theunfamiliarname

Midnight Mass – Christmas 2010

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2010 at 3:16 pm

We’re not far off midnight.

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

Words you might recognise from this month’s Magazine
by poet U.A. Fanthorpe.

Earth and heaven, time and eternity, before and after
met in a moment and forevermore, the Incarnation.
We know the story well,
how Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem
because the Romans are having a census,
wanting to tax that little bit more effectively,
Caesar Augustus
is calling all the Roman world to be numbered.
In short, Rome is thinking big.

While God, at that pivotal point in history,
for all its epic quality, is thinking small.

As small and as particular as we can cope with –
a single new, tiny life,
soft and fragile and beautiful
and open to the pain and perfume of the world.

Those tiny fingers that instinctively grasp a mothers’,
those beautiful little feet
“of the messenger who announces peace,
brings good news, announces salvation.”

Good news uttered in a weak newborn cry.

A three year old girl lies down on her tummy,
peering into the home nativity scene
she says with some delight: “God’s my size!”

There is something there we need to recapture.
This is God not encountered in the abstract,
the big thoughts and words of theology,
but in the undeniable reality
of a needing, loving, demanding child.

And isn’t that where most of us really discover
all that is meaningful?
In human interaction, in relationship
and the delight, the drama,
the dialogue and demands of living?

Hold a tiny child who loves and is in need of love,
and you have a veritable library
on the mystery of the Incarnation.
Scripture tells us, “God is love”.
And love must reach out,
extend itself, embrace.
That love we celebrate this holy night.
US Catholic Social Activist Dorothy Day wrote,
“It is not love in the abstract that counts.
Men have loved a cause as they have loved a woman.
They have loved the brotherhood,
the workers, the poor, the oppressed
– but they have not loved [humanity];
they have not loved the least of these.
They have not loved “personally.”   It is hard to love.”

It is easy and quite seductive to think big,
as the Romans did.
When perhaps the message of the Christchild
is that it’s the thinking small that counts.

Small thoughts, real thoughts,
lead to real actions, real relationships.

We can pray for world peace, an end to global warming,
the completeness of the Kingdom of God,
but the epic hope will come to nothing
if our actions and our words and our loving
does not make it real, make it tangible, make it alive.
If we do not notice the smallness, the uniqueness,
the beauty of the God who comes so near to us
that our very being is embraced.

The babe of Bethlehem points us towards (with vast vision)
thinking small, thinking specific:
thinking lovingly and intentionally
about how we relate on a human level
and where that might take on a larger life of its own.
And acting on that, embodying the faith we proclaim,
the love we aspire to be.

It is perhaps not so very hard to love a small child,
but we are confronted – perhaps most explicitly at Epiphany
when the wise men brings their gifts of great symbol –
that this baby does not stay a child.

God does not come among us
to be wrapped up in cotton wool, or in tinsel:
the risk of being born
is the risk of embracing suffering, loneliness,
the wounded, and ultimately death.
God gives completely,
and we are invited to receive God completely.
To be so changed that be can look with God’s eyes
upon the new day that will dawn,
to choose to reach out in and to need.

We are invited to ourselves be born anew this Christmas,
to become more like the God who comes to us in Jesus.
More generous, more vulnerable,
more completely giving of ourselves,
but above all, more loving, not of life’s abstractions,
but of those God has given us to love.
That small group of the world’s people we encounter,
and the multitudes we affect
in our small, real, everyday decisions.

This holy day, and the days ahead,
let us unpack what it means that “God’s my size”.
That allows the Incarnation
to speak fully into our small reality.

This Christmas think small.
Small is beautiful.

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