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There was a father tucking his son into bed one night and the son admitted that he was scared of the dark. He was scared of the monsters that would come out from underneath the bed and out of the closet at night. He wanted his father to stay with him. The father tried to comfort him by saying, “You know God is with you. God is everywhere. God will protect you all night.” His son replied to him, “Dad, I know God is everywhere but tonight I need someone with skin.”
That is the mystery we celebrate this day, the central Christian mystery in the fourteenth verse of the first chapter of John- “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God takes on skin. This is a great mystery and a very serious claim that other religions do not dare to make. For most peoples God is All-powerful and All-knowing, but not so close to us. Rather he is so far away and so powerful that he is unapproachable. Even the Israelites relegated the communicating with God to the prophets and to the priests. They too were scared to approach too close to their God. And yet that is the Christian claim—that God has come close, so close that he has become one of us and taken on skin. This is the consistent claim for over two-thousand years and this is certainly a great mystery. How could a God so powerful, who has created the heavens and the earth, become one of us with our weaknesses and vulnerabilities? This is the mystery of who God is. By sending his only Son to become one of us, God chose not to remain irrelevant, not to remain on the sidelines, not to remain somewhere far away in some theory or principle but rather among us. God took on skin and came two-thousand years ago into history, into the “stuff” of humanity—the messiness, the struggles, the pain, the joys, the sorrows.
Perhaps the one person that really brought this mystery to the fore among our Christian Church was a poor one—a man who gave up everything and yet saw the beauty and the goodness of everything. In 1223, the “Poverello”—the poor one of Assisi went to the middle of a small town in Italy and set up a manger in the midst of hay, cows, and donkeys. He then knelt down in prayerful adoration. It is said that a soldier present saw an actual infant appear. Whether that’s true or not, the truth is that St. Francis of Assisi truly understood the depth of the mystery that God did become man and not only man, he became a baby—completely helpless and dependent on us. This is the depth and the tremendous love that our God has for us—a God who loved us so much that he reached out for us all the way into the depths of who we are as human persons. God took on skin.
The question remains. Is God really still with us? St. Francis of Assisi may have gotten it with his manger scene 800 years ago but what about my life here in Almaden in 2010? Is God really with me because many times I don’t feel it? This is the same question that was posed to Pope John Paul II, our late Holy Father, in 1994 when a reporter asked him, “Holy Father, has Christianity lost its relevancy? In the 2000s Catholicism will become a minority.” And it has. In 2006, Islam became the single largest denomination in the world with Catholics in second. The Holy Father answered him in a very interesting way when he said that you cannot quantify what happens in the human heart. And that is where a meeting of your God happens. It does not matter how many people find Christianity relevant or irrelevant, what matters is what happens in the heart—the ongoing conversation between you and your God.
The fear that God is irrelevant is gone when we experience within our own lives and our own hearts the God among us. Perhaps Catholics get this mystery the most. We recognize the need to see, feel, hear, taste our God with us, in us. That is why we gather here. Every seven days we experience the love of our Father in a tangible way. Our need to feel, to taste, to see, to hear our God here and now is fulfilled in the word proclaimed and the sacraments received. The sacraments are the chosen way that God remains with us—to be that someone with skin. This is a great mystery that we as Catholics enjoy that in a tangible way we receive the great presence and love of our God. Every seven days we gather here as a community of faith who have genuine fears, struggles and pains, to ask our “Daddy” to be with us, to be that “someone with skin.”