For a couple decades, my friend Tim and I have taken to the woods and waters of West Virginia. One fall, I proposed a lifelong desire to go black bear hunting during the December season in the mountains and Tim jumped at the chance to be a part of the experience. We understood that this hunting adventure was going to be a little different from any other experience in the woods he or I had. Most of our adventures were, and still are, limited to local farm land of the Upper Ohio Valley. Never is there a concern of getting dangerously lost. A road or house is always a few hundred yards away. No hill is too imposing unless laziness wins out. We measure distances to tree stands in hundreds of feet and minutes. Our hunting area this time was quite different and the chance of success at intentionally stalking and harvesting a West Virginia black bear… well, let’s just say I’m still chasing that dream.
We set out for the first week of the season to a piece of private property bordering State and National Forest. From our camp as you scanned West, there was nothing but forest and mountains. Want to know what’s on the other side of the mountain facing you? Another mountain. This was veritable wilderness compared to the familiar farm land of the Northern Panhandle. Our distance to hunting spots were now measured in miles, thousands of feet, and hours. Since this was uncharted territory to us, and we were essentially hunting blind save a topographical map of the property, the possibility of getting turned around and spending a night in the woods was a possibility. We were ready.
Hunting spot marked on the map, we hiked 1.5 miles up a creek valley then straight up a logging road to a peak of 2,900 feet. Working the oak ridge back toward camp offered a view that was worth every bit of sweat and a minor coronary. Glancing to the east revealed tight, dark valleys and several finger ridges poorly marked on the map. The whole time, we felt like conquering explorers surveying a new world. Looming with imagined promise of giant bruins, was a 3,400 feet snow covered mountain, imposing and steep, which would not be explored until next year’s hunt, hopefully.
Whether I was simply a triumphant hiker perched on the summit breathing in cold gusts of mountain air while ogling the expansive hardwood forest dotted with patches of eastern hemlock, or I was the open-mouthed spectator frozen at the base intimidated and anxious about unknown obstacles and challenges to be faced in the forest, one thing was for sure, I felt small and insignificant in the ancient, wise, and mysterious Appalachian Mountains.
While the bigness of my surroundings impressed upon me how small I actually was, I began to wonder how much more the “bigness,” awesomeness, and enormity of standing in the presence of God will be. I let myself become overwhelmed and lost in this thought and soon realized that God, the Eternal One, the Infinite One, the Creator King of the Universe surrendered His “bigness” and became the smallest, most insignificant, unassuming of things: an infant.
You see, what I learn from the simplicity of the Incarnation, of this joyous day of Christmas, is that God willingly hands over his “bigness,” His power, and His glory all for the love of you and me so that we can draw close to Him. That is a mind-blowing reality of the universe. Look around at Christmas Masses. Church is packed. Why? Sure, some of us come to mass because it’s the right thing to do, others because of family traditions, still others out of love for Jesus Christ. But why does Christmas Day hold priority? Why is it a big day? I think because there is a deep recognition at the core of our being that says, I need to experience the enormity of the mystery of God. I need to be witness to the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ, and I can only find that here at the Manger of the Eucharistic table where, over and over, Mass after Mass, the Infinite God of the Universe is made small, made flesh and blood, made really present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Here and now at this Mass, Jesus Christ is inviting us to fall in love with Him. Christ is seducing even us with His merciful love and inviting us to participate in the life of grace, His very Divine life. If we honestly and earnestly prayed even just once, “Lord Jesus, I need you.” He will rush upon us and work with us to grow and lead lives of holiness and virtue, lives we truly want to live, ordinary lives made extraordinary by the Incarnate Word of God dwelling among and in us filling us with the power of His grace and making us somebody in the vast wilderness of His universe.