the unalloyed ebullience of kissing and cuddling a newborn infant, but multiplied a hundredfold by the faith that in this Incarnation of the Divine, God shows that He would brook no bounds in showing His love for us, and helping each and every person to the fullness of His life.
That unmistakable and unimaginable encounter with divine love in the supernatural extreme is precisely the point of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s above-quoted summation of what being a believer means. Ultimately, it isn’t primarily about following commandments or contemplating theological permutations — but saying hello to God.
By deepening one’s faith in God’s love as shown in His Son’s descent to our world so we may ascend to heaven, we then seek our greatest joy in replicating such divine charity in our own lives.
Thus, in thanking and glorifying our Lord by replicating His saving life with His fallen creatures, we too seek out and share the lives of our less fortunate brethren, and use our wherewithal to uplift them as God has lifted us. Like Father, like sons and daughters. And this we do with the joy of children who delight in watching and copying their parents and elder siblings.
As the Lord Himself said before leaving His disciples and returning to His Father, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
What about suffering?
It’s easy amid the lanterns of Christmas and the fireworks of New Year to forget that Lenten truth that the Christ Child we celebrated till January 6, would be betrayed, sweat blood, be arrested, scourged, and crowned with thorns. He would bear His cross the craggy, steep road to Calvary, then be stripped, nailed to the cross, and suffer for hours before breathing His last, the agony ended by crushed heart and lungs.
So do we get ready for lashes on our back, needles in our scalp, logs on our shoulders, impaled hands and feet, and pierced chests? Yes and no.
Our backs will feel whips and our shoulders timber, the kind that comes with back-breaking labors. Thorns will pierce our heads from diligent study and caring thought.
Hands and feet will be bloodied caring for the wounded and ill. And hearts will be speared by the angry words of misunderstanding and contempt. In our own everyday lives, we shall undergo Golgotha.
Why? Because that is how we share in God’s work of redeeming the world. No doubt, it is far from perfect, and God’s love and grace have precisely been nudging the cosmos closer and closer to the divine ideal. It has gone quite a distance — from the inchoate particles spewed by the Big Bang to atoms, molecules, proteins, cells, tissue, organs, minds, and societies — but the universe remains far beneath what God wants.
Thankfully, He is there with us with every inch we strive to better ourselves, our lives and our world.