«In the fullness of time God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law» (Gal. 4:4). With this short but substantial phrase St. Paul sums up the mystery of the incarnation.
Let us first notice the past tense. St. Paul sees the birth of Christ in the light God’s promise to Israel six centuries before when Isaias prophesied: «The Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel» (Is. 7:14). Thus, the virgin Mary by giving birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, makes manifest that God, when the time had come centuries later, acted to fulfill his divine plan.
This is in itself an amazing claim. At first sight the events that make up human history may seem to us like a senseless flow of time but now we are told that there is an inherent meaning to it all. For mysteriously twinned into what happens, then and now and in the future, is also hidden the history of our salvation. In the end God has the destiny of the whole world in his hands.
But the second insight to be drawn is even more astonishing. Despite being born of a humble woman in a stable, the child Jesus is God’s Son. In him the divine Logos has become man. Sharing the human condition, our Saviour is our brother: «The grace of God», explains St. Paul, is «the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many» (Rom. 5:15).
Who is then Mary? Willingly serving God’s purpose, she calls herself a «lowly maidservant» but by others she is hailed as “the Mother of the Lord”. She is «blessed among women, and blessed is is the fruit of your womb» (Luke 1:38,42f). All that the Lord had said through the prophet comes true in her. Her son Jesus is the Immanuel sign – «God with us» (Matt. 1:22f).
Therefore, when the wise men from the East came to Bethlehem and saw the child Jesus in the manger, «they fell down and worshipped him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to him; gold, frankincense and myrrh» (Matt. 2:11). Similarly the message to us on Christmas day is that we are to open our hearts to Jesus and worship him by giving to him ourselves as gifts. In this way, despite all the strange and troublesome things happening around us, we can with confidence enter our own place in the history of salvation.