What has happened to your heart this Christmas? Did it grow three sizes like the Grinch’s heart? Or is your heart stagnant? The original movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Is that because people like his dog Max or cute Cindy-Lou Who? Or is it because when the Grinch gets what Christmas is about, then his puny bitter heart grew three sizes?
The Christmas mystery made St. Paul’s heart grow by leaps and bounds, and Christ sent him to share this grace with all nations. So he says in the Letter to the Ephesians: “You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit . . . [Now] the gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:2,6).
What did Paul mean by the ‘stewardship of God’s grace’? He said that it was something that had never happened before. “It was not made known to people in other generations as it has not been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5). With the coming of Christ, God offered a grace like never before. Paul was called to be a steward of that grace. To understand his stewardship of grace, a story might help.
The Dutch philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once told a parable about a noble king whose heart was captured by a young woman. She was from the poorest village in his kingdom. He wanted to marry her but hesitated because his people would have seen it as totally inappropriate. Kings simply did not marry poor peasants. Yet, the king knew that he could do whatever he wanted. He could marry her and no one would dare oppose him. Still, he worried that if they were married, it just wouldn’t work. The gap in their status would get in the way. She would admire him in his grandeur as king, yet would not be able to love him as an equal. And he would love and admire her beauty, but never see her as his equal.
In the king’s mind, the solution was to renounce his wealth and position and become poor like her. One night, after all in the castle were asleep, he laid aside his golden crown and removed his royal rings. He took off his silk robes and dressed himself in the simple clothing of the poor. He left the castle and his kingdom behind. The next morning, the poor peasant maiden in the village met him face-to-face. He asked to speak with her and began to court her for marriage. (see pp. 101-102, Awakening Love by Gregory Cleveland, OMV)
What happened in their relationship? We don’t know. Kierkegaard never said whether they were married. He left the story open-ended. It is a parable of the newborn king, who came to be with us in our poverty. The child in the stable came to seek us out like a king for a poor maiden. In the Eastern Church, the Epiphany is also viewed as the wedding of Christ with his people.
He came not only for the Jewish people, but for all nations. In the Opening Prayer of this Mass we prayed, “O God, on this day you revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star.” The ‘nations’ are the non-Jews. Sometimes it is translated as ‘gentiles.’ So Paul says, “the gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).
Any person who does not have Jewish heritage is part of the gentiles or nations. The newborn king came to be with us in our lowly and broken world. He left his heavenly realm of glory, and let himself be laid in a feed trough. He came as an equal to us, to make us ‘co–heirs’ of God’s gifts.
Think for a moment of the infinite greatness of the Son of God. See how he emptied himself to become one of us. St. Paul described this so beautifully in the Letter to the Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. . . he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8)
Jesus left behind the treasures of his heavenly glory to be with us in our poverty, so that he could fill us with his life and his Holy Spirit and his glory. The Son of God lying in the manger points to the cross, where he pours out his Life for us. This is the heart of the Gospel. This was the message that the apostles first proclaimed. It is what Paul had in mind when he said, “You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit.”
Pope Francis reminds us that we must keep this first announcement of the Gospel at the center of our hearts and at the center of all we do as a Church. In The Joy of the Gospel he wrote, “The first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This first proclamation is called ‘first’ not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation. (Evangelii Gaudium, 164)
In one sense, the gifts of the magi reveal the treasure of the Christ child. Gold, frankincense and myrrh are signs that he is a king, even more he is a king from heaven. Yet, their gifts are puny compared to the immense treasures we inherit from him. If nothing happened to your heart this Christmas, then you probably did not get in touch with the gift of the newborn king. You failed to realize that he emptied himself to come and fill you with his riches.
This outpouring of Christ is renewed in every Eucharist. He lowers himself in the form of simple bread and wine, which he transforms into his Body and Blood. Open yourself to that mystery today. Kneel in humble adoration like the magi. Let your heart grow in gratitude. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “You shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of the nations brought to you.” (Is. 60:5)
Marvel at the mystery. This stewardship of grace is entrusted to us. We are called to bring it to the nations. It is meant for every single person on earth. So we should think of the rest of the world with this “stewardship of grace.”
After Mass today, someone asked me if the king married the poor peasant girl. The answer is in our hands. The marriage which Christ offers to his people is often ignored or rejected. As the Gospel of John says, “[Jesus] came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name . . . From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace” (Jn. 1:11-12, 16).