Thursday, December 22, 2011

Greatness wrapped in humility

Christmas Dawn Mass Year B

If you had attended last night’s midnight service you would have heard the words of the angel who announced the good news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. The sign by which they are to identify the saviour would be this, “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

Not much of sign. Truth be told, it would actually seem to be an anticlimax for many who had awaited for Israel’s salvation. After the powerful announcement made last night with a full angelic choral presentation - a more dramatic entry would have been expected at this morning’s mass – with lots of pyrotechnics, trumpets blaring, distinguished and influential audience present to witness the event. The only witnesses of this event apart from the Holy Family seemed to have just been a disparate group of shepherds and some dumb animals in a stable.

The discovery of the shepherd when they came to the place where the infant was born and now lay wrapped in swaddling clothes parallels another discovery made at dawn, the breaking of light after the long darkness of night – the women disciples of Christ who came early to the tomb where their master was laid were also surprised to discover an empty tomb. In both scenarios, one that comes at the beginning of the story whereas the other at its very end, story writers would have opted for a more dramatic presentation. But the lack of accouterments and frills is deliberate, at least from a theological perspective. It highlights rather than dims the profound significance of this event – the mystery of Christmas.

So what is the mystery revealed by this epiphany? Greatness is wrapped in humility. Power is couched in vulnerability. The presence of God is concealed in his seeming absence. In the Day mass for Christmas, we will hear the beautiful prologue of John’s Gospel declare, “And the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This is the same Word , who is God for all eternity, by whom all creation was made, and who chooses to become flesh, and become a helpless child wrapped in swaddling clothes to lie in a feeding trough of animals rather than some gilded cot in a palace. “Flesh” or ‘sarx’ in Greek evokes not only humanity but also weakness, fragility and mortality. It connotes being human and mortal with all its limitations and weaknesses.

In various times and in many different ways, God reveals himself to the people of Israel through signs and wonders. He reveals himself in his power and transcendence. But in time, God reveals himself in weakness: he becomes a man – a weak child born into a poor and non-influential family, a child who will grow to be man who will be crucified, sentenced to death as a heinous criminal. He accepts the limitations of human nature and the risk of hostility and rejection.

Christ’s descent to our ‘flesh’ and our fragility is the ultimate manifestation of God’s love: it enables us to rise with him. God became weak that we might become strong. St Athanasius of Alexandria puts it beautifully, “He became what we are that he might make us what He is.” Or in a more audacious statement, St John Chrysostom declares, “God became man in order that we might become gods.” In the third Christmas preface, we hear these words, “God has become one with man, and man has become one again with God.” It goes on to say that when the eternal Word took upon himself our human weakness, he gave our mortal nature immortal value.

So, today, we are invited to follow the shepherds to hurry to the manger of the Lord and to behold the beauty of God’s love manifested in the Christ Child. There is no need for accouterments, pyrotechnics, drum rolls, trumpet blasts and cannon salutes, just silent adoration as we kneel before our king, the Lord of all ages now wrapped in swaddling clothes. In our silence, we may perhaps hear the inspired words of an ancient Egyptian Christian who penned these words as if they were the words of Christ himself, “I became little so that in my littleness I could carry you to the height from where you have fallen. I will carry you on my shoulders.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.