Just days ago the Church commemorated with great solemnity an event of such extraordinary significance that it divided history in two. This event was the revelation of God in this world in Jesus Christ.
Unlike previous revelations, God has manifested himself, not in the dreams and visions of the prophets, or in the pages of a holy book, or in myths and legends, or in thunder and the shaking of the earth, but God came to us in such a way that we could meet him person to person and face to face.
God does not desire to be known simply as an idea or as an emotion or have the reality of his existence reduced to speculation and symbolism. God presents himself to us in a manner that we can be in relationship with him.
And thus, God revealed himself as a person, a living divine person, who out of his desire to share a relationship with us, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life, being born in a particular time, in a particular place and into a particular family. He even gave himself a name, the name of Jesus. The Holy Child of Bethlehem, the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is God- and not an idea about God or a symbol of God, but he is really and truly God.
The birthday of the Lord Jesus was when the world was able to see, for the first time, the face of God. The eternal God entered time and God who is ageless and everlasting became a child.
The Church commemorated the birthday of the Lord Jesus with a day of great celebration called the Christ-Mass. The days and weeks of Advent were all intended to prepare us to participate in the Christ- Mass.
In this Mass, the Church recalled the day of Christ’s birth and then invited us to receive Christ’s divine life and presence given to us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. In that Sacrament we were able to receive the same divine life and presence of God in Christ that was revealed to the world in the radiant, newborn face of the Christ-child.
In our reception of the Blessed Sacrament the mystery and meaning of the Christ-Mass was fulfilled. God, who in Christ, indicated his desire to us to be in relationship with him and who invited us to receive him, was accepted by us. In the Blessed Sacrament we entered into a relationship with God and Christ. We accepted God’s invitation. Upon our acceptance, the same divine life and presence that entered into the world over two thousand years ago, entered into us.
The Blessed Sacrament, like the Holy Child of Bethlehem, is not a symbol of God, but God himself!
And just as it was over two thousand years ago when the divine life and presence of God in Christ came into the world, those who received Christ and accepted a relationship with Christ, also received a new way of life and accepted that their lives had to change- so did we.
God in Christ does not come into anyone’s life to affirm that person as they are. God in Christ comes into our lives to change us, to transform us, to make us different.
Those of you who accepted a relationship with Christ by receiving the Blessed Sacrament also accepted that your life would be changed, transformed- you accepted that you would, because of your relationship with God in Christ, be different.
If you accepted Holy Communion without the intention of changing your life, you missed the point of what Holy Communion is all about.
Today, the Church commemorates the Feast of the Holy Family.
This is not a celebration of our families, but of God’s Family. Today’s Feast of the Holy Family in intended to deepen our understanding of what precisely God has revealed about himself in Jesus Christ- that he accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.
God’s acceptance of a human nature was not a ruse. God did not pretend to be human in Christ. God knows for himself the facts of human experience.
God permitted himself to gestate for nine months in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He permitted himself the experience of being born and living as a vulnerable baby, utterly dependent on others to care for him. He permitted himself to be a child and to grow and to learn. He embedded himself in a particular culture. He experienced for himself what it meant to have grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and how to make friends. God in Christ experienced the physical transformations of the body of his human nature through puberty.
We do ourselves a great disservice if we sentimentalize or romanticize what God did when in Christ he accepted a human nature. In fact, at times those who oppose our faith that God became a man in Christ are far more perceptive in terms of the implications of our belief than we are. God’s immersion into the raw and real facts of life is as off-putting as it is surprising.
The densely textured reality of the Incarnation of God in Christ is presented to us today in the fact that in Christ, God gives himself a family- not the idea of a family, but a real family that includes a mother, her husband, and everything that comes along with belonging to a family.
Why is this so important?
Because it all effects what the great sages and saints of the Church call a “marvelous exchange”. By “marvelous exchange” is meant that in Christ God accepts something from us so that we can accept something from him.
The way this works in that in accepting a real, human life as his own, God in Christ makes all of human experience a means by which he is in a relationship with us. And no human experience escapes this possibility.
Where is God in our lives? He makes himself present to us in gestation, in birth, in growing up, in growing old, and even in death. The blessings of God inhere, not just in positive experiences, but in the totality of being human. This is the “marvelous exchange”.
It is the great gift that God in Christ gives to us by his acceptance of a human nature and in his willingness to live a real, human life.
Because of Jesus Christ, you have been given a relationship with God, not just in some things, or the things that you like, or in positive emotional experiences, but in all of what it means to be human.
Jesus Christ brings humanity, (that’s all of us!) into a relationship with God.
God, in Christ, inserts himself into the Holy Family so as to insert himself into the human family.
This is why it really burns me that some folks, thinking themselves to be smarter and more important than the revelation of God, assign themselves the task of trying to deliver the Church from its faith in the divinity of the Lord Jesus and insist instead that he is simply a teacher or philosopher or religious celebrity or something else. The excuse is usually given that such efforts render the Lord Jesus more accessible and easier to understand. This isn’t what happens. They make not only the Lord Jesus, but God, more inaccessible and difficult to understand and they end up evacuating from our hearts and minds the greatest consolation and more important revelation God manifests to the world: that God in Christ has become like us, so that we could become like him.
Just a few reflections on the Gospel for today, an excerpt from the Gospel of Luke:
It’s hard to really get this Gospel without the Old Testament reference point that the evangelist Luke has in mind. In the 10th Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the prophet has a vision of God’s divine life and presence leaving the temple of Jerusalem. This dramatic event precipitated the destruction of the temple in the year 587 BC by the armies of Babylon.
According to the prophet Ezekiel, the return of the divine life and presence of God to his temple was to be a sign of that God had come into the world to set things right.
All had seemed lost in the year 587 BC and when the Lord God returned to his people, what had been lost would be restored.
That’s the back story in regards to today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Luke. The evangelist Luke is making the point that in Jesus Christ, the divine life and presence of God has returned to his temple, in his return will set in motion events that will lead to the restoration of everything the Israelites had believed they had lost in 587 BC.
Everyone in the story, Christ’s mother, her husband, Simeon and Anna are all “stand ins” for all the faithful Israelites who were desperately waiting for and searching for the return of God’s divine life and presence to his people- the divine life and presence that had left them in 587 BC.
In Christ, they discover that God has returned to his people and taken his place in his sanctuary. The prophecy of Ezekiel has been fulfilled- and in an extraordinary way indeed!
The long, hard years since 587 BC, years of waiting, watching wondering, when God would return to his people have all come to an end. God has arrived. God has returned to his temple. God is here.
Where is God? He reveals himself in the Jesus Christ. How has he returned? He has accepted a human nature and become man.
Now what does any of this have to do with us?
Jesus Christ is the divine life and presence of God who has revealed himself to the world and that revelation has not ceased. The same divine life and presence that took flesh and became man is with us still in the great Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Christ is really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Christ is present in his temple. Christ is here. The prophets have been fulfilled. God has returned to his people. God in Christ makes his home among us, and he does so in the new covenant of his Body and his Blood.
You see that gold box.
That gold box is called the tabernacle, a name that is meant as an evocation of the temple- the place where God dwells. I know it seems to some to be little more than a fancy cabinet for left-overs, but what that gold box really and truly is, is the Holy of Holies of the temple of the Church- the temple of God in Christ. It is the place where the divine life and presence of God in Christ resides.
Where is God?
Where can you meet him?
Where can you share communion with his divine life?
Where can you go to have a relationship with him.
He is in this temple.
He is here.