God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. ~Benedict XVI
These words from Pope Benedict XVI appear in the Magnificat for Christmas day 2013. God takes flesh in Mary through the Holy Spirit and is born in Bethlehem – an infant, weak, helpless, Wonderful.
Often for us, like the Israelites, we expect God to come with power and signs. We place our demands and make our lists, and throughout this process driven by pride and fear, our sense of wonder diminishes. In fact, wonder before the Mystery – an encounter with something truly mysterious in this age of Googling, Siri, and how-to guides for every dummy under the sun – has all but disappeared from the man once considered a religious being, and now a worshipper of his own apparent autonomy.
However, in my adult life (one filled with a wife and three children), I know of at least one event that can provoke a sense of wonder in even the hardest of hearts: the presence of a child.
Countless times I have been in a room full of chattering adults when my wife walks in with the latest arrival – everything stops and silent staring ensues. The infant is rather unremarkable – usually sleeping.
In almost all other real-life circumstances (in other words, silently watching pictures move about a screen doesn’t count), silence amongst that many adults would either result from angst at some ominous problem, or, the more likely, awkward situation that renders individuals speechless. While these instances happen rarely, on a far more frequent basis, the infant child lacking outward splendor, the infant child defenseless and in need of help, contains in him/herself the capacity to inspire wonder in grown adults (many of whom have seen babies before), rendering them speechless. They simply gaze at the child, expecting nothing but everything – their desire open to the Infinite.
The mere presence of a child causes one to stop in his tracks, to re-think his approach to the day, and to beg for mercy at having forgotten what it means to love and to be loved.
Christmas invites us to behold the child Jesus. The Wonderful, the Christ-child, invites us to an experience of wonder and awe. The child, Emmanuel, causes us to stop, and to contemplate, and to listen. Christ is a presence capable, even today, of becoming event for my life.
Jesus comes, not with a dangerous display of “earthly power.” He comes, not inspiring the fear of all. Instead He comes as a baby and invites us to hold Him close – and to love Him. Indeed, dominion rests upon this child born for us, and we call Him Wonder, Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, and the Prince of Peace (see Isaiah 9).
And, just as a room full of too-busy-to-stop-working-for-a-minute adults stops, speechless in the wonderful sight of an infant, this God-man causes us to pause and look on in wonder and awe at a sight so small it has been and will be overlooked by many. Yet only in this wonderfully small encounter does man discover who he is, and reminded of his destiny – this is truly the Christian event.
Only wonder leads to knowledge…Wonder comes before all categories; it is what leads me to seek, to open myself up; it is what makes the answer – not a verbal or conceptual answer – possible for me. If wonder opens me up as a question, the only response is the encounter, and only with the encounter is my thirst quenched. And with nothing else is it quenched more. ~Pope Francis