My dear people of God, our hearts are filled with great joy and gratitude to God our loving Father who continues to show us clear signs of his love. We have come to the final month of the Year 2017 and one cannot but take some time to recall some of the moments of divine manifestations in our lives as individuals, parish communities as well as one great family of His. We pray that His providence will sustain us as we conclude the year and gently lead us into the New Year 2018. Amen.
In the journey of the faith, a high point in God’s relationship with humanity is in the Incarnation. In becoming man like us, God completely redefined the course of history, thus establishing his reign as the Lord of all times and seasons. It opened the way to the Father for us and with accorded joy to the human race, thus enabling us speak with one voice, saying: I see heaven open.
Truly my dear friends, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is the feast of open heavens. The visit of God in a decisive way in the person of Jesus testifies to this fact. Going through the history of world religions, no other faith presents the beauty of the divine-human encounter in a manner more spiritually-compelling than the Christian faith. This is the source of our joy; it is the reason for our ecstasy.
Why did the Word of God become flesh? In the Creed we profess that “For our sake and for our salvation he came down from heaven”. Augustine, the great 4th century bishop said: Closed in darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state? Jesus is true God and true man. The Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. The Son of God ...worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin (Gaudium et Spes).
What is the significance of the Incarnation for us? The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God our Father. God loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). The Father sent his Son as the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). The Word appeared to take away sins (1 John 3:5). The Word became flesh that we might know and experience the love of God. God's love was revealed to us in the way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9). For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
There is a great paradox in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Son of God taking on human flesh that we might be clothed in his divinity. Scripture says “he became poor that we might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9) -- rich not in material things which pass away, but rich in the things that last -- eternal life and happiness with the Triune God-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Incarnation is the mystery of this marvelous exchange: “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.” (Antiphon I of Evening Prayer for January 1st)
One of the great thinkers of history, Soren Kierkegaard has a beautiful Christmas fable which drives the meaning of the open heavens more to our consciousness. Kierkegaard has a fable of a king who fell in love with a maid. A king fell in love with a poor maid. The king wanted to marry her. When asked, “How shall I declare my love?” his counselors answered, “Your majesty has only to appear in all the glory of your royal raiment before the maid's humble dwelling and she will instantly fall at your feet and be yours.” But it was precisely that which troubled the king. He wanted her glorification, not his. In return for his love he wanted hers, freely given. Finally, the king realized love's truth, that freedom for the beloved demanded equality with the beloved. So late one night, after all the counselors of the palace had retired, he slipped out a side door and appeared before the maid's cottage dressed as a servant to confess his love for her. Clearly, the fable is a Christmas story. God chose to express His love for us humans by becoming one like us. We are called to obey, not God's power, but God's love. God wants not submission to his power, but in return for his love, our own.
My dear people of God, we have seen heaven opened for us in other that we might love divinity. Let us not be afraid to gaze upon the face of God for He does not come to us in the grandeur of his divinity, rather in the gentle and feeble babe of Bethlehem.
I wish you, your families and friends a beautiful Christmas filled with abundant blessings
† Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
See Other Messages from the Bishop »