Each Christmas, we listen to the story — a simple story, the details of which we know well: Caesar’s decree, a census; Joseph and pregnant Mary journey to Bethlehem, the City of David; no room in the inn; shepherds; a newborn baby lying in a manger; a new beginning in the midst of tyranny, greeted with great joy by angels and the faithful remnant of God’s people.
This story becomes a defining narrative for all of human history; it shapes the way we see God and ourselves. God, our deepest longing, is present in it. What does the birth of Jesus, the incarnation, tell us about God?
A kindergarten teacher invited the children in her class to draw a picture. It could be of anything they had heard or learned in their religion lesson that day. As the children drew, the teacher walked from desk to desk, noting everything. She stopped beside one little girl who was working especially intently, and asked, “What are you drawing?” The child replied, “I’m drawing God.” The teacher smiled and said, “But, Sophie, no one knows what God looks like.” Without skipping a beat, the girl answered, “Well, now they will!”
The Author of life and all creation shows us in Jesus the face of God. It’s not just a sketch, but a full immersion into our human existence. God the Word, wanting to speak a word of boundless love, takes on flesh. And when in Jesus we saw God’s face, it wasn’t what we were expecting to see. God doesn’t appear in the grand halls of a royal palace, but in the poverty of a stable, a child born into a broken world; not in pomp, but in simplicity and vulnerability; not in power, but in smallness.
Smallness holds the key for us in recognizing God’s revelation in Jesus. Early Church fathers used an interesting phrase to speak of the incarnation; they said that in Jesus the eternal Word becomes “abbreviated,” small enough to fit in a manger, so that we might see with our eyes and touch with our hands the mystery of God. In the incarnation, we learn that God is willing to go to any lengths in search of us, even to the point where the All-Powerful becomes all-fragile; the “Ancient of Days” is carried in a womb, the author of existence is born in a manger, the “Master of the Universe” is swaddled in the arms of his mother. All this, so that we might know God and have life.
Father Eugene LaVerdiere, SSS, Emmanuel’s longtime editor and a noted biblical scholar, often wrote and spoke of the “Word of God become flesh, become Eucharist.” How utterly amazing it is that God still makes himself small for us that we might approach the table of the Eucharist to receive a morsel of Bread and a sip of Wine . . . and take God into us!
In This Issue
As we bring another publishing year to an end, our issue offers quite a variety of articles for your reading and prayer. You will find Michael DeSanctis’ winsome “A Crib Fit for a King” and John Zupez, SJ’s examination of language and liturgy, “Is the Mass a Propitiatory or Expiatory Sacrifice?” There is Part II of James Kroeger’s reflection on popular piety and Dennis Billy’s continuing series on the Eucharist in the writings of various theologians.
This is my final issue as editor of Emmanuel. I will be taking on the role of senior editor and welcome Father John Christman, SSS, to the role of editor with his energy, ideas and fresh vision. Thank you for being loyal subscribers, and please, if you are so moved, consider giving gift subscriptions to the Magazine of Eucharistic Spirituality this Christmas. We appreciate you very much.