The Word Became Vulnerable Flesh

creche1When St. John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he is sharing a mystery so deep that we don’t know what to say. The mystery only deepens when we recall that the Word was with God “in the beginning” and without the Word, nothing was made. What is more, the Word was God. Which is to say, the Word is God for all time.

So why would the Word enter into the Creation that the Word shaped? Isn’t that a case of ultimate downward mobility? Later in his Gospel, John says that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son who died on the cross. Suddenly, the Word who in the beginning was with God and was God is much more concrete and understandable. Except why would God and the Word love us so much that they would do that? Looking around at ourselves, there seems to be no accounting for taste.

What is so amazing is that God, who we might think is the ultimate in invulnerability, chooses to be vulnerable. God’s vulnerability is attested by the prophets who spoke of God’s distress over human waywardness and infidelity. But even then, “the boots tramped in battle” in Isaiah didn’t trample the Word who was with God and was God. But once the Word was born in the flesh of a human mother and laid in a manger, the Word had become just as vulnerable to trampling boots and automatic rifles as the children at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut and the children slaughtered in Bethlehem by order of King Herod.

Here is where the mystery deepens so profoundly as to escape comprehension. It goes against what we think are our deepest instincts. We do everything to make ourselves less vulnerable from putting on plated armor, to hardening our feelings to buying weapons to defend us for the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” to quote Hamlet. If the Word without whom nothing was made that was made is willing to be so defenseless, than perhaps it isn’t really our deepest instinct to defend ourselves so aggressively after all.

Perhaps if we, like Mary, would treasure these things and ponder them deeply in our hearts, we will find within ourselves a Love created by God that loves so abundantly that it melts all our defenses and we no longer worry about accounting for God’s taste in so loving the world.

Celebrating the Prince of Peace

snowKatrinaCrossBW1This year’s rejoicing over the birth of the Christ Child is darkened by the recent murders at Sandy Hook School in Newton, CT. Lest I be accused of being a killjoy by keeping these two events together, let me remind you that Saint Matthew is just as much of a killjoy when he tells the story of the Holy Innocents who were killed in Bethlehem. Christmas has been darkened by human violence from the start.

When a tragedy like this strikes, it is only responsible to find ways to prevent it happen again, or at least lower the chances of it. The problem with prevention is our tendency to fall into a blame game. Some of it is absurd, such as blaming homosexuals or the banning of prayer from public schools, never mind the countless attacks on schoolchildren that predated that Supreme Court decision. Then there is the NRA. There is unquestionably a long overdue need to re-examine the ubiquity of firearms in our country but we have to dig deeper.

Which gets me to what we need to learn from the baby laid in a manger on a cold winter night. When this child grew up, he became the victim of collective violence in a tense city, the one blamed for that tension. And yet God raised this victim to prove his innocence. When Jesus encountered human problems, he did not blame people, he healed them. Even when he spoke strongly, as he did to the Pharisees, he was trying to heal them. When threatened with violence, Jesus told the disciple who drew a sword to put it back in its scabbard and stay there.

The killing of the children at Sandy Hook was violent, but the casting of blame is also violent. Hacking the Internet pages of the Westboro Baptist Church, egregious though its actions are, is only a further escalation of violence. The problem with the blame game, even when there is some truth to the charges, is that it always distracts us from other factors that are at least as important.  We all need to look at the logs in our own eyes, at the resentments within ourselves that fuel the violent tensions in our society.

The angels appearing to the shepherds sang of peace for all people. Not peace orchestrated by a violent empire, but peace emanating from the human heart that wants to protect not only Jesus from Herod, but all children from all who would hurt them, most of all, ourselves. By taking responsibility for ourselves, we make ourselves responsible to all. Then we can really celebrate Jesus as the Prince of Peace.

See also Two Ways of Gathering

Christmas Stories

For quite a few years, I wrote a Christmas story as the Season approached and sent copies to family and friends. Once the number of stories had grown, I collected the ones I thought were particularly effective and published them in a volume called Born in the Darkest Time of Year: Stories for the Season of the Christ Child.” The Christmas season is offered as a time of hope in the midst of darkness. The hope is fragile, or at least seems so to human eyes. After all, God the Word had been born as a baby needing care from others to survive. Today, Christmas seems to be threatened at times even as Herod threatened the Christ Child. So it is that many of my stories deal with threats to Christmas through human folly, weakness, commercialism, or just plain malice. I know it is early for Christmas but some people will be thinking ahead already to their Christmas shopping. I invite you to read the opening story that I have just posted: Silent Night: How John Beaconsfield Saved Christmas.” John is a devoted chorister traumatized when all Christmas music mysteriously disappears just a few days before Christmas day.