Some churches I have known have had dolls for the baby Jesus that are vanishingly small – one, I swear in North Carolina that was just over two centimetres long. In terms of worship size meant nothing, of course. When I carried in procession tiny dolls on large cushions, the people felt just as drawn to adore the infant Christ as if it were life-size.
The baby Jesus and the wafer-bread for Eucharist are such tiny symbols for such a large action of God: they point to God’s generosity in bringing himself down to the created order. The great wonder of love that we call the Incarnation is represented in tiny symbols.
I love church at Christmas. The joy of children at a Christmas Eve telling of the Nativity, however chaotic, the quiet carols and communion at Midnight Mass, the bustling crowds of Christmas Day. But this year, like the several past, I have not been able to attend any service, let alone the full bill that I enjoyed when I was working as a priest.
This year, I didn’t even try to get to church. The decision to travel to Perth and to be part of our grandchildren’s Christmas came first; and their Christmas is celebrated far from church. I knew I couldn’t even contemplate managing church in addition to the travel and the family feasting.
My body inconveniences me. But I am learning that I should not feel remorse or disappointment at missing the joy of church worship. For what is my body if it is not also a symbol of the Incarnation of God? Like a two-centimetre doll or a wafer weighed in micrograms, my body is a tiny symbol of incarnation!
But Christmas still recalls the Incarnation to me. Christ is the Incarnate God; our humanity is an instant of the Incarnation. It serves me well to remember that my body may just be a tiny instant of incarnation, but I must learn to avoid letting my body be a distraction from the wonder of incarnation. It lets me down. It keeps me at home when the good part of me wants to be at least one Christmas service. But God created my body, and the writer of Genesis emphasises how good creation is, my body included. I must manage the pain and immobility, true, but I must continue to allow God to work through my body by being present in people’s lives. Sometimes that means a card or an email, sometimes it means a visit. Sometimes it means a short story without any apparent Christian message, sometimes it means a homiletic blog like this.
I thank God that the fingers of my body make the physical language of the piece. I know as a pianist how complex and how strategic the anatomy of the wrist, hand and fingers are – they are a wonder. I thank God that the neurons in my brain fire to initiate the thoughts of my writing. 86 billion of them! And there’s a mystery beyond the neurons, somewhere between incarnation and Spirit, and that is what the mind-brain actually is. My brain is a wonder.
I thank God I can see people and be seen, touch people and be touched. Yesterday at the beach-front, I arrived in my wheelchair. Grand-daughter Aurora from 20 metres away opened her arms, ran to me, jumped on my knee and we hugged. Our wonderful is that incarnation!
It may be that I miss the liturgical re-tellings of stars guiding, shepherds running and wise men discerning when it comes to celebrating the Incarnation, but I am certainly not missing out!
–Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, John 1