Recently, a daughter of our soil, Stephanie Nahous released her first single in conjunction with a very talented musician Justin Salloum. It is their “cover” or “interpretation” of the well-known Christmas song “Mary Did You Know”. Listening to it, I was struck not only with the immense beauty of her voice but the way she used her voice to bring me into a deeper insight into the mystery of Christmas.
Music has a way of making us appreciate more deeply things that we may have become familiar with. I think as Christians we can become too familiar with the idea of God becoming man in Jesus Christ, thus, making us lose a sense of awe and wonder of this amazing truth. When I listened to the way Stephanie sang the song, it stirred up amazement in my heart. One line, in particular, struck a chord in me: “When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.”
From this line, I began to wonder at the revolution of intimacy brought about by the Christmas mystery. I started to contemplate the Christmas mystery as a mystery of divine friendship. What do I mean? Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the saviour, Jesus Christ. It is the birth of the Word of God made flesh. It is the appearance of the divine face—what was invisible, transcendent, imageless, namely God in His Divinity, has become visible, immanent, and imaginable in the face of Jesus of Nazareth.
In terms of Stephanie’s song, God became “kissable”. This leap from invisibility and transcendence to immanence and visibility is part of God’s invitation for divine intimacy and friendship with Him. I think this invitation to intimacy becomes clearer if we contemplate what friendship is in itself.
Aristotle, the great Greek pagan philosopher postulated a theory of friendship that was later used by St. Thomas Aquinas in his definition of the virtue of charity as friendship with God. Aristotle says many things about friendship but the essentials are: (1) friendship is based on a benevolent love, that is, we wish and will the good of the other person: (2) this well-wishing is mutual because if there is no reciprocity there can be no real friendship, thus friends recognise each other as friends and will each’ others good (3) friends share intimacy in that they reveal their hearts to each other, they share their deepest secrets, they communicate with each other the deepest parts of the mystery of their own personhood, they give themselves to each other (4) friends wish to dwell together, and by dwelling together Aristotle does not mean only under the same roof, he also means being united in a passion for some sport or hobby etc, (5) friendship is based on equality and things in common, the greater the common ground the deeper the friendship.
Taking the law of friendship seriously
Friendship as a natural good as explained by Aristotle is something God created for us. These characteristics of friendship are ‘laws’ if you wish about how friendship works. Creating friendship in this way, God respects it. He even allows it to characterise the way He relates with us.
To flesh this out some more I want to reflect on aspect (2), intimacy. If God invites us to a divine friendship there must be intimacy. When we look at the bible we see a God who prepares a people, Israel, to reveal Himself to. We see a God who speaks and makes a covenant of love. He speaks to Abraham, Moses, the prophets and so on. God speaking is the same as saying God is desiring and inviting others to intimacy because He is opening His heart. The divine self-revelation is a call to a relationship of love. This revelation and invitation take on an even deeper and amazing reality when the same Word that spoke through the prophets has become flesh in Mary’s womb. That same Word assumes a human face. Divine Revelation, ‘aka’ Divine Intimacy, takes on a whole new pitch and degree.
What we celebrate at Christmas, therefore, is the beginning of this new phase of intimacy with God because it is a new phase of the revelation of the heart of God. It is in the cave of Bethlehem that we look down in faith at baby Jesus seeing and gazing on the face of love itself. The friendliest face that ever existed. We gaze at God’s heart wide open and we gaze at His Word revealed to us most fully.
So when friends grow in friendship because they share their deepest secrets and what is deeply personal, we see that at Christmas God is taking this law of friendship seriously. He has given us his ultimate Word on the matter. He has told us everything about Himself. All of this because He wants us to know him intimately, and knowing Him intimately, we would love him more intimately. This is at the heart of the Christmas mystery. Christmas is a revolution in the way God wants to relate to His creation. It is a moment He had in His mind from the beginning of time. A moment that he prepared the entire history of the world for. First He chose Israel to prepare for His birth and now He wants to gather the entire world into His intimacy and revelation in Jesus Christ. This is what He means by the church.
Christmas, therefore, is the beginning of a new intimacy with God: “Mary did you know...When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God”?
Br Jesse Maingot