It’s a famous story: Christmas Eve, 1914. World War I was raging, opposing British and German forces were locked in a muddy, bloody battle, with the casualties of war littered in the no-man’s-land between their trenches. Despite the pleas of the pope for a Christmas ceasefire, none had been ordered, and the battle went on. Until…
After a startling and confusing time of silence, a Christmas hymn rose from the side of the German forces. It was a tune the British knew well. Stille Nacht was a hymn written by an Austrian priest one hundred years before, and had been translated from German into English with the same unforgettable tune. When the Germans had finished the quiet, sacred lullaby hymn, welcoming Christ the babe into their midst even in the horrors of the trenches, the British replied… not with gunfire or taunts, but by lowering their arms and singing the hymn back in English.
A ceasefire was born that stunned the world. Unsanctioned, the men set aside their arms, crossed the killing fields that divided them, and found their enemies to be brothers in the light of a special baby’s birth.
To be sure, the firing would resume when the troops had returned to their sides and picked up their arms. The war would rage on. But this unprecedented act would live on in the wonderment of the world throughout the decades. Why?
Because in the softness of a lullaby, in the defenselessness of stepping out into no-man’s-land, in the discovery of humanity in the "other," the soldiers of this story showed the world something about what Christmas is, in the power of Christ’s vulnerability… the power of a baby.
So often, we take for granted that the Messiah and Redeemer of the world came as a baby. But this is a fact that should flabbergast us! Take a moment to look at your kids, your students, a child you know. Sure, there are days they don’t seem so very defenseless at all, but you’ve seen their vulnerability, their fragility, their helplessness. You know that in their littleness, they have so much more to grow before they are ready to be independent, before you can feel that they are safe. Now look back at the manger. The One who was all-powerful came as the most defenseless of beings and was very nearly killed because of it! What benefit did that risk have? Why on earth would God make himself so susceptible to just about everything—from soldiers to germs—dependent on us who should be dependent on him?
It is a mystery no human can fully answer, a gift we won’t fully understand until heaven. But perhaps the most astonishing thing we see is the power of this helpless baby to disarm us.
How often do we approach situations, people, even prayer, with our guard already up? How often do we rush into a conversation with our guns blazing? How often do we make up our mind about God’s will before bothering to ask him, afraid he might call us to something else, and simply ask him to bless our own will? How often do we fight against the very things that could transform us into who we were made to be?
Baby Jesus disarms us.
We cannot rush to the manger and look upon him, so small and helpless, wrinkly and cooing, shivering and crying, gurgling and laughing, sleeping in infant fragility, and still hold on to our anger or our weapons or our defenses. We can’t. This baby calls forth that little, hidden piece of us that gravitates to the helpless with a tenderness beyond our own understanding. It is, perhaps, the most real part of us. A love that responds to the call of love, with no words spoken. A gentleness that responds to the call of gentleness, with no words spoken. A desire to serve the needs of the one who radically served us, with no words spoken.
It is beside the manger that we find ourselves halted in our tracks. And we gaze in wonder at the smallness and fragility and miracle of Life before us. And we quietly, so quietly, set down our weapons, to stretch out a finger for his little hand to grasp… to gently tuck his blanket into the scratchy straw… to whisper to Mary if we might hold him, if we might sing him a lullaby.
The babe in the manger disarms us.
And disarmed, we become vulnerable too. We become like him. We become like him, who we love.
It is in this vulnerability, this tenderness, this openness, that he who is both innocent and all-knowing begins to transform us. It is in this vulnerability, this tenderness, this openness, that we take on a kind of inner quiet that somehow, other people seem to hear. It is in this vulnerability, this tenderness, this openness, that we become beacons of light to others, so that they can draw near the manger too.
It is here that we find ourselves, just ourselves, no pretenses or defenses, adoring the Lord… and receiving the most tender love in return.
This Advent, as you approach the manger–whether you are setting up a nativity scene, praying with the nativity story, or watching a nativity movie–let yourself be disarmed by Baby Jesus. Take a quiet moment to really imagine yourself standing beside that manger. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? As you look upon this child, lower your weapons, drop your defenses. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, tender, and open with he who is vulnerable, tender, and open with you. Allow yourself to just be with Jesus. And trust that, in some way, being together really does change everything.
by Sr. Orianne Dyck, novice