Friday, December 23, 2022, 4th Week Advent
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
Our King and our Law,
Long-awaited of the nations,
Savior of all,
Come! Set us free, Lord our God!
We can understand Christmas either as a day that is different from ordinary days, or as a day which makes the ordinary days different. If we think of Christmas as a day that should be different, then the very things which make it joyful for some will make it sad for others. The presents and parties can make the poor more conscious of their poverty, the bereaved more aware of their loneliness, the depressed more discouraged by their affliction. Those unable to celebrate as others do will feel excluded.
When Jesus came, it was not a different kind of day. It was an ordinary, cold day of poverty in an oppressed country under military occupation. His parents were far from family and friends, taking temporary shelter in a stable. And after His birth they were just as homeless, poor and oppressed as they were before. If any celebrations were going on in Bethlehem that night, Mary and Joseph were not included.
Only one thing changed for Joseph and Mary that night: from then on, Jesus was with them. In their poverty they could look at Him and say, "Emmanuel -- God is with us." In loneliness and pain they could say, "God is with us." Under oppression they could say, "God is with us." And that is all. Nothing was changed, but everything was changed. Their days were like every other day, except that now they could say, "Emmanuel -- God is with us."
In our work-and-results oriented world, we can forget the value mere presence has. Or perhaps we can appreciate how much the presence of other people means to us -- people whom we love -- while appreciating God only for what He does. It is a comfort when we are sick or in sorrow just to have friends standing by us. But if we ask God to heal us, or take away what afflicts us, and He doesn't, we feel He is doing nothing for us. What is God's mere presence worth? What does it mean that He is "with us"?
When we recognize Jesus as "Emmanuel" it is just His presence to us that we focus on. But awareness of His presence can transform our lives. If He is with us in our poverty, poverty is not demeaning: God shares it with us. If He is with us in sickness or sorrow or bereavement, we are not simply delivered over to misfortune: God is with us. If He is with us in our act of dying, then our passage from this earth is just another moment in God's continual creation of us: He is with us in our dying just as much as in our being born or living.
And if we keep ourselves aware that Jesus is with us in everything we do, then He Himself becomes the guiding light, the model, the personal, incarnate "Law" that directs all our actions. In our life at home, all our dealings with one another become sacramental: signs of love and caring given to help the whole family grow in grace. In our social life, everything passes to another plane of meaning and ideals. If we go to work conscious that Jesus is with us and within us, going out to others in us, "not to be served but to serve" (Matthew 20:28; John 13:15), our whole motivation changes. If in our political involvement we are conscious that Jesus Christ is trying in us "to bring all things in heaven and on earth together into unity under His headship," then our civic goals will not be selfish and partisan, but aimed at the common good of all peoples, continuing the mission of Jesus-Emmanuel, the "long-awaited of the nations" and "Savior of all."
The Opening Prayer invites us to contemplate the birth of Jesus and to see God coming "to live among us" as the divine model of human life, the living Law, who frees us from earth-bound ideals and encourages us to believe every minute in God's presence, friendship, "forgiveness and mercy." To Him we pray, Come Emmanuel! Set us free, Lord our God!
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry