The Weary World Rejoices
There has never been a time in my life when I didn’t believe in God. I’ve been angry at Him. I’ve distanced myself from Him. I’ve had desert seasons of spiritual aridity and periods of flourishing consolations. Sometimes I question His goodness and mercy. I’ve been tempted toward despair. Yet, despite (or perhaps because of) the very human experiences I’ve had in my fluctuating relationship with God, I have never doubted His existence.
It seems to me that the world today is desperate for answers. The seed of longing planted in our hearts at the dawn of humanity carries on generation after generation after generation. We’ve drifted away from the Source of life itself, because we chase empty dreams and distract ourselves from the endless pain, the darkness, the questions of suffering that have no answers. I am no different from this. I am part of this cycle, born into a society that does not value God or His ways. Still, I recognize the chasm in my heart that cannot be filled with frivolities or cheap substitutes for the eternal.
Advent and Christmas somehow always bring me back to the reasons why I believe in Jesus as our Savior. Several years ago, Ben and I welcomed our middle daughter, Sarah, into the family. She was born with a rare disease called Apert syndrome, which meant that she was not only born into our biological family, but also the adopted Apert family. It is a small community consisting of every facet of cultures, races, creeds, and lifestyles.
As Sarah grew, I got to know a handful of these Apert families well. One whom I’ve kept in touch with is a woman named Tania who lives in Israel with her son who has Apert syndrome. Shortly after we began corresponding virtually, I learned that she is Jewish by both race and culture, though only believes nominally. She shared with me that she dabbled with Christianity in her young adult years while living in New York City and studying for her graduate degree, but she describes herself as an agnostic Jew.
These conversations always draw me nearer to the questions and curiosities I’ve held in my heart about world religions, yet Jesus remains the only true Way I’ve accepted. I think it’s because the Truth is inscribed, emblazoned even, on every person’s heart. To deny Truth is to deny the historical and forensic evidence that Jesus, indeed, walked the earth, but it also means we have rejected the faith that is required for us to take that extra leap in believing that He truly rose from the dead, as no other person ever has or ever will.
Why do I believe, then, that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah? It’s because I’ve encountered Him in the Eucharist throughout the year, consuming Him as He consumes me. It’s because I’ve pondered His life – His public ministry, the parables He taught, His suffering and death – but mostly I’ve thought of His birth. Christmas is a liturgical season that pulls me away from myself and my selfishness, my complicated intellectual arguments and analyses, and the faraway images I conjure while daydreaming.
Christmas draws me toward the tiny, helpless child in the manger and all the miracles surrounding His existence as God-Man, the Word Incarnate. This is especially true since I became a mother. Every Christmas Mass, I cannot hold back the emotion of awe and gratitude when I behold the carved image of the Christ-Child alongside His mother and foster father in the creche.
Some think that God is mere spirit, that He dwells in some unseen, ethereal place beyond our imaginations. But I know that God chose to become a human – not as an adult man who was strong, powerful, well-known and well-liked, but as a speechless infant entirely dependent on His mother and father to care for Him. It was the way God the Father chose to redeem humanity, by taking on the form of a human being.
How else could I worship the God-Man lying in a manger, if not were it for the fact that He was born to earth just like me? He cried and nursed at His mother’s breast just like me? He crawled, then toddled and finally took His first steps. He was educated in the synagogue, learned to work with His hands as a carpenter apprenticed by St. Joseph, and surely helped His mother with housework.
Jesus wept. He laughed. He pondered and wondered. He felt lonely and abandoned. He succumbed to illness and questioned His Father in heaven. His heart broke when betrayal came calling. He was afraid of His destiny to die – “Father, if it is Your will, please take this cup, but not as I will, as you will” – and He was enraged with holy anger at the Temple.
Every emotion I’ve experienced, Jesus also felt. There is something intimate in this divine encounter with God-made-flesh that cannot be replaced by someone who is only a man or a specter that has never connected with its creation in such a powerful manner. Jesus is the only One I would ever worship, beginning with the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, because from His very Incarnation to His Ascension, He has encountered me in personal, irreplaceable ways.
When I meditate on Jesus as a baby, I am reminded that I must return to the childlike innocence, that beatitude of purity of heart, into which I was born and somehow lost when life got harder and I became cynical. Babies resemble the work of the Divine Creator, and when I fall on my knees to worship the small child resting in His mother’s arms, I remember that I was once like Him, too.
I’ve studied world religions in college for my theology minor. I’ve had intense conversations with friends who claim other faith traditions or none at all. Despite the sometimes persuasive arguments, I keep coming back to Jesus as my only possibility for salvation. The manger is only the beginning. It’s everything about Him that allures me deeper into the Mystery I cannot fathom in my finiteness. But the Cross especially convinces me that there never has been, nor ever will be, another God-Man. No mere human would ever suffer and die out of sheer love for all of His creation, knowing what Jesus knew about the debauchery and blasphemy and acedia and indifference over the course of millennia.
But above all of the words I could never fully articulate about who Jesus was and is to me, the one aspect of my faith in Him is this: love. It is because He first loved me that I am capable of responding to Him in love, and it is this love that brings me back to a renewed fervor each Christmas. Love, perhaps, is the only virtue that stirs the flame of the human heart.