“…God truly became ‘Emmanuel,’ God with us. No barrier of majesty or distance divides us from him. He has drawn so near to us as a child that we unabashedly address him familiarly and can have direct, personal access to the child’s heart.
“In the child Jesus, the defenselessness of God is apparent. God comes without weapons, because he does not wish to conquer from the outside but desires to win and transform us from within. If anything can conquer man’s vainglory, his violence, his greed, it is the vulnerability of the child. God assumed this vulnerability in order to conquer us and lead us to himself.
“Meanwhile, let us not forget that the highest title of Jesus Christ is ‘the Son,’ Son of God. The divine dignity is designated by one word that shows Jesus as the eternal child. His being a child stands in a unique correspondence to his divinity, which is the dignity of the ‘Son.’ Thus his being a child gives direction, tells us how we can come to God, how we can come to divinization. It is in this respect that we are to understand his words: ‘Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 18:3).
“Whoever has not understood the mystery of Christmas has not understood what is decisive in being Christian. Whoever has not accepted this cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven…”
Earlier in the same text, Cardinal Ratzinger points out that the original feast of Christianity was not Christmas, but Easter. “For indeed it was the Resurrection that established Christian faith and let the Church come to be… Being a Christian means living from Easter, that is, from the Resurrection that is celebrated every week on Sunday.” Thus it is the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus that marks the beginning of the Catholic Church.
Yet Jesus’ birth (the celebration of Christmas) has great significance for us as well. Certainly Jesus tells us we must take up our cross and follow Him; that we must die to this life so that we might rise with Him to new life; we must conform our lives to the life and death of the adult Jesus. But He also says that we must become like children, we must have the faith of a child, and humble ourselves as He did in taking human form. We are sons and daughters of God as He is the Son of God and the son of Mary.
Certainly Christians are called to be an Easter people, but so too are we a Christmas people. Before the empty tomb there was a stable in Bethlehem. Before the cross there was the wood of the manger.