I, for one, am actually glad that during this Christmas season of 2020, weakness is front and center.
Every year, social media overflows with complaints about how Christmas is always too over-the-top, too focused on parties and gifts and busy-ness, too commercial and secular. There’s an annual bumper crop of articles about how to design the perfect experience gift, how it’s more important to make memories than to buy the latest gadget, how we must slow down and make space.
All of that is true. But what I love about Christmas, as a special needs parent, is the same thing I love about Easter:
It is a sign of great contradiction.
This year, most of us can’t do the dolled-up, commercial, party-after-party version of Christmas we’ve grown used to. The weakness of our social fabric, our infrastructure, and our own bodies have all been exposed. Christmas has been stripped to its essentials: Family. Faith. Steadfastness in the dark. Our powerlessness to truly control anything about our own lives, really.
The Israelites expected the Messiah to come in his glory, might, and power. They looked and waited for a triumphant king who would cast off their oppression and who could not be defeated.
But what they got was a helpless infant, hidden in obscurity, requiring total care.
Families like ours, whose members have disabilities both overt and hidden, are used to the unexpected. Large parts of our lives take place in obscurity, in hidden worlds of hospitals and long quiet nights of fearsome vigil. We know, intimately, the surrendering of our plans in favor of the total care of another.
But we know, too, the indescribable and confusing joy of finding grace where others see bleakness.
Jesus did not come to save us from ourselves with might and main. Neither did he come to teach us how to save ourselves. Instead, he came to offer us all a way to cooperate with weakness: to shelter and nurture the most fragile beginnings of the Messiah, only until He grew strong enough to hang upon a tree and die for us.
Jesus’ weakness would grow large enough to overturn the entire order of the universe. But it never became anything other than what it was. He did not grow into a warrior or a superhero or an emperor. He grew from utter weakness into meek, humble submission. He grew into the human embodiment of sacrificial Love.
Our children, too, though we may label them “warriors” and use hashtags like #superoscar (guilty!), will — in the most important ways — never outgrow the weakness with which they were created. That weakness is their salvation, and ours.
Christ, in his infancy and his kingship alike, desires only our loving companionship, both with Himself and with those who present His heavenly face to us in their earthly ones. As Christina Rossetti writes in her beautiful poem-turned-hymn, In the Bleak Midwinter:
“Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.”
The Infant Jesus was worthy of the worship of angels, but the worship of a kiss was enough. We worship Him still, during this bleak 2020 midwinter, in every trach tube we change, in every bedsore we dress, in every fought-for step in physical therapy and in every soothed meltdown.
He came in weakness, to show us that the path to heaven is paved with the care of those who cannot care for themselves, one shining kiss of love after another.
How blessed are we, who get to know and practice this so intimately. Glory to the newborn, helpless, vulnerable King.
Christy Wilkens, is wife to a tremendously patient and tender husband, Todd, and the mother of six tireless (no, seriously–tireless) children. They live in a tumbledown farmhouse on five unkempt acres. She drives a 12 passenger van and her family lives and breathes audiobooks. We fulfill every stereotype you have about orthodox Catholic homeschoolers. She blogs at Faithful, Not Successful.