You Belong with Me
by Louise Westfall
Tonight is all about The Child.
You know who I mean: an infant of mysterious parentage imbued with the life force of the universe. Far from home. Lovable. Vulnerable, yet endowed with transforming power.
Well, I was thinking of Jesus, but the phenomenon generated by the adorable green, pint-sized future Jedi might well express a longing that is part of this night. To have and to hold something we recognize and want to nurture. Someone who both needs our gifts AND offers gifts we need.
What is it about The Child?
Of course, a child is universally loved, a symbol of innocence and fresh beginnings. As humans, we’re hard-wired to protect tiny versions of ourselves. We are biologically programmed to nurture and care for these little ones, and keep them from danger. There’s nothing threatening about a baby, and the Church has often affirmed that God came as one, so we could approach the Holy of Holies with affection and openness.
But tonight, I suggest it’s the other way around. God chose to be born here, because God wanted to get close to us, beloved sons and daughters. To show us what we’re made of. To help us see the divine essence that is part of our DNA. To bring heaven and earth together, and help us understand how very near God is.
Maybe nothing else matches a baby to illustrate the power of proximity. It’s not just the grandma-to-be in me that notices how people are drawn to an infant. You simply have to get closer. Take in the solemn gaze. Let the tiny fist grasp your outstretched finger. And here’s the thing: something happens in that encounter. We let down our guard. We are moved to baby talk just to sustain that sense of connection. Babies don’t “do” anything to earn our devotion; in fact they ask everything of us—-feeding, clothing, sheltering, caring. Yet the sight of a newborn prompts wonder, delight, and a longing for innocence and inherent goodness. We want to be what the child trusts us to be. The prophets of ancient times painted marvelous pictures of restored creation, a world at peace, but nothing that produced the resolve to do better more than the extraordinary/ordinary sight of a newborn. Maybe that’s why God was born in the flesh. To slip into this world of wonder and woe and draw us close in pure love. To trust us with the gift of life. The careful way you hold a baby, the way parents will tip-toe into his room just to make sure he’s breathing, remind us of universal human vulnerability and the need to care for one another.
God chose to be born here, because God wanted to get close to us, beloved sons and daughters. To show us what we’re made of. To help us see the divine essence that is part of our DNA. To bring heaven and earth together, and help us understand how very near God is.
Bryan Stevenson leads the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. In his bestselling book Just Mercy, Stevenson describes growing up poor in a racially segregated community in rural Delaware. He remembers his grandmother telling him “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close.”
You have to get close. The power of proximity. It changes us.
Getting close to incarcerated men on death row gave Stevenson a new perspective on justice and led him to pursue it on their behalf. Once you discover the divinity of another person, it becomes impossible to consign them to the world’s dungeons and garbage heaps. “Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths,” he wrote, “including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” [both quotes from Just Mercy]
My God, who wants to get close to people like that?! My God wants to get close to people like that—-and for the record, to people like you and me—who are both naughty and nice; generous and petty; capable of greatness yet to often content with mediocrity. In the trusting eyes of a baby we discover the God of love, the God who is love, the God who created and entrusts part of the divine identity to us—-each of us. The only God who has never let us go. The God who comes down to our place and makes a home.
Friends, on this silent, holy night, the almighty Ruler of the Universe may be found nearby: a tiny infant of a young, unmarried woman, far from home. And with all the vulnerable ones: children, refugees, those experiencing homelessness, people who are estranged from each other, scaredy cats and Jedis. Everyone, in fact, whose future includes death (you know who I mean). We belong with God. God’s right here.
So come closer. Let Bethlehem’s Child change whatever in you has become jaded, tired, despairing. And let the love that washes over us become the Force we wield in a hungry and hurting world. AMEN.