Monday, December 30, 2019


Image result for swaddling bands
“Mary gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes…” The literal verbal form says that she “swaddled him.” Various reasons were given for the practice of ‘swaddling’. It was clearly more than diapering the child, although such cloth bands had to be changed as often as modern-day diapers do. What Mary did for Jesus in swaddling him was what any ancient Palestinian mother would do for a newborn babe. It was not a sign of poverty or lowly birth. It was simply an expression of a mother’s loving, maternal care. Like any infant, Jesus, needed to be cared for. He couldn’t take care of himself. He would have died without that care. In the Christ Child God chose to need us. God chose to be dependent on his creatures. This is the core of the Christmas message and mystery: the profound dependency and vulnerability of the divine as it divests itself of power and glory in order to assume the form of a fragile creature.

The Christmas mystery is more than just information about God. It’s more than just a new piece of data to be stored away on our theological hard-drive, because what we need from God is more than just information. The Letter to the Hebrews is probably one of the boldest and most unambiguous statements possible about what is so unique and special about the Christmas mystery: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these days, he has spoken to us through the Son…” In other words, God has always been communicating with humanity, in any number of ways; but what we need from God is more than just information. The climax of the communication is the sending of the Son, so that we can grasp the fact that really knowing God, really responding to God’s Word of promise and life, is a matter of relationship. It’s all about becoming God’s child. Relationship is what is unique about Christmas; the new possibility for each of us to be related to God as Jesus was and is. The Source whom Jesus called Father is now our Source, our Father! We are adopted children of God; taken into the very life of the Trinity.

The Incarnation is God’s move into need and dependency - into our need and dependency. The incarnation of God is revealing and communicating a reality that is as much about us, as it is about God. The words of the traditional Christmas carol Oh, Holy Night come to life in a whole new way: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” God, in Jesus, needs our care, our love.

Jesus Christ became human, really human. And he wants and needs the love of each and every one of us. And in our realization of this and in our responding to God’s divinely human need and desire, we awaken to and realize our own inestimable worth. And at the same time, we realize the inestimable worth of every creature God has created. And it should be no surprise to us that when we seek to encounter Christ today, we find him in the needy, vulnerable, the broken and helpless of our world. The Christ we meet in the vulnerable is the child Christ and none other. The hungry, the homeless, the thirsty, prisoners, refugees, the sick and abandoned. And today, most especially, children themselves. All these carry in their bodies the vulnerability and dependency of the Christ Child who continues to wait for our swaddling efforts, who ceaselessly continues to desire and need our loving care. Every human being we encounter, in fact, every piece of creation awaits our swaddling care and concern because the Word really did become flesh.
Detail of a fresco by Giotto. Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily for Christmas.