The horrific event of Hiroshima in 1945 ushered in the nuclear era. But what is surprising about the coming of the nuclear era, like so many earth-shaking events, is that its origin was hardly noticed. Indeed, big things begin in small ways. The nuclear era began in the brain of Albert Einstein when he discovered the special theory of relativity (E=mc2). The only external sign of it was a stare of wonder, probably followed by a muttering of “Aha!”
Today we celebrate the event with far more impact on the history of humanity than any scientific discovery or technical invention or artistic achievement. By any reckoning, God-becoming-human is such an impossible event that only God can make possible. The farthest the human imagination had ever gone in that direction was to surmise, as in the case of Greek mythology, that the gods could occasionally come down from their Olympus and held a conversation with a human or manifest themselves in some other way. Today’s celebration is something of a completely different order. Here we are speaking of God, not the gods, but the only true God, the Infinite, the All-powerful, embracing our human nature in the form of a powerless baby.
Yet this event passed practically unnoticed. Only Mary and Joseph witnessed it. It happened in a damp and dirty cave which served as refuge for animals. The Child was placed in a manger where animals took their food. The Saviour came into our world in circumstances we would consider foul and uncomfortable. Later, a handful of shepherds were informed by angels and came to pay homage to Jesus.
Why did God so arrange things that His Son should come to us in such anonymity, obscurity and poverty? Perhaps, God wanted his son to identify with the homeless and destitute who pass their nights in shelters, under bridges or sidewalks. Perhaps, he wanted to warn us that material comfort and prosperity should not be our chief goal in life and that there are other things which really matter.
Looking at Jesus asleep in a manger, let us ask ourselves today and all the days of our lives: what should really matter in our lives? Christmas is God’s answer to that question. It is an answer in flesh and blood, and it is called Emmanuel, God-is-with-us. To be with God is ultimately the only thing that matters. For he is our peace, our joy, our everything.