Perhaps it sounds strange to say that God is humble, to suggest that the God who created heaven and earth, who eternally IS and who holds everything in the palm of his hand, is anxious for us to make his acquaintance and become his intimate friends. That is a tall order and quite an expectation, especially when some religions consider God to be eternally unreachable and distant. We Christians know that things are quite different: God is humble, God is loving, God is merciful, and God desires our friendship. In fact, he has created us to be fulfilled and at peace in a real relationship with him.
The Advent-Christmas season is a time to cherish the truth that God has drawn near to us in his Son, Jesus, and that he is still near, as he will be tomorrow and the next day. God is not far off, and he will never withdraw from us. In the birth of Jesus, he has made our humanity his own and will never shed his flesh-and-blood relationship with us.
At the birth of Jesus, God entered time and humanity such that neither has been the same since that night. It’s not just that we measure the calendar year from the birth of Jesus; the night he was born, humanity itself was enlightened, changed, renewed, cherished and embraced by God in the flesh.
How would we have conceived of even the possibility or the capacity of being close to God, and how would we have approached God, had he remained distant and unapproachable? God, who created us and loves us and wants only the best for us, knew that the best way to come to us is in humility and simplicity. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. In fact, this is how he reigns! He doesn’t come with impressive displays of power and magical splendor. He comes as a baby, defenseless and in need of our help.
God did not want to overwhelm us with his strength, and so at the birth of Jesus he takes away our fear of his greatness. He desires our love, he asks for our love, and so he makes himself a child. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, love him and desire to know him. If we were afraid of him, we would never learn of his true feelings for us.
I think this was St. Francis of Assisi’s objective when he introduced what we now refer to as “the manger scene.” St. Francis wanted to make clear that the birth of Christ was not an idea or a someone’s speculation, but a historical fact, when the Son of God took on true flesh and blood, our flesh and blood. He took on our insecurities, our helplessness, our hopes, our loves. He entered this world poor and defenseless, as one of us, so that we would never be afraid to approach him. When we see a child’s fascination with the manger scene, we are seeing first-hand the best and most authentic response to God’s invitation to all of us to draw near to Jesus.
Pope Francis reminds that in order to meet Jesus, “we need to go where he is. We need to bow down, to humble ourselves, to make ourselves small. The newborn Child challenges us. He calls us to leave behind fleeting illusions and to turn to what is essential.” In order to appreciate the eternal invitation God extends to us in the birth of Christ, we have to leave behind a constant craving for things that can never satisfy us, in order to discover peace, joy and the luminous meaning of life.
If it’s true that God is humble, then it’s also true that we ourselves will find peace and fulfillment if we, too, are humble, approachable, loving, merciful, eager to help those around us, hungry to place our emphasis every day on the things that really matter. There is no selfish person on earth who is happy. There is no hateful person on earth who is at peace. There is no person who cherishes his or her money above all else who is deeply satisfied. Why? Because God did not make us for selfishness or hatred or greed. God made us for love, love of him and of all of his children. God made us for generosity and self-sacrifice. God made us to pray, to know and love him, and to experience his love. And it is by humility and simplicity that we understand God best.
Writing to the people of Madaura in the early fifth century, St. Augustine reminds us: “The Christ who is preached throughout the whole world is not Christ adorned with an earthly crown, nor Christ rich in earthly treasures, nor Christ illustrious for earthly prosperity, but Christ crucified. This was ridiculed, at first, by whole nations of proud men … but it was the object of faith at first to a few and now to whole nations, because when Christ crucified was preached at that time, notwithstanding the ridicule … to the few who believed, the lame received power to walk, the dumb to speak, the deaf to hear, the blind to see, and the dead were restored to life. Thus, at length, the pride of this world was convinced that … there is nothing more powerful than the humility of God.”
Merry Christmas! This season, may we accept God’s magnificently humble invitation to come closer, to see the infant of Bethlehem with the eyes of a child — and thus understand how humble Love has saved us.
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - December 2018