Sunday, December 23, 2007

Do you see what I see?

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2007:

A kindergarten teacher told her class the story of Christmas complete with the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds and the Three Wise Men recognizing the star in the sky. At the end of the story she asked them, “Now tell me, who was the first to know about the birth of Jesus?” A little girl raised her hand and answered simply, “Mary.” How many of us missed that? Sometimes we, as adults, miss the obvious because we’re expecting more complicated answers, all the while the real answer is so simple and obvious.

We do this with God too. We have a tendency to associate God with the phenomenal and the spectacular, like the host of angels or the guiding star, so much so that we fail to notice God’s presence and action in the ordinary and normal things of life, such as pregnancy and birth. The child’s simple answer reminds us to take a second look at the ordinary things that we take so much for granted and see God’s hand in them, and this is a good message for us as we are just days away from celebrating Christmas. We can get so caught up in the complexities of gifts and travel and dinners, that we just might miss the simple and profound reality of the day – that God loves us and is with us.

Our gospel today begins with a seemingly casual statement: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” But for the average person of Jesus’ times this statement would be a shock because popular belief in those days did not expect the Messiah to be born of a woman as a normal, average baby. Though the scribes and scholars were aware of the prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the average person held to the popular belief which held that the Messiah would arrive unexpectedly and in an extraordinary way. The Messiah was expected to drop suddenly from the skies, full-grown in all His divine power. He would arrive, of course, on the Temple mount – at the very heart of Jewish worship.

People found it hard to reconcile these expectations with the reality of Jesus who they knew was born normally and raised in their midst. As we hear in John’s Gospel, “We know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” They found the ordinary ways of God’s arrival, God’s presence and God’s action among His people too simple, to obvious, to possibly be true.

Like the people of Jesus time, we are also waiting for the coming of God among us, for our Emmanuel. Maybe we should take a moment and ask ourselves, how do we expect God to come among us? How does God work among us? This is critical because sometimes when we feel that God is not with us, the reality is that we do not recognize the ways of God’s presence and action among us. Just think of how often we treat the Eucharist as commonplace, as ordinary, as nothing special. And yet, as St. Francis of Assisi said of the Eucharist, “O sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the simple form of bread! Look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.”

The coming of the long awaited Messiah, the light of the world, the King of kings and the desire of nations, not through clouds and lightning but through the nine-months pregnancy of a country girl, through 30 years of the normal human process of infancy, adolescence and adulthood, reminds us that God comes in ordinary, normal, daily circumstances of life. God comes to us in the people we see around us being born, growing up, growing old and dying – an in His simple presence in the form of bread and wine become Body and Blood. It is often hardest to see God in the people who are familiar to us, not to mention how hard it is to see God in ourselves. But if we see the birth of Jesus, the Son of God as a bridge between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human, between the order of grace and the order of nature, between the sacred and the ordinary, maybe we will begin to discern the presence and action of God more and more in our daily lives. When God did the most spectacular thing ever – becoming one of us – He did it in a very ordinary way. Why should we expect Him to act any differently with us?

There is a proverb that says, “Listen closely, and you will hear the footsteps of the ants.” Today we are challenged to listen closely and hear the footsteps of God who comes into our lives in ordinary ways, through the people to our left and to our right and at the normal moments of our lives.

God is with us. Do you see what I see?

May God give you peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment