There is an old saying that the Lord didn’t just come to get us out of trouble, he came to get into trouble with us. More of that, in a moment.
A uniquely human glory and gift – This Christmas we celebrate that God is not content for us to experience his love for us as some sort of abstraction or intangible idea. He wants to touch us, and have us touch and experience his love. As human beings we are not pure spirit. Our glory is to combine in our person what is spiritual and what is material or physical. At Christmas the Lord gives us an incredible gift, a gift that not even the angels have. To be able to touch our God is a special gift and glory to the human person. There is a beautiful Christmas carol (Ere the Bleak Mid Winter) written by Christina Rossetti that captures this special glory and gift that is ours because of the Incarnation. Speaking of the newborn Christ the song says:
Angels and Archangels may have gathered there.
Cherubim and Seraphim Thronged the air.
But only his mother in her maiden bliss;
Could worship the beloved with a kiss.
Today, we can touch our God. Today God’s own hand is stretched out to us. Remarkably it is the hand of an infant. And just like every infant does, he squeezes the finger of his mother, and ours too. Yet, do not be mistaken, this little hand made and fashioned us. From this little hand the universe tumbled forth and this little hand and steers the stars in their courses. This hand touches us today and we touch our God. Even the angels cannot do this.
A magnificent mystery is before us. The infinite is an infant. He who looks down upon all creation now looks up from a cradle. He who spoke worlds into existence, now sounds forth with the cry of an infant. Another old Latin hymn captures mystery and the warmth of the moment: Alpha et O, matris in gremio (Alpha and omega is sitting in mommy’s lap). And from his mother’s lap he beckons us to approach and touch him. This day, we touch our God, and God touches us.
We desperately need this touch, this contact with our God, this hand is stretched out to heal and save. We had grown old in our sins, and this infant child draws us back to the joy and innocence of our youth. This outstretched hand of our God will heal the sick and the leprous, raise up the paralyzed and the dead. This hand will drive out demons and rebuke the storm tossed waves. This hand will be nailed to a cross to save us.
He still touches us in the Sacraments - This hand it still stretched out to you and me right now in the sacraments to cleanse us in Baptism, anoint us in Confirmation, feed us in Holy Communion, absolve us in Confession, heal us in the Anointing of the Sick, join some of us in Holy Matrimony and some of us in ordained ministry. Every sacrament has a physical component. In some particular way the Lord touches us to bring us healing and blessing. It is not a different hand, it is the same hand of the Lord that touched everyone of us beginning at Bethlehem.
Invitation – There are some present in every Catholic Church this Christmas feast who are far from this touch of Christ, far from the sacraments. In the name of Jesus Christ I beg you to let Christ touch you, let his outstretched hands feed you with his Body and Blood every week, let him lay hands on you to absolve you in Confession. Don’t block your blessings, don’t stay far off. Let the Lord touch you, not just spiritually, but physically too in the sacraments. The touch and presence of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas is not just spiritual, it is physical, it is tangible, it is real. Jesus is here right now. And he is here waiting for you every Sunday. He HAS to touch us, because if he does not, we won’t get well, and we won’t have the strength to make it home. You see, we’re in trouble. And we need a savior, a savior who knows our trouble and can draw us out of the mighty waters with strong hand and outstretched arm. Let the Lord touch you.
But as I mentioned at the beginning the beginning, the Lord didn’t just come to get us out of trouble, but to get into trouble with us.
Today the Lord meets us where we are. And some us are in trouble right now. All of us have known trouble. And the Lord loves us enough to get down into the trouble with us. You see, he is not born in a palace, or even a comfortable place. He is not born into privilege, He is born in poverty. He is, at least for now, homeless, born in a smelly cave intended for animals, unfit for human habitation. Soon enough he and his family will have to flee for their lives and live as refugees in a strange and foreign land. Later he will endure trials and temptations in the desert, exhausting journeys as he preaches and teaches, inept disciples, fickle crowds, mounting persecution and hatred, crucifixion and horrifying death.
Yes, the Lord knows our trouble, first hand. He doesn’t just “understand” them in some theoretical way. In physically joining our family in the incarnation, he personally experienced our pain, our trouble. St Ephrem the Syrian says,
Whom have we, Lord, like you
The Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept,
The Pure One who was baptized, the Living One who died,
The King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.
Blessed is your honor!
The heavenly beings were amazed to see how small you became,
And earthly ones to see how exalted
So, the Lord got into trouble with us. But still, there is that outstretched arm of the Lord who touches us physically at his birth. It is an infant’s arm, an infant’s hand. But do not be deceived, it is a strong hand and outstretched arm. It is God’s own arm, God’s own hand, God’s strength. He is the same God who said,
Hear me O House of Jacob, O house of Israel,
My burden, since your birth,
Whom I have carried from your infancy.
Even to your old age I am the same,
Even when your hair is gray, I will bear you;
I will carry you to safety. (Isaiah 46:3-4)
The Lord has come down into this trouble of ours to lead us out. And he is willing to get into trouble to do it. And today we celebrate that our Lord has joined us, and reaches out to touch us, to heal us and to lead us out. That arm, that hand, that touch, there’s just something about it.
I am mindful of an old song that tells us how important it for us to let God touch us, to let God embrace us. You see, it’s possible that our troubles will overwhelm us. But today there is hope, for God is here to save us. The song says,
I almost let go.
I felt like I just couldn’t take life anymore.
My problems had me bound
Depression weighed me down.
But God held me close, so I wouldn’t let go.
God’s mercy kept me, so I wouldn’t let go.
I almost gave up.
I was right at the edge of a breakthrough but couldn’t see it
The devil really had me;
but Jesus came and grabbed me,
And He held me close,
So I wouldn’t let go.
God’s mercy kept me,
so I wouldn’t let go.
See, I’m alive today because God kept me, because Jesus came and touched me, and he held me close, so I wouldn’t let go. You see there’s just something about that little hand, that little arm that reaches out to you and me today. There’s just something about the touch of Jesus physically coming among us in the incarnation. At Christmas our Lord touches us, and holds us close.