Stained glass window depicting the Nativity scene in the Cathedral of Brussels, Belgium. Christianity is the only religion in history that claims that our God actually became human – one of us. JORISVO/SHUTTERSTOCK

Commentary

DEACON OMAR GUTIERREZ: The incredible privilege of celebrating God the Son’s coming

The Year of Our Lord 2020 is finally coming to an end.

The pandemic that this year has utterly altered our way of life and taken from us many of our neighbors is showing a significant spike right now. We have seen shootings and riots, peaceful and violent protests. We have seen more scandals in the Church, and a report which left a lot to be desired. Another contentious presidential election was and is still the source of division. But as with every year, we greet this ending annus horribilis with the season of Advent and the celebration of the most important birth in the history of the world.

St. John Henry Cardinal Newman said in a sermon over a century ago that we could use this time of Advent to better train ourselves in worship. He used the analogy of walking out of a dark room into the bright sunlight. We need to do so gradually, so that our eyes can acclimate to the light. Likewise, then, we need to practice right worship during Advent to acclimate our souls. Newman suggests a greater devotional life, more holy reading, an extra prayer or two. It is so that our souls can fully take advantage of all that is offered at Christmas.

And what is offered? Consider the fact that our religion is the only religion on the face of the planet or the history of the world that claims that our God actually became one of us. We do not believe as the Greeks and Romans did that our God merely took the form of a human, only pretending to be weak and vulnerable. Nor do we believe as the Hindus do that the avatar of a god was born of a woman but still had superpowers. Neither do we preach that the babe in the manger wrapped in swaddling clothes was merely a noble and wise prophet.

Again, according to St. John Henry Newman, Christianity is founded upon the central truth of the Incarnation, that our God became one of us in all things but sin. The implications of this we heard on the Solemnity of Christ the King, namely that when the poor and forgotten suffer, the Lord suffers with them and in them. Consequently, whenever we feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned, we do it to Jesus.

What is more, the story of Christmas reminds us that all the terrible events we have seen in 2020 have happened before. They existed in and around Judea, too. There have been pandemics, floods, riots, political unrest, economic collapses, and more. Bad men claiming to speak for God have behaved badly before. In the time of the first Christmas, good men were persecuted for their fidelity to the truth, too.

Still, 2020 years later we remember that poor family that welcomed the preciously delicate body of a baby, who was and is and ever will be the Son of God, our Savior. We have the incredible privilege of ending this year by celebrating that fact. Then, on the eighth day, we will open the new year with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

So, let us prepare ourselves for this holy time by being quieter, perhaps hugging our kids tighter, eschewing some of the trappings of the secular season, opening our pantry to others, and embracing worship for our God who so loves us that he became one of us. And as we suffer from loss and isolation, let us remember that he is with us in that suffering as well.

Deacon Omar Gutiérrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at ofgutierrez@archomaha.org.