He is only five, but he seemed fixated by the scene unfolding before him. A mother of a newborn baby girl was gently unzipping the covering, unfastening the safety restraints, and then cradling the baby in her arms. My nephew is five years old, but he watched this all attentively. It was at Christmas morning Mass and so I could not help but be struck by the fact that the attention was focused on a baby.
My nephew didn’t say anything as he watched this all unfold and I doubt he reflected on it later. But it seemed fitting to me that such close attention was being paid to one in the same position that Christ Himself was in nearly two thousand years ago. A baby, small and frail, cradled in the arms of a mother.
Jesus, though God, was fully human. The arrivals of shepherds and wise men were most likely events by which He was unconcerned. At birth, babies can typically see the 8-10 inches between their faces and their parents’ faces but not further. So as Mary and Joseph are pondering the shepherds that came to kneel before their son, He is simply gazing into the face of His mother.
God, despite the theophanies in the Old Testament, generally seems to do things in understated ways. He speaks to Elijah in a whisper. He gives His messages to common men and women to proclaim to the people. He chooses a simple woman to be the Theotokos, the God-bearer. He comes into the world as a baby, born of a woman. He spends the next thirty years in a quiet, hidden life in Nazareth. He learns the trade of a carpenter and appears fairly unremarkable to those who knew Him. Then, He gathers some men together and lives among them for three years. I understand that miracles were performed and people were astounded, but God didn’t choose the most attention-grabbing entrance or life. He was simple, He was genuine, He was human.
And I think that God often chooses to work in the same way today. He makes Himself known and present in understated, though very real, ways. He is seen in the mother cradling her newborn child. He is seen in the five year old who watches this all unfold as though it is something very captivating. He is encountered in people who gather together to take in a beautiful experience and then share their lives with each other. The Lord is present and working among us, but it is often in ways that don’t seem to astound us.
It is for us very much like it was for the first disciples of Jesus. He would work a profound miracle in their midst–give sight to the blind, heal the sick child, or raise the dead–and then continue to live a simple life beside them. One day, He walks on water and the next day they are eating breakfast with Him and walking to another town. Life with Christ wasn’t a constant string of exciting and riveting experiences. In those three years, Christ was simply showing them how to live. Not every meal was produced from five loaves and three fish. Yet at some meals, Christ gave them not bread but His very self. It was a beautiful mixture of the mundane and the miraculous.
The Lord does the same with us. He works in profound ways–He grants intense feelings of consolation, He gives the gift of a beautiful Confession, He makes us tangibly aware of His presence in the Eucharist. And for those times, we are thankful and we recall them with gratitude. Then we strive to find Him in the midst of the other moments, too. I can strive to see His presence in my car battery dying and I see it in my dad coming to my assistance without hesitation or asking for anything in return. I strive to see it in my roommate when we talk about life over cups of morning tea. I strive to find Him in the midst of grading papers and entering scores late at night.
The Lord, in His beautifully understated yet very real way, is present in each and every moment. For the God who became man, nothing is too small or insignificant for Him. For the God who became a baby, nothing is without worth. In every moment, He can be found. Not all of it is dazzling; much of it is comprised of substance and silence. In the ordinary, He accompanies us and seeks to prepare our hearts. I need to be more like my nephew, eyes open and taking in the captivating beauty before me, whatever form it may take.