Good things come in small packages. We are reminded of this around any gift giving occasion, such as Christmas. (I also get told this often because my wife is 13" shorter than I am). We are saying this a lot in our household these days, with our kids inspecting the gifts under the tree, trying to see whose is the biggest. I tell them, "You know a big present only means it's in a big box -- you don't know what's in the box." My clever children soon get the point. One says, "It could be a smaller present," and another, "the box could be empty!" So they are learning not to judge things by their size.
Neither does God judge things by their size. Some of His most powerful and amazing gifts come in small packages. In the first reading we hear proclaimed at Mass today, we hear God telling Bethlehem that it is "too small to be among the clans of Judah," yet regardless of size, "from you shall come forth from me one who is to be ruler in Israel... his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace" (Mi 5:1-4a).
O little town of Bethlehem, how many in the world dismissed you as an inconsequential, quaint little village; a small settlement hardly worthy of note? Yet the Master of the Universe came into the world in one of your humble stables. No one would have looked at that manger from the outside, with its feeding trough and beds of hay, a rough shelter for animals, and imagined that it held within it the Author of all Creation.
The same could be said for Mary herself. In today's Gospel reading from Luke, we hear Elizabeth's greeting of her cousin, those famous lines that have become part of the daily prayer life of Catholic Christians across the globe for millennia. "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
Mary is the mother of the Lord. This humble virgin, of no consequence to the political powers that be, with no wealth to her name, no boastfulness about her -- she is the theotokos, the Mother of God (literally "God bearer"). How can a human women, a creature made by God, herself be the Mother of God who exists unbegotten from before all time?
The Church struggled with this question in the fifth century when it defended Mary's title as theotokos from the Nestorian heresy. The reason had little to do with Mary and everything to do with Jesus Christ. The Nestorians claimed that Mary was only mother of Christ's human nature, not his divine nature, and so could only be called mother of his humanity. The Church argued that one could not divide Christ in this manner. Christ has a human nature and a divine nature, but he is one Person. Mothers do not give birth to natures, but to persons. Saying that Mary is the Mother of God does not mean that she created God, but only that the person she bore in her womb was, in fact, God incarnate. (We celebrate Mary's title of Mother of God on her feast on January 1, a holy day of obligation).
It seems impossible to us that a woman could carry the very God who made her in her womb. But nothing is impossible with God. This is the miracle and the mystery of Christmas. It is a mystery that, I confess, I did not truly appreciate until ten years ago when I sat in a church pew holding my infant daughter, my first born. She was only five months old her first Christmas. I sat listening to the readings at Mass, looking down at her tiny face.
She was totally helpless. So tiny and frail, still learning how to move her arms and legs, and discovering her fingers. She was utterly dependent upon her mother and I for all of her needs; her food, her health, her comfort and happiness. So fragile.
And yet the Lord God, the Alpha and the Omega, all powerful and eternal, my Savior and my Judge, chose to be born into this world as a tiny, helpless, humble baby, just like the one I held in my arms.
The love between a parent and a child is one of the strongest things in the universe, and it is into this love that God desired to come into the world. When we say that "he humbled himself to be born of the Virgin Mary," we need to realize just how humble a newborn truly is. Can you imagine changing God's diaper? Giving the Lord a bath? Nursing him at your breast? Putting little socks on his cold feet? Are you even worthy of doing such things? No. Nor was Mary. But God allowed her to anyway, and that is the great gift.
None of us today are worthy enough to approach the Lord; but He approaches us. He invites us to come near, to know him intimately; indeed to take his very life into our bodies and carry him with us wherever we go. He stands at the entrance to that Bethlehem stable and beckons us to come inside and see him at his smallest, so that we might learn of his greatness.
This is your Christmas gift. The Lord of the Universe who came into creation once as a newborn babe comes again today under the appearance of bread and wine. He wants to make his home in you. Good things do, indeed, come in small packages.
In anticipation of the great Feast of the Nativity this Tuesday, a Merry Christmas to all of you! God bless!