With a sense of bewildered wonder the Psalmist exclaimed, “What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8. 4). That is the most basic of questions. It's answer should give meaning and direction to the whole of our lives.
So, why did God bother to create us? Why did God bother to save us? After all, He always knew that we would rebel against Him. From all eternity He knew the lengths He would have to go to save His creation from the mess we would make of His plans. He had wanted us His people to have a loving relationship with Him. But after sin had ruined that plan He would have to take drastic steps to repair the damage.
Were we worth so much aggravation? Thank God, His answer was a resounding “Yes!” “Yes” to our creation; “Yes” to repairing the damage we’d do to His original plan for us, that we should share His divine life and happiness.
Yet again I ask, “Knowing all this, why did God bother.” For me St. John’s Gospel provides the perfect answer -and that is mind-blowing! In his third chapter John proclaims, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life,” (Jn. 3. 16). God’s love is the only answer to my question, “Why did He bother with us?” First, He loved us into existence. His love was creative. Next, His love was re-creative, restoring our loving relationship with Him which had been destroyed by man’s rebellion against Him.
Pope Francis expresses this beautifully in the Apostolic Letter, rounding off the Year of Mercy. He says, “I am loved, therefore I exist; I am forgiven, therefore I am re-born; I have been shown mercy, therefore I have become a vessel of mercy,” (‘Misericordia et Misera’ 16)
God’s love for us has the resilience to forgive; it is forever merciful. St. John goes on to tell us that God much preferred to save us from the destructive power of sin, rather than to condemn and punish us for sinning. Like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, He was eager and anxious to welcome back His wayward children. He was prepared to forgive us and help us to make a fresh start.
But then, wonder of wonders, St. John’s Gospel continues, “God sent His only Son into the world –not to condemn it, but to save it,” (Jn. 3.17). These words proclaim the wonder of the birth of the babe at Bethlehem, the wonder of Christmas. God loves us people so much that He chose to save us by first becoming one of us. That’s why He chose Mary to be His mother. He wanted to use our human vulnerability as the means to showing the power of His saving love and mercy.
Pope Francis saw Mercy as being the very face of God. The birth of Jesus is the birth of our salvation, the human manifestation of God’s loving mercy. As we adore the babe in the manger we see the face of God’s Mercy in the face of the baby Jesus -later we will see it in the face of the crucified Christ, and then glorified in His resurrection.
As we celebrate Christmas we rejoice in the God of Mercy becoming one of us, living among us and dying for us –simply because He loves us. That has been the theme running throughout the Year of Mercy.
As we adore the child born in a manger let us seek the mercy He won for us on the cross. As we seek God’s forgiveness, let us show those who have harmed us the same mercy that we hope to receive from our heavenly Father and from those we have offended. Only if we are as compassionate as our heavenly Father will we be His true sons and daughters. Only through mercy given and received will we be true brothers and sisters of the babe born at Bethlehem.
Peter and I wish you the peace, joy and happiness which only the babe born at Bethlehem could give the world.
Isidore Clarke O.P.