7. Breakthrough

You have heard the saying “it seems too good to be true”. Well, the mysteries of faith are like that: they are marvelous because they are true, and too marvelous for our understanding. When the time came for the fulfillment of God’s promises, what God did exceeded all expectations:

In times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in this, the final age, he has spoken to us in the person of his Son, whom he has made heir of all things and through whom he first created the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Referring to their own religious practices, the Letter to the Hebrews highlights the insufficiency of all previous religion:

That God would enter human history and human life in this way is astonishing. It completely overturns our instinctive way of thinking about God.

Since the law is only a shadow of the good things to come…it can never make perfect those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year … In those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins, for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take sins away. For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘as is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” (Hebrews 10:1-7)

The opening of John’s gospel is majestic but simple and to the point:

In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came to be; not one thing had its being but through him. The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:13, 14)

That God would enter human history and human life in this way is astonishing. It completely overturns our instinctive way of thinking about God. And that human beings could mean so much to God is cause for “deep wonder.”

…deep amazement at the worth and dignity of the human person is another name for the gospel…for Christianity.
(Pope John Paul II, The Redeemer of the Human Race)

For Practice

  • A story from World War I tells that one Christmas night soldiers from both sides left their trenches to greet each other in the spirit of Christmas. It seems that God’s coming among us in a lowly way - that is, as a human being born in a manger - contains huge power to change things.
  • What do you think of G.K. Chesterton’s remark: “it’s not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it’s that Christianity hasn’t yet been tried”?

For Prayer

You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings,
but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
Instead, here am I.

In the scroll of the book it stands written
that I should do your will.
My God, I delight in your law
in the depth of my heart.

Psalm 40:6-8

The story of Jesus’ conception highlights the gift of our salvation; it was not something we could achieve for ourselves. It is God who makes the breakthrough.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favor! The Lord is with you.” She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean. But the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.” Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord, let it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38)