Sunday December 18, 2022 Fourth Sunday of Advent
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
O Lord and Leader of the house of Israel,
Who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush
And gave him the holy Law on Sinai mountain,
Come, stretch out your mighty arm and redeem us!
Jesus is called "Lord and Leader," or in some translations "Shepherd," because He not only rules His Church, but goes ahead of us, leading us forward, inspiring us to new levels of life and activity. He opens up new horizons and exciting opportunities for growth. He is the Leader of a people on the march, of a Church with a mission to accomplish.
We need leaders because they give forward motion to our lives. Lawmakers give stability, and law enforcers maintain order. But leaders give inspiration, arouse enthusiasm, and fire us with a sense of purpose and mission. That is why the Church asks God to give us more than the "holy Law" He gave through Moses on Mount Sinai. Our prayer to Jesus is, "stretch out your arm and redeem us." In the Opening Prayer of the Mass for this day we ask God to "renew us" through the birth of Jesus and "free us from our slavery to sin."
Laws cannot free us from sin. As St. Paul observed, "the law does nothing but point out what is sinful" (Romans 3:20). Without the power that comes from "the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ" we are helpless to obey the law of God as we should. And even with grace, if our focus is only on law observance our religion stays static, turns stagnant and "stupefies;" that is, becomes "tediously uninteresting" to the point of dulling the ordinary activity and keenness of our minds
Laws alone not only leave us "slaves of sin," they have their own power to enslave. The better the laws, the more they tend to become the fixed pattern of our lives, resisting all innovation and change, excluding from consideration everything that is not already established. Observance of the law of God Himself can become a phariseeism so fixed, so sufficient to itself, that it rejects even the advent of Jesus the Messiah. That is why, though we have God's law, we need to be redeemed, renewed and freed by Jesus as "Leader and Lord."
The focus of our hope today is on Jesus "Lord and Leader," because by joining us to Himself in His mission, Jesus gives a new meaning, a new value, a new excitement and motivation to our lives. When we become mature enough in our faith to realize that we are called to cooperate with Him in saving the world, our whole understanding of religion changes. It is no longer just a set of rules and observances. It is no longer a limitation on our activity. It is not even just a way to personal peace, wellbeing and fulfillment. Our religion becomes a vocation, a mission, a call to take initiatives, to expand our minds and hearts, to make a contribution to the human race.
And belonging to the Church takes on new meaning for us. We are no longer just "in" the Church; we are "of" the Church: part of her life, of her action, of her continuing exploration and discovery and apostolate. Because we see ourselves as working members of the Church and sharers in her mission, every new direction she takes, every new initiative, every response she makes to current problems and to the challenges of our time is a signal for us. We see in the Church the embodied presence, the visible initiatives of Jesus, Leader and Lord. As the Church responds to the inspirations of Christ her Head, we respond and move with her.
Jesus is where the action is, and that action begins in His Church -- in us -- when we respond to His leadership. To do this we need to be aware that He is a Leader, that He is taking us somewhere. And so we pray on this day to be saved from stagnation: "Come Lord and Leader. Stretch out your arm and redeem us."
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry