That’s true, but I think it’s an incomplete view of Christ’s life and mission.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraphs 456-460, gives us four reasons why the Word become Flesh.
While you might have guessed the first three, the last one might surprise you…even seem a bit blasphemous!
But that one gives you the ultimate reason Christ came to earth and the true goal of the Christian life.
1. To save us by reconciling us with God
Mankind was separated from God by the defiance of Adam and Eve.
A representative of the human race had to make up for it. But no “sorry” that a man could say would be big enough to erase an offense against the infinite God. Only Jesus was in a position to pull this off.
Jesus was a man so he could represent mankind. And, he was God, so his sacrifice was enough to make amends and repair the damaged relationship.
Jesus Christ’s willing sacrifice was an expiation, meaning it made atonement, for the sins of mankind. Another way to think of atonement is AT-ONE-MENT.
Christ’s death reconciles God with man. It heals the relationship ruptured by sin, and it makes us “as one” with God.
2. So that we might know God’s love
People often ask, “Was Christ’s brutal suffering and death really necessary? Couldn’t God do it some other way?”
A standard answer is, “Yes, of course! God could do anything he wants. A pinprick would’ve been enough.” It may be true that one drop of blood was enough, but I think the Cross was really the only way.
God can do anything he wants but he can’t be who he’s not.
God is complete, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. The persons of the Trinity continually pour themselves out in love to each other, and the Cross is a Trinitarian event.
On the Cross, Christ does in time what he’s done for all eternity as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity–offer himself in love to the Father. Could our redemption have been accomplished any other way? I don’t think so because that’s not who God is.
What does Jesus show us by this death? That God loves all the way…complete, total, nothing held back. That we have a God who would sacrifice himself in love to save us; who would give his life for ours.
That’s a God you could give your life to, as well.
3. To be our model of holiness
Think about this, every person you’ve ever met is flawed.
Even the most perfect Saint…even Mother Teresa, is imperfect. They’ve all sinned, and are all subject to original sin and it’s effects (with the exception of the Blessed Virgin). But there is one who was completely perfect.
There’s an amazing quote from Vatican II that was one of Blessed John Paul II’s favorites,
“Christ…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals mankind to himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”
Jesus Christ is the perfect man. He shows us who we’re supposed to be. And what is the supreme calling he makes clear? That we are made for self-giving love.
Created in the image of God, our calling is to make a gift of ourselves in love to God and to others. Christ showed us this on the Cross.
In order to be holy, we have to imitate this self-sacrificing model of holiness.
4. To make us partakers of the divine nature
The total amount of sin from every human person for all of time is next to nothing compared to the grace of the Cross.
But it doesn’t do anyone any good unless it gets to them. That grace has to affect you, change you, transform you. It’s not enough to be redeemed, you have to be divinized.
Man’s reconciliation with God was a necessary step. But the ultimate goal was for us to become partakers in the divine nature.
Sounds crazy, I know. Maybe even a bit blasphemous. But from the earliest years of the Church, that was the understanding. St. Irenaeus, writing around 180 A.D., said,
“For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”
The grace of the Cross distributed through the Sacraments is meant to truly make you like God. And, not just a façade or a covering. Truly changed. From the inside out. Changed to think and act and judge like him.
Christ’s life on earth was the perfect model of how to act like God.
No more did you have to wonder what it meant to be like God. There he was, God in the flesh…eating, drinking, talking, praying.
Christ showed us holiness in everything he did. But we see it most perfectly on the Cross. There, Christ revealed the depth of God’s love and the calling of our lives.
And, through this self-emptying we are meant to become like God himself. Not merely acting differently, but being transformed into his likeness through grace.
Now there’s a way to keep Christmas all through the year.
This post originally appeared on Marc’s personal blog, Evangelizing Catechesis. A former Navy pilot, Marc Cardaronella gave up the fast life for a more rewarding career as a Director of Religious Education. He writes about catechesis, evangelization, and the intersection of the two.