Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24
Because the message of Advent is to take a hard look at how the call of the Coming Kingdom of God will be fulfilled according to God’s plan. What does that mean? It means that you and I have been commissioned by God to share in the responsibility for carrying His work to completion. The problem is that too few of us see it as our responsibility. It is sort of “leave it to the other person.” But our personal relationship with Christ does not begin until we own the belief that it is our responsibility to carry His work to completion. You and me. If you believe that, then you understand why it is important to have prepared yourself to be an instrument of His will. Because Advent is meant to be a period of preparation – not just 4 weeks before Christmas.
A period of preparation when we have internalized that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who learn to value the things that really matter.
A period of preparation when we have internalized that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who identify with the many who have little, and who see the world through the eyes of the disadvantaged.
A period of preparation when we have internalized that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who hunger for equity and justice, focusing more on doing good, than living well.
St. Paul wrote it so well when he wrote: “My prayer,” “is that you may learn to value the things that really matter … that you may be found rich in the harvest of justice” (Phil. 1:10,11).
So having internalized that, how do move forward and what it is that we do? Let me tell you what it is decidedly NOT. Recently a friend said to that it is the work of the Church to do good. He neglects to realize that The Church is not bricks and mortar but a living entity made up of its members. How is that ?
First comes the realization that the Coming Kingdom is here and now. The words of today’s Gospel Lesson say it: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.”
If God is with us then the question in in these final days before Christmas is in what condition does he find the shelter of our soul? Is it a place that burns brightly with the love of Christ made manifest in our actions? Or is it a dark, shadowy place because we are afraid to let His light shine out from us? In order for each of us to share in the responsibility of carrying his work to completion, then our very hearts should be aflame with our love of Him. Is that how you find yourself?
Christmas is the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, the day when we celebrate the “Mass” of “Christ’s” birth – Christ-Mass. But it is not something that happened in the past. Because, through the Church and the sacraments, Christ has stayed with his adopted family all throughout history. In a sense, every Christian celebration is a new Bethlehem, a new coming of Christ among us. A new opportunity to share in His work.
A Christian is someone who is “called to belong to Jesus Christ” and “called to be holy.” Christ comes at Christmas, but he doesn’t come passively – he comes to save us, to call us out of a self-centered life and into a Christ-centered life in order to fulfill His plan.
That means dedicating ourselves to Christ’s priorities – and His highest priority is building up his Kingdom on earth. It is as if Christ chose to limit his omnipotence in order to involve us in his work of salvation, to give us an active role in building up his Kingdom. This is why he became a man on Christmas Day – because he wanted us to be able to become sons and daughters of God, co-workers of his Kingdom. He came to share in our humanity, so that we could share in his divinity.
During World War II, a church in Frankfurt, Germany, was heavily damaged by bombs. At war’s end the parishioners began repairing. One badly broken object was a statue of Christ. They finally found all the parts, except the hands. After considerable debate about engaging a sculptor to make a new pair of hands, the people of the parish decided to leave the statue without hands. And they put a plaque beneath it that reads: “Christ has no hands but our hands.”
We are called to carry on Christ’s work. This is his invitation to us. This is what we are called to, what Christ came to invite us to. That’s the invitation. It doesn’t come in the mail with a self-addressed return envelope or even an email. The invitation is issued to our hearts, and so the only way we can respond is in our hearts.
St Paul describes the key quality of a healthy Christian heart. He calls it the “obedience of faith.” If Christ is our Lord, if we are his followers, if we are Christians, then we will believe in him and show the firmness of that belief by obeying him.
What better model of obedience than Mary and Joseph ? As soon as God made his will clear through the message of the angel, Joseph simply obeyed just as Mary had done earlier.. There is no way that he could have understood fully the supernatural nature of Mary’s pregnancy. The angel simply said that God was behind it, and then told Joseph to take Mary into his home and name the child Jesus. Joseph could have demanded a more detailed explanation But he believed in God, and so he fulfilled God’s will. That’s the “obedience of faith.”
That’s how we can continue to respond to God’s invitation in our life – through obeying his will, as made clear through Church teaching, through the commandments, through the quiet voice of our conscience and through our daily words and actions.
I implore you to hold onto that message and respond to His call to share in carrying out His mission. Let’s go into Christmas this year well-prepared to receive Christ, with our hearts warmed through the obedience of faith and the acknowledgement that each of us is called to be an instrument of His will. That is His invitation at Christmas as well as His gift. Pray God that we take it into our hearts.