Readings for Sunday, December 18 / 4th Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7:10-14 | Psalm 24 | Romans 1:1-7 | Matthew 1:18-24
As we begin this fourth Sunday of Advent. this fourth week, this last full week of the Advent season, as we look forward to the day of the coming of the Lord, we continue our reflection on reconciliation. The second Sunday of Advent I spoke on the way in which Christ came among us for the first time, of how the Infant Jesus taking on our flesh began that process of reconciling all of creation with the Lord God, and drawing humanity to Himself by His way of taking on our flesh, but also to join all of creation with us in the same. Last weekend we reflected on the way in which in Christ, creation was waiting for it's reconciliation in completion. And indeed we wait for the last day of the Lord Jesus, the day in which He will come in His glory. in which reconciliation will be completed and fully accomplished. This weekend, I want to reflect on the way in which we come to be with the Lord and prepare ourselves for that last day. Indeed, the entire time, from the day on which Christmas took flesh until the day He comes again in glory, it has one single purpose. We fill it with so many things, but it has one actual purpose: It's to give us an opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ. It's what St. Peter tells us in His letter as well. He says the Lord delays, so that many might come to know Christ Jesus and be saved. So the Lord, waits, for us, to come to know and love Him. Again, we fill it with a lot of things. Necessarily so in the sense, we get caught up with the things of this life; we get caught up with our homes, work, with the things of the world around us. We get caught up doing good and homily things - spending time with our family and our friends. In the Church, we also lose sight of things sometimes, and we get consumed with other things than what is the central reality of things we ought to focus on. So often we simplify our Catholic faith into a system of "do this, don't do that," rules and regulations. The reality is, our life is more than rules and regulations; our faith is more than rules and regulations. It's not about busying ourselves with many things, but about concerning ourselves with one thing just like St. Mary Magdalene - to know Jesus, to encounter Christ.
In the end, when the Lord comes in His glory on the last day and we are all judged, or if He doesn't come before our death, at the hour of our death, we will stand before the judge, and our salvation for eternal life or eternal death will come basically in conjunction with one simple answer, our own answer. Remember that when Jesus was with His disciples, He was with the twelve after everyone had gone, and He asked them. "Who do people say that I am?". They began to think and respond with the things they had heard, "Some say you are John the Baptist come back again, some say Elijah another one of the great prophets." But then Jesus responds to that question which every single one of us must answer for ourselves, "Who do you say that I am?". Because the answer to that question determines everything, and it manifests to Christ what He already knows, but it manifests to us and to all of creation, something that can often be hidden to us. The answer to the question shows us how much we know God and how much we love Him. That's our entire life. We can have so many things, so many blessings, but if we never know God, we fall short of our purpose; fall short of the reason God created us in the first place.
There are many ways in which we come to encounter God, to encounter Christ. In our own church, there are a whole variety of symbols and signs that speak to us of God. We can look to the Paschal candle near the Baptismal font, the Paschal candle which is light and consecrate on the Easter Vigil, and a hymn is sung to it, a hymn to Christ. We sing to the candle as Christ - the light come into the world to cast out darkness. The crucifix in the sanctuary that speaks to us of the love of God reminds us of what Christ did for us. In the celebration of the liturgy, the priest acts in the person of Christ. When the priests says, "This is my body ... this is my blood," he says it not himself, but as Christ. It's Christ who speaks these things. And you, the members of the faithful of God, members of the body of Christ, to see one another as Christ, to allow Christ who dwells within you to speak to others and to see Him. These and many others are ways in which we can encounter Jesus in this time, but there are two ways I think, and invite you to reflect upon and take some action on this week, two ways in which Christ is primarily with us: in the scriptures and in the Eucharist. They are the two main parts of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. As it is typically described in liturgical books: the Word and the World made Flesh.
In the first reading today, we hear from the prophet Isaiah and he comes and prophesied a gift from God that a virgin will conceive and bear a son and they will name Him Emanuel, God is with us. We heard the fulfillment of that passage in the Gospel reading as they come and the angel appears to Joseph, and Mary is that one spoken of from of old. Mary, his wife, is the one who is to conceive, though a virgin, and to bear a son - God with Us, Emmanuel. It's the name of Jesus because the name means "God Saves," and God has come to be with us, to save us.
When Jesus was about to ascent to His heavenly Father at the end of His earthly life, one of the things He told His disciples was that, "I will be with you always." He told the disciples, I believe it was at the Last Supper, "I will not leave you orphans." I will not abandon you, I will be with you always. Again, Christ is with us in so many ways, but most especially and concretely in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist.
What I invite each of you to do is to spend some time with the Lord this week in those two ways. Again we know it's the Christmas season, some of you may still have some Christmas shopping left to do, some of you may have some decorating to do, some of us have parties and these types of things going on. But we hear all the time that Jesus is the reason for the season, right? Except it's the thing that seems to happen the least, is the time we spend with Jesus. We get consumed with so many other things. So my invitation for you is to come and rest with the Lord, to come and place yourself in the presence of the Eucharist in the church, and to sit with Christ - to know that He is with you and to be with Him. The church of St. Ann is open all day each day, the church here is open various times throughout the week. The church at St. Mary's in New Roads has the adoration chapel where you can go and adore the Lord face to face in the Blessed Sacrament. Whichever of those options works best for you, I encourage you to take one, and to really speak some time. If the best you can do is five minutes, good, it's enough. If you can do more, good because it is about the encounter with Christ. It is about speaking to the Lord and allowing Him to speak to us. As you would go to the chapel or the church, I would invite you to bring along with you a Bible. The written word of God speaks to us; He comes to us and remains with us.
So often as we go before the Lord, we desire to hear the Lord to speak to us, and we desire to speak to Christ. At least we should. What we see in the Eucharist is not just a thing, it's a person - a person who loves us and desires to speak to us. It's Christ our God, Emmanuel. And so, we speak to Him and we look for Him to speak to us. Where is the way He speaks to us most concretely than in the scriptures? A lot of times we think the scriptures are hard to understand and I think more often than not we over-complicate them, we over think things a little bit it seems. But to be able to pick a place and simply read from the Word of God - start in the Gospels maybe and to hear Jesus speak to you. If you want some other place, go to the letter of St. Paul, St. Peter or St. John; those letters written to other communities like us and to hear them speak. Go to the Psalms - St. Augustine said that the Psalms capture every single human emotion, and to come and allow our hearts to be lifted up to the Lord through a psalm that may speak something that we don't even have the words yet but which Christ does. To go and to speak to Him and to listen - to know Jesus. That's the entire purpose.
On the last day, our judgement will not be a surprise to any of us. If we know Jesus, it shouldn't be a surprise that He knows us. And if we don't know Jesus, it shouldn't be a surprise that He doesn't know us. And so we come. We place ourselves in Him presence. We come to be with Him who is indeed with us. We pray for the grace to love Him more deeply and to seek His face as we go forth from here each day. Come, Lord Jesus. Come O Come, Emmanuel.
*Check out the 10:45 mark of the audio to see what happens when parishioners think there's a fire in the church during the middle of the homily!