January 03, 2013
From the manger, God shows us that 'small is beautiful'
By Bishop James D. Conley *

By Bishop James D. Conley *

"Even if God exists," the world wonders, "how can he be close to us? Can our lives be significant to God? Does he really love us?"

According to polls most Americans believe, for the most part, in God. But for many, God is a distant and impersonal force – a concept more than a person. For many, the idea of a personal God is foreign and in some ways uncomfortable. Modern man, having lived in a culture devoid of love, is skeptical of a God who loves him.

Tragedies, like the unspeakable violence in Connecticut last week, serve as evidence to many that God is not real or that he does not love us. The brutal murder of children speaks to a kind of evil few of us can imagine. Many people, understandably, doubt that a God of total love could tolerate the existence of such evil.

Despite skepticism, most of us still celebrate Christmas exchanging gifts and spending time with loved ones. But the Gospel proclamation that God is with us – that he has come into our midst as a child – is not always at the center of our Christmas celebration. It is easier to believe in family, or good will, or peace; than it is to believe in a God who loves us enough to become like us.

Christmas declares that our world is not insignificant. Christmas declares that we are worth being loved. Christmas affirms that God walked among us in the person of Jesus Christ; that he loves us enough to become like us, to suffer, and to die. Christmas affirms that God has a plan and that even the humblest and lowliest of things have great meaning in the eyes of the Lord. The modern scientific skeptics are wrong to suppose that God must be more distant than the depths of time and space.

God’s love is beyond measure. It is beyond the confines of time and space. And in the eyes of God, small things, simple things, are beautiful. That is why the maker of the farthest galaxies reaches out to us with the hand of a newborn child.

Rather than degrading God, the incarnation raised this world to an exalted height. Despite the existence of unimaginable and unspeakable evil in this world, God is love. In fact, it is because of evil, because of the horrible consequences of our sin, that God came into this world, as a small child, as one like us, to redeem the evil of this world into the goodness of himself.

Through the incarnation, Christ shows us the true value and dignity of everyday life. Christ shows the possibility of overcoming the sin that leads to tragedies like the murders in Connecticut.

Unable to find lodging and laid in a feeding-trough, the Lord reveals the hidden glory of our quite often mundane lives. God’s transcendent goodness and beauty are not far-off abstractions. The one who has faith, and an open heart, can find them everywhere.

Christmas challenges those who believe that God is far from us. But it also challenges believers, whose lives may not reflect the closeness of God and the greatness of small things. We must learn to see things as God does. To him, nothing is insignificant and no one is forgotten.

Like the shepherds on Christmas night, we are called to find the miraculous amid the ordinary. The greatest mystery, God’s love for us, always lies hidden in plain sight.

Nothing is ordinary when seen in light of the Incarnation. When a stable becomes God’s throne, and shepherds are summoned there by angels, nothing is normal anymore. Everything, in a secret and hidden way, is touched by God’s glory.

The Lord who lay in a manger now awaits us in other "ordinary" places: in our daily work, in our neighbors, in the poor. Grace is there – and everywhere else. As the Anglican poet W.H. Auden wrote, in his Christmas poem "For the Time Being:" The Exceptional is always usual / And the Usual exceptional.

In our doubting age, many people will continue to see God as distant or absent. Some will argue for our ultimate insignificance, based on the smallness of our planet and the shortness of our earthly lives.

But Christmas shows us the truth. We are small, but greatly loved by God. Our world is flawed, but not beyond redemption. And Christ has lowered himself to our level in order to raise us up to his, for all eternity.

For this, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords came into the world. As we come with awe before this mystery on Christmas, let us resolve to find the beauty in all that is small and humble – as God once chose to be, for our sake.

Reprinted with permission from the Southern Nebraska Register, official newspaper for the diocese of Lincoln.

The Most Rev. James D. Conley served as the auxiliary Bishop for the Denver Archdiocese from April of 2008 until November of 2012, and during this time also served as Apostolic Administrator for Denver from September 2011 until July 2012. Bishop Conley is currently the Bishop of the Lincoln diocese.
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