JESUS WAS a true baby. He was conceived in a fully supernatural way, but from the time he left his mother's womb, we must suppose he acted like all babies, in every respect. Christmas is the feast of the birth of the Son of God who yawns, burps, cries and even giggles as only a newborn can. It is the union of divine transcendence and human ordinariness, though neither the nature of Christ's Godhead nor his humanity were lost in the process. In many cases, even those who rarely go to Mass celebrate Christmas. We all long to be reborn and transcend our weaknesses: lack of trust, emotional starvation, some kind of upheaval, or maybe just loneliness. Christmas spells new beginnings. We are creatures always trying to begin again, as Gerard Manley Hopkins once put it.

We can celebrate the beginning of our salvation by getting in touch with our innate woundedness. We can fix a car, but we cannot repair our human nature. For that, we need to turn to this babe and let him heal us in the Church once called “a hospital” by Pope John XXIII. However, we must realize that God will not give us the perfect human community on earth. We have to learn to accept and live with imperfection everywhere, even as we aim for excellence. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “… [Our human nature] is wounded in the natural powers proper to it: subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin—an inclination to evil that is called ‘concupiscence.' Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns the baptized back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to a spiritual battle” (405).

On Christmas day, the Lord gives us the grace to show mercy to ourselves and neighbors. The doctrine of original sin, far from being pessimistic, is a call to ask for and accept God's merciful love and learn ourselves to love in that manner. The Catechism teaches: “Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind's origins. Without the knowledge Revelation gives us of God, we cannot recognize sin clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc. Only in the knowledge of God's plan for man can we grasp that sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives to created persons so that they are capable of loving him and loving one another” (387).

At Christmas we discover that God is not aloof. He wants to be intimate with us, and not merely as dependent children, but as collaborators who help him redeem individuals and communities. But it all began with Jesus'birth, the birth of the dream that mankind can be freed in order to be perfected. At Christmas, we celebrate our chance at re-birth from sin. Venite adoremus! Venite adoremus!

Father Cole is a friar of the Western Dominican Province.