The Smallness of God

An annual December posting:

Whom have we, Lord, like you
The Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept,
The Pure One who was baptized, the Living One who died,
The King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.
Blessed is your honor!

St. Ephrem the Syrian

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We draw near to the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity, and I cannot fathom the smallness of God. Things in my life loom so large and every instinct says to overcome the size of a threat by meeting it with a larger threat. But the weakness of God, stronger than death, meets our human life/death by becoming a child – the smallest of us all – man at his weakest – utterly dependent.

And His teaching will never turn away from that reality for a moment. Our greeting of His mission among us is marked by misunderstanding, betrayal, denial and murder. But He greets us with forgiveness, love, and the sacrifice of self.

This way of His is more than a rescue mission mounted to straighten out what we had made crooked. His coming among us is not only action  but also revelation. He does not become unlike Himself in order to make us like Him. The weakness, the smallness, the forgiveness – all that we see in His incarnation – is a revelation of the Truth of God. He became the image of Himself, that we might become the image we were created to be.

It seems strange to speak of God as humble, and yet this is what is revealed in Scripture. Cultural references to God are full of power and mankind’s own claim to wisdom that somehow the all-powerful God has not straightened things out yet. On this basis some will even come to reject the very existence of God. The power of God is nothing like our power. Though He created all that is, He did so out of nothing. This bears no resemblance to anything we think of when we “create.” And He who created is also He who sustains, and yet in His humility we cannot directly see His sustenance, unless He has given us eyes to see.

The all-powerful reveals Himself in His weakness, and not, I suspect, because it was a “backdoor” plan. Rather I believe the all-powerful revealed Himself most fully, most completely on the Cross because this is indeed what the power of God looks like. I do not know how to fathom the reality that the power that can only be seen in the Cross of Christ, is the same power that created the universe, but I believe it is so.

We never know fullness, until we empty ourselves into His emptiness. We never know love until we are drowned in the waters of His mercy that do not kill but make alive. We cannot see the great until we see Him very small. He who enters the womb of a Virgin will also enter the waters of Jordan, and will also enter infinitessimally small spaces of hades’ yawning gape. And there we shall see greatness indeed, He who is everywhere present and fillest all things.

Comments

  1. Sean says

    Perhaps Father, we see weakness in Christ because in our fallen state, we perceive the image of sacrifice, or of dependency as weakness, and the image of absolute control as power. As you say, God Himself revealed to us his very power on the Cross. There are two icons in Orthodoxy that particularly emphasize this: one of them is the Resurrection, depicting the Descent into Hades (and not the actual moment of the resurrection, as in western culture). In this we are reminded that the actual defeat of death came not when Christ rose from the dead but as soon as he came down to hell and set free all those souls enslaved there. Power in there lies not merely in the fact that Christ rose from the dead – for how death could have restrained the spring of life – but also (and maybe more crucially) in the fact that God came down to the last, the lowest extreme of human condition to redeem those in need, that is, all of us. The second icon is that of the Crucifixion where, above the Lord’s head on the Cross there stand not the words INBI (or INRI) but the words “The King of Glory”. In no other icon are there words like those inscripted. And I tend to think that the Church recognises, in that icon, her Lord in His highest, most extreme Power.
    Thank you for one more wonderful post.

  2. says

    Starchaser
    by Lazarus

    I set off from a distant land
    a Pilgrim from afar
    to find the Lord of Time and Space
    beneath the Shining Star

    Somewhere beyond tomorrow
    where my destination lies
    appearing like a vision
    it opened up my eyes

    I am a man of science
    and a student of the stars
    a purchaser of scrolls
    from the caravans and bazaars

    I am the Prince of Pearls
    A Magi of Noble Role
    I left it all behind to make
    this journey of the soul

    The life and dreams of yesterday
    are now fading in my mind
    to go on is all that matters now
    and the Wonder we shall find

    As we cross the endless desert
    there in the timeless sand
    the Star revealed a Road of Hope
    and led us by the hand

    And though we’ve traveled far
    He’s traveled farther still
    from His Throne Beyond the Ages
    to a manger— and a hill…

    I have come to worship Mystery
    to take part in heaven’s scheme
    — I am The Starchaser
    the follower of a dream…

  3. Damaris says

    Lazarus —

    I like your poem very much. Thank you for sharing it. Since you obviously like poetry, I’m wondering if you’ve read “Journey of the Magi,” by T.S. Eliot. Similar theme, slightly different take.

    Thanks again.