“The Lord is near… he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love…” – Phil 4:5 & Zep 3:17
My family received a very surprising gift from my five-year-old niece, Phương Jane or PJ. During our family retreat just before Thanksgiving, the younger kids were asked to show how they could open wide their hearts to experience God’s mercy. PJ drew a curious picture. She drew a heart, with a box inside the heart, and inside the box was something that looked like a worm. When asked about her drawing, PJ answered with wide-eyed wonder. She said that inside her heart was a gift box, and the gift inside was baby Jesus.
Yet in the sweetness of a child hides the wisdom of Advent. PJ was showing our entire family the essence of God-coming-near. Jesus, love-incarnate, small and humble, is offered to each of us. As gift. Not earned, not bought. Freely given. Not coming from without, but within, very near.
When we pray or worship, many of us look up. As if God is coming from afar. Yet God is already within us. Intimately. By the grace of baptism, we are God’s favorite hidding place. Where Jesus abides. He just doesn’t visit, he stays, making us his permanent home. Sharing our sorrow, feeling our pain, delighting in us, laughing with us, being silly with us.
It’s so easy for us to let terrorist attacks, random shootings, financial worries, problems at home, struggles at work, past mistakes or self-negativity crowd our awareness from the gift of God-with-us, Christ within us.
Yet these realities cannot eclipse the truth of God’s mercy - God’s unrelenting and tender love. Greater than any sin, bigger than any unforgiveness, mightier than any suffering. Pope Francis reminds us often that we may abandon God, but God never leaves us. God never gets tired welcoming us home with joy.
The mystery of the Incarnation hides in the artistry of a five-year-old: We are Mercy’s favorite hiding place. Pure gift.
What happens within when I imagine Jesus playing hide-and-seek in my mind and heart, eager to be found?