On the day of his birth, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of God, the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Almighty, and Ever-Living God foregoes heaven’s throne to enter human existence as a babe in a manger. Christians have long stood in awe of this, mouth slightly agape yet heart rejoicing, naming this Christmas mystery "The Marvelous Exchange."
The prayers of the Liturgy chant: "O marvelous exchange! Man's Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity."
It is almost beyond human comprehension. And yet, some of the wisest men through the ages have beckoned us to believe it.
St Athanasius, a feisty 4th century bishop of Alexandria, spent his whole life in and out of exile defending the Incarnation of Christ. He wrote passionately about this marvelous exchange: "For the Son of God became Man so that we might become God."
St Thomas Aquinas, the prolific 13th century "Angelic" doctor of the church, repeated it: "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."
What does this mean for us?
It means that we have grace to become children of God.
How? St. Paul tells us it is by adoption that we become children of God, thanks to the Incarnation: "When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption… God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ " (Gal 4: 4-6.)
Jesus taught that this is exactly the condition we need to enter his Kingdom: "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 18:3-4.)
Look at the Magi – wise men of esteem coming before the little infant Jesus born into poverty. The Magi, men of power and influence knelt (knelt!) before him.
During his public ministry, Jesus preached: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (Jn 3:3.)
This was the mystery before Nicodemus, another wise man, and a devout Pharisee in search of the truth about the Savior. Hearing Jesus’ words, Nicodemus asked an intelligent question: if I’ve already been born, how can I be born again?
Today we know what Nick was wrestling with – but now we know the gift of our baptism makes us Children of God. We become sons and daughters of God by grace, not by nature… not by natural birth, but by a spiritual rebirth.
Our life is meant to echo this spiritual childhood We’ve got to let ourselves become little in the way that Jesus did. If He entered into humility by becoming a child, so can we by the power of his grace.
The first thing I learn from this is that childhood is good… and that God is approachable.
Once upon a time, we were children who innocently went about our days without any worries… often living in the bliss of the moment. It was a very Eden-like existence up to a point. Eventually we learned that we had to grow up – to be responsible and mature and productive. There is nothing really wrong with that, except that as adults we often forget our original childhood.
Even worse, some people’s memories of childhood – their holy innocence – are marred beyond recognition – stolen from by violence or inhumanity.
Either way, the beauty and bliss of that child-identity – our original core connection – that of being a Child of God can be disjointed, disconnected, or dismembered.
Enter the Christ Child… and the dawn of something mysteriously new.
Enter the Child who stepped into Time to promise eternity.
That same Child has the power to make children of us all.
Jesus restores what was lost to us in the Garden of Eden: a life with God. Being baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit calls us to the live this day as if One Day we will live with the Blessed Trinity.
If God became a little child, slipping into the bliss of being held in the arms of his loving parents – just what does that tell us? There is something holy – and necessary – about being a child. We learn to whom we belong and we begin to know peace.
I weep at the miracle and majesty of Christmas captured in the Holy Babe. I long to let go of my adultish cares and slip into the bliss of being held in the folds of Jesus’ robe.
When I enter that mystery, when I rejoin, reconnect, and remember that Truth, I re-learn to whom I belong and the peace it brings. I sleep in heavenly peace.
Remembering overcomes The Split: remembering overcomes sin – turning "no" into "YES!" – turning separation into connection, communion.
And there is holy fallout from this marvelous exchange: not only do I have the chance to live one day in heaven but I exchange the lie that I must somehow become my own god. For the truth is I am still a Child of God regardless of my age or circumstance.
This Child lies at my deepest core; my being is yoked to eternity.
And this I know this when I kneel before the Crèche. I experience the marvelous exchange that comes from that Baby gazing up at me.
©2009 Patricia W. Gohn
About the Author
Pat Gohn is a married empty-nester with three adult children and four grandchildren. An author, catechist, speaker, and host of the Among Women podcast since 2009, her books include the award-winning Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, and All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. She works in Catholic publishing as an editor. Visit PatGohn.net