By Robert Barron – WSJ –
Intimidation doesn’t bring peace and joy. Infants do.
There’s something about a baby. If introduced into a crowded room, everyone will want a glimpse. Conversations will stop, smiles will spread and arms will reach out for a loving embrace. Even the most curmudgeonly denizen will be drawn toward the child. Babies bring peace and joy—it’s what they do.
The central message of Christmas is that God became a baby. The omnipotent Creator, the source of finite existence, the reason there is something rather than nothing, became an infant too weak even to raise his head. I’m sure that everyone around the Christ child’s crib did what people always do around babies: smile and coo and make funny noises. They were also surely drawn more closely together by their shared concern for the child.
In this we see a stroke of divine genius. For the entire history of Israel, God was endeavoring to attract his chosen people to himself and draw them into deeper communion with one another. Yet a sad and consistent theme of the Old Testament is that despite the Lord’s efforts and institutions, Israel remained alienated from God: the Torah ignored, covenants broken, commandments disobeyed, the Temple corrupted.
In the fullness of time, then, God determined not to intimidate or order us from on high but rather to become a baby. At Christmas, the human race no longer looked up to see the face of God but down into the face of a little child.
Once we understand this essential dynamic of Christmas, the spiritual life opens in a fresh way. Where do we find the God we seek? We do so most clearly in the faces of the vulnerable, the poor, the helpless, the childlike. It is relatively easy to resist the demands of the self-sufficient. It’s decidedly less so for the lowly, the needy and the weak. They draw us, as a baby does, out of self-preoccupation and into the space of real love. This is undoubtedly why so many of the saints were drawn to the service of the poor.
For those gathering to celebrate Christmas, a similar dynamic will obtain. Everyone will be there: parents, siblings, cousins, uncles and aunts, perhaps grandparents or friends who find themselves away from home. There will be food, laughter, lively conversations, most likely a fierce political argument or two. At most of these gatherings I expect at some point a baby will be brought into the room: the new son, cousin, nephew.
May I impart some advice? Be particularly attentive to how people react to the baby. Notice the magnetic power the child has over the entire motley crew. Then, remember the reason you’re gathering is to celebrate the baby who is God. And finally, permit yourself to be attracted by the peculiar magnetism of that divine child.
Bishop Barron leads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minn., and is founder of the ministerial organization Word on Fire.
Photo: A hand-carved Italian Nativity scene on display at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Dec. 23, 2020, PHOTO: HANS GUTKNECHT/ZUMA PRESS