Our ordinary experience of God, if I can use that term, is one of distance, a distance which seems to belong to the nature of things. God is God, after all, the one beyond whom it is impossible to conceive of anything greater – and we are who we are with all our human limitations. But it is also a distance that we ourselves create by our sin, by all the sad ways we turn away from God.
The deep joy of Christmas is that this distance, in both of its forms, which we feel down to the very marrow of our bones and which largely accounts for the distance we experience in our relationships with one another, has been bridged in a most wonderful and surprising way. This is what accounts for the joy and warmth of Christmas: God is both for us and with us in ways that are utterly astounding.
Dispelling the awful fear that God remains indifferent to our human plight and to all of our human bungling, the feast of the Incarnation reveals a God who is entirely FOR us, whose face is turned toward us, removing our shame. The divine logic of the words of consecration at Mass – this is my body given up for you, this is my blood poured out for you – begins with his coming down to meet us in the frailty of a child.
But God is also WITH us. Those are the words that have touched me the most as I have prepared for Christmas this year. God shows us the way. We are needier than we are usually willing to let on. How do I deal with the mess that I have made of my life, with my fears, my anger, my discouragements and my various forms of alienation from myself and others?
God is so good and gracious in this regard. He doesn’t settle for giving us advice or sending us some kind of prescription or a set of laws. He comes to show us the way by sharing our very life. We are helped in our weakness and fear to know that he has himself experienced what we experience. None of this takes away the need to continue seeking God; it intensifies our search by inviting us to find God in places where we would not normally look for him – in our suffering, the suffering of our world, in the vulnerability of the poor and the outcast, in our own vulnerability.
And there is a further challenge presented by this Christmas mystery, perhaps the most challenging of all. We will find God most assuredly by becoming like him, by allowing our lives to be shaped by the one thing necessary, to love more and more.