Blog # 442 Where did Christmas go?
The tree is gone. The lights and decorations are stored in the garage. Christmas is over. Chances are we have not thought of it in the last six weeks. But what about what Christmas was all about, the birthday of Jesus, God coming among us as one of our own? Has that gone too? Did Jesus come for just a week or two and then back off again until next year? Was that the way it was when your son was born, or your daughter, or your sister, or your brother, or you? A new relationship is realized in our birth as brother sister, son daughter, and friend. And that relationship continues for good or for ill. Should it be otherwise with Jesus?
Rather suddenly after Christmas Jesus was fully grown and began His ministry of healing and teaching. In the incidences and stories of the life of Jesus we lifted up in the liturgical readings for the past several weeks, our minds were focused on particular individual experiences and responses to Jesus. In the process a relationship of it all with Christmas may have been unknown, overlooked, or forgotten. So last week I asked myself the question where did Christmas go and found it helpful in preparing for the season of Lent which begins today. I asked myself why did Jesus come originally, twenty centuries ago in Bethlehem,, and in our lives this past Christmas.
As a result of His coming, as well as of the social customs we have built around His birth, and the pressure of modern advertising and business interests, people received and sent greetings, received and gave gifts. Our Christmas experience and customs are rooted in the original coming of Jesus to earth. The glitter, the gifts, the business of Christmas could be seen as a tribute to Jesus, His sharing the Father's love for all creation, and for all people. Jesus certainly rejoices in the happiness love and goodness people experience and share at Christmas. Now, however,.almost two months beyond December 25, the distractions are put away, and it is a better time to ask the question. What really did Jesus come to do? What is His agenda for us, here and now? Though such a rich question could be answered many ways, one simple yet far reaching and profound answer comes in the words: "I came that you mayhave life, and have it to the full" (Jn.10: 10).
Jesus came that we may have life, a natural life here on earth, and a second supernatural life which begins with Baptism and is designed to live forever. Other prophets and teachers were raised up and sent by God to tell and show us how to live happily here on earth, as good and happy men and women, Jesus was not just one of these. Jesus stands alone as God's own Son, divine as well as one of us, a bridge between Heaven and earth, telling us and showing us in His own experience of the two lives to which we are called. The first life is experienced by all people who ever live. The second is a supernatural gift given through Baptism to those who believe. Lent is a time for preparing ourselves to understand and experience more deeply the meaning and truth of the 'reason' Jesus had for coming. He came to invite us to become by faith children of God, sharing His very own divine experience, rooted on earth, discovered on earth, and fulfilled in Heaven.
As the gift of faith is designed to produce spiritual fruit in our lives, joy peace patience and other gifts we have referred to as the fruits of the Spirit, it follow that a good tree bears good fruit and the more perfect we are as persons here and now, the more perfect we are as children of God and bearers of good fruit.
Our union with one another through our union with Jesus in faith and Baptism is identified as more than a mere fellowship whereby we give one another support by way of good example, advice, and our prayer for one another, as good neighbors or as members of a fraternity or sorority in a college community. Our union with Jesus and one another in the Church through faith and Baptism entails more. In Him our union and care for one another is best illustrated by the Biblical image of body and vine. Our care for one another is to be as the care of one member of our body for another member.
A few years ago I saw a TV program that showed how the various immune systems of our bodies work, how the brain influences many functions in the body for fighting disease, healing a wound, etc. That program made a deep impression on me. It helped me clarify my understanding of the power and implications of the Biblical image of the Body of Christ and Jesus as a living vine. In the command to love my neighbor as myself I see not a reference to a degree of love but a love that is uniquely defined by my union with Jesus through faith and Baptism. As the hand cannot say to the foot I have no need of you, so I can not say to others I have no need of you. My concern for the poor and the sick is to be the concern of the blood of my body for an infection or wound in my body, no matter where in my body it occurs. And this not only applies to the physically poor and sick but also to those spiritually and emotionally poor and sick.
United as we are with Jesus, one vine, one body, Christians share His love. For many people it seems this means share in the sense of receive His love. It does mean this, but it also means share in the sense of express or give His love to others. To share Christ's love is not an option for Christians. Rather it is part and parcel of our very identity as 'born from above' though faith and Baptism. To love one another "as I have loved you", again, is not referring only to a degree of our human love, unto death, in imitation of Jesus' great human love, but with the love of the Resurrected Jesus shared with us in faith. ( Jn. 15:5; 13: 34).
This kind of thinking throws light on our quest for personal salvation and the identity of our holiness. Personal salvation remains a goal of our existence, but it is seen as a shared goal. In more than thirty references in John's Gospel Jesus indicates a personal awareness of being sent by the
Father. Then in that powerful text also in John we hear Him say to HIs disciples: As the Father has sent me, so I send you". (Jn. 20: 21).What He was sent to do we are sent to do. And what is this? To love. What is the greatest commandment? To love. What is the second? To love. "By this will all know you are my disciples, by your love." ( Jn, 13: 35).
It follows our quest for holiness is a quest for the glory of Jesus. For us He died. With Him we struggle to conquer evil. In Him we live. Our love is our salvation. Our salvation is His glory.
And in all of this we are connected. We are ONE in the single vine and the unique Body of Jesus. Our individual desire and effort to grow in holiness during the weeks of Lent will be a blessing not only upon the life of each of us individually but upon the branches of the Body of Christ throughout the world for His glory. Lent begins in 2015 today. Let us be on our way, joyfully, together.