Friday, December 24, 2010

Final "Primer" for Christmas: Receiving The God Who Saves Us "Through" The Events of Our Lives

The readings for daily Mass from yesterday and today largely focus on John the Baptist as the herald and "precursor" of Jesus Christ. It would seem, therefore, that they are meant to serve as one last, final "primer" to our celebration of the Feast of Christmas and receiving Christ anew in our lives and world. Some of the more "salient" and relevant verses of the readings are the following: "And suddenly there will come to the temple
 the LORD whom you seek,
 and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
 Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 
But who will endure the day of his coming?
 And who can stand when he appears? 
For he is like the refiner’s fire, 
or like the fuller’s lye. 
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
 and he will purify the sons of Levi, 
refining them like gold or like silver." (Malachi 3:1-3); "You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, 
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
 to give his people knowledge of salvation 
by the forgiveness of their sins. 
In the tender compassion of our God
 the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
 to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
 and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Zachariah's inspired "canticle" regarding the mission of his son, John the Baptist, from Luke 1:76-79).

With regard to the verses from the Old Testament book of the Prophet Malachi, the striking image is the Lord "refining" and "purifying" the "sons of Levi" (originally meaning the priestly caste of the Jewish community - the Levites - but, by extension also meaning all the Jewish people and, now, in Christ, all of humanity). Obviously, the purifying and refining is from sin. But, what kind of "sin" or "obstacle" is being removed in our relationship with God so that our lives and world can begin to shine with the full beauty and refulgent splendor of God's glory? While we could certainly create a very long "laundry list" of all the many and varied personal and societal sins that undermine God's glory, let's focus our query based on God's revelation of the mission of his Son, described, in part, through the canticle of Zechariah and implied directly by the precise way God chose to come us in Jesus Christ.

In Zechariah's canticle, he declares that God, in his tender compassion, will "bend low" to visit his people and seek out those who's lives are shrouded in "darkness and the shadow of death." According to Luke's perspective, which focuses largely on the poor being recipient's of God's attention and favor, we can take Zechariah's words to mean that God in Jesus seeks out those who's lives and human dignity are overlooked, undervalued, trodden underfoot, or teeter on the brink of oblivion. Furthermore, the fact that Jesus is born in a shabby, run down manger, and that he spent most of his life of ministry on "the wrong side of the tracks" in Galilee definitively affirm that God reaches out to the poor and suffering. However, for those of us who's lives aren't threatened by poverty, there is another no less important implication of the above words of Zechariah and the way that God comes to us in Jesus. The event of Jesus' birth and the precise way that this birth and life unfolds as "God with us", means that God reaches out to us in all the corners and aspects of our lives - especially in those "dark" places covered over by the "shadow of death." To be "refined and purified" in order to be prepared to receive God and Christ anew in our lives this Christmas means allowing ourselves to perhaps slowly and patiently receive the God who saves "through" every aspect of the history of our lives rather than rescuing us "from" this history. In other words, it means that we resist the impulse to flee from the angst, pain, difficulty, insecurity, neediness, darkness and shadow of death that all of our lives are touched by. When we begin the process of doing this, our lives are "refined" like "precious silver" and we become bearers of the light, life, and love of Christ and are freed from fear in order to extend this to those in our world who still await an experience of the God who continues to come to us as "Emmanuel": God with us.