Today, for me at least, crossing some international borders is a different experience. You stand before a robotic machine. It asks for your passport and you fumble around, reluctant, afraid it will gobble it up and spit it out in a mangled mess. It asks you to look into it so that it can slowly adjust its camera to your face to take an updated photo. Then it spits out your receipt. You grab it and run for your life.
This is the brave, new world of gigantic information and surveillance systems. In those, we are mere numbers, raw data. The bigger they are, the more abstract they must make us in order to function efficiently. Imagine someone tells you the Creator of the Universe has a unique love for you and died for you. You know that bigger means the little guy counts for little. So we are programmed to discount this. No way says a little hard, cold, reptilian voice in us.
The grace of God has appeared says St Paul to Titus. And??? So what? I remember the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If my memory serves me right, towards the end, thousands of people are gathering and looking at the horizon that is slowly brightening up. It brightens and brightens and brightens and their faces are now lit up, their eyes fixed on the light. Then the light becomes a searing ball and the huge mothership slowly touches down. It disgorges people who were abducted and then takes on a passenger. Then it slowly leaves the earth. So what about the people watching all this. The light fades away. What about them? The show is over, the excitement over, they are back to their hovels.
I say this because when we hear things like the grace of God has appeared – we might think of some global system, some huge mothership. Nice. Impressive. But we remain the audience, the extras in the movie, paid a few bucks to show up, clap at the right time, and then back to the bottom of the heap after the show. What has this to do with my secret wishes and dreams, that nobody cares about and they are so impossible that I don’t expect anyone to care about them. I care little about them myself? What has it to do with the secret stirring that tells me I am meant to dream big and hope big, that I somehow matter but don’t know how?
When I was young, I always hung back from the crib with the Child Jesus. In my callow youth, there were bigger, more urgent, problems in the universe for me. And a baby born to two peasants in some forlorn town seemed pretty irrelevant. Not just irrelevant but embarrassing. My brothers and sisters, I have realized that the real answer is always hidden out at the peripheries – not with the glitz and the glamor. The grace of God has appeared to save all. Not humanity but you and me. It has to make itself as small as we are and then even smaller than we are – so that it can only wait for our response. It has the strangest calling card of them all. Not the power we would expect from infinite systems but an embarrassing helplessness to change our hearts, a crazy need to win over our hearts instead of the easy solution of controlling them, crazy enough to risk making a fool of itself and even crazier – we have the freedom to scorn, spit on, slap, strike, jeer at, crucify. Big systems revel in control of the small. Here the Infinite is on its knees, tinier than the small. It makes no sense. This is intellectual vertigo material. This is the world of the true God.
The grace of God has appeared and how? Not as a global system but as a tiny bundle of flesh and blood that can die, tiny enough to awaken one unique and never to be repeated soul at a time – you and me, the small guys. We are not then the extras in the play as we have been programmed to believe so fervently. Christ has come to draw us all into this great drama where all of us are stars. This is the real thing, this is the only great and lasting drama, everything even the huge, big, glittering things are footnotes to it and we are so crucial to it, that God became an infant. Now you can accept it or you can sneer at the ludicrousness of it. I cannot hold it against you. It is a confounding, bewildering stretch of the mind and the imagination. But unless you embrace the improbable, you will miss the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.