We are now approaching the Christmas season and are in the midst of the Season of Advent in which we celebrate the coming of our Lord on Christmas, and we also anticipate His Second Coming in which He will return to Earth in glory to judge the living and the dead. But, why is this so important for us Christians? Why is Jesus Christ so central to our religion that we identify ourselves by His Name? Why is His birth in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago so important to us that we honor it as the most holy of our holidays second to Easter?
The answer is that Christ is so central and important to our Faith because He came to save us from sin, which separates us from God and could damn us to Hell forever if we do not repent.
Jesus pre-existed His human form as the second person of the Triune-God in all eternity and created all of us and everything that exists. Knowing beforehand that His beloved creation, mankind, would fall into sin, He made the plan to become one of us to so that He could pay the price of atonement for our sins that we could not pay on our own. Thus, Christ was born over 2,000 years ago in the town of Bethlehem to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus had no earthly father because God the Father is His Father, and so both His conception and His birth had no male origin and thus were virginal, hence why His mother Mary was a virgin in conception and remained a virgin even after giving birth to Him. In addition, He was also born without the stain of Original Sin and He never committed any sin in the 33 years of His life so that He could be the stainless lamb to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice to God the Father on the Cross for the atonement of our sins and the sins of the whole world. Jesus was thus born to die and the whole purpose of Christmas is to honor the birth of the price of our salvation from sin.
There are three forms of sin: Original Sin, Mortal Sin, and Venial Sin. Mortal Sin is called mortal because it is a sin that brings spiritual death to our souls and left un-repented will damn us to Hell. In order for a sin to be considered a Mortal Sin, it has to fit all three of the following criteria: 1, it has to be of a grave/very serious matter; 2, the person that who commits this sin must know that it is seriously wrong/evil; 3, and the person has to do it with the full consent of his/her freewill. If any one of these three criteria is not met, then the sin is a Venial Sin, or a sin that wounds the soul but does not bring death to it. Paragraph 1862 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that one commits only venial sin "when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter but without full knowledge or without complete consent".
Mortal Sin and Venial Sins are personal sins, meaning that we commit them. However, the first kind of sin, Original Sin is not the kind of sin that we do but is a state of being that we are born into due to the first (original) sin of our first parents Adam and Eve.
Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that God created man (Adam) and woman (Eve) perfect, in the state of Grace, free from all sin and that He gave dominion over the entire Earth to Adam; in a sense, God made Adam the first king over the Earth as a steward under His own Divine royal authority. God even made a special place for Adam and Eve to live in; a perfect paradise known as the Garden of Eden. However, God gave only one prohibition to them: not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, for if they did ON THAT DAY they would die.
By this point, Lucifer/Satan had already rebelled against God and he and his fallen angels/demons were cast out of Heaven for their sin. Now Satan wanted revenge against God so he decided to attack Him through His beloved creation, man. If Satan could get Adam to fall into sin, then he would damn Adam and all of his future descendants with him to Hell for forever. In Genesis 3, we see that Satan did just that.
We are told in Genesis 3 that the serpent came to the woman (Eve) to deceive her into disobeying God; Revelation 12 identifies this serpent as being Satan. Satan convinced Eve that to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge was a good thing, that she “would be like God”, harkening back to his own sin of wanting to be like God (Isaiah 14:14). Unfortunately, she fell into this deception and then Adam fully chose to give into this temptation and also ate the fruit and they were later banished from paradise.
I say that Eve was deceived because St. Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:14 that she was deceived, but that Adam was not. Therefore, even though Eve did indeed fall into sin, Adam’s act of sin was truly a Mortal Sin because he knew full well that it was a grave matter and chose to freely do it. Hence, even though Adam would live for a total of 930 years (Genesis 5:5), he still died that day for he brought spiritual death into the world.
Now as to why Adam did thus, St. Augustine teaches us that because Adam loved his wife so much and did not wish to lose her, he chose to join her in damnation (The Literal Meaning of Genesis 11.42:, The City of God 14.11). Adam’s disobedience against God may have had noble motivation, but it was still sin and he damned the whole human race with him. For when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, “their eyes were opened” and “they were naked” for they were no longer clothed with the Grace of God because of the state of sin that they now lived in. All humans born from them (with the exception of Jesus and Mary) now have this absence of God’s Grace in conception and birth and hence we are all born into this state of sin even though we are innocent children.
Because of Original Sin and the personal sins (Mortal and Venial) that mankind would continue to commit, God had a Plan from the beginning to redeem Adam and Eve and all humans thereafter. That Plan was for Him to be Incarnated as a fully man and fully Divine being, Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3,14) and He would be a new Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22, Romans 5:18-21) . Moreover, it is made clear that God had this Plan all along throughout the prophecies of the Old Testament, but especially in Genesis 3:15 when He told the Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your seed and Her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel." Here we see the first prophecy that Jesus would come to destroy the power of Satan. How did He do so? On the Cross! Where was the Cross? On a hill called Calvary, also called Golgotha, the place of the skull! Thus, we see the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 fulfilled by Christ.
As we read Revelation 12, we also see that prophecy of Genesis 3:15 concerning the enmity between the Woman and Satan in action as Satan brought war to her and tried to destroy her and her son. In verses 4 and 5, we see that this Woman’s son is Jesus and by consequence this Woman is the Virgin Mary. Jesus also referred to His mother as Woman in John 2:4 and John 19:26. In light of this, the Early Church Fathers, such as St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaeus (who learned the Faith from St. Polycarp, who himself learned from St. John the Apostle), saw that if Jesus is the New Adam according to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:22 and Romans 5:18-21, then the Virgin Mary is also the New Eve.
In light of this, we then see the reversal of what happen in Eden first beginning to take place when St. Gabriel the Archangel came to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation in Luke 1:26-38, when Gabriel told Mary that she was chosen by God to give birth to His Son Jesus and she said “yes” to God. As St. Irenaeus wrote in regards to the events of Luke 1:26-38:
“And thus also it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith (Against Heresies 3:22:4).”
“Just as the former—that is, Eve—was seduced by the words of an angel so that she turned away from God by disobeying his word, so the latter—Mary—received the good news from an angel's announcement in such a way as to give birth to God by obeying his word; and as the former was seduced so that she disobeyed God, the latter let herself be convinced to obey God, and so the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve. And as the human race was subjected to death by a virgin, it was liberated by a Virgin; a virgin's disobedience was thus counterbalanced by a Virgin's obedience... (Against Heresies 5:19:1).”
For Christians, Christmas is more than just a holiday of joy in which we give presents to one another, it is the day in which we rejoice for being made free from sin, in which the Original Sin of Eden is reversed. Eve was tempted to sin by a fallen angel and told “no” to God, whereas Mary was obedient to a loyal angel of God and said “yes” to God. Sin and death came about by Adam because of Eve, whereas salvation from sin and eternal life came about by Jesus because of the Virgin Mary. And because Adam loved his wife so much that he died for her, Jesus loved us so much that He came to die for us.
God became incarnated as fully God and fully man in the person of Jesus Christ for the atonement of our sins. The King of all Creation submitted Himself in humility to be a weak little baby laid in a manger in a stable in Bethlehem so that He would later one day also submit Himself in humility to be nailed to the Cross for our sins.
This is what Christmas really means! We give gifts to one another in celebration for the ultimate gift that God gave to us about 2,000 years ago: Himself.
In this holy season, let us remember the real reason for the season. It is not about receiving, but giving. What can you give to others? What can you give to God?
Give God your heart for He already gave you His! Repent from your sins and turn to Him so that you can receive the great gift that He has given to us! Give Him glory and praise for what He has done for us! Give Him worship and adoration for His great love for us!
May this be a very Merry Christmas for you this year as you reflect upon what has been shared with you this day!
SCRIPTURES TO MEDIATE UPON:
This short essay was originally written for the Knights of the Magisterium Mental Health Ministry last Advent. Compared to the rest of my essays, this is a short read.