Surprise, Surprise!

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

So! You better watch out
Oh! You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Herein lies the difference between Santa and Jesus Christ (apart from the obvious historical facticity of Christ and the fictional nature of jolly Ol’ St. Nick) – Santa demands perfection. “Have you been a good little boy or girl this year?” If so, you WILL be rewarded and basically get exactly what you wanted. Santa (or the concept thereof) exercises his charity and generosity in a conditional fashion. poster4853

While there might be some sort of childish wonder surrounding Santa, any experience of surprise is ultimately non-existent, minimal, or ephemeral. But with Christ – with the fact of Jesus Christ who was conceived in a womb and entered history as we all do, who walked the face of the earth, who claimed to be God, whose death and resurrection became the backbone of early Church preaching, whose very existence and claim stands for us as an either/or (either He is God, or a he was a very bad man) – there exists a perpetual surprise.

It is not surprising that humanity needs a savior. Any self-reflection tinged with even the smallest hint of humility will reveal that with my own devices, I cannot seem to overcome this stain of sin. It is not surprising that a creature who sins against his Creator, who sins against Justice/Piety, sins against the infinite, who in his finitude cannot recover the gap generated by even one sin.

The surprise of Christmas is not Santa or material gifts or even our need for salvation, but the method, the manner in which the God of the universe came to save us:

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.

(Phil. 2:7-8)

God. The infinite, almighty, creator-of-the-universe God, took flesh.

He was conceived in the womb, born of a virgin in a stable, threatened from the start. He passed through every stage of human development (yes, Jesus Christ was even an adolescent). He assumed a human nature, and though He never sinned, He bore the full weight of sin unto the point of death.

But not only that. He saves us, He loves us even when we are bad little girls and boys. And we are, in fact, wounded, broken, sinful, fallen, girls and boys, men and women. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

His unconditional, self-emptying love surprises us in the method God chose to save mankind: incarnation.

While we don’t celebrate the incarnation per se at Christmas (see Feast of the Annunciation on Mar. 25), we do celebrate the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh – the method chosen for the salvation of the world, a method that cannot but surprise us.

“God has shown himself to us in Christ, he has made us see his face and has made himself really close to each one of us. Indeed, God has revealed that his love for man, for each one of us, is boundless: on the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man, shows us in the clearest possible way how far this love reaches, even to the gift of himself, even to the supreme sacrifice…Having faith, then, is meeting this “You,” God, who supports me and grants me the promise of an indestructible love that not only aspires to eternity but gives it; it means entrusting myself to God with the attitude of a child” (Pope Benedict XVI – Oct. 24, 2012). Govert_Flinck_-_Aankondiging_aan_de_herders

How unfortunate it is that we have lost sight of the surprise of the incarnation, and the childlike wonder of encountering the Mystery anew. So hardened in our ways, it is no surprise that we push away the love of God incarnate that even wishes to draw close to us now.

Lord, may this change tonight, this night when a child was born who changed history and mankind forever, and who can change my history and my existence forever.

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us. So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. (Lk. 2:15-17)

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