God’s human form

By Father Joseph Breighner

Twas the day after Christmas, 

and all through the house,
Everybody was stirring,
including the mouse.
Stockings by the chimney were nowhere to be found,
And ribbons and bows were but trash on the ground.
Christmas, it seems, like a phantom in flight,
Had stolen away some time in the night.
Yet, in the far distance a baby yet cries,
And still coming to meet him three men who are wise.

Those lines, from a poem I wrote years ago, are worth repeating. Christmas Day lasts its 24-hour span, but Christmas lasts forever in God who became man.

The world only gets one day for Christmas. The Christmas season for the world is the time before Christmas. I call this the “Store Christmas” or the “Selling Season.” There are estimates that 40 percent of all shopping in the U.S. is done during this time. It’s an important time for the economy.

For the believer, the Christmas Season is the time after Christmas. We celebrate the “rest of the story.” We see Magi from the East coming to adore Christ. We watch the baby growing up. We see Jesus, raised as an observant Jew, being circumcised as a baby, and later, as an adolescent, going to Jerusalem on pilgrimage with his parents.

To put it another way, we Christians celebrate three “comings” of Christ. We celebrate, obviously, Christ’s coming into history as an infant. Second, we await Christ’s coming in the future, to end history. And, finally, but equally important, we celebrate Christ’s coming each day in mystery.

As Catholics, we ritualize the daily coming of Christ in the Eucharist, in Christ’s Mass. We celebrate the Christ who comes to us as Word, and under the appearance of bread and wine.

But, even more profoundly, the God who comes to us in mystery comes to us – and through us – at every moment. God doesn’t just visit his people. God lives with and in his people.

Let me tell a story.

There was a shopkeeper who was told by God that he would visit him that night in his store. The owner was incredibly excited. He couldn’t wait for closing time. He turned off the lights of the store, and sat in the darkness waiting for Christ.

As he waited, he noticed a homeless person walking down the street. He ran out of the store and gave the man some money.

He went back to his store, and spotted a woman walking past, shivering in the cold. He grabbed one of the coats off a rack, and went outside and gave it to the woman.

The shopkeeper returned to the store, and continued to wait for Christ in the darkness. It began to rain. The shopkeeper noticed a man going past without an umbrella. He ran out to the man and gave him his umbrella.

He then went back into the store to wait for Christ. As the sun rose, the man was furious. He yelled at God saying: “You broke your promise. I waited for you all night, and you never came.” And Christ calmly replied: “Oh, I kept my promise. I came to you three times, and you responded to me every time. What you do to the least person, you do to me!”

On Christmas Day we celebrate the God who came into history as a human being. On another day we will celebrate the God who comes to end history. But every day we can celebrate the God who comes to us in others, and in the events of life.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, the poet and Jesuit priest, wrote that “the earth is charged with the grandeur of God.” Each human being is “charged” with that divine grandeur. Yes, as St. Teresa of Kolkata said: “God does indeed come to us in his most distressing disguises.” But beneath these ego disguises, the presence of God lives in every human being.

When we recognize the God within, then every day we celebrate the birth of God in human form.

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Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.