December 25, 2015 – Nativity of the Lord
We have come together in this holy night. Outside this brightly lit church, it is dark. But even in this church, another darkness follows us in as an invisible weight upon our soul. The weight of a world that has forgotten God. Even as we proclaim joy to the world, the horror of the Paris and San Bernardino massacres remains with us. Below the radar screen, other forms of darkness slither around –Christians fleeing for their lives from the Middle East, women and children trafficked as sex workers, babies in the womb finished off by the millions and the world reacting to all this with numbness. Into this darkness we hear ‘ the grace of God has appeared, saving all’ As a baby. Against the whole dead weight of a world gone mad, a baby?
Which brings me to the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page in the aftermath of the Paris massacres. It read ‘bring back Poindexter’s baby’ After 9/11 Admiral John Poindexter, began a program called Total Information Awareness TIA. Poindexter’s baby is a system of supercomputers sniffing tirelessly, and stealthily through every possible database of human transactions– travel records, visa applications, your online purchases. Now this baby, makes us all feel safe, right? Poindexter’s baby is an overarching system of intelligence. TIA was scrapped in 2003 but it lives on. But what about this baby? The French who probably have the best surveillance systems in the world and who suffer fewer scruples, were also caught flat footed in Paris.
And God’s baby? The grace of God has appeared. Not as a grand system. But as an event. I say event for a reason. Pope Benedict reminds us “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ The Pope Emeritus is a man who chooses words very carefully. He deliberately put the word event before the word person. And there is great theological depth concealed in this word order. There is nothing so fragile as an event. It occurs and fades away. Most events are insignificant. We can hardly remember them. They are soon in the past and something else takes their place. But events are the source of our suffering. Where does our sadness, our hurt, our gloom, our pain, our sorrow come from – the very fragility of events. They destabilize us. You can be rich or poor, powerful or powerless, but an event with its sudden chaos, can redraw the map of your life forever. The Lord Jesus by being born becomes an event in the world. The very fragility of the baby mirrors the deeper fragility that God takes on when He enters fully into our broken history as one event among others. He took a tremendous risk. This is the game changer no pagan religion could have cooked up. But unless God were associated with our events, all talk about God would have brought us little comfort. We would still be insecure in the nitty gritty of life.
But God has become one like us and the power of God fills the very things that scare us. They can trouble us but they cannot make us despair for the light has entered into the darkness and gloom and the darkness will never overcome it. God has entered into little things. He is now the God of small things. And for those who run the risk of hope, He shows Himself not in grand systems but amidst the whirl and suffering of countless small things that keep us in a permanent state of unbalance. And it is in these little things that we find the light and peace of Christ. The French Catholic writer says ‘Little things seem nothing, but they give peace, like those meadow flowers which individually seem odorless but all together perfume the air.’ It is the encounter with an event, an encounter with the reliable presence of God’s love in small things that changes our lives decisively, for we find love in precisely those places where we are most vulnerable. It is those places, in those small events we find Christ who was born for us and where He still lives in His resurrected presence.