On this Christmas day, we pause to take in the mystery unfolding before us. The Almighty, all-knowing, eternal God, who created the universe in its immensity, who set the stars and planets on their courses, who formed the wonders that surround us—the magnificent lofty heights, the vast and teeming depths, the verdant growth across the hills and meadows, the desolate and arid deserts, and every living creature that grazes and soars and swims and slithers across the landscape, down to the microscopic organisms that populate diverse ecosystems our senses fail to observe, who created humanity out of the dust of the earth, who ancient peoples through the ages have called upon by many names, came to us this day long ago clothed in our human nature, an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It is a most boring and ordinary scene draped in layers of prophecy and mystery and revelation. God is a child, asleep under the watchful gaze of his mother. And the whole world is asleep, oblivious of the awesome reality that will change the course of human history.
As we contemplate the mystery of God-with-us, God-made-flesh-like-us, God-a-child-asleep-in-a-manger, we behold the tender Mercy that graces us with his presence, to remind us of God’s abiding love and care for his people. We need not speak a word. We need only sit in stillness before a sleeping child, attentive to our own breathing, at rest in the assurance that God has fulfilled his promise of salvation.
In the days ahead, this holy child’s parents will settle into some sort of routine. As ordinary and commonplace as the experience of a family raising a child can be, there will be moments when awesome mystery will collide with routine familiarity. The child’s parents will hold him knowing but not truly comprehending that God has come home to them, and is entrusted to their care. When they look at him, they will be looking upon God’s face. They will take his hands in theirs. They will nourish him with food and drink. They will teach him the ways of his people. And with a child’s eyes, God will look upon them and the world before him. What might be going on in that infant mind, that infant mind of God?
In a recent article in the Health and Science section of a national newspaper, author Laura Sanders began with an interesting opener. “When you lock eyes with a baby, it’s hard to look away.” Many among you are quite familiar with what that’s like. I was 10 when my youngest brother was born. And I remember doing that many times, looking into his eyes, wondering what was going on in his infant mind. Now I just do that with other people’s babies. But it doesn’t work as well when babies grow older. Occasionally, I will take my dog by the head and try to lock eyes with him. I don’t think he likes it very much. He always tries to look away. “For one thing, babies are fun to look at,” Sanders continues. “They’re so tiny and cute and interesting. For another, babies love to stare back.” And it definitely warms the cockles of the heart to look into another person’s eyes when the person looking back is tiny and cute and interesting. Slowly, we are mesmerized and hypnotized. Those eyes will cast a spell on us, and pull us in. They will smile and squeal and make all those little baby noises, which we might respond to in similar fashion, probably while we make funny faces and look absolutely ridiculous. And soon, we just about melt into an incoherent elated awestricken mess.
Perhaps God came as a child so we would more readily receive him and make room for him in our lives and in our hearts. We are just naturally more accepting of a child’s defenselessness and inconsequence and irrelevance. Perhaps after we have given permission for a child to take up space in our hearts, we might be more accepting and accommodating of their weaknesses and needs. And it’s not entirely foreign to our nature to feel a tug on the heartstrings when we become aware of children in need, and children burdened with oppression, violence, and challenging circumstances. It is actually a human quality that resembles something of God.
The whole point to God coming among us as one like us is because of his great compassion for us in our lowliness and our brokenness. We do not possess power to heal our own spiritual infirmities. And in his tender love for us, God humbled himself and clothed himself in our nature, and stepped into human history to offer us the healing we so desperately need.
God is most acutely aware of our destructive pride and the hardness of our heart. God made us in his own image and likeness after all. Sin may have distorted that image of God in us, shielding us from the truth of our own spiritual weakness, and giving us false confidence that we had power to save ourselves. So when the Virgin Mary brought forth a son this holy night many years ago, and angels appeared to shepherds in the fields sending them to the city of David and telling them to search for a baby lying in a manger, for whom a multitude of the heavenly hosts sang to God in praise, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,” it marked a new beginning for the human family. God was offering to buy our ransom from sin and death, extending to us his mercy and reconciliation through the healing sacrifice of his Son on the altar of the cross. In essence, we are able to reach out to our fellow creatures with compassion because our God reached out to us with compassion. God humbled himself and became a child, so to give us power to become his sons and daughters.
And Jesus was a child for a portion of his life, as much as we are children for a portion of ours. But as God’s only and eternally begotten Son, he has made us heirs like himself to the kingdom of his Father. As sons and daughters of the Father, we possess a share of responsibility to walk alongside our sisters and brothers who still hurt, and to lift up those still struggling with hunger and brokenness and sin.
God’s eternal Son became a child to teach us that every child is a gift of God to the human family. We will not remain babies forever. So we won’t always be tiny and cute and interesting. But we remain God’s children even when we grow older, and put on a few more pounds, and get braces, and acne, and develop an attitude, and refuse to pay attention, and get a driver’s license, and grow wrinkles, and experience backache and joint pain, and begin losing hair and teeth and personality.
In the holy child of Bethlehem we encounter the eternal God, so that in every child thereafter we might acknowledge an heir to the fullness of the life of God. A blessed and holy Christmas and the knowledge of God’s favor be upon you and those you love.
Rolo B Castillo © 2017