Sunday, December 13, 2015
Christ is in your midst
A certain monastery was going through a crisis. The monks were leaving, no new candidates were joining, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old and depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a certain holy man living alone in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and now looks like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he has a secret for him. One of the monks now living in his monastery is actually the Messiah, but he is living in such a way that no one could recognize him.
With this revelation the abbot went back to his monastery, summoned the monks and recounted what the hermit told him. The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, wondering who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has this holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Peter who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and drinking and doesn’t fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging his real identity. This only made them more confused and they could not make a headway figuring out who, among them, was the Christ. At the end of the meeting what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, except himself, could indeed be the Christ.
From that day, however, the monks began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the Messiah. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people again began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to the truth that is so easy to overlook – that Christ was living in their midst.
We heard from Luke’s Gospel today, “The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” As our Advent moves steadily on towards Christmas, we are filled with a joyful expectation to welcome Christ once again into our hearts and our lives. But, we also realize that our celebration is not a mere commemoration of the arrival of Christ 2,000 years ago. We do not simply remember something that happened long ago and far away, but we are also being called to wake ourselves up again to the reality that the presence of God is in our midst – all around us – here in this Church, in the sacraments, in all of us gathered, but also out there in the streets, in the people we encounter – all of them, the local and the tourist, the cab driver and the bus driver, the waitress and the actor, in the hungry and the homeless – our God is present everywhere and is just waiting for us to discover Him.
The challenge we face is that our world is working overtime hoping that we won’t recognize that Christ is in our midst. There are too many voices of fear and anxiety that would rather have us be suspicious of one another and afraid; that would prefer if we demonized each other and treated one another as anything except brothers and sisters. But, this is not God’s message. This is not the message of Christmas.
God has come among us in the hopes that we will realize that we are all luminous beings and that God fills us and surrounds us with His presence so that we will be united in peace, mercy, love, joy and compassion – that these are the things that will transform us and our world into the Kingdom He promised us.
My friends, I have a secret for you today – Christ is actually living in our midst but in such a way that perhaps we do not recognize him. So, what are we to do? Are we able to recognize Him in the ordinary and familiar women and men in our midst, right in front of us every day?
John the Baptist, today shows us what we are to do. He calls us to faithfulness and care in the normal circumstances of life: If you have more than you need, share with those who have less; be honest; do not take advantage of the vulnerable; cherish your children; be faithful to each other; live in peace. Share, be honest, be fair, cherish each other, be faithful and be people of peace – and open our eyes to the presence of Christ all around us.
But, most of all we are being called to bring Jesus, the Light of the World into all of the places of darkness. We are called to let that Light be born in us and let Jesus use us to fashion a new world and bring forth the Kingdom of God. On our part, we must open our hearts and look with new eyes and hearts, and welcome everyone we encounter – whether family or stranger, citizen or immigrant or refugee, Christian or Muslim or atheist, friend or foe, rich or poor – as though it were Christ Himself. Only then can we both be the presence of Christ in our world, but also meet Him in the people we encounter.
“Again, I say, rejoice! The Lord is near!”
May the Lord give you peace!