Hidden In Plain Sight

There’s a world of difference between what it is that we want and what it is that we need.  There’s also a world of difference between the god we want and the God we need.  To appreciate the Mystery of the Incarnation we have to accept two incredible Truths.  We have to get our heads wrapped around the astonishing idea that God entered the world; but what’s even more astonishing is the revelation that God is the embodiment of weakness and vulnerability.  Go figure!


*   *   *


Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord


In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2, 1-14


And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.

                           Lk 2, 12

Before there was Jesus, there was the promise of Jesus.  It was a promise given to Isaiah and the prophets; and before that, it was given to Abraham. I’m thinking that the promise was around ‘before Abraham was’.  I’m thinking it was available to anyone who could pick it up and bear it.  The promise of Jesus, I believe, has always been around, is still around, and always will be around.  It’s a promise, though, that is extremely difficult to bear, for it is the promise that the living God has chosen to live among us, and to reveal Himself to us as he truly is.

A promise so mind-boggling is a promise we’re tempted to moderate.  God’s promise is one we’re unready to hear and our unreadiness prompts us to edit the words of the Almighty thereby turning God’s promise into something we can more easily accept.  God is telling me that He’s eager to enter into my world and my life.  God wants to be with me, in my place.  God isn’t satisfied to let me ponder Him from afar, and to hope against hope that I can join Him where He is.  God wants to be with me – not in some other place and some other time – but at this time, in this place.

It’s entirely too much for me so I choose to desire something much, much less magnificent than what I’ve been offered.  Instead of desiring God, I desire respite.  I assess my life and imagine a better one.  A life divorced from those elements I now possess, the very elements I long to reject because I keep insisting that it’s my hardships that are causing me to suffer.  I want a life augmented by elements I now lack, elements I desire because I’m stubborn in my belief that those are the things that will make me happy.

The God who exists is the God I cannot bear to receive, so I long for the not-God who lives in my imagination.  My cherished not-God is as foolish in his evaluations as I am.  He too wants to slay those demons I’ve convicted of perpetrating my suffering.  He too is convinced that the world I’m in is a world of insufficiencies and agrees with me that I’d be happier in ‘another world’, a world supplied with good things, things I don’t have now.

My not-God is strong.  My not-God punishes his enemies and rewards his friends.  My not-God punishes me when I’m bad and rewards me when I’m good – when he gets around to it, that is.  My not-God is bigger than me, and stronger than me, and smarter than me.  My not-God is confident when I am doubtful and secure when I’m in peril.  If I could get on the good side of my not-God, he would rid me of all the things I don’t like and shower me with all the things I do.

I am as terrified as I am eager when I ponder my not-God’s approach.  He hides himself from me and I’m sure it’s for the best that he does.  Perhaps, I think, he will vanquish my enemies in a way that leaves me out of the dirty work.

The promise of not-God is a promise I give myself, a promise I have no power to fulfill, and yet I pin my hopes on this flimsy promise.  I put my faith in my own not-God even as I witness my doubts wrestle with my lived experience.

The God who exists is the God who revealed himself by taking up residence in a manger.  We’re so familiar with the Christmas narrative that we’ve become numb to the implications.  We hear the promise of Jesus, and we anticipate a savior who will free us from our enemy’s grip.  What do we get?  We get a baby!

How strange is that?  We’re convinced we need a Strongman – someone who will vanquish our foes.  Instead, we get the embodiment of weakness and vulnerability.  The radical shock of the Incarnation is that the God who exists is nearly the opposite of the not-God we’ve been hoping for.

Jesus’ message is incredible.  In order to be happy we’ve got to root ourselves in poverty – a poverty of spirit.  Power and control aren’t going to get us what we want.  The path that leads to satisfaction is the path of weakness and vulnerability.  The whole world is telling us that we’ve got to assert ourselves because life is a dog-eat-dog proposition.  Jesus demonstrates, by word and deed, that the secret to happiness is learning to yield.

God created the world and pronounced it ‘good’.  We take stock of that world and decide that it’s not really all that good; it could definitely be improved upon.  A good God entered His good world and lived a life we have a lot of trouble appreciating.  Jesus’ contemporaries had trouble appreciating him as well.  The people on the ‘outs’ wanted to make Jesus king, and empower him to destroy their enemies.  The people on the ‘inside’ – Herod, and Pilate, and the chief priests – geared themselves up to resist a power grab.

God’s plan was a surprise to everyone.  It’s still a surprise.  Instead of choosing power, Jesus chose sacrifice.  He’s calling you to choose as he did.  We’re all looking to find the path to success, and there are plenty of people giving advice about finding that path.  Most of the advice centers around strategies for gaining power and strength.  We’re directed to follow in the footsteps of the not-God who lives in our imagination.

It takes courage to reject the path of power, the path of not-God, and to follow in the path of Jesus, the path up Calvary Hill.  It’s easy enough to believe that there’s some sort of god.  That’s not enough, though.  We’ve got to find God in weakness and vulnerability – the weakness and vulnerability of a babe in a manger.

God came into the world but we couldn’t recognize him because he was so much different than the god we thought we wanted.  God wants to come into your world, into your life.  The God who took up residence in a manger wants to take up residence in you; but will you be able to recognize Him?  Do you even know what you’re looking for?


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About captaincatholic

Fifty Eight Year old 'Cradle Catholic'. Married for twenty two years to the magnificent Pam. Father to the unsurpassable Angelique. Parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish in Lexington MA.

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