On the Omnipotent Humility That Saves an Old & Infantile World by Anthony Esolen
Every Sunday our pastor proceeds up the aisle behind a troop of altar boys and lectors, one of the boys holding up a five-foot cross and another holding up the lectionary from which we will hear the word of God. Not on Christmas, though.
On that day, the pastor himself raises up something for the people to behold: From beneath the folds of his outer vestment he presents to the congregation a small statue of the Christ child. When he reaches the foot of the apse, he places the child in a crèche and kneels, while the people all sing that old carol that calls us to come to Bethlehem and adore the king of angels.
It is a simple gesture, yet extraordinarily moving; when I first saw it at a midnight Mass, I was surprised almost to tears. The Lord we worship is a little child. How can this be?
When the shepherds were told, in grand style, to go to the village and seek a babe lying in a manger, what wonder did they behold? They had seen babies before, and when they saw the child Jesus, unless they saw with the eyes of faith, they saw an average baby boy, with his mother and his father, both weary from the long journey.
Yet swaddled up in those bands of humanity was Omnipotence. He who had spoken the world into existence now came into that world as an infant, literally a being without speech—the Word made speechless. He whose right arm upholds at every moment every creature in its existence, now could not clasp a pebble, even could he move his hands from the cloth that hemmed him in.
The Child’s Witness
But can we see the wonder from the other direction? It may be that the child Jesus does not conceal omnipotence so much as reveal what it really means to be omnipotent. That’s because the Word through whom were made the heavens and the earth was from before the foundations of the world the Word who would be made flesh: It is a world made to be redeemed by that child.
If it is not stretching a word to say so, creation itself shows us not only the power of God, but his mighty humility, as he condescends to make what is not God, but what is for him, and, in the case of man, what is capable of loving him. More than that: he is a God who has granted man the sublime power to be the means whereby he brings into the world an immortal soul.
Except for our first parents and for the second Adam, no immortal soul has ever (until our recent experiments in hominiculture) been brought into the world unless by the holy act that God intended for the expression of the love and union of man and woman. Any child, then, if we could see aright, gives witness to true power—the power of God, inseparable from his wisdom and his love.
At the least, the child—any child—is distantly like God in its unconsciousness of sin. For sin is an aging thing; but our God, the ancient of days, is himself first and new.
Anthony Esolen is a professor at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire, and the author of many books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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