DISCOURSES FOR ADVENT
Taken from THE INCARNATION, BIRTH AND INFANCY OF JESUS CHRIST
by St. Alphonsus Liguori
THE REDEMPTORIST FATHERS
With Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur
The Eternal Word Is Made Man
The decree then being passed that the Divine Son should be made Man, and so become the Redeemer of men, the Archangel Gabriel speeds on his way to Mary. Mary accepts Him for her Son: And the Word was made flesh. [John 1:14] And thus behold Jesus in the womb of Mary; laving now made His entry into the world in all humility and obedience, he says: "Since, O My Father, men cannot make atonement to Thy offended justice by their works and sacrifices, behold Me, Thy Son, now clothed in mortal flesh, behold Me ready to give Thee in their stead satisfaction with My sufferings and with My death!" Wherefore when He cometh into the world He saith: Sacrifice and oblation Thou wouldst not ... but a body Thou hast fitted to Me. ... Then said I, Behold, I come. ... It is written of Me that I should do Thy will. [Heb 10:5]
So, then, for us miserable worms, and to captivate our love, has a God deigned to become man? Yes, it is a matter of faith, as the Holy Church teaches us: For us men, and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven ... and was made man. Yes, indeed, so much has God done in order to be loved by us.
Alexander the Great, after he had conquered Darius and subdued Persia, wished to gain the affections of that people, and so went about dressed in the Persian costume. In like manner would our God appear to act; in order to draw towards Him the affections of men, He clothed Himself completely after the human fashion, and appeared made Man: in shape found as a man. [Phil. 2:7] And by this means He wished to make known the depth of the love which He bore to man: The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men. [Tit. 2:11]
Man does not love Me, would God seem to say, because he does not see Me. I wish to make Myself seen by him and to converse with him, and so make Myself loved: He was seen upon earth, and conversed with men. [Baruch 3:38]
The Divine love for man was extreme, and so it had been from all eternity: I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee. [Jer. 31:3] But heretofore it had not appeared how great and inconceivable it was. Then it truly appeared, when the Son of God showed Himself a little one in a stable on a bundle of straw: The goodness and kindness of God our Saviour appeared. [Tit. 3:4] The Greek text reads: The singular love of God towards men appeared. St. Bernard says that from the beginning the world had seen the power of God in the creation, and His wisdom in the government of the world; but only afterwards, in the Incarnation of the Lord, was seen how great was His mercy. Before God was seen made Man upon earth, men could not conceive an idea of the Divine goodness; therefore did He take mortal flesh, that, appearing as Man, He might make plain to men the greatness of His benignity.
And in what manner could the Lord better display to thankless man His goodness and His love? Man, by despising God, says St. Fulgentius, put himself aloof from God forever; but as man was unable to return to God, God came in search of him on earth. And St. Augustine had already said as much: "Because we could not go to the Mediator, He condescended to come to us."
I will draw them with the cords of Adam, with the bands if love. [Osee 11:4] Men allow themselves to be drawn by love; the tokens of affection shown to them are a sort of chain which binds them, and in a manner forces them to love those who love them. For this end the Eternal Word chose to become Man, to draw to Himself by such a pledge of affection (a stronger than which could not possibly be found) the love of men: "God was made man, that God might be more familiarly loved by man." It seems that our Redeemer wished to signify this very thing to a devout Franciscan called Father Francis of St. James, as is related in the Franciscan Diary for the 15th of December. Jesus frequently appeared to him as a lovely infant: but the holy friar longing in his fervor to hold him in his arms, the sweet child always fled away; wherefore the servant of God lovingly complained of these departures. One day the Divine Child again appeared to him; but how? He came with golden chains in His hands, to give him to understand that now he came make him His prisoner, and to be Himself imprisoned by him, nevermore to be separated. Francis, emboldened at this, fastened the chains to the foot of the Infant, and bound Him round his heart; and, in good truth, from that time forward it seemed to him as if he saw the beloved Child in the prison of his heart made a perpetual prisoner. That which Jesus did with this His servant on this occasion, He really has done with all men when He was made Man; He wished with such a prodigy of love to be, as it were, enchained by us, and at the same time to enchain our hearts by obliging them to love Him, according to the prophecy of Osee: I will draw them with the cords of Adam, with the bands if love.
In divers ways, says St. Leo, had God already benefited man; but in no way has He more clearly exhibited the excess of His bounty than in sending him a Redeemer to teach him the way of salvation, and to procure for him the life of grace. "The goodness of God has imparted gifts to the human race in various ways but it surpassed the ordinary bounds of its abundant kindness when, in Christ, mercy itself came down to those who were in sin, truth to those wandering out of the way, and life to those who were dead." St. Thomas asks why the Incarnation of the Word is called the work of the Holy Ghost: And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost. It is certain that all God's works, styled by theologians opera ad extra, or external works, are the works of all the three Divine Persons. And why, therefore, should the Incarnation be attributed solely to the Person of the Holy Ghost? The chief reason which the Angelic Doctor assigns for it is because all the works of Divine love are attributed to the Holy Ghost, Who is the substantial love of the Father and of the Son; and the work of the Incarnation was purely the effect of the surpassing love which God bears to man: "But this proceeded from the very great love of God, that the Son of God should assume flesh to Himself in the womb of the Virgin." And this the prophet would signify when he says, God will come from the south; [Hab. 3:3] that is, observes the Abbot Rupert, "From the great charity of God, he has shone upon us." For this purpose, again writes St. Augustine, the Eternal Word came upon earth, to make known to man how dearly God loved him. And St. Laurence Justinian: "In no instance has He so clearly manifested His amiable charity to men as when God was made man."
But what still more evinces the depth of the Divine love towards the human race is, that the Son of God should come in search of him, whilst man was fleeing away from Him. This the Apostle declares in the words, Nowhere doth He take hold of the Angels; but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold. [Heb. 2:16] On which St. John Chrysostom thus comments: "He says not, He received, but He seized hold of; from the figure of those who are in pursuit of fugitives, that they may effect their capture." Thus God came from Heaven to arrest, as it were, ungrateful man in his flight from Him. It is as if He had said, "O man! behold, it is nothing but the love of thee that has brought me on earth to seek after thee. Why wilt thou flee from Me? Stay with Me, love Me do not avoid Me, for I greatly love thee."