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The Word Made Flesh

Oscar Romero


This article is a chapter from the book The Scandal of Redemption, excerpted from Oscar Romero’s homilies during his three years as archbishop of El Salvador.

Christ is being born for us today. That is what the prophet Isaiah has told us: “A child has been born to us; a child has been given to us” (Isa. 9:6). He is here now for us.

Let us truly experience it this way, because I know that each one of you feels the need, just as I do, to embrace as our very own child that Jesus who is born for all and who, in giving himself to all, gives himself to me in particular. Indeed, each of us can speak in the first person as does Saint Paul: “He loved me, and he handed himself over for me” (Gal. 2:20). Let each of us truly proclaim, “The Lord is the redeemer of my family; he is my companion in life, my confidant in time of anguish, my own redeemer who is at the same time the redeemer of all.”

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). That is the reason for the coming of the messenger of eternal life, the only Son of God, the One who in his divine essence has received the quality of Word, of Son. He is the whole eternal nature of God, the whole of life without end, the light that disperses all shadows, the solution of all problems, the love of all who despair, the joy of all who are sad. Whoever possesses this Son of God lacks for nothing.

If we want to find the child Jesus today, we shouldn’t contemplate the lovely figures in our nativity scenes. We should look for him among the malnourished children who went to bed tonight without anything to eat. We should look for him among the poor newspaper boys who will sleep tonight on doorsteps, wrapped in their papers…. In taking all this upon himself, the God of the poor is showing us the redemptive value of human suffering. He is showing us the value it has for redeeming the poverty and suffering which are the world’s cross.

There is no redemption without the cross, but that does not mean our poor people should be passive. We were indoctrinating the poor when we told them, “It is God’s will for you to live poor and hopeless on the margins of society.” That is not true! God in no way wants social injustice…. The greatest violence comes from those who deprive so many people of happiness, from those who are killing the many people who are starving. God is telling the poor, as he told the oppressed Christ when he was carrying his cross, “You will save the world by making your suffering a protest of salvation and by not conforming to what God does not want. You will save the world if you die in your poverty while yearning for better times, making your whole life a prayer, and embodying everything that seeks to liberate the people from this situation.”

Mary knew how to endure flight into exile, marginalization, poverty, oppression. Mary was the daughter of a people dominated by the Roman Empire. She saw her son taken prisoner and tortured. She saw him die unjustly on the cross. Mary cries out in holy defiance, declaring that God “will send the proud and the arrogant away empty-handed and, if necessary, bring the mighty down from their thrones. At the same time he will give his grace to the lowly, to those who trust in his mercy” (Luke 1:52–53).

By being born this way, Christ has a lesson for the poor countries and the humble hostels; he has a lesson for those freezing at night in the coffee harvest and those sweating by day in the cotton fields. He is teaching them that all this signifies something and that we shouldn’t miss the meaning of suffering. Dear brothers and sisters, if there is one thing that makes me sad in this hour of El Salvador’s redemption, it is the thought that many false redeemers are allowing the suffering that is our people’s force of redemption to go to waste. They use the people’s hunger and marginalization for demagoguery. The people’s suffering should not be made a motive for resentment and desperation; it should make people look to the justice of God and realize that this situation must change. And if necessary, like those who have already given their lives, we must be ready to die, but always with the hope that comes from our Christian faith.

How I wish that child, nestled in straw and humble cloth, would speak to us this Christmas of the sublime value of poverty! How I wish that all of us who are reflecting here would bestow divine value on our sufferings great and small! Starting tonight, let us be more intent on offering to God whatever we suffer.

Saint Paul told the Corinthians, “Our message to you is not yes and no. We announce Christ, who is the eternal yes of God” (2 Cor. 1:18–19). What a beautiful name for Christ: the yes of God’s promises! Christ is the yes in whom God has promised such extraordinary marvels as a new salvation, forgiveness of sins, and a call to all nations to form one single people united in love. God does not repent of his promises but fulfills them in Christ, even when that Son of his heart is taken and nailed on a cross. If that is the necessary condition for the fulfillment of God’s promises, Christ is willing to die crucified. The sacrifice is the seal on God’s great promises, and that’s why Saint Paul says that those who try to be faithful to God say amen to him (2 Cor. 1:20). This morning let us reassess that timeworn word, amen. Perhaps we use it so much it has lost its meaning for us, for in the liturgy when we say amen, we are really making an act of faith. The most beautiful word we can say is yes, for it is our human yes to God through Christ.

Christ is humanity’s amen to God. In Christ the hopes of all nations and of every person become amen because in Christ the promises of God become yes. In Christ is found the zone where those who are most needy and hopeless – the sinful people, the benighted societies – can glimpse the hope offered by a God who still loves us. That statement of Saint Paul, “Christ continues to be the yes” is a Greek grammatical construction, a tense that doesn’t exist in our Spanish language. It means that what happened then continues to be a reality down through the centuries: Christ is alive, and he lives in his church, and he lives in Latin America.

As we behold the risen Christ, our faith should overflow with gratitude and delight and hope. We should tell him, “You are the God who became man and who for love of humankind was not afraid to hide your grandeur as God and pass through this world as a man like any other. So little did you distinguish yourself from others that they associated you with criminals, and you died as an outlaw on the cross on Calvary. They buried you in the garbage dump of those who were crucified, but from there, from the garbage dump, from the depths of the abyss, from the descent into the realms of shadow and death, you now rise up as the divine risen One, truly anointed by God with the power of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:38).

This is where the incarnation of Christ is crowned. That God-Child whom the Virgin held in her arms, that child she caressed and nursed at her breasts, that man his enemies felt free to beat and despise – he was the flesh of God. God was there. God was embodied in Christ. The glory of the resurrection was necessary so that we humans could come to understand that the dignity of God is found in Christ humiliated and crucified, in Christ who for us is God made a man who understands us, in Christ who felt human exhaustion and sweat and anguish. Now we see it when the glory of God pours forth from his every pore, when his whole appearance and his whole being seem more like the bright sun than some mortal creature. Now we understand what Saint Paul assures us about the resurrection: “What was sown in ignominy is reaped in glory; what was sown in a mortal tomb and seen as death is reaped in glorious and immortal resurrection and will never die again” (1 Cor. 15:42–44). Death will have no dominion over him. He is eternal youth, eternal beauty, eternal springtime; he is life without illness or decline but only the fullness of joy and happiness.

He is Messiah and Lord, Kyrios, emperor and king, not with vain and grandiose triumphalism but with a divine royalty that makes him all-powerful, that makes him present in his church, that makes him the architect of history, that makes him the cornerstone of all human movements, and that makes him the compass that guides all of history toward its true destiny. He is the Lord of history, the Lord of ages, the Lord of eternity. He is the key which encompasses past, present, and future. “Christ forever,” says Saint Paul. Christ is the Lord. Christ lives. Christ has risen, and death no longer has dominion over him. But this Christ presents himself as the Good Shepherd. What a marvelous thing, to consider that this powerful king, this man who bears the marks of all his suffering now made into glorious stars, is now our great liberator and our great shepherd!

The prophecy of Isaiah tells us that the Servant of Yahweh will conquer and subject all the nations of the world, but he is not someone who will go shouting angrily through the streets. He is not unfeeling and violent but, rather, gentle and humble. Listen to what Isaiah says about this Servant: “A bruised reed he shall not break and a smoldering wick he shall not quench” (Isa. 42:3). What a magnificent image to describe the mercy of this redemption that is being offered to those who experience despair and to a people that feels like a candle that’s about to be extinguished. Even if we feel profound frustration because of our own sins, the sins of the social classes, or the political abuses – even if we feel like a nation unworthy of the name, a people that does not deserve the mercy of God, this prophecy should still fill us with hope: “A bruised reed he shall not break, and a wick that still has a flickering of flame he shall not quench.” In El Salvador we still have the ability to remake ourselves. The lamp of our faith and our hope can still be rekindled because our hope is here, in the Servant of Yahweh, Christ, who comes to free us from every form of slavery. He is our hope.

As long as we do not see Christ as true God and true man, we cannot understand the church or the saving mystery of the Lord. That is why God became man: so that by means of this God-man we might enter into the mystery of the divine. “I am the way. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God did not come to save humankind except through Jesus Christ, the only mediator. Blessed are those who know and believe in Jesus! Blessed are those who are aware, even in the midst of these dark hours of our history, that Christ lives! He lives powerfully as God, and he lives caringly as man. He is a man of our ways; he is a man of our history; he is a man like the one in a popular hymn. “God appears as a worker, as one walking in the park, working on the highway, or repairing tires in a gas station. God is incarnate in every person and understands everyone who wants to follow him and love him.”footnote That is why Jesus said, “Whatever you do for one of these, you do it for me” (Matt. 25:40). He is the way to know humanity, just as he is the way to know God. No one can come to God except across this bridge, this way that is our Lord Jesus Christ….

This Christ comes, and he proclaims, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and will do greater ones than these” (John 14:12). What does this mean? It means that all the saving power that Jesus brought from God will now be entrusted to this group that forms the newborn church, so that over the centuries and among many peoples the church will do greater things than Christ in a geographical and numerical sense. He saved the world with an objective redemption, we might say, by dying on the cross and leaving us the fountain of redemption. But his disciples have to set up channels to distribute this saving work to the whole world. Christ could already see his church extended among all peoples and doing greater things than he was able to do personally.

Christians must always nourish in their hearts the fullness of joy. Try to do that, sisters and brothers. I have tried it many times, and in the most bitter situations, when slander and persecution are at their worst, I have united myself intimately with Christ as my friend, and I have tasted a sweetness that all the joys of earth cannot give. It is the joy of God’s intimacy, the profoundest joy the heart can experience, even when people don’t understand you. Christ pronounced these words of joy on the tragic last night of his life, knowing that the next day even his disciples would abandon him. No doubt there was fullness of joy in the depths of Christ’s soul even when he was ascending Calvary in the bitter agony of his passion, because he was doing the will of his Father and he felt that God was not abandoning him despite all appearances of abandonment. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).

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  1. A reference to the entrance hymn of the Misa campesina nicaragüense, by Carlos Mejía Godoy.
Contributed By photo of Archbishop Oscar Romero Oscar Romero

During his three years as archbishop of San Salvador, Óscar Romero became known as a fearless defender of the poor and suffering.

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