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The God Who Had Strep Throat

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This year, I spent Christmas Day caring for our son, who had come down with a dreadful case of strep throat on December 23rd. I watched as this rather minor affliction (at least in the grand scheme of human health) took away the energy of a child who normally has a single speed engine: lightning fast. Yet on Christmas night, he laid upon a couch, barely able to keep his eyes open.

Although not the ideal Christmas for a family (we lacked the beautiful images of families bedecked in finery), our son’s sickness gave us an occasion to contemplate the strong God who revealed the depths of love by becoming one of the weak.

When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he did not spurn the human condition. Instead, he took it up. He took upon himself the weakness of a world in which sickness and death are often an all-encompassing experience for us mere mortals. He shared in human suffering such that ever human sickness, every human death, now has its meaning in his sickness and death alone.

The antiphon for Christmas Matins or Morning Prayer declares:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Jesum Christum.
Alleluia!

O great mystery,
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

Indeed, Christmas is the great sacrament, the great exchange between divinity and humanity that transforms human life here and now. It is the mystery marveled at by beasts and angels alike, who gaze in wonder at the enfleshment of the Word. It is the mystery contemplated by the Blessed Virgin Mary, who sees God’s divine plan unfolding in the tiny infant in her arms. An infant who coughed and sneezed, who gaze himself over to be fed not by the bread of angels but by the milk of his mother.

And probably had strep throat.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

He dwells even now among the weak. With the Syrians, who endure bombing after bombing. In the suffering of families unable to celebrate Christmas because of poverty. In the loneliness of women and men, who long this day to encounter the love of God but discover instead a world grown cold.

This is where God dwells. This is where we too must dwell.

What power in such weakness.

What a feast Christmas is.

 

Timothy P. O’Malley

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, associate professional specialist in the department of theology at the University of Notre Dame, and founding editor for Church Life.