The God Who Comes,18TH DECEMBER, 2016
A kindergarten teacher tells her class the Christmas story of the Shepherds and the Three Wise Men. At the end she asked them, “Now tell me, who was the first to know about the birth of Jesus?” A little girl shoots up her hand and answers, “Mary.” Of course, Mary. How could anyone miss that? But adults miss that because adults tend to expect more complicated answers. The child’s answer is so simple and obvious that we miss it! We have this tendency to associate God with the phenomenal and the spectacular, such as the host of angels or the guiding star, so much so that we fail to notice God’s presence and action in the ordinary and normal things of life, such as in pregnancy and birth. This child’s inspired answer reminds us to take a second look at the “ordinary things of life” that we take so much for granted and see God’s hand in them. Our gospel today begins with a seemingly casual statement: “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way …” (Matthew 1:18). But for the average Jew of Jesus’ times this statement would be a shock. Why? It is because popular Jewish belief in those days did not expect the Messiah to be born of a woman as a normal, suckling baby. Though the scribes and scholars were aware of the prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, they expected him to drop suddenly from the skies, full-grown in all his divine regalia and power. The Jews found it hard to reconcile these expectations with the reality of this man Jesus whom they knew to be born and raised in their midst. “We know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from” (John 7:27). They found the ordinary ways of God’s coming, God’s presence and God’s action among His people too simple to be true. Like the Jews of old we also wait for the coming of God among us, for our Immanuel (God with us). Maybe we should take a moment and ask ourselves, how do we expect God to come among us? How does God work among us? This is necessary because sometimes the problem is not that God is not with us, the problem rather is that we do not recognize the ways of God’s presence and action among us. We are often enough like Jacob in Bethel who awoke from his sleep and exclaimed, “So the LORD is in this place – and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16). The coming of the long awaited Messiah, the light of the world, the king of the Jews and the desire of the nations, not through clouds and lightning but through the nine-months pregnancy of a country girl, through thirty years of the normal human process of infancy, adolescence and adulthood, reminds us that God comes in ordinary, normal, daily circumstances of life. God comes to us in the people we see around us being born, growing up, ageing and dying. It is often hardest to see God in the people who are familiar to us, not to talk of in our own very selves. But if we see the incarnation of the Son of God as a bridge between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human, between the order of grace and the order of nature, between the sacred and the profane, maybe we will begin to discern the presence and action of God more and more in our daily lives. A Nigerian proverb says, “Listen, and you will hear the footsteps of the ants.” Today we are challenged to listen and hear the footsteps of God who comes into our lives in ordinary ways, through ordinary people and at ordinary moments of our lives. No need to look up to the mountain top or the depths of the ocean, for “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
BY FR. RAPHAEL HESSAH