Disability, pandemics, mass shootings, terrorist threats, a powerful nation waging war against a small one, and the spirit of division and hate in political matters. There are forces in this world that are beyond our control, forces against which we feel helpless.
I lie on my bed and yell as loudly as I possibly can, but no one hears me. Immobilized by a progressive disease, I depend upon my voice to bring others to my aid, to provide for my every need of survival. But when my screams go unheard, I am stabbed and crushed with fear, with overwhelming horror, realizing suddenly how horrifically helpless I am.
He could not lift His head from sheer weakness. His arms and legs were bound tight. Left in this state, with no one to rescue Him, He will die.
This is Jesus on the cross — but also Jesus in the manger. He is humanly powerless to survive the cold, the cold of cruelty and hate or merely the cold of the night air. His physical strength is futile against the nailing of spikes into His limbs as well as the swaddling of simple cloth around His newly born body.
The Son of God entered this world of ours incredibly tiny and utterly dependent. He was born helpless. Helpless in the womb and then helpless in His mother’s arms, unable to feed Himself, clean Himself, or even cover Himself to stay warm.
I’m awakened in the night by the pain of coldness in my hands and feet. My bed is comfortable, my house is safe, but I haven’t the strength to pull my blankets up and tuck my legs in to my core. The chill deepens and spreads, and I start to shiver, violently shiver, as my body struggles to stave off hypothermia. Suffering from anemia, it feels like all of my blood has dropped out of my body and nothing can save me from freezing to death. If only I can call out loudly enough to awaken my dad in the next room, he can cover me with extra blankets, place heating pads all around me, and hug my cocooned body until the shivering stops and I am safely warm again. But my breath is so ragged and my jaw chatters so fiercely that being heard is not guaranteed.
Vigilant, loving kindness saves me. My father responds to my pathetic cries for him, even in the midst of his sleep. Fully awakening, he comes to my aid and rescues me.
The soft whimperings of Jesus are heard by His mother. Roused by her child’s discomfort she ministers to Him, lifting Him from the manger bed and holding Him close. Helpless in her arms, He is no longer without help. She gives Him the warmth of her own body and the sustenance of Her own milk. He is not alone. He will be rescued every time that He is in need. On the last day of His dependent life, when He is losing the ability to even exhale, His arms forced open upon the death instrument of the cross, He will feel the full, intensely fearful and fiercely horrific sense of His human helplessness. He will feel abandoned by divine grace: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Nobody will rescue Him anymore in His earthly life.
He is helpless beyond human control.
The baby in the manger is an iconic image of Christmas, bringing warm and happy thoughts of the season. But this is actually a picture of helplessness. Unlike televised images of war or reports of homeless people freezing to death on the streets, however, we readily know that the helplessness of the newborn baby is not without help. Mary and Joseph are beside the manger, watching over this little child with love. Angels of heaven guard Him, and even strangers, the shepherds, would be willing to assist in any way. This iconic Christmas image, therefore, is one of hope.
Hope is for the helpless, the helpless who know that they are not without help.
Even the helplessness of the cross, when Jesus is no longer physically able to hold onto life, even this image of destruction and death is an image of hope. With His last agonized breath, Jesus calls out to His Father — breath ragged, strength faltering — “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.”
His hope is answered. He is rescued from the cold cruelty of this world again, this time His soul is lifted up in the endless warmth of His Heavenly Father’s loving embrace. And even His lifeless body will rise again, transformed, glorified in and by the eternal power of divine love.
Christmas, Christ’s Mass, is the pure celebration of hope — a celebration that must include the brave acknowledgment of fear. In full knowledge of our helplessness, experiencing the miseries and terrors of this world, we celebrate the divine knowledge that we are not without help. There are Marys, Josephs, and shepherds everywhere. Sometimes, we receive their loving assistance, and sometimes we are the ones who do the giving. The angels that helped Joseph save Jesus from Herod’s violent power lust are also here for us, to guide and guard us through the trials of life. And when our earthly lives come to an end, Our God will rescue us from death, holding us close in the endless warmth of His love.
© 2022 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.