My guess is everyone has had some experience of babies. As parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family members or friends. We all have some knowledge of babies, particularly new born ones. I think it is probably safe to say that none of our experiences of babies are anything like the Christ child we see in our manager or other similar scenes. The newborn babies we know sleep a lot, cry when they are not sleeping and in the moments when they are not doing either, they look totally confused about their surroundings. The child in the manger is alert, wide eyed, reaching out, ready to go and self-aware.
The newborn Jesus was certainly more like the babies we know and less like the images we see in nativity scenes. But artists have rendered the Jesus not simply as a helpless newborn but as the Christ child, alert and self-aware, so that the story could be told in the image, that this was not an ordinary child but a savior.
The alert and self-aware Christ child is also what we want. We want a savior, not a baby. We are eager for him to be what he came to be. This is true for the babies and the children of our lives, as much as we tell them not to grow up too fast, we are eager to see their growth. We wait her to crawl and walk. We are excited by his first words and his budding talents. We even ask children at a very young age what they want to be when they grow-up. We eager to see them become the people God created them to be. In the case of the baby Jesus we are eager to see him grow because we need him to be the person the Father sent him to be. We are in need of a savior now.
I doubt there will be a Christmas homily offered here on Long Island that does not make some reference to our experience of the Super storm Sandy or the horror and sadness we feel after the tragedy in Newtown CT. We long to be saved from these universally painful experiences and we have our own particular trials and tribulations that cause us to want this savior to move quicker.
The Christ Child in the manger is an image of potential and we long to see its fulfillment. At the same time it is also a moment of perfection. When a child is born we marvel at the perfection of human creation. Even in this defenseless and dependent life we see the perfection of God’s design and we know the Lord’s nearness to us at the same time we are eager for a child’s growth we also know that we are in the presence of God’s perfection.
The savior comes then in potential and perfection. That potential and protection is also an accurate understanding of our faith. It is always in potential, never fully what we or God want. Doubt, temptation, anger and pain are stumbling blocks to our faith reaching its potential. Our faith is also perfect – not because of us, but because it too is a creation of God. The gift of faith is given to us through our baptism. Our faith is potential, like children we are eager to believe and know God, and we spend our lives maturing in that process, but it is always perfect because of his abiding presence.
Beyond the realities of potential and perfection, God comes to us a new born child because of a more important reality – love. We cannot but help to fall in love with a newborn baby. Our relationship begins again or is renewed at Christmas because we can fall in love with God who is new born child.
We may desire a relationship with the Lord but we don’t know where to begin because of doubt, temptation, anger and pain. God is too big, we are too distance and life has become too complicated. And so we are given this baby once again, too fall in love with. To let our faith and relationship with him grow and mature over time and not all at once. Today we are not eager for baby Jesus to grow up, but eager for our relationship with God and our faith to grow and mature. We are here to fall in love with God again or for the first time. After I prepared this homily and actually offered it Mass at 4:00 p.m., I read the words of the Pope’s homily and he too said something very similar about love and the Christ child.
God makes himself a child so that we may love him…It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.
And so the Holy Father challenges us to make room for this child, for God in our lives. If we are to truly be blessed by the baby Jesus, we must make room for him as we must for any child in our very busy and cluttered lives.
May our celebration of our savior’s birth make us eager for the fulfillment of his saving mission by loving him as he loves us so perfectly, while believing in our potential to share in the building of His Kingdom.