I stood with a quiet gaze. Darkness swallowed dim light. Snow fell lonely. My eyes affixed to the child, broken momentarily by each bump of bodies pressing for a closer look. I furrowed my brow in suspicion. Dare I consider the immeasurable folded into human proportions, infinity fit in an envelop of skin, omniscience contracted to a central nervous system? Had God come once before, still leaving so much to do? The poor, the sick, the outcast and the oppressed; the righteous who pity them, and the powerful who exploit them.
An elderly woman stooped low to the child who drew my mind to wondering. Known by her prayers for His return, and her own likeness to Him in her service of the poor, she often gathered with a church on the outskirts of town. She had lived her life believing, truly, that God once smelled the scent of a mother’s milk, heard the lowing of ox and donkey, had once seen the far corners of the universe, yet blinked in a barn’s dim shadows. And now, she had come to visit, and this living nativity hushed in wait.
She quietly cried, “Now that you are with us we have but one question.” The child smiled as if to know already what it would be. “Tell us, Christ child, when will you arrive?” My mouth grew crooked with confusion. Only now, year’s later, do I understand her inquiry.
Philosophers and theologians ask what it means for someone to be with us. Does desire arise insofar as what we desire is absent? Or do we long for the arrival of someone only when that person has turned up? What if the presence of someone is precisely that which makes us yearn so deeply for them?
When we meet our beloved we will often feel that we were always looking for that person, that we were incomplete without them. The lover is one whose heart proclaims, “I had no need of you before I met you, but now I know I always needed you.” That being the case, our desire is not satisfied by the arrival of our beloved, but rather born there.
The people we meet are an interior world of infinite proportions, and how much more Him who constructed infinity. People we have known all our lives remain a mystery, even to themselves. Therefore, when the one we love arrives, we experience this person simultaneously as one who is still to come, not despite their presence but because of it. Thus, in the Incarnation, the mystery of God is deepened. In this Child, the mystery is not unmasked, but rather dwells with us, in our midst.
The God who has walked dusty roads and drank dark wine, has stroked the heads of children and touched the sores of lepers, has torn apart loaves and fish and overturned our tables of religiosity, has fingered words in the dirt and been kissed by our most reviled—this Child who comes to us in fragile frame testifies to our God’s absence, to the fact that He is always arriving. Our God is near and far in that, being infinite, we will never discover the last thing there is to know about Him. He has no limit. “Grant us, Lord, to know more of You.”
He made His dwelling among us that night (John 1:14), and by the cries of an elderly lady, I have begun, truly, to see His glory.