There is one among you whom you do not recognize. (John 1:26)
This is what St. John the Baptist said to the priests and Levites. We will read this gospel passage at Sunday Mass. The Baptist told them: The Son of God is here, but you don’t see it. God became man and walked the earth, and most of the locals did not notice. [Spanish]
Let’s consider the how and the why of this. How could it happen?
First of all, people were looking forward to the coming of Christ, but they expected it to be different. The pagans had all kinds of myths about the gods coming down to earth, but none of them involved stables and mangers, and gentle, humble virgin mothers. The pagan myths about gods coming to earth involved smoke and lightning bolts, terror and fury.
The pagans back then respected wealth and prestige, just like they do now. They were not looking for a poor carpenter who taught His closest followers to give away all their possessions.
The Jews, meanwhile, were looking for a field general to lead a revolutionary army. They were convinced that God would come to smite their foes. It was us vs. them. The Jews did not think that the Messiah would come and say, “Love your enemies,” and “Turn the other cheek.”
Also, when God became man, He veiled His divinity with His humanity. He took our human nature to Himself so intimately that He only made His divinity evident a few times during His pilgrim life, like when He worked miracles, or at the Transfiguration. Otherwise, the Christ was indistinguishable from other men. He ate, drank, slept—just like us. The God-man walked wherever He went, just like the other poor people of the time.
Considering all this, it is not hard for us to see how people could miss the Christ.
Now we come to the hard question: Why?
Why did the Lord conceal Himself this way? Why did He choose to be born of an insignificant woman, instead of a queen? Why did He labor in obscurity in a carpenter-shop for most of His earthly life? Why did He reveal His true identity only to a chosen few, ordering those who saw His miracles not to tell anyone about them? Why did God allow Himself to be arrested, tried, and condemned like a petty criminal? Why did He let Himself be crucified as if He were a powerless mortal? Why is He so confoundedly humble?
Now, we cannot, of course, presume to read the depths of God’s infinitely glorious mind or understand His plan. May it please Him, we will spend eternity contemplating His generous love, which led Him to do everything He has done, in the way that He has done it.
We can, however, give a short answer to the question of why God came so gently and unassumingly to earth, why He submitted to indifference and insult. Simply put, the reason is this: He came not to condemn, but to save.
The day will come when the heavens and the earth will shake. The day will come when the Lord will show Himself in power and glory, and no one will miss it.
He could have come that way the first time. But He did not come to terrify; He came to love. He came to make justice and praise spring up, as we will read from the prophet Isaiah on Sunday. Slowly, quietly, like a garden grows. His first coming was to plant the seeds.
The Lord does not want to find us unprepared for the final Judgment. He came to the earth humbly in order to give us the grace and knowledge we need to be ready when Judgment Day does come.
Now, even when the people failed to recognize Him in the flesh, God remained altogether powerful. Jesus the poor man made everything we see and know. But this is what shows us how awesome He truly is: He was willing to be ignored. He cast aside even His own divine honor in order to save us.