There can be times when we get bogged down in the faith life because it seems overwhelming. We can make things too complicated. We can think too much. Today’s gospel reminds us that it all boils down to love. There is first, and primarily, the love that Jesus has for each one of us. And there is the task of loving God and neighbor, and then sharing the fruits of that love with others. Love God. Love Neighbor. Make Disciples.
Coming back to high school a few years, or even many years after graduation is an interesting experience. But either way, it serves as a powerful reminder of God’s love for each one of us, a love more powerful than anything that can be placed before it.
Water and Blood. Baptism and Eucharist. Words in the bible often refer to something other than the obvious. Today is such an example. Water is part of both readings. Whenever we see or read about water, the first thought should be baptism. This is true whether we read about New Testament letters, like today, or stories from the Old Testament. The flood in the book of Genesis points to baptism. The faithful, those who trust in God, are saved.
Today is just such an example. The readings remind us of the very important difference between John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus. John’s baptism points to human effort. Jesus’ baptism points to divine salvation. The Incarnation of Jesus is not simply a nice Christmas set. Rather, it is the miracle of God’s becoming human. And, because Jesus is both human and divine, the sacraments lead to salvation.
Love. This word is at the center of the gospel. Without love, little in the gospel makes sense. However, today it is difficult to understand exactly what love is. It has been weakened so much. Love, in popular language, can apply to just about anything. In fact, the way it is used, love can be applied to people or things. But someone once said, we love people, and use things, not the other way around.
At the heart of any ministry there is the call to love. But not a sugary sweet love, but one that really challenges. The gospel sees love as the way we are fulfilled, because God is love.
Do you know you are made in God’s image? Most of us would answer yes. But do we really believe it? How often do we excuse doing something wrong by saying, “I’m only human?” When we know we are in God’s image, we know we are at our best when we are human. It is when we sin that we are less than human.
The Incarnation then, is about the wonderful event where God took on human flesh. Think about that for a moment. God is one of us. Emmanuel. God with us. And that is marvelous indeed.
There are some people who really, really hate religion. It is not just that they disagree with this or that thing, but the very existence of religion makes their blood boil. And it is not just that they do not want any religion mentioned, they do not want anyone else to mention it either. It is about destroying any public reference to religion. Religion is simply something that is meant to be private. Period.
In today’s first reading, Saint John refers to such people as liars. Those who deny the existence of God are the ones who speak untruth. Often, if a simple statement is made to an atheist, namely, “Tell me about the God you do not believe in”, it often becomes clear that Christians do not believe in such a God either.
There is such a contrast to the first reading and the gospel. Ahaz seems to be taking the high road by not wanting to tempt God, but he is not. He does not want a sign from God, because he wants to do something different. Mary does not seek a sign from God, but when God asks, she says yes. Ahaz does not cultivate a relationship with God. Mary orders her entire life around her faith in God. Do you want a sign from God, or not?
Advent is about seeking. Do we want to find God, to get a sign, or do we wish to turn away from God? Do we use the guise of faith, of goodness, to turn away from God? Is your heart open to God? Are you ready to hear God’s voice? Will you do what God wants? Make this a holy Advent. Say yes to God.
Finding the presence of God in your life is important. What helps is to think of past, present, and future. Today’s readings provide some help in that regard. As we look back to the Old Testament, we can see how the plan of salvation was revealed by God. Today, we can seek to find how God is active today. And it is also the case that we can find the promises from God of how God is active tomorrow. This is really the season of Advent in a nutshell.
On a personal level, our life if faith is no different. We look back in our lives to see where we have experienced and felt the presence of God. We engage in a life of prayer and the sacraments so that we are better able to find the presence of God today. And through both of these experiences, we can see how God will be active tomorrow, for God keeps promises.
With all of the revelations of sexual misconduct and harassment, today’s gospel presents us with the courageous man. The real man. Saint Joseph, who confronted with unbelievable news that Mary was pregnant — and knowing he was not the father. And despite this, not wanting to shame Mary. Not wanting to take out any sort of revenge on Mary. Because he was righteous, Joseph had a heart open to the presence of God. He was ready, so when God did speak to him in a dream, he knew who God was.
Are you ready for God? This is what Christmas is about. It is not just being ready for an historical event. It is also about being ready to welcome God into our heart. Are you ready? Do you strive to be righteous? Do you seek to find the presence of God, and do you know God when he appears?
Our eyesight is really important. Imagine how life would be changed if we could not see. As important as our physical sight is, however, how much more important is our spiritual sight. How much more do we need to open the eyes of our soul to see just how active God is in our lives. The beauty of the bible is that the presence and purpose of God is made clear to us. The Lord’s plan is like that of a master builder making a masterpiece.
Do you make time to see God in your life? Do you ask God to open your vision to see where it is that He is active in your life? In the world? So much of the Advent season is being able to see how much God loves us, and how much God wants to do for us.