December 22, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Let humble love be our Christmas gift to Jesus

St. Luke and St. Matthew begin their Gospel accounts with a very warm story of the birth of a baby.

St. John takes a different approach. Pope Benedict XVI, writing in 1982 as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, explains, “John, the eagle, looks out from the mystery of God and shows how this leads into the stable and, even deeper. … What does the Church really want to tell us about Christmas day, the whole year and our own lives?”

He says we prefer to hear the warm words of the story of the birth of Jesus in Matthew and Luke to the account of St. John: “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was made flesh” (Seeking God’s Face, Franciscan Herald Press, 1982, pp. 82-83).

In fact, the Gospel accounts together explain the profound simplicity: God really became one of us. “The expression of John: ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ proclaims the real content of Christmas and our reason for joy” (cf. p. 83).

“He came unto his own and his own received him not.” Pope Benedict remarks, “The stall in which the Son of David was born because there was no room for him in his own town suddenly becomes visible through these mysterious words of the Gospel of John” (p. 82). John speaks of the holy night of Christmas.

What really happened at Christmas? He came unto his own as a child. But he did not come among us as a child who would be just any great man. Would it have been enough—that he came among us as a child in order to give us fresh hope?

To be sure, children give us hope. They are pure, and they are not jaded by the world. They are open. They can teach us to look at the world and see fresh possibilities.

But, our Holy Father reminds us, if we cling too much to the possibility of a new beginning in life that we see in children, we may have nothing at the end but sadness. Why? Because the newness of childhood can also be used by the world for its own devices. Children, too, enter the reality of worldly life (cf. p. 83).

Then why did the Son of God come as a child? His birth as an infant is much more than the birth of a baby boy. God’s own Son was born, something beyond our imagination and understanding. It was a birth that had been prophesied through all the centuries; it was expected, and it was necessary.

God came so close to us in the birth of Jesus so that we can touch him with our hands and see him with our eyes. He is not just an idea of God forming part of our world. He is the Word of God speaking to us. He knows us, he calls us, he leads us. The Son of the Living God was born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Do we accept a “child God”? It is an important question for each of us as we pray before the Christmas crib in our churches and in our homes.

Is this divine Christmas gift too beautiful and too simple and yet too profound to seem true?

This Christmas child is also mighty God. And God is good. He is not some distant God who cannot be approached. He is able to be very near precisely because he is God. We can talk to him. He has time for us. As the Holy Father has said, he has so much time for us that he can lay in the crib as man and he has remained eternally man, one of us (p. 85).

“He came unto his own and his own received him not.” Is that still us, today, at Christmas 2006? Do we refuse to receive the God-man in our midst? Do we reject the child-God who from the crib in Bethlehem wants to touch our hearts? Are we too proud to accept a child God, to let ourselves be redeemed?

The test is answered by another question: Do we accept the homeless in our own cities and towns? Pope Benedict’s remark that “His own people received him not” touches something deeper in all of us. “It penetrates to the innermost reason why so many are homeless in our world—in our pride, we close the door on God and our fellowmen. … He came as a child to break though our pride” (p. 86).

We might give in more easily if he had come to us in power and majesty, but he came as a child. Why? God wants our love and not just our intellectual assent. He wants our love.

May this be our Christmas gift to Jesus as we pray at the crib—our humble love! †

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