Likeness – Jett Villarin, SJ

I was in stitches watching our recent Christmas carol concert here at the Jesuit Residence. Some of us were out of tune, some had facial expressions feel-na-feel to be serious. Most of the time, we tried to be spontaneous but the bloopers tell it all: it is never easy before a camera.

People place us on pedestals. It is tempting to believe the image. Only a handful know we are human. Many (including ourselves) want us, expect us to be superhuman.

Thankfully, Christmas brings us down to earth. After all, the incarnation is the humanization of God. It is also the humanization of us.

As God took on our flesh so are we summoned to enter into our own humanity.

While we reel from one crisis to the next, we face a far deeper worry, an incarnation crisis, which is our growing inability and even refusal to appreciate and enter into our own humanity.

We tend to think of humanity as mostly weakness and vulnerability. To be human is to be hurt. 

And so we steel ourselves to blunt the pain. We numb ourselves to postpone the agony. We distract ourselves to deny or even defy our humanity. 

There is more to humanity though than futility or weakness or vulnerability. The fullness of who we are is not defined by the frustration of our reach. Neither is it found in our fantasies and illusions of that reach.

The fullness of our humanity is found in something more stark and shorn of all artifice. Who we are has been revealed to us by a child in a manger.

When we were children, we were told, God created us in his own image and likeness. 

Gaze at the child in a manger. The child has our likeness. And if angels and shepherds are to be trusted, the child has the likeness of God.

The fullness of who we are is in our likeness to this child. The fullness of our humanity is in our likeness to God as children of his love. 

Lest we think that our likeness to God confers extra-terrestrial power to ignite the stars, the joyful mystery of the Nativity brings us down to earth. When our attention turns to the makeshift manger, the desperate hopes and closing of doors, the swaddle of cloth for the cold, the smell of sheep and shepherds, the sheer simplicity and subversion of tonight, we come to realize the only power that can be wielded from our likeness to God: love. 

As God took on our likeness, so are we summoned to enter into his likeness. This means celebrating moments of self-transcendence and selflessness, and learning gratitude and humility from such graces. This means confessing our vulnerability and woundedness, and cultivating patience and compassion from our pain and the suffering of others. 

To take on the likeness of God is to see ourselves not as mere objects or recipients of God’s redeeming love. To live our likeness to God is to be subjects or givers of God’s love as well. 

The fullness of who we are rests in our likeness to God as children of his love. This means taking pedestals and bloopers for what they are, and not letting all these get to our head or heart.

In being born to us, God takes delight in the humanity of us. In bearing the likeness of God, we find delight in who we are as children of his love.

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