Christmas I – Nativity
2016 – Cycle ABC
Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
Is there anything as irresistible as the smile of an infant or a child
or the wagging tail, sloppy tongue and nuzzling of a dog?
Have you ever considered why?
Children and dogs are filled with a natural hope and the expectation that their smile and nuzzling will be returned. They tend to make direct eye contact, looking right into you, just beaming with a grin. Children and dogs are experiences of pure being; an uninhibited flow of life as God created and intended for us all to live. Surely, that is why Jesus told us to be like children; that children are of the Kingdom of God. That is also why, unless you have a heart of stone, we are all defenseless against such an unguarded presence.
Now reflect for a moment on the experience of those of us who are not dogs and children anymore.
We tend not to reach out and directly walk up to people. No one introduces themselves anymore, we want to remain anonymous. We avoid making eye contact lest someone talk to us or expect something from us. We seldom smile. Our defenses are up and we are guarded in our words and actions lest they be misunderstood, misinterpreted, posted on Facebook for the entire world. Unlike children and dogs, we are afraid of each other. The flow of God through us that we all had as children has been frustrated.
This adult frustration of God’s life has filtered down to our older children and adolescents who don’t talk to each other; they sit next to each other texting. They and we do not look at each other, hear each other’s voices or touch. A number of my friends have complained, “If only you’d text!” I like to hear the living voices of my friends. Along with that, in the past I’ve given friends gift certificates entitling them to a dinner on me. An opportunity to be in each other’s presence. Tellingly not one of them has ever been redeemed over the years. The God–qualities of relationship found in dogs and children: to look upon a person’s face, to look into a friend’s eyes, to hear the sound and quality of the human voice and to physically touch another person, is sacrificed on the altar of …of convenience? …fear? …a false sense of our self-importance? …busy-ness?
The world has much to learn from children and dogs.
Children are fearless as they reach out for a coffee table to take their first steps. Dogs will jump into dangerous situations, where we often won’t go, to rescue a human being. Children will march headlong into a gathering where many of us with our insecurities cling to the wall. Children will boldly sing and act in school concerts and plays while we remain silent with our excuses not to sing the hymns and praises of God at Mass.
Even with all our insecurities, fears and excuses, who among us can resist a wide-eyed, smiling child? When parents meet with me for Baptism, one of the first things I want to do is to hold their infant. How can you not? Who can resist petting and scratching behind the ears an earnest, tail wagging, face licking dog? That is why we bring dogs into hospital rooms and nursing homes. Because human beings need unconditional love, eye contact, the ability to touch and be touched. That is why we bring dogs into hospital rooms and nursing homes. Because the sad commentary is there are not enough human beings willing to give of themselves to another person. So dogs substitute. Dogs like children are of the kingdom of God. Dogs and children go where we adults, jaded by life, are unwilling.
Christmas is the most earthy, sensual and human of our Christian feasts. Sheep and camels, dogs and donkeys, oxen and hay, a mother and a father, the pain and joy of birth, a child, shepherds, music and angels, heaven and earth.
In the reach of little arms, in the twinkle of the eye and the smile of a human child we look into the face of God. In the purity and vulnerability of a newborn we are invited to put aside our cynicism and fear and reclaim our lost innocence and wonder to experience the hope offered to us by our God in Jesus Christ.
“For a child is born is to us, a son is given us…”
Return the smile.
[Initial phrases and ideas are taken from The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr, Whitaker House, 2016.]