“And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.” —John 1:14
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” —John 3:16
The Son of God did not come from heaven to earth on a pleasure cruise, but on a rescue mission.
And so we who believe in the Lord Jesus do not celebrate Christmas with an empty-headed pursuit of every pleasure imaginable. That is how the world so often celebrates what it calls “the holiday season.” Rather, we rejoice at Christmas with the joy of those being saved from mortal danger. We enjoy Christmas (and its many legitimate pleasures) because we know we are loved by God more than we can possibly imagine.
The birth of the Christ Child at Bethlehem is a moment of sublime beauty and tremendous power. That the power of God is cloaked in the weakness of a child only adds to the awe we feel as we consider this great mystery of our faith.
Christmas is joyful because God has come to live among us, and He has promised never to leave us. Even though we had abandoned Him through sin, He will never abandon us. Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” And the very name “Jesus” tells us of His identity and mission. The name Jesus means, “God saves.”
God’s mission. God’s strategy. God’s plan.
Parishes across the Archdiocese of Detroit are working hard these days to form missionary strategic plans, as we seek to unleash the Gospel in and through our parish communities.
The feast of Christmas reminds us that we did not invent the concept of the “missionary strategic plan.” God is the Author of the great missionary strategic plan. And He is the One Who executes the plan.
What does it mean to say that God has a missionary strategic plan? In short, it means that God loves us more than we could ever know, and greatly desires us to live with Him forever. Yet humanity has sinned and become separated from God in a way that we ourselves cannot repair. And so God has chosen to take matters into His own hands.
Specifically, let’s look at each of the words contained in the phrase, “missionary strategic plan” as it relates to Christmas.
Here we encounter a great mystery. The all-powerful Son of God coming among us as a little Child, living in obscurity for 30 years, engaging in public ministry for only three years, and then suffering and dying a criminal’s death does not seem like the most strategic plan. ... But St. Paul reminds us that while God’s plan seems like foolishness to the minds of the worldly, it is truly the wisdom and power of God at work for our eternal benefit.
God’s plan is missionary because it involves the Father sending the Son to live among us, die for us, and conquer sin and death in His dying and rising. The word “missionary” in its Latin root means “sent” or “one who is sent.” And being sent is at the core of Jesus’ identity. He was sent from the Father to do the Father’s will and bring us into the Father’s household.
God’s plan is strategic because He is infinitely wise and infinitely good. In His goodness and love for us, God greatly desires our salvation, and He is perfectly able to achieve this goal in the most strategically potent way possible.
Here we encounter a great mystery. The all-powerful Son of God coming among us as a little Child, living in obscurity for 30 years, engaging in public ministry for only three years, and then suffering and dying a criminal’s death does not seem like the most strategic plan. By the standards of human wisdom, it might seem like the least strategic plan! But St. Paul reminds us that while God’s plan seems like foolishness to the minds of the worldly, it is truly the wisdom and power of God at work for our eternal benefit.
God spares nothing, holds nothing back, in working for our salvation. The coming of Christ among us and His dying for our salvation are the very best ways for God to show His love for us, and to awaken faith, hope, and love in our hearts. God gives Himself completely to us, so that we might be inspired to offer ourselves completely back to Him.
Here we are moving into the meaning of the third word of the phrase “missionary strategic plan.” Salvation history, the history of God’s covenant with His people, unfolds according to His plan.
Throughout the season of Advent, we witnessed God’s meticulous preparations for the coming of His Son into the world. We heard the prophets testify about how God would come to save His people, about the coming of the Messiah and King, who would also suffer and overthrow the dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We heard from John the Baptist that the Christ would bring new life, baptizing with the Holy Spirit those who believe in Him. We saw the angel appear to Mary and tell her that she was to be the mother of God’s own Son.
On Christmas Day, and throughout the Christmas season and all that follows through our entire liturgical year, we see the plan of God unfold. And it is essential that we recognize God’s plan not only as a historical reality, but as a plan for our lives today. The mysteries of Christ’s life, death and resurrection are made present to us today, especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass. When Christ’s Body and Blood is offered and received in our churches, Christ is fully present among us and is working for our salvation right here and now.
And God’s plan for our lives includes everything that happens outside of church as well. Everything we do ought to be done for God, offered to Him, in a spirit of gratitude for all of His gifts and with an abiding sense of His plan and care for us.
God’s plan and our plans
One of my favorite Christmas carols is “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and I am always especially awestruck by the line, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Of all the years! Our hopes and fears, and those of all the people in the world around us, were all mysteriously “met” in that little town, so long ago. God’s missionary strategic plan, which became visible for the first time in the manger at Bethlehem, has a direct and decisive impact on our lives today. It meets our deepest needs and the deepest longing of our hearts. The coming of the Christ Child enriches our lives with immeasurable meaning and brings us into loving union with our Heavenly Father.
This is the foundational truth that needs to animate all of our efforts to unleash the Gospel, to share the Good News of salvation with all people. Whether in our archdiocese, our parishes, our families, or our individual lives, we need to know the love that brought the Son of God to us, and to share that love with others.
We need to draw close to people, as Christ has drawn so very close to us, sharing our whole human condition except for sin. Christ is Emmanuel, “God with us,” and He calls us to serve as “other Christs” in the world, bringing Him to others, and bringing those people closer to Him.
We need to pray and think about how we speak and act, to make a plan for our communities and for our own lives. And that plan needs to be strategic, so that as many people as possible will be saved. We cannot simply live unthinkingly, doing whatever occurs to us from moment to moment. We must get to know the plan of God for our salvation, and apply that plan to our own lives and the world around us.
Every one of us who have been baptized and confirmed are made missionaries, anointed by the Holy Spirit to make Christ known, present, and active in a world that desperately needs God, and needs the hope only found in Him.
As we celebrate Christmas Mass, as we look at the beautiful Nativity scenes in our churches and homes, and as we celebrate Christ’s birth with family and friends, may we all thank God for coming to save us, and pray deeply about how we are called to become agents of God’s missionary strategic plan.
Merry Christmas, and God bless you all.
Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.