What Happened to God??

Desperation and fear. The kind of fear that nearly paralyzes, the kind of fear that nightmares are made of—yet, this present terror wasn’t just nightmare, it was reality. He had never dreamed that this would be the case. Had he been told that one day troops would be searching for him, that those who were in power would want him dead, that he would be making his way across hostile territory at the mercy of those who might offer him shelter, at the mercy of those who might turn him over to the authorities, he would have laughed. No laughing now.
He knew he was traveling in danger: how does one keep a hungry child quiet? How does one explain the reasons to a young mother? How does one keep moving silently through the wilderness, trying to find food where one can, trying to skirt the patrols of marauding soldiers, the expanse of wilderness, the slithering and ravenous creatures, the biting insects, and always… the fear?
Each day cascaded into the following day and their exhaustion grew. But each day, each step, brought them closer to their goal – a place that might offer safety, a place which might offer a refuge, at least for awhile. He did not know whether there would be those in this other place that might welcome them. All Joseph knew was that out of the darkness, God had called to him and he had placed his hope in the hands of the God he loved.
As I thought about our scripture text this week, I was overcome by how very real all this is – especially in contrast to the story up to this point. Sometimes in the days of Christmas, we tend to lose touch with the realness of the gospel, the realness of the life of Christ. I think we become disconnected because ours is by and large, the realm of the tangible, where we live our lives—not living in a place of miracles,
but a place of anxieties, joys, challenges, and grind of daily life.
And in today’s text, we see that the new born infant and family find themselves in exactly the same reality – facing a very real threat to their survival, facing a very real King Herod who sees his rule placed in jeopardy because of their existence.
We see a family facing fear, facing the unknown, facing the possibility of death. We see a very real circumstance, a circumstance of distress, a circumstance of human tragedy which, in one form or another, enters into the life of our reality each and every day. Gone are the host of angels, gone is the proclamation of shepherds. Gone is the shining star and gone is the supernatural event where even the heavens obey.
Instead, we are given a picture of a family fleeing for their life, the massacre of innocent children, and the nightmare and destructive force of power wielded without regard to justice. We see a world, not at peace, but in turmoil. We see a family, not at rest, but in crisis. We see a baby, not sweetly lying in a manger surrounded by God’s gentle animals, but a child being rushed across a dangerous wilderness in a frantic flight for survival.
So then, (pause) after all the miraculous power displayed in the story up until this point, I think a very real response from us might be – “Well, what happened to God?” “What happened to God?”
The answer is this: God has come to be with us.
Solidly with us, for here we discover a God who refuses to stay planted in some cosmic realm of the supernatural. Here we discover a God who refuses to forego the messy parts of our human condition. Here we discover a God who so deeply connects with us that this God becomes a refugee.
God is not a God who sits on some ethereal throne away from us, keeping a safe distance. God is not a God who says, “Look, I know you all have it hard down there but don’t worry, if you live the right way and believe the right stuff, I won’t have to send you to hell and one day things will be better. ” Instead, God is the God who enters the world and suffers with us–the God who becomes a refugee, and flees with his parents through a harsh wilderness. This God suffers with us.
And that changes everything. For there is no pain that we might undergo that God does not also undergo. There is no fear that we might feel that God does not also feel. There is no confusion that we suffer that God does not also suffer. Because God chooses to live with us, and God chooses to become a refugee.
Just as Jesus traveled with Mary and Joseph, experiencing the fear and concern of his parents, Jesus also travels with us through our own heartache and anguish. In this, I am reminded of my grandmother, Pearl, on the night her husband, Jack, my grandfather passed away. He had been slowly dying of terminal cancers for many months, and in the final month of his life, it had metastasized to his brain, and he was in and out of consciousness. The call came while I was at work one evening that if I wanted to say goodbye, I would have to come immediately. I raced to the hospital, had several minutes alone with him in his room and I said what needed to be said. Shortly thereafter, my grandmother and the rest of the Holland and Gebert tribe showed up and, surrounded by everyone he loved Jack slipped away peacefully as thick white snow flakes tumbled gently to the ground outside his window. It was Pearl, now a widow, who comforted each of us individually, promising to love us that much more since Jack was gone. And when my turn came, she held me close and whispered, “It’s been a really good day, hasn’t it?” She didn’t need to explain what she meant. Her faith wasn’t something she talked about with theological constructions, or abstractions or philosophical underpinnings. For her, it was a “good day” because the God who had always walked with her and with Jack had kept His promise, and Jack had had the best send off imaginable.
You see, Emmanuel, God with us, who has entered our world in the person of a little boy, this child who became a refugee in Egypt, the same one who knows pain and loss firsthand, had walked with Pearl every step of the way, sharing her joys and sorrows, laughter and tears. God made it possible for her to know that same hope and to proclaim on the day she was left to live the rest of her life without Jack, that this day, this day was a good day.
God comes to us to share our struggles and He invites us to share the struggles of others we encounter on the journey. Not because then we can bully them into becoming Christians. Not because maybe they’ll have some money someday and can repay us. Not because they might someday become members of our congregation. We are called to do these things that we ourselves might become “converted to compassion”, as Richard Rohr says. If we allow Jesus to change us so we can see God in the most unlikely people, then maybe, just perhaps, we might be able to recognize the God who dwells in our own poverty, the God who dwells in our own brokenness, the God who dwells in that place where we run from our fears, in that place where we, too, become a refugee from ourselves.
And with a little grace, perhaps, in those places where we are the most hurt, the most humble, in those places of our inner world where we are in solidarity with all the hurting people of our outer world, we will discover that just as Jesus becomes one with their pain, Jesus becomes one with our pain.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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