A Meditation for Christmas Eve, 2016
Perhaps you remember the opening words to the Superman TV show:
Faster than a speeding bullet.
More powerful than a locomotive.
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Look! Up in the sky!
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman!
Isn’t this the kind of God we want? A super-hero—someone to stop bad things from happening to good people. We would like God to stop the pain and evil of this world with his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, like Superman who is faster than a speeding bullet, and more powerful than a locomotive. We would settle for Spiderman, who catches thieves just like flies.
We look up in the sky this night and we don’t see superman, but instead, we see a star; a star that marks the arrival, not of a superhero God, but of a baby. There is no cape and no promise that bad things won’t happen to good people. If God does not come as a superhero to make sure that evil and difficulty stop right now, then what kind of God is this? What becomes of our faith when God is not the God we wanted? Christmas is a season when we must admit that God is not behaving the way we hoped.
I heard a story recently about another birth that also took place in difficult circumstances. Paula D’Arcy is a Christian author and inspirational speaker. She learned early on her young life that God was not a super-hero who would stop bad things from happening to her. At age 27, she was pregnant with her second daughter when a drunk driver struck and killed her husband and her first daughter who was 2 years old. She tells the story of being in the hospital several months after this tragedy, to give birth and praying to God to please give her a natural birth, so she could experience life after so much death.
Although she wanted to trust God as the foundation of her life, in that moment, she wanted God to prove himself by granting this one desire. God had not been the superhero and wish-granter she wanted. After several hours of labor, it looked like her desire for a natural birth was not going to happen, and she was minutes from having a C-section. She prayed, what do you want from me, God? You already have everything-you have my husband, you have my daughter—what more do you want?
Paula heard God's response in her own heart. God said to her, “I want you to want me more than you want anything else. I want to transform your pain. I want you to give your whole self to me.”
Paula looked down at her hands and realized that she had been holding on to life as she wanted it and the grip of her desires had closed her off from God doing what she most needed, which was to transform her pain into healing and new life. Paula released her hands, and opened herself up to the God we do have—not a superhero, but one who has a deep and abiding relationship with us that gives us life and hope and strength when bad things do happen. She reached that moment that Mary did, and in her heart said, let it be with me according to your Word. That became a turning point in her spiritual journey as she welcomed the gift of new child and became an international force for good.
Perhaps this is why, when God comes to dwell with us, God does not come faster that a speeding bullet and stronger than locomotive, but as an infant who needs to be loved, and held and cared for. God comes to have a relationship with us, and invites us to hold, and care and love and protect our relationship with God with the fierce devotion of Mary and Joseph or any of us holding a newborn child. God wants a relationship with us that is more important to us than anything else in our life.
The fifth verse of the hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter says it best,
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
When we loosen the grip of our hands on life as we desire and plan it and begin to want our relationship with God more than we want anything else, we do receive the strength of a locomotive to handle the vicissitudes of this life, and our pain can be transformed into hope and new life as it was for Paula. So what then of the evil in the world? How will God bring healing and salvation to the world? In the 16th century, St. Theresa of Avila said it this way:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Tonight Jesus is born in our lives and hearts, inviting us to love him with all of our might, and to bear his love in the world. For through Jesus, WE are the ones through whom God’s power is made known.