December 21, 2007


Christmas celebrates defenselessness or vulnerability of God

“In the child Jesus, the defenselessness of God is apparent. God comes without weapons, because he does not wish to conquer from 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.” (From a Christmas homily of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI)

God comes to us once again this Christmas in all his weakness.

No chariots of fire or mighty armies. No grandeur or opulence.

Just a simple child born into a poor family with nowhere to lay his head beyond the comfort and security of his mother’s arms.

No adoring crowds or paparazzi taking photographs. Just the infant Jesus with Mary and Joseph and a few lowly shepherds and farm animals.

“In the child Jesus, the defenselessness of God is apparent,” Pope Benedict said.

In fact, you can’t get any weaker than this.

A newborn child is totally dependent on others for everything. A child comes into the world with nothing but the gift of life, and the potential to grow and learn and become what God has called him or her to be.

Every infant begins life as the most defenseless creature in the world. In fact, weakness, vulnerability and utter dependency are defining characteristics of the human person—from the moment of conception through all the stages of life until we once again hand ourselves over to God in the defenseless vulnerability of death.

We are weak creatures who, as we get older, try unsuccessfully to persuade ourselves that we are strong, independent and self-reliant.

The truth is that we are totally dependent on God’s grace for everything—the air we breathe, the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the work we do, the people we love.

Christmas celebrates God’s decision to share in our weakness—his voluntary acceptance of our human condition and his decision to open himself to the burdens and threats and suffering of our human condition.

The paradox of Christmas is the warmth and comfort and joy that come from celebrating our weakness, our dependence on God. We sinful people tell ourselves that self-sufficiency is the way to happiness.

We invest countless hours persuading ourselves that wealth will bring us comfort—and that security is the result of political strength and the endless warfare that we engage in with our neighbors near and far.

But Christmas exposes all our illusions (our vainglory, violence and greed) for what they are—distorted images of the simple truth that joy is found in humility, simplicity and peace.

The child Jesus reminds us of what matters most in life: trust in God, the gifts of life and family, and the ability to grow in wisdom, age and grace in a community of believers who strive to live simply and honestly for the greater good of all.

It’s no accident that Christmas is everyone’s favorite time of year. Christmas invites us to recall (and relive) the most basic truth of our faith: God is with us.

He brings light into our darkness and warmth into our cold hearts. A child is born—reminding us once again that family and friends and community are among our most precious gifts. Peace and great joy are proclaimed to people of good will everywhere no matter what their race, creed or social status may be. Vainglory, violence and greed are utterly rejected in favor of generosity, justice and the plain truth that we are always totally dependent on God’s grace.

For this, we give thanks. With the angels, we sing Glory to God! Hosanna in the highest! Peace on earth! Christmas has come again, bringing peace and warmth and joy into our weary world.

Let us rejoice and be glad that our defenseless God has come again in all his weakness to save us from our illusions of strength and independence.

He comes once again to transform our troubled world into his kingdom of righteousness. To share with us the transforming gifts of faith, hope and love. And to show us the way to true joy and lasting peace.

Merry Christmas!

—Daniel Conway

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