By Father Michael Najim at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction:
In 1925, the New York World publication celebrated the birthday of Abraham Lincoln with a cartoon that has become something of a classic. Two Kentucky farmers are pictured talking over a picket fence. One asks, “Anything new happen lately?” The other responds, “Nothing much. A new baby was born over at Tom Lincoln’s place, but nothing much ever happens around here.”
Can you imagine the same thing happening in Bethlehem on the night that Jesus was born? Can you picture some people standing just outside the Inn? “Anything new happen around here?” “Nothing much, just a baby born down in the stable, but nothing much ever happens around here.”
The point of the cartoon in the New York World was obvious: when Lincoln was born, no one knew how much he would impact history. But what makes the birth of Jesus Christ different? This is the ultimate question for us as Christians.
Why is the birth of Jesus so different from the birth of Lincoln or from the birth of other great figures in history? Why is his birth so different from the many Christian saints? Throughout the centuries there have been numerous people who have had a tremendous impact on history and probably in our own lives; but, as great as these people were, they only have the power to influence us. In other words, these people do not possess within themselves the power to change and transform us.
During the Christmas season, we contemplate the newborn Christ in the manger. The difference between the birth of Jesus and the birth of other great figures in history is this: the baby that we contemplate in the manger is a divine person! And because Jesus Christ is a divine person he has within himself not only the power to influence us but the power to change and transform us!
You see, Jesus is God, God who became man, God who took on our human flesh and united our humanity to his divinity. And divinity has the power to change and transform us. This is precisely the reason he can change us: because he united our sinful human nature to his perfect divine nature; God became man so that we could share in the divine life of God.
The birth of Christ, then, is not simply an event of the past. The fact that God became man means that every human being is affected; it’s analogous to a divine electrical shock that has gone out and touched every human person in history. The divine life of God in Jesus Christ is spread through the entire human race through what we call grace, and grace changes and transforms us.
God loves us so much that he became one of us to change us. We all need interior change. Are you struggling with sinful habits? Do you feel that you are far from God? Have you made decisions in your life that have led you away from the Lord? Do you want to be closer to him? This is what Christmas is all about: Jesus Christ has come to us with the power to change and transform us. But we have to reach out to touch that power! We can look to role models, we can look to influential historical figures, we can read self-help books, but none of these have the divine power to change us. Only Christ does!
How beautiful that he makes himself so approachable. He’s a baby who wants us to embrace him so that we can experience his transforming love. Christ wants us to embrace him and he wants to embrace us, not just on Christmas but also at every moment. We cannot change without God’s grace that comes to us in Christ.
The birth of Christ is different because he has the power to change us. Don’t let this Christmas pass by with the attitude that we are celebrating the birth of just another great historical figure. No, let this Christmas moment seize you with the reality that what we celebrate is the living truth that God loves us so much that he became one of us to change us forever!
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Father Najim’s blog one year ago on December 24, 2012. He edited it from a post he wrote in 2009.