He’s arrived. It’s happened. He’s here.
Sent from God the Father,
Inscribed in creation from the beginning,
Prophesied in Israel,
Conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
“God does not rise up in grandeur, but lowers Himself into littleness” (Pope Francis, Night Mass 24 December 2021).
Off-stage, the angels are stirring up shepherds and away in the East a star is intriguing astronomers. But he’s here. He has come. “The small, sweet God” (G. M. Hopkins, Hymnus Eucharisticus).
And we can now slip in, into the dilapidated shed, the smelly stable, the cave in the hillside, or whatever it actually was. We’re happy not to be prominent, we don’t have to have tickets to a seat in a box; a glimpse from the wings is enough, hoping he’ll open his eyes, see us and smile.
It’s enough to be here. Wrapped tight in a cramped stable, he has opened a space for everyone, for the crowd of believers and curious questioners, the crowd that grows year after year, century after century, the Body we are which grows from his. He has made us a part and extension of himself, members of his Body. It’s enough to be here. The things that seem so large and bangy, the things we feel duty-bound to worry about and discuss and have opinions on, the issues and crises and threats, suddenly feel less close and pressing. It’s as if they’re too big to gain entrance and have to slink diminished away, out of the circle of light, back to the dark. There’s something else to fill us now, something greater. “From this time onwards and for ever,” as Isaiah says. “The small, sweet God.”
So, with faith, hope and love, we can go in. He is here. We are cancered with sin, but his soft radiance shrinks our tumours. We crackle with words and ideas, worries and fears, but his calm sleeping turns their volume down. We shift and shuffle and chew our nails or scratch our heads, but in front of his stillness the fidgeting falls away. We don’t even have to pray exactly. It’s enough to be there, like Mary and Joseph. Enough to see and to feel and begin to adore.
“Here is our God: not a threat, not a barrier, not a prohibition. But Love on its knees in front of us…waiting for our love to respond and allow the Kingdom of God [to come about]. It’s the very opposite of what we expected” (Maurice Zundel). And this is the mark of its authenticity. We’ve been wrong-footed, out-manoeuvred, thoroughly discomfited. “The virginity of Mary and her giving birth eluded the ruler of this age [that is, the devil]”, said St Ignatius of Antioch (Eph 19:1). God is among us, under the radar.
He’s here. “A small, sweet God”, a baby who will later be smaller still, simply a piece of bread. It’s a new beginning off the map, outside the usual parameters. It’s subversion of the most radical kind. It’s the greatest revolution. This boy “has raised up the lowly” and will tell the poor they’re blessed. He’ll command us to wash each other’s feet and welcome little ones. He’ll propose a path of humble love. He’ll let himself be crucified and wrapped in a shroud, and he’ll rise unseen in the night. He’ll be happy to disappear into our lives and be born and grow in us.
There’s no need to say much tonight. He’s here. This is where and when it began, this unexpected thing. “From this time onwards and for ever.” For all. For us. For each of us. “The small, sweet God”. Let us give him our all. Amen.