Christmas is one of those holidays that everyone gets on some level. It evokes feelings of family, love, and peace on earth. What’s driving these sentiments however is a much deeper mystery that involves the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
In the post The Meaning of Advent, I described how the birth of Christ was a new reality - one that Jesus described as "The Kingdom of God." And that reality first broke into the world at the coming of Christ. Consider the following passage from the Gospel of John:
John 1:1-5,14 (NRSV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
The Word becoming flesh is the central idea of Christian thought. In Jesus Christ we see someone who is perfectly God and perfectly human. In a YouTube lecture, Benjamin Myers describes the process by which, through the incarnation, Jesus is able to unite His divinity to the one humanity that we all participate in. The result is that humanity is not only forgiven and restored from its state of sin and death, but elevated even more so because of the immense grace from Christ's divinity.
The incarnation has profound effects on all of creation as well. God's original charge for Adam and Eve was for them to be caretakers of the garden (Genesis 2:15). Because of their sin, they were separated from the garden and unable to undertake this task (Genesis 3:23-24). One way we can understand this text is to recognize how humanity has become out of harmony with the natural enviorment, and all of creation suffers because of it. The catechism in our own prayer book states that "Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distoring our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation (Book of Common Prayer, pg 848). Christ's incarnation and subsequent work of atonement repaired the damaged caused by sin, raising up humanity, and by extension, all of creation as well.
St. John Chrysostom explains this process in his famous Christmas Sermon.
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.
The mystery of Christmas is so powerful because of its implications. In uniting Himself to humanity, Christ brought the divine light into this world in such a way that we can participate in it. Moreover, the light that came into this world has such a profound effect on all of creation itself. It is no wonder that when we experience this season we feel compelled to cry out, "Joy to the world, The Lord has come!"