I recently came across a story, or more accurately, an epic poem, that brought to mind one of the most important things about Christmas: what changes in our lives now that God the Son became a human being in Jesus Christ? It’s a very old poem written by the first known Christian poet, a Roman named Prudentius. In it, he tells the story of a soul in whom vices and virtues battle over the soul’s eternal destiny. The soul asks Christ, the true Priest and victor over evil, how it can become pure and a participant in the life of the Trinity. Then the poet describes a series of battles between virtues (Faith, Chastity, Patience) and vices (Idolatry, Lust, Pride). They do battle back and forth, in epic fashion (where’s my Hollywood adaptation people, common!?!?), and woven within this battle is the poet’s story of Christ’s work on behalf of humanity. After Lust has been defeated by Chastity, Chastity personified says this:
"A Virgin brought forth a child,
Now where is your power?
In that virgin mother
Human nature lost its primal stain and
Power from above made flesh new.
A maid unwed gave birth to God, Christ,
Man from his Mother,
God from his Father.
From that day all flesh is divine,
For flesh gave him birth and by this union
Shares in God's nature.
The Word made flesh ceased not to be
What he was before, though joined to flesh.
Not made less by commerce with flesh
His majesty lifts up unhappy men.
What he always has he remains, and
What he was not he begins to be.
Now we are not what we were,
but born to better things.
He gives to me yet remains himself.
By becoming what is ours God is not less,
In giving us what is his he lifts us to heavenly gifts.”
For me, this is a story that brings so much of what is important about Advent together in one place. What makes possible our transformation from people who are in bondage to lust, or other sins that weigh us down, is not primarily our own effort to remold our lives according to a moral code, but that sin has lost its power because God has created our humanity freshly in Jesus Christ. It is here, in the body of the baby Jesus, where God’s eternal love makes its foray into the deep cracks in our lives. Prudentius notices that this was not something that detracted from God’s existence, but that in God’s action of sharing our human nature, he transforms us by giving us what is his, his majesty and glory. Yes, the birth of Jesus is something to be celebrated, but if we celebrate it and do not perceive that in the event of Son of God becoming human we are also involved in an act of recreation, we miss something Prudentius and many other Christians want us to see. God’s gift to all people is always Godself in Jesus Christ. And that gift makes possible our transformation into the image of God we were always meant to be. Is that a story your soul wants to hear again this Advent?