Many of us when we were little children, would make friends and play with other children quite unhesitatingly and could trust each other quite easily. But as we grow a little older, we somehow learn to not trust each other easily. If you recall, when we played as children and told someone we would do something and the other person might say ‘I don’t believe you”. It is then we had learned to say, ‘I promise’ and sometimes even to saying, “I promise and cross my heart’ in order to double assure the other person that you will do what you say. There are times when parents say something to the child and they in turn say, ‘you promise?’ The word promise, even to a child, carries quite a bit of weight and conveys an idea that something will be done, maybe not immediately but at some point, in time.
One may wonder what has the word ‘promise’ got to do with Christmas? In fact, our celebration today is about a ‘promise’ – it is about God being faithful to His word. The event that we celebrate today is not an afterthought by God but rather it was His plan from the beginning of time. Already in the Book of Genesis, as early as in the creation account, about the coming of “someone” great. This theme will follow throughout the Old Testament. In fact, the whole of the Old Testament was a preparation for this moment. It was a moment when the promise was foretold by many great prophets of the Old Testament… the promise of “someone” who will come to begin a new era.
With the birth of Jesus, that promise that was foretold is now the ‘promise fulfilled’. The birth of Jesus fulfills the promise made by God centuries before but it was in a way that the human mind had perceived… that God Himself would come down to live amongst us. That is why the Jews during Jesus’ time accused Him of blasphemy when He alluded to the fact that He and the Father are one… never would have anyone thought that God will empty Himself and take on human form to be with us. The promise that God fulfilled with the birth of Jesus brings us to understand that He will always do these things and the solemnity that we celebrate today must remind us of four realities.
Firstly, God promises to LOVE. The very reason why God chooses to send His Only Son into the world is because of love… “For God so loved the world that He gave us His Son…” (cf. Jn 3:16). There is no other reason for God to do this sacrificial act other than love. At Christmas, we are accustomed to exchanging gifts but the greatest gift that we receive today is the gift of God’s love that comes to us in the birth of Jesus. God promises to love us always… even when we are weak and give in to sin or struggle to be a good disciple, He loves us unconditionally and that is His promise.
Secondly, God promises to RECONCILE. Throughout His public ministry, whether Jesus was teaching, healing, or performing other miracles, His primary intention was to bring people closer to God. He wasn’t doing these things to attract attention to Himself. In fact, that was the very thing that He did not want. All that He did was to help people recognise God in their lives and be inspired by the fact that God is very much alive so that they can draw closer to Him. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that ultimately leads to the Father (cf. Jn 14:6)
Thirdly, God promises to SAVE. In the New Testament, Jesus is sometimes presented as the “new Moses” – the one who will save Israel. But Jesus will do more than what Moses did… that is to die on the cross for the whole human race. In the past, people used to offer sacrifices for the expiation of their sins but now, with Jesus, He will be ‘the’ sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. Though we are not accustomed to talking about the death of Jesus at Christmas but already at His presentation in the Temple, Simeon will proclaim the child to be the Messiah… “At last All-Powerful Master, you may give leave to your servant… for my eyes have seen your salvation” (cf. Lk 2:29-32).
Fourthly, God promises to ACCOMPANY. Just before Jesus ascended to His Father, He promised His disciples, ‘I will be with you till the end of time’ (cf. Mt 28:20) – these were His parting words. With the coming of Christ, all has been fulfilled and God continues to be present in our midst. The Incarnation was not just a moment of the past but the Incarnation continues even now – the Emmanuel, the God-with-us experience persists till the end of time.
As we gather in Churches to celebrate the birth of Jesus, let that little child, born in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes remind us of God’s faithfulness to the human race through the promise that He makes with us… to love, reconcile, save, and accompany us. Today is indeed a day to celebrate God’s promise, foretold and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.