The Grandeur in the Hay

David G. Bonagura, Jr. (12/24/22)

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Imagine standing before God in His infinite splendor, majesty, and power. We would cower in fear, hide our faces from the awesome sight, beg for mercy. God is infinite, and infinitely other than what we are. On our own power we could not approach Him. Babies, by contrast, are the most approachable, most inviting creatures on earth. We instinctively smile when we see them, and often we draw closer to gaze at their tiny faces without thinking.

At Christmas we celebrate God deigning to bridge the infinite abyss, to draw us to Himself through the incarnation of the Son. We approach the manger in Bethlehem with curiosity, with eagerness, with wonder. There is a baby in there to see. Yet He is a child like no other. We can only approach because the child has concealed His grandeur by taking on human flesh. 

Unveiled, His almighty power would melt us into dust. Veiled, we can sing with confidence, “O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” But how do we know that this child is the child, the one, the only savior of the world?

From the start, there were revelations about Him at His birth: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,   ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14). Shepherds, quickened by this awesome sight, hurried to the manger and found the child lying in the hay between Mary and Joseph. They saw what we see when we see any other infant.

But they believed what had been revealed, even though they could not see it plainly: this child is the Son of God, the one foretold, the one without whom life lacks the fullness of purpose and love.

The shepherds were so overcome with joy and so convinced of the child’s divinity that they could not keep the good news to themselves. “[W]hen they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:17-18).

Year after year, the Christ child calls us through intermediaries as He called the shepherds to Himself two millennia ago. Like the shepherds, we must trust the signs that have been reported to us by eyewitnesses—the angels singing, the miracles Christ later performed, His unprecedented teachings, His resurrection from the dead. These are not the works of an ordinary man. They are the grandeur of God emanating from the Son who became man. This Christmas let us take time for some quiet moments before the Christ child lying in the creche. 

Let us allow ourselves to be as amazed as the shepherds were at the wondrous sign in front of us: that infinity has dwindled to infancy, that infinite power has become powerless, that infinite love beckons us to be loved. The whole possibility of the incarnation occurring in this manner defies all human notions. That fact alone ought to bring us to our knees in belief.

In this wonder let us thank God for allowing us to approach Him, touch Him, see Him, love Him. The incarnation takes away our timidity—God wants us to draw near so we can not only know His love but feel it. In this love we have peace of soul because God has called each one of us to into communion with Him. Together with Zechariah we are able to pray, “Through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

The task of the shepherds is our own: to believe in the Christ child and to spread the news of His birth to others. If we allow the Christ child to kindle our joy, then, as we extend our Christmas greetings to others, they, like the shepherds’ friends, can wonder at the good news we tell them.

David G. Bonagura, Jr. is the author of Steadfast in Faith and Staying with the Catholic Church.

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