“God is not in the vastness of greatness. He is hid in the vastness of smallness . He is not in the general. He is in the particular.”
On Christmas Day 20221, Pope Francis gave a Christmas homily that caught my attention. It was good. It was powerful. It was challenging.
He used the word “littleness.” I like that word.
This word caught my attention because in two previous writings—Beautiful Grace (written under the pseudonym Elijah Stevens in 2017) and Beauty of Small Things (published in 2021) I used the word “smallness.” I like that word, too.
Most importantly Jesus, without using either of those words, talked about getting small (or little) as a key for faithful, God-honoring, Christ-following, world-transforming living.
So, what follows is more or less a “quote collage” challenging us to see our “littleness” in a new light and to embrace the potential of “smallness” as we seek to live Christlike lives in a world that values big and tall over little and small.
That is the sign: a child, a baby lying in the dire poverty of a manger. No more bright lights or choirs of angels. Only a child. Nothing else… (Pope Francis)
Only a child.
This is the plan.
The Gospel … relates the birth of Jesus beginning with Caesar Augustus, … in all his grandeur. Yet immediately thereafter it brings us to Bethlehem, where there is no grandeur at all: just a poor child wrapped in swaddling cloths, with shepherds standing by. That is where God is, in littleness. This is the message: God does not rise up in grandeur, but lowers himself into littleness. Littleness is the path that he chose to draw near to us, to touch our hearts, to save us and to bring us back to what really matters. (Pope Francis)
In the births of all three of my children, my hands have been the hands that held their heads up as they made their first appearance in this world, their tiny necks unable to support their weight. And though I did not wait long to hand them off to their waiting mother, for a brief moment my hands held them in all of their newborn helplessness—fragile, weak, and completely dependent in every way.
Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the lights and decorations. We contemplate the child. In his littleness, God is completely present … Let us be amazed by this scandalous truth.
The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms.
The One who created the sun needs to be warmed.
Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled.
Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly.
The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child.
The Bread of life needs to be nourished.
The Creator of the world has no home.
Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. His grandeur appears in littleness. (Pope Francis)
Go back and read those words again.
Imagine holding this child — completely dependent on you for its survival — and try to understand how…and why…God, the Creator, the Everlasting, the Almighty, would choose this mode of operation for the salvation of humankind?
Holding my own children in their most fragile state changed my life. What might happen to our lives if we were to embrace our God, who came in all the fragileness of a newborn in order to redeem our lives…and then asked us to make ourselves small as a means of bringing redemption to the world?
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
A baby…a servant…valuing others above ourselves.
It’s not exactly how our culture tells us we ought to live our lives, is it?
Let us ask ourselves: can we accept God’s way of doing things? This is the challenge of Christmas: … [God] makes himself little in the eyes of the world, while we continue to seek grandeur in the eyes of the world, perhaps even in his name. God lowers himself and we try to become great … Jesus is born in order to serve, and we spend a lifetime pursuing success. God does not seek power and might; he asks for tender love and interior littleness. (Pope Francis)
[Part Two coming tomorrow]
Three related quotes to ponder:
“Its smallness is not petty; on the contrary, it is profound.”
“The theology of littleness is a basic category of Christianity. After all, the tenor of our faith is that God's distinctive greatness is revealed precisely in powerlessness. That in the long run, the strength of history is precisely in those who love, which is to say, in a strength that, properly speaking, cannot be measured according to categories of power. So in order to show who he is, God consciously revealed himself in the powerlessness of Nazareth and Golgotha. Thus, it is not the one who can destroy the most who is the most powerful...but, on the contrary, the least power of love is already greater than the greatest power of destruction.”
― Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
“When a man realizes his littleness, his greatness can appear.”
—H. G. Wells