Even the most avid of readers might pick up a book that intrigues them, and desire so badly to get into the book that they skip the preface. If we skip the preface during the Christmas season, we might miss the heart of the Christmas message. In St. John's Gospel, the well-known preface says, "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." God, who existed before time, broke through both time and space, and entered humanity. In Jesus, God became manifest as He revealed Himself in a complete way.
The preface of the Eucharistic Liturgy is also easily glossed over.The beautiful words of the preface introduce the Eucharistic Prayer, and they glorify God in a profound way. In the Roman Missal, the first preface for the Mass of Christmas says, "For in the mystery of the Word made flesh, a new light of your glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that as we recognize in Him God made visible, we may be caught up through Him in love of things invisible." The wonder of the incarnation, God becoming man, points to the great reality of the invisible God becoming visible, and to the long-awaited and expected Messiah entering the world in a most unexpected way.
The story of Jesus' entry into the world teaches us that God often acts in unexpected ways. A Jewish maiden, a mere 14 years old, sat quietly in her room, was visited by an angel and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. The God she knew and loved broke into her life suddenly and unexpectedly, and she said her humble "yes." Nine months later, she gave birth in a lowly stable and placed Him in a manger. Poor shepherds first heard His first cries, and unexpected visitors, angels from heaven, glorified Him in song. The long-awaited and expected Messiah arrived in this world in a most unexpected way.
Centuries later, when people had forgotten and grown indifferent to the mystery of God becoming human, a young man, consumed with the reality of the Incarnation, sought to help people remember it. On a clear, crisp, starlit night in 1223, in the Italian countryside, a young troubadour reflected and decided, "I want to do something that will recall the memory of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of His infancy, how He lay in a manger, and how the animals stood by." St. Francis of Assisi reenacted the Christmas story at Greccio with the townspeople. He read the Gospel and preached the homily after a candlelit procession and the singing of hymns. He beheld the crèche, where in an instant the Christ Child appeared on the stone altar. At once he picked up the baby and held Him to his heart, crying tears of joy that the Lord had come to him.
Throughout the Scriptures, God's recurring, unexpected actions bring life to the world. Let us go deeper into the life of God this Christmas season by being more aware of and recognizing the unanticipated ways that Jesus is present in our own lives.