He participated in the liturgy without taking his attention from his charge, wiping the drool before it dripped from her chin.
When it was time for Holy Communion the priest came to the young woman in the wheelchair first. He broke off a tiny portion of the Host and placed it into her mouth. The deacon came forward with the Chalice. “Can you receive from the Cup?” he asked. The girl's arms and head began to jerk excitedly.
“Yes, she can,” said the boy. “But I have to hold her.” He stood and wrapped a beefy arm around the girl's head, securing it up against his side. Her arms waved the air and her body trembled, but her head was still.
“The Blood of Christ,” said the deacon.
“Um,” said the girl.
“Amen,” said the boy.
When she had finished, the girl bowed her head until her nose touched the tray and then she closed her eyes to pray.
I blinked back my tears and pondered the weakness of God.
Like the girl in the wheelchair, Jesus Christ was born helpless and vulnerable. On Christmas night God Incarnate lay in the straw, completely dependent upon the love and care of His earthly parents. The Father didn't send His Son to earth in power and glory. Just the opposite. The King of Kings couldn't even raise his head to acknowledge the worshiping shepherds without help. That weakness was our salvation.
Mary's baby wasn't just any Jewish baby. He was the fulfillment of an old prophecy that a Redeemer King would one day come to Israel. Mary adored her Son and pondered the unfathomable mystery. This Child was so much more than the expected Messiah, yet his cradle was a lowly manger. Almighty God had come to earth. And he was wearing diapers.
The Jews at the time of Christ's birth had a good idea of what God was like. After all, He'd been revealing Himself to them for centuries. They knew God was awesome and powerful. They knew He was just and holy, that He demanded holiness of His people. They knew that God was merciful and full of forgiveness and longsuffering. They knew of His loving kindness to those who keep His covenants. God was God. Man was man. And that was that.
The Jewish people were eagerly anticipating the coming of a messiah, the “anointed one” who would establish God's Kingdom on earth. They thought this meant a political ruler, a royal prince who would return the nation to the glory days of King David. But God had something far greater in mind. St. Paul says that Jesus “did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He laid aside his crown, turned his back on omnipotence, and came to live among us. It couldn't get any more un-glorious than that, not at first glance. But by becoming one of us, Christ made it possible for us to become one with Him.
There were a lot of objections to Christ's claim to divinity. How could God be born in a barn to a penniless girl? Why would He become a baby, to be carried and burped and washed? Blasphemous thought!
The Cross made the whole thing even more scandalous. Would God allow himself to be tortured and killed? How could He be so weak? “Unthinkable,” said the Jews. God was awesome beyond imagination, robed in splendor and majesty, ominipotent, omniscient, ruling the nations with justice and power. God born as a Man?
“Laughable,” joked the Romans who drove the nails into His hands. “What will they think of next?”
A virgin named Mary believed it was possible. Her carpenter husband believed too. Some shepherds believed, so did a handful of fishermen. A few women believed, as well as a tax collector, a centurion and a thief. But it took a long time for the full truth to sink in. It took a glorious resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit whispering in the depths of their hearts, “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation” (Col. 1:15).
Much is left unsaid in the Nativity narrative. Scripture doesn't tell us that the Creator of the Universe had to have his nose wiped and the drips of milk cleaned from his chin, but we know it is true because we proclaim with the Church that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine. Rex caelestis made himself dependent and weak, needy and poor and small. The One who spoke the universe into being took on our earthly form in order to pay the price for our sin and lead us back to our Heavenly Father. God became weak, and in his weakness, won the greatest victory of the cosmos.
Each time we receive Jesus in Holy Communion we participate in that victory. We come to God as hungry children and he lifts us up in love to feast at the banquet of heaven. St. Terese of Lisieux wrote, “Because I was small and weak, Jesus stooped down to me and in secret taught me the marvels of His love.”
In the Eucharist, we earth-bound creatures enter into flesh and blood union with our Creator God. Even now in our time, He becomes little for our sake and puts himself into our hands and onto our tongues and we become one with Him. The King of Heaven is our Bread of Life. To unbelievers, the weakness of God is unthinkable.
It is by sheer grace that any of us is able to accept the unthinkable: that God became flesh in order to give His flesh to us. Our faith is a gift, made possible because of the power and weakness of God. We bow our heads in thanksgiving, fully aware that on our own we are too dense, too earth-bound, too weak to believe the facts of the Incarnation and Christ's gift in the Eucharist. He gives Himself to us in truth so that we can give ourselves to Him in faith. His weakness is our salvation.
I recognized myself in the redheaded girl. In her I saw my own littleness, my total dependence on God. Without grace, I can't even lift my face to see Him. I realized afresh why God became weak; because it was the only way He could communicate His immeasurable love to us.