By Eugene R. Schlesinger

What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out? (Psalm 8:5)

There is a wonder in being small and recognizing your smallness.

Living in northern California, I have frequent occasion to visit and be dwarfed by old growth redwoods, or to consider the vastness of the ocean and its tides. These scenes and settings afford the opportunity to be de-centered, to be disabused of the illusion that I stand at the center of things.

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The trees pre-date me by centuries and, assuming we manage to avoid making the earth completely uninhabitable, and unless our long-hoped for Advent longings are fulfilled by Christ’s second coming, they will outlive me by centuries.

In both stature and duration, we are, in the end, quite small. We are born, we live, and we die.

And, indeed, on a cosmic scale, even the redwoods are small, short-lived newcomers in our ancient and expanding universe.

Today, though, we celebrate the incarnation. The eternal Word, who was with God in the beginning and is himself God, has assumed our nature, has become flesh and dwelt among us.

Among us, we who are so small, so fleeting.

And he has not just come among us, he has come as us. Born as we are, with all the blood, sweat, and tears that involves.

Few things unsettle me more than holding a baby. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but confession is good for the soul. I like babies. I’m glad when they’re born. New life is a wonder and all that, but to hold a baby kind of gives me the willies. They leak (from both ends), so there’s that. But what really disturbs me is their fragility. You’ve got to watch out for that soft spot. They can’t hold up their own heads, so there’s the fear that something will go wrong with their neck (here the act of taking the baby from someone or passing her to another is especially harrowing). It’s just a disconcerting experience all around.

And by the incarnation, the infinite Lord of the universe, creator of heaven and earth, became a fragile infant. He leaked. He who set the stars in their course who rules over all things according to the pleasure of his will, could not control his own bowels. He in whom all things hold together could not hold up his own head. He to whom all creatures look that he might give them food in their time depended upon his mother’s milk lest he starve.

There is a wonder in being small and recognizing your smallness.

In the babe whose birth we celebrate today, the infinite God of the universe became small for us and for our salvation: mystery of mysteries.

Like us in all things but sin, he was born, he lived, he died.

By the incarnation, the course of human life, from conception, to birth, to death has become God’s life.  “He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart” (Gaudium et spes, no. 22).

As a result, our lives, in all of their smallness and impermanence, are given a divine and supernatural dignity. As a result, there are no ordinary lives, for all of life can be lived in union with God through Christ.

Here, then, is the answer to the psalmist’s question: what is man that you should be mindful of him? The son of man that you should seek him out? In all our vast universe with its dizzingly long history, it is the human nature that God has assumed in Christ.

All things were created through him and for him. (Col 1:16)

God’s plan for the fullness of time is to recapitulate all things in him. (Eph 1:10)

The universe was created so that the incarnation could occur.

Humanity was created so that the incarnation could occur.

Only by the incarnation does the human race find its fulfillment, only by the incarnation does anything find its fulfillment. Mystery of mysteries.

When the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born under the law, born of woman. (Gal 4:4)

Come, let us adore him.

Dr. Eugene Schlesinger is lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University, and the editor of Covenant.

About The Author

Eugene Schlesinger is Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. The author of Sacrificing the Church: Mass, Mission, and Ecumenism (Fortress Academic, 2019) and Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology (Fortress Press, 2017), and the editor of Covenant, he understands his vocation to be an Episcopalian who does Catholic theology.

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