Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas and the Fulfillment of Human History

God does not usually surprise us without first preparing us, sometimes for a long period of time, for what He is about to do. And yet, we are often surprised because we do not recognize His preparations.

All of history, up to the first Christmas, was a preparation for that Holy Night. That Christmas, and every celebration of Christmas since, was a great revelation of a simple but astounding truth: God's plan, His desire, His dream, is to dwell with us, to make His home among us, so that He might be our God and we might be His people.

The whole of Scripture can be read in the light of this desire of God to live with us, to share with us a life of intimacy, familiarity and communion. We find it from the beginning, when God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the evening. We find it in Exodus, where God’s presence with His people was manifested in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night which the people followed. We find it in the meeting tent, when Moses came out with radiant face after speaking with God.

This desire of God to be near His people is seen in the ark of the Covenant, the building of the tabernacle and the temple and in the liturgy of the Jewish people. We find it in the covenants themselves. And then, in an absolutely extraordinary way which few people recognized at the time, the whole of the Old Testament culminates in God coming to us in Person, taking on our flesh and coming to live with us as one of us, in Christ Jesus. "In the midst of our fallen world, in the midst of incredible darkness, in the midst of a world dying from sin…He comes to make a home for Himself. He comes to set up camp among us and establish a place where people can come to be healed, to be saved, and transformed.” (Fr. Michael Keating, CMSWR address 2011)

This is really quite extraordinary. Very few people were expecting this. And most of the world missed it. Only a few holy souls, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, a few simple souls (the shepherds), and those seeking wisdom (the wise men), witnessed this marvelous mystery of God coming into the world in Person to dwell with His people.

In Jesus, this Divine desire for intimacy with us becomes incarnate. He dwells within the womb of Mary for 9 months and then comes into the world as a tiny infant to dwell with us in utter poverty and need. He lives and grows up among us in the ordinary surroundings of daily life. He learns the ways of a trade with His foster father, dwelling in deep communion in a family, the Holy Family with Mary and Joseph.

When He begins His public ministry, He invites and calls the apostles and disciples to live with Him. They do everything with Him, accompanying Him in His work, asking Him questions, being fashioned and formed by His gaze, His teachings, and the words and works and wonders that come forth from Him.

And then, as He’s about to enter into His Paschal Mystery, He devises a way to still stay with them. He gives them the Holy Eucharist and ordains them so they will forever be able to bring Him down into the midst of our valley of tears -- so mankind will never be without God. As He is ascending into Heaven He reminds the apostles that He is not really leaving. He says: “Go forth and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit… and lo, I am with you till the close of the ages.” (Mt28:20)

This is astonishing, this reality that God simply does not seem able to keep away from us, does not want to keep away from us. He longs to be with us! He delights to be among the sons of men!

Fr. Hans Urs von Baltazar describes it this way: “For you must understand: He desires nearness; He would like to live in you and commingle His breath with your breathing. He would like to be with you until the end of the world. He knocks at all souls. He makes Himself small and inconspicuous so as to be able to partake of all their little transactions and concerns. He approaches quietly so as not to disturb or be recognized; He comes to be present incognito in the full hubbub of the earth’s annual fair. He seeks trust, intimacy; he is a beggar for your love.” ("Heart of the World")

When we understand God’s desire to live with us, to be one with us, our vision of life is changed. The world is full of His invitations, His attractions, His drawings to intimacy with Himself. We begin to find ourselves stealing away to be alone with Him. We begin to experience in the silence of our own spirits an ever deepening desire to be with the Lord, and to live in His House all the days of their lives.

The first Christmas contains within it the promise found both in the beginning of man's history in the Garden, and at the end of man's history in Revelations 21:1-4:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. The sea was no more, and I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning or crying or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

In the midst of all our preparations, may this Christmas find us seeking the tiny Babe, that we may take Him into the humble dwelling of our own hearts where He longs to be. To the glory of God, which the angels sang on that first Holy Night, may it be said of us:

"Behold, the dwelling of God is with men."

Advent, 2014