By Frank Wessling
Who has never been in a new situation feeling tense with hope for a friendly face and welcoming word? We’ve all faced these situations from early in life. The child on a kindergarten playground who offers to be a friend and invites us into play is like the presence of God.
The person who first makes us feel at ease in a new job or among strangers in any crowd provides the same warmth and freedom that allows us to come alive with new energy.
These people who look out for the poor, the marginal, the stranger, the immigrant newcomer; these wonderful people go out of themselves to be with the person in need. They are all very much like the presence of God.
They are God’s people. They embody the God who does not stand off, away, aloof while we desperately seek connection with a spark of life. They behave like the God who rushes across an infinite threshold to bring new life.
The God we celebrate at Christmas. God embodied in active love. God the compassionate. God whose reality is being-in-relationship, being-with rather than being alone.
Why else would God join us as a helpless baby? Jesus is introduced among us as one who needs us. He needs everything, beginning with a friendly welcome very much like what we do when we befriend a shy classmate or new coworker.
These people who go out of themselves in imitation of God are us. All of us. We are God’s people and Christmas is our feast.
Many of us even understand that Christmas calls for a kind of extravagance, like that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who let God have his way with her, no questions asked.
Yes, there was one question: “How can this be?” But that had more to do with wonderment than hesitation or reluctance: How can God be with me so intimately?
What kind of love is this?
It appears to be a meeting of one extravagance with another; one ultimate, no-limits offer meeting a total, unrestricted welcome, something like the dream that keeps all of us looking and striving outward.
We want that divine meeting, that ultimate in relational bliss. It’s the normal hope and desire of a human life. It’s the spark we offer each time we make someone feel at home in awkward circumstances.
It’s the reason we can’t help enjoying the extravagant lighting displays that some people put up on their homes around Christmas time. A good welcome is a delightful experience of light in the midst of darkness.
Our Scripture says of Jesus that he is Immanuel, which means God is with us. It is just as true, then, that we are with God as we embody that love experienced by Mary, limited as we might be.
Every good act of ours has the Word made flesh in it. We should realize that and celebrate it.