In her book Dead Man Walking, Sr. Helen Prejean quotes an early Christian theologian who says: “There are many annunciations, but there are few incarnations.” In other words, God is constantly sending us messages, but we simply do not recognize them. I suspect that is the case because God is continually breaking into our world in mysterious and unexpected ways. As the saints tell us: God interrupts the routines of our lives in ways that surprise us and do not meet our expectations. (Do you think that Mary really expected to be visited by an angel?)
This is not surprising for those who work at Catholic Charities. God comes to our door every day in disguises that most people cannot see through: in people whose behaviors and language can be offensive and erratic; whose appearance can push others away; whose lack of proper manners and etiquette disappoint our sensitivities. And yet, we look deep within them and we see hidden underneath all of these superficial appearances the indelible and unmistakable image of our loving God. And so we treat them with the respect and dignity which that image within them deserves and demands. And we pull them into a circle of acceptance from the shadows of disregard that unfortunately marks most of their days. We are called–we are mandated–to do no less.
At Christmas, Jesus appears in the form of a baby–vulnerable, weak, and yet full of wonderful potential. We are reminded that every child is given to us as a sacred trust. If that child is lacking in any way when we have the resources to ensure otherwise, then we as a society have failed the child and failed our calling to be God’s people–a people that mirrors the unconditional love of our God.
I think people get this demand of our faith more profoundly at Christmastime than at any other time of the year. We find ourselves immersed in mystery and wonder and cannot help but exhibit the good will in our hearts that we otherwise keep hidden. The challenge is owning that spirit by our actions throughout the rest of the year. Then an annunciation will truly become an incarnation.
In the words of the medieval mystic, Meister Eckhardt, what good is it for Christ to have come into the world so long ago, if he is not born anew in my heart this year?