Holiness in the flesh (Fourth Advent 2012)

Mary and Joseph in polymer clay

One of our Christmas traditions as a family, for many years now, has been that I would make ornaments, one for each child, envisioning them as heirlooms that would hang on their own trees one day.  It didn’t take too many experiments (paper, salt dough) before I landed on my medium of choice: polymer clay (e.g. Sculpey), which already comes in a whole palette of colors, and doesn’t dry out until you finish it in a low-temperature oven.

I started with figures from the nativity–Mary, Joseph, the Magi, shepherds–all looking like they stepped out of a children’s cartoon.  Cute.  Soon I was making animals: whimsical little camels with wry facial expressions, or sheep carrying signs that said, “Shear Terror” or “Buy Cotton.”

But one thing has always eluded me.  How do you make an angel?  I was satisfied to imagine an elfin Mary; I didn’t mind toying with camels and sheep.  But angels?  In Scripture, they inspire more awe than “Awww…”  I didn’t want cute.  I wanted majestic.  I wanted holy.

But try as I might, I couldn’t do it.  I would get an idea in mind, and work and work the clay, then impatiently squish it back into a formless lump.  I eventually ended up defaulting back to what was within the boundaries of my competence: teddy bears with wings.  (No theological statement there.)

Whimsical I can do.  Cute I can do.  Holy?  Not so much.

But God can.

And the funny thing is, holiness in the flesh looks like a baby.  Not a cartoon baby: a live, squirming, squalling small human being.

During Advent, we anticipate Christmas: we look for the holiness of God to come to us humbly in the person of the Christ-child.

But the rest of the year?  That’s when the world waits to see the holiness of Christ come humbly in us.