In a split second our Sunday plans changed. We were bedecked in our Christmas best, my wife and I and all three eager boys, on our way to a Bambinelli Sunday Mass. There, the priest would bless all the Bambinellis, the little Baby Jesus figurines for the family nativity sets, and afterwards a busy and bustling breakfast with Santa awaited us in the parish hall.
Then we watched in slow-motion horror as a car ran a red light right in front of us. Going around 40 mph, we were able to brake, swerve, and soften the impact as the other car careened into us. Thankfully, beyond some sore necks and backs, there were no major injuries. Our family bambinelli sat in my shirt pocket, facing the exact same direction the car hit us. We were all a bit shaken.
When we got home the boys climbed on the couch and covered themselves in blankets, snuggling each other for comfort. They were like little meerkats in Christmas sweaters soothing each other after a brush with a predator. Papa Meerkat, while cool and collected at the scene, got home and started shaking as the adrenaline wore off and the reality what happened (and what could have happened) sunk in.
It was scary reminder of life’s fragility. Of the uncertainty, and unexpected calamity, that could happen at any moment.
I have to confess, as the Christmas season began this year, I just wasn’t feeling it. The carols seemed to start way too early, and my heart was filled with more holiday dread than holiday cheer. And now there’s Covid and the flu, and RSV, and every other little microscopic thing that lurks in the edges of every bedecked hall.
But when you have small children, you don’t have the luxury of Christmas indifference. A half effort just won’t do. They will drag you kicking and screaming (and caroling) across the finish line, and you better be bright, eager, and ready to celebrate come Christmas Day.
That First Christmas took place amidst uncertainty and chaos, set deep in an occupied country, a backwater of Imperial Rome. An unmarried young woman is suddenly found pregnant, a quick divorce is considered, a quick wedding decided upon instead. That’s all before a burdensome imperial census forces the very pregnant new bride and her faithful groom to travel far from home, where they are met with a no vacancy sign after a long journey, all of which culminates in childbirth in a barn. If you add the elements from Matthew’s account, you get a brutal genocide of infants and refugees fleeing the country as well.
I’m sure if Joseph and Mary drove a minivan, there’d probably be a car wreck in there somewhere too.
We spend much of our life running from the reality that we are vulnerable, fragile creatures. We work hard to hide our weakness, failures, and fears, but perhaps Christmas is an invitation to embrace them, as God embraces us, whole and entire.
Because, through the eyes of faith, we see that God chose to be born as a fragile, vulnerable, helpless baby, in an occupied country to a conquered people. To be born poor, to live in poverty, and ultimately, to be rejected by those with power and privilege. But, in the mist of all of that, to be the Light of the World: healing, embracing, ministering, enlightening, sanctifying. Glorifying our fragile flesh with the inner light of the Incarnate Word.
I’m reminded of the phrase of St. Athanasius, a Church Father: “God became human so that humans could become God.” It’s a core tenet of our faith, an efficient description of the pattern of creation, incarnation, and redemption.
But the path to that divinity is not in a rejection of our humanity, but in our embrace of it. God came not as a king or god-emperor, but as a baby, born in utter poverty and humility, into a world torn with violence and uncertainty.
That tells me it’s okay to be human this Christmas. It’s okay to feel small and helpless. It’s okay to get overwhelmed, to take a break, to make mistakes. It’s okay to be grieving, or afraid, or indifferent. It’s okay to be whatever you are, wherever you are, going through whatever you’re going through. It’s okay to be human this Christmas, to need an extra snuggle or soothing or nap to get through it all.
It’s been a long few years. Be kind to yourself this Christmas. Even if you’re shivering, broken, or exhausted.
Remember, it’s for you, in your humanity, that God came.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
Upon those who lived in a land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing;
They rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest,
as they exult when dividing the spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
The rod of their taskmaster,
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for fire.
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
One Comment Add yours
Sent from my iPad