Will You Receive the Gift?

Lord, you didn’t want heaven without us. So, Jesus, You brought heaven down.  These words are from the Christian song, What a Beautiful Name, that has become a favorite of mine recently.  These words perfectly sum up what the Christmas celebration is all about.  “God comes down from heaven to be with his people” (113).  This is the message.  God became one of us so that we could be one with Him. 

It is important for us to reflect on this for a moment.  We have heard this story over and over again and in some ways, we can be too familiar with the incarnation of God.  In ancient Judaism, this would be absurd.

One Jewish Rabbi put it this way, “God and man, however small the distance between them may become, never completely come together… God has never wholly come down to earth, and men have never quite climbed up to him: the distance always remains” (114). The Rabbi emphasizes that there was a separation between God and humanity, that kept God at a distance and made it difficult for humanity to really trust in God’s love.   And so this much is clear, what would never have been possible in the Jewish theology of the Old Testament has happened in the incarnation: “God has ‘really come to earth’, God has really come together with [humanity]” (115).

This Christmas, we ought to give reverence to just how much of a gift God’s incarnation really is.  “The time of salvation is no longer primarily the Exodus when God was close to Israel and saved it, but the earthly existence, the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus.  These are the once-and-for-all, valid saving event and the time of salvation” (115). The saving event of Jesus starts with His birth.  The separation between God and us no longer exists.  The Father sent his Son into our lives in order to proclaim His love in the world. Jesus was to be a sacrament of the Father.

What is a sacrament?  A sacrament makes visible something that is invisible.  Or another apt definition is a sacrament makes present that which it signifies.  So Jesus makes God present in our lived human experience.  Jesus is the sacrament of the Father and the sacrament of salvation.  Something that I have been thinking about is how do we receive this gift today?  Think about it: have you ever been envious of those who lived during Jesus’ time?  They lived with Jesus, they talked with him, experienced him and God’s love in his earthly life. This begs the question, how do we experience the incarnate Christ, the living Christ, the Jesus who has entered totally into our humanity, how do we experience him today?

Well, just as Jesus is the sacrament of the Father the Church is the sacrament of Christ. If anyone here is thinking, “I wish that I could meet Jesus.  I wish that I could talk to him and experience him in my life just as the early Christians did.”  Well, I have good news for you… You can!  You can experience Christ in a beautiful and intimate way in the life of his Church

Here’s how we can experience the incarnation of Christ in our lives.  First, we encounter Christ in His Word; in sacred scripture… The Gospels give us real-life human experiences of Christ in our world — and we can relate to those experiences!  Here is one simple way: after Peter denied Christ for the third time, the Gospel writer Luke tells us that Christ looked at Peter.  How many of us can relate to Peter, that in a moment after our greatest sin, we saw the loving gaze of Christ?  How can we know Christ if we don’t read or reflect on his life in the scriptures?

We also experience Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist provides for all our needs. Jesus said to us that he is the bread of life, he is the new bread come down from heaven in order to give life to us. I cam so that you might have life and have it abundantly. The Eucharist is truly and really the body of Christ that gives us the spiritual nourishment to love as Jesus loves.  It is a personal encounter with the Lord who loves us and loved each of us to the end (Jn 13:1).  Our spiritual lives need the Eucharist more than our physical bodies need food/water. We cannot live or know Christ without this sacrament.

Christ is present in the priest and the community.  Fr. Tony’s role as pastor and my role as associate pastor of Our Lady of Consolation is to imitate Christ in his loving service for all of you. We try our best to live our lives like Christ so that we can help each of you know of our Heavenly Father’s particular love for you.  We aren’t perfect, we struggle with sin, impatience or selfishness as much as anyone but in a mysterious way, Christ chooses to be present in the sacramental ministry of the priest. And so you should expect that your priests resemble Christ and bring you closer to Jesus.  And this is why our lives are supposed to be lived generously for you.  We are supposed to make the sacramental life of the Church available for the people of Rockford. 

Christ’s presence among us as a community cannot be overlooked.  Just this past weekend, we celebrated a funeral mass for a long time parishioner.  As we were praying a rosary at Pederson’s funeral home on Friday, I was moved by the presence of Our Lady parishioners.  Then the next day, there were about 300 people that attended the funeral; many who are parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation.  This is what it means to be a parish.  We are family, and Christ said to us that where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them – Matthew 18:20. When someone among us is hurting and broken we are supposed to be the presence of Christ for them.  Christ, the one who came to heal the brokenhearted chooses to bring his hope, peace, and love to the suffering and broken hearted through the Christian community.  Something that breaks my heart is all those who feel that they have been abandoned by God.  I wonder, how many more would experience Christ’s loving presence if they were more involved in their parish community?

So the gift of Christ’s incarnation lives on today.  But… God respects humanity’s freedom to such an extent that he enters into our life in humility… He humbles himself and then relies on humanity to make room for him on earth. The proud man, on the other hand, drives [God] away from the world (113) (Jn 1:11). Jesus, the one who came into this world humbly, in a manger, will not force himself into your life.  He stands at the door and knocks, but he will only enter into your heart after you open the door.

Friends, Christ’s incarnation really happened.  The Christmas event really happened.  We honor Christ and show reverence to him, by receiving the gift.  And receiving the gift of the incarnation means allowing God to live in your life today. And that means humbling confessing your need to experience Jesus’ presence in your life.  We experience him through his word, the Eucharist, his sacraments, the priest and the Christian community. God wants to give you the greatest gift imaginable, he wants to enter into your life just as entered into our humanity 2000 years ago.  Will you receive this gift?

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Merry Christmas!

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