At one point in her novel, Men and Angels, Mary Gordon describes a young mother who, each day has a little ritual as she waits for her children to come home from school. She sets a chair by the window so she can lean on it. In that way she can see her children as they run up to the house but she can also use the chair to steady herself. For indeed, some days, she needs it because when she sees her children running up to the house, with their coats undone and with their books and back-packs flying all about, she is so overcome with love, so overwhelmed with the need to protect, that she feels her heart is about to erupt and she gets weak and needs something to lean on to keep her balance.
That picture can serve as an icon for it is an image of how God loves us. God is looking at us in just that way right now. Why do I say that? Because this is what scripture reveals.
When the angels announce Jesus’ birth, they say this: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on earth who enjoy God’s favour.” (Luke 2, 14) The last part of that sentence might more accurately be translated like this, “and peace to those who receive God’s pleasure, who realize that God takes pleasure in them.” Given Mary Gordon’s image, we might paraphrase this to read: “Life will come to those who realize that God, when he looks at us, is so overcome with tenderness that he needs a celestial chair with which to steady himself.”
That is an incredible belief, but it is part of the essence of our creed. To say that we believe in God, as Jesus revealed God, is to believe that God takes pleasure in loving us, that it gives God delight to be our parent, and that God takes joy in continually offering us forgiveness and love. To believe that God sees us in this way is to make an act of faith in the God that Jesus revealed. Moreover, what is important is that we draw life from believing this. How? How does the realization that God takes pleasure in loving us give us life? We see the illustration in Jesus himself.
When Jesus’ head emerged from the waters of the Jordan as he is being baptized by John, the gospels say the skies opened and a voice from heaven said: “You are my beloved son, in you I take delight.” In many ways, this was the turning point in Jesus’ life. Prior to this, he had lived his “hidden life”; hidden not just in that his years of anonymity in Nazareth opposed his public life, but hidden especially in that, until hearing those words, Jesus’ real identity was as hidden from him. Now, with these words searing his soul and circumcising his heart, Jesus knows his true identity. He is the beloved child who gives God pleasure. From that realization, that he so enjoys God’s favour, he draws his stability, his unique capacity for altruism, his exceptional courage, and that deep joy that nobody and no event can ever take away from him. Jesus knows that he gives God pleasure and from that he draws his life.
Mary Gordon’s description of the young mother contains essentially the same idea: Imagine if these children could ever appropriate what that mother feels when seeing them. If they could ever really accept this, they would draw from it an identity, a stability, a capacity for altruism and courage, and a joy that nothing could ever strip them of. If they realized what their presence did for their mother they would then (this is the biblical term) begin to enjoy her favour. From that, life would begin to well up within them for they would know blessing.
Biblically this is what it means to be blessed. You are blessed, receive a blessing, when you draw life from someone else’s pleasure in loving you. As the angels themselves put it at Jesus’ birth: “Peace on earth to those who can receive God’s pleasure.”
But how to believe that? What is so difficult in the act of faith is not to believe that God exists or that the world of spirit is just as real as the physical world or that Jesus rose from the dead. What is harder to believe is that, right now, at this moment, despite everything that suggests that we are unworthy and despite all sin and infidelity, God is looking at us in the exact same way as the young mother Mary Gordon describes looked at her children – with a heart so full of tenderness and pleasure that He/She feels dizzy and must lean on some celestial chair for support. Such is God’s pleasure in loving us. Such is what Jesus revealed. If we could ever accept that we would begin to understand more exactly what the angels meant when the announced Jesus’ birth.