Fragile

Christmas 2013

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

My wife, Dana, is an occupational therapist who works in a hospital unit that cares for newborn children who have serious health problems. The unit is called a “neonatal intensive care unit” or “NICU.”

Some of the babies my wife works with are born sick or with birth defects. Others in the NICU are born prematurely—perhaps three or even four months before they might “normally” have been delivered.

The premature infants are tiny—some weigh hardly more than a pound. A team of skilled nurses is devoted to their care and in the most serious cases, one nurse is assigned to each child, 24 hours a day.

No place could better illustrate the fragility of human life. After all, even a healthy newborn infant is totally dependent on the care of others.

An infant can’t get its own food; it can’t dress itself; it can only cry and hope its parents will figure out what their child wants. The Madonna holding the infant Jesus can make for a warm and cozy painting. But artists can do nothing to change the fact that the babies need constant care.

And, of course, this is true of all human beings. However self-reliant we think we are, the rest of us, too, are dependent on other people.

We depend on the armed forces to protect us from overseas threats. We depend on the police to protect our homes and neighborhoods. We depend on farmers to grow our food. We depend on our family and friends for support and companionship.

This dependency can be discouraging. All last summer and fall, our Building Committee battled Con Edison just to get our parish house boiler connected to natural gas. The weather got colder and colder. Finally, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, Con Edison got our fuel line working.

Our reliance on fellow humans for companionship can also be disappointing. We wish that our friends were more reliable. We wish that they would care more about us than they do.

This then is the human situation: vulnerable. Fragile.

So what does God make of this? Does God care about all the ways we depend on others? Does he know what it’s like not to be God—to be un-godlike? To be human? To have to rely on the help of others from the day we are born to the day we die?

Most Americans say that they believe in God. Yet many of these men and women seem to go on about their lives as though there were no God. I wonder if that’s because they think of the Almighty Creator of the Universe as so grand that he couldn’t be bothered with our mundane reality.

But Christmas reminds us that this isn’t the only way to look at the divine. Once in history, God appeared in human form. In the words of the hymn we just sang: “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall; with the poor, the scorned, the lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.”

When the divine entered our world, God shared our nature. This isn’t just a philosophical idea. This act of God means that God can sense our human frailty.

For example, because Jesus was incarnate, when something bad happens to you, you can be sure that God knows what you’re going through. Because God shared our flesh and blood, he knows the suffering we humans are subject to.

I find this truth to be extremely comforting. It’s one of the reasons why I love Christmas.

While I enjoy the music and decorations, and I have fun giving and getting presents, I especially cherish another kind of “presence”—the presence of God in the midst of our uncertain, unpredictable daily life.

For Jesus was born into our anxious world. Like us, he was sometimes misunderstood and disliked. At times, he felt terribly alone.

And all of this would be infinitely sad if Christ really had been alone. But he wasn’t. Even on the Cross, he wasn’t forsaken. God never left him.

And God never leaves us. Whatever happens, God reaches out from all eternity to comfort us and bring us his peace.

As another stanza of the hymn we sang observes of Christ, our Messiah: “For he is our lifelong pattern; daily, when on earth he grew, he was tempted, scorned, rejected, tears and smiles like us he knew. Thus he feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness.”

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.


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