God created man in His own image; in the image of God he created him. God
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And he walked in the Garden in
the cool of the day, and He called Adam’s name. “Where are you Adam?”
Genesis 2:7, 3:9
And His name shall be Emmanuel: God with us.
An the angel said, “You shall call His name Emmanual, God with us.”
And the Holy City came down out of heaven from God. And God will be with
them; He shall be their God and they will be His people, and He will wipe every
tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or sorrow.
Of all the questions Christians are likely to ponder, among the most persistent is this: It might be called the Christmas Question, because at this holy season we are confronted with the claim that One Person of the Blessed Trinity left His heavenly throne and chose to be born of a woman in Roman Judea in the reign of Augustus. That question is “Why did He do it?” Why did God make a world in which beauty and order are threatened by chaos and darkness, enter it himself, die, rise again in glory victorious over death, and send His Holy Spirit to guide us into a glorious future with Him. Why did He do this for us?
There is a broad answer and true. He did not do all this simply for us, but because He is who He is. It is of the nature of the Blessed Trinity as He has revealed himself that the love that exists among the three Persons causes the superabundant overflowing of love into existence. That is what love or charity is: in human terms the desire for the existence and the good of another, and those actions that enhance the existence of others. And when God is the lover, it is more than desire sometimes realized. What God loves He causes to exist; what He wills to happen is certain.
And there is a more particular answer to the question “Why did He do it?” All of Scripture testifies that He had a project and a plan, and that nothing that He plans does not come to fruition; in Job’s words: “I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of thine can be thwarted” (1:42). His indefeasible project was that his creature man might be known by Him, might answer when he calls our name. There are many books, and useful, about our finding God, but our search is predicated on the more fundamental truth that He is seeking us.
But often this happy answer is obscured by the undoubted fact that faith in Christ is capable of and necessarily does produce holy behavior that makes its subjects fit citizens of the Kingdom of the New Heart, along the way gentling the civilization in which it subsists. This attractive and essential consequence is apt to distract from the principal line, the deep reality, in the Christian story, just as does the southern habit of equating Christianity with being saved, without being very specific about what one is saved from and into. God wants to save us from our sins which prevent our answering when He calls us and therefore prevents His knowing us, but our being saved is greater than our being forgiven, wonderful as that mercy is; we are given new hearts for the purpose of our knowing God forever and living with Him as it was intended in the beginning. Our repentance and forgiveness is the prologue to a long story that begins in time and ends in eternity. “Whom He justified He glorified” (Romans 8:30).
Because we are rebels in the following of our first parents, the Gospel begins with a threat: “You generation of vipers” (Matthew 3:7, 12:34); God’s wrath is revealed against all unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), but it is a threat on behalf of then invitation that is the heart of the Good News. The parables of Christ teaches are too rich and varied to be subsumed under one title, but one of the dominant images is the banquet or the wedding feast, into which God invites His elect. Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding feast. The king prepared a feast and invited many (Luke 14:16). Because the ten wise virgins are wise, they will go out to greet the bridegroom (Matthew 25:1). The promise to the faithful is that “you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom (Luke 22:29–30). “Many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Matthew 8:11).
Just imagine how pleased you might be if Solzhenitsyn or Benedict XVI or Rick Santorum or Samuel Alito—think of someone you truly admire–was coming to town with the express desire of wanting to meet you, coming to dinner to know your aspirations and your best desires. But the one who comes seeking to know each of us at Christmas is greater: the Word of God made flesh. The central truth of the Biblical story, of Tradition, of Christian experience is the fact that the Almighty God, Blessed Trinity, wants to know you, and me, and each of us; for this He created us. The Blessed Apostle Peter says that God wants us to share in His very nature (II Peter 1:3–4). This is the reason he created the world, the reason he became incarnate, the reason he will come again. Begin with the moment when, the chaos, darkness and emptiness of Genesis now overcome, God held Adam before Him and breathed something of His own life into Adam’s face and gave Adam dominion over all that is the garden of creation. The garden called Eden God claimed as His own; He walked in it in the cool of the day and as He did so He called Adam’s name. Adam and Eve did not answer. We know that they had chosen the advice of the serpent, and they had been able to do so because they had a gift no other creature possessed; freedom. Perhaps had we been the creators, we would not have given our first parents the gift of freedom, but remember: freedom is the presupposition of love; no freedom, no love. And the purpose in God’s creation was his desire to find a response of love to the love that made the world. The whole history of the world and of every man is our learning to answer when God calls, realizing that insofar as His purpose is revealed, God wants to know His rational creatures, to find in them a return of the love He had displayed in making them and giving them a world from which intimations of glory are never absent.
This desire of God to know us is the mystery at the heart of the world. His first command was not a moral precept—those will follow—but: “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). His every action, through Exodus, through the covenants, through the promise of the prophets that at last we would be given new hearts, to the Incarnation and the coming of the Holy Spirit; each of these mighty acts appearing in the fullness of time, is directed toward fulfilling one thing: that at last God might be with us and that we would answer with obedient love. Isaiah had prophesied the coming of one whose name would be Emmanuel: God with us. And this is the text Matthew cites in his narrative of the birth of the Savior: You shall call His name Emmanuel, God with us.
There is no intimacy in this world greater than that presupposed by Jesus’ words. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you, but if you eat my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world, you will live with me forever (John 6).. Christ gives us Himself, body and blood, the new manna come down from heaven, so that we may live in Him and He in us.
We are promised that in the end, Christ who is sacramentally present now will be with us in glory, when the new creation comes down out of heaven from God, that in it Christ is the light, that at last what He willed in the beginning, when He made us and called our names, will be made perfect. And the voice from the throne said, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them and they shall be His people and God Himself will be with them.” (Revelation 21:3–4), God’s purpose was fulfilled at last. “He will wipe away every tear from their and He will do away with mourning and sorrow and wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more , neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. And He who sat on the throne said, “Behold I make all things new.” And He said, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” He was there in the beginning seeking us in the garden; He is calling us to share his life in the Eucharist day by day; he will dwell with us in His glory at the end, an end that is in fact an eternal beginning..
So think about the Incarnation that Christians celebrate in this way: The particular purpose in God’s creation, of His providential acts in history and in our lives, is to know us and finally to bring us to be with Him in the kingdom of glory and no hurt. This is what John the Evangelist meant when he wrote: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us .” (I John 4:10 )
Christmas is the central chapter in God’s desire to know us, celebrating the day when He came down to Bethlehem in search of us.