Did you know that our country, the USA, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary? Many people don’t know this fact but have seen the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on TV or in the news. As Catholics, this building is our national shrine. It honors our national patron, Mary. The building that Washington reporters often refer to as the “National Cathedral” is really an Anglican Church on the other side of town, but I digress. If you step into the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception you will view shrine after shrine with images of Mary contributed by countries and cultures from all over the world. But these are not the most powerful images in that space. As you walk toward the apse and gaze up into the vault you will see a mega mosaic of God! He is huge, cloaked in red flowing garments and has a very serious look on his face. It is a powerful and striking image. I know many people who just plain do not like it because it is definitely NOT warm and fuzzy. Personally, I love it because it is a sober reminder that God is serious as well as mega powerful. It gives me comfort that no matter what, He is in charge. I think that’s a message that we all need to remember more often.
In contrast, we have “the crib”, the image of the babe in the manger during this “most wonderful time of the year” (Nat King Cole). Isn’t that a crazy juxtaposition? So which is he? God, is he little or big, helpless or able to incinerate each of us with just a thought? He’s both/and, all at the same time eternally. I don’t know about you, but if I were God and I was getting ready to introduce my son to earth I would have had something completely different in mind. Since I created everything and had the power to do anything, my son’s arrival on planet three would have been much more spectacular; scores of angels as far as the eye could see, girdling the earth, constant celestial music that people had never heard before, a beautiful, safe, lush location……….something like that. That’s not how it was. The birth of the Savior of the World happened in the poorest and most isolated of circumstances and to top it all off he had to sleep in a space where animals took their feed. Isn’t that just a little mind boggling?
When one is in the presence of an infant several things happen before we can even think about it; curiosity, awe, surprise at their littleness, a desire to come closer, a melting of the heart, a desire to help/protect. These are all unspoken and stirred up from the very roots of our own humanness. An infant banishes fear and brings out “the better angels of our nature” (A. Lincoln, first Inaugural Address). In the presence of an infant we do not have; pride, anger, self-interest, ego, the desire to control. Was the introduction of Jesus as an infant, then, an error God made or a stroke of genius? It was genius without question. But more than just a great move, what does the introduction of the babe show us about who God really is?
Who knows us better than our very creator? God literally made himself helpless and at the mercy of the human race. There were those who quickly vowed to annihilate Him. This was a risk of monumental proportions on the part of the Father. On the other hand, though, it was also an exercise in ultimate trust guided by ultimate love. What other way could the human race have been cajoled to accept this new person as “one of us”, a person who had intimate knowledge of our struggles because he had been there himself? I can’t think of any. Love cannot be commanded or conferred; it is something that has to be experienced firsthand. No matter how much someone tells you they love you, it’s really useless until we have had the experience of someone in the flesh accepting us with no strings just as we are. That is exactly what the Father did. Jesus was born like all of us. He grew up struggling with his parents; “Why were you looking for me, didn’t you know where I’d be (12 years old)?” He took up a trade and had a neighborhood and touched the lepers that repulsed everyone else. He showed public compassion for the woman about to be stoned. He worried that the crowds wouldn’t have anything to eat. He “disappeared” to pray when it was all too much and he did fantastic things that astounded and burned into people’s opinion and memory.
Would any of this have been possible if he had arrive surrounded by power wielding heavenly beings who carried and protected him from place to place and situation to situation? No, that would have been an immediate separation from the rest of us, someone different and “more special” than I am myself, someone unattainable. Instead he entered the human race through the gate of total dependence, helplessness. We humans were forced to look at Him because he was undeniably “one of us”. In this amazing situation “God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love… God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human.” (His Holiness Benedict XVI as quoted in Magnificat, December 2010, Vol. 12, No.10, p.390) What an unparalleled opportunity! God comes to us with no defenses in order to show us how we can be the ultimate best of ourselves. Are you willing to humble yourself so that you can be free enough to take advantage? Without humility we become totally blind and deaf to what God has to offer. Two thousand years ago Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, the Magi, Simeon and Anna all took advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. How about you? Can you actually gaze at the humility of God in the form of a helpless baby and still think that it’s more about who you are and how much you have? Reach out to the God who loves you. Tell Him that you’re scared or worried or nervous or sick or depressed or helpless. He knows exactly what you’re talking about. He’s been there Himself.
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Copyright©2011, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved
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