Sunday, December 25, 2011

*BEST OF DTB #119* The real message of Christmas

Life changes fast, doesn't it. This Christmas day is my 48th but it is the first one in which there were no presents under our tree on Christmas morning. Very strange. Christmas morning next year is likely to be the second, as we hope to celebrate Midnight Mass in the church built over the very spot where our beloved Savior was born in Bethlehem, more than 2 Millenniums past.

To a disbelieving world, our faith seems rather peculiar and bizarre and, to be quite frank,we quarrel enough amongst ourselves to give them cause to make sport of it. "Some King you have" they must think, "born in a place where animals feed, scorned and ridiculed by some of His own relatives, crucified for a crime He did not commit so His followers could fight amongst themselves for 2,000 years".

Laugh if you must, but I take great comfort from the fact that I have a King that wants to meet where I am. Especially since I could not hope to reach Him.

For those pondering how they might find God, if He exists, the journey would logically begin as an intellectual pursuit. Where should I begin to look? would be an understandable starting point but it would lead to an equally understandable frustration, for there is no shortage of deities laying claim and no shortage of sects within each religion. How could one hope to find God?

One can't by oneself, and that is just the point of Christmas. You cannot find God. You must seek Him, then let God find you, knowing in your heart, that He will, if you will only let Him.

That, my friends, is the real message of Christmas. We could not find God, so He found us. We could not justify ourselves before God, so mercy found us. We could not see through the darkness, so light found us. If you have ever been lost in the woods at night, you know what I am talking about.

If you cannot find God, be still and believe, and let Him find you. Then, and only then, can you fully apprehend the miracle that is Christmas. Until you apprehend the miracle of Christmas, solving the riddle that is life is hopeless and your life, regardless of how prosperous, or tragic, will be nothing more than vaporous vanity.

In solving the message of Christmas, the message of life is solved and even the most painful life, plods on with perserverence and hope, and ends in rapturous joy.

The message of Christmas is how God chose to deal with sin and the misery caused by it. The blight of sin caused paradise on earth to be exchanged for a cold, lost and dying place. God's Justice makes removing that penalty impossible and so, each day, we suffer and we watch others suffer.

The shocking and piercing reality of God's love for us, as Jennifer Fulwiler (former atheist turned Catholic) so brilliantly put it, was that God's response to suffering was not to eliminate it but to plunge Himself right into the middle of it.

So, Jesus did not choose to remove the chill from the night air around Bethlehem, He chose to be a baby, shivering in that air just like the shepherds. To a helpless world, He came as a helpless child. He was like us in all things except sin.

All things means all things. Have you ever felt frustrated? sad? grief-stricken? abandoned? God is with us in all these things.

A few year's ago, a very blasphemous song came out called
What if God was one of us?

If God had a name, what would it be?
and would you call it to His face?
If you were faced with Him, in all His glory,
what would you ask, if you
had just one question?

and yeah, yeah, God is good
and yeah, yeah, God is great,
and yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us.
Just a stranger on the bus.
trying to make His way home.

If God had a face, what would it look
like and would you want to see,
if seeing meant that you would have to
believe in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints,
and all the prophets?

and yeah, yeah, God is good
and yeah, yeah, God is great
and yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,

What if God was one of us,
just a slob like one of us,
just a stranger on the bus,
trying to make his way home,
nobody calling on the phone,
except for the Pope, maybe in Rome?

The point of this song is to suggest that, even if there is a God, it is of no benefit because He cannot relate to me. God is up there, with Jesus and all the saints and the prophets and we are down here. The message of the song is that God is, in fact, not one of us. The message of Christmas is that God, in the person of Jesus, in a stunningly real way, is one of us.

The entire dilemma is played out in the Crucifixion scene where you see, in dramatic fashion, the suffering of Christ and the right response contrasted with the suffering of Christ and the wrong response. It is more than just claiming faith in Jesus, in mere words.

The bad thief told Jesus, in so many words; You cannot be God because I suffer. The good thief said, in so many words; Yes, I suffer, Yet, you are God.

Atheists often argue that if God cannot remove all suffering from the world, He is either not all-powerful or He is not just.

They rationalize that if a merciful God has power over the world, in which He reigns, He cannot fail to eliminate suffering. Therefore, since He cannot do this, they choose not to believe. They have it backwards. Unbelief is not caused by suffering. Suffering is caused by unbelief. It is a disbelieving world that has pushed God's mercy aside and cast their lot with Satan. If this world is choosing Satan, God's Justice demands that the world understand the consequences of that decision. If you let the roaring lion out of the cage and he devours an innocent child, can you blame anyone but yourself for the child's death?

In the same way, each one of us bears at least some responsibility in fostering a culture of darkness or a culture of light. Is it rational to think it unjust that an innocent child suffers and dies or that a loving father is killed in a car accident? Yes, it is rational to feel that way. It can even be commendable, to a point.

Sure, it is less selfish to ask where God is because my family member suffers than to say where is He because I, myself suffer. It is less selfish still, to ask why innocent children and strangers suffer.

Yet, words are not enough. God is not indifferent to the suffering of the innocents but it is not God preventing God from healing, it is man. For God is not only One of Us but One with Us.

So, when we see so much suffering in the world and we accuse God Why do you see all this suffering and do nothing?, expect the index finger of God to point back at you, as He charges you with the same question. This is the miracle of Christmas and the miracle of Christianity and the message of the cross. To the bad thief, Jesus may say;

My child, right now, I cannot remove your suffering. You may not understand
why at this time but your suffering is the result of sin- your sins, and the sins of

My justice demands that I must passively allow your suffering for a season
but I would not do so, even for a second, If I were not able to bring from it, a
greater good.

So, my child, though I cannot end your suffering right now, I choose, for
love of you, to join you in it. Yes, I am able to take us both down from the
cross, but then, how would I save you? So, I choose to suffer, not to prevent
you from suffering, but to join you in it and give it immeasurable

As humans, we can suffer and we will suffer. We suffer in different ways and to different degrees and for different durations. Some complain bitterly over even the smallest sufferings and some show awe inspiring courage, in the face of unimaginable suffering. Suffering is a fact of life. What differs is the response to suffering and that is both a response to the unimaginable love of God and the equally incomprehensible malevolence of the destroyer. Both are played out in the Holy season we call Christmas and beyond.

On Christmas day, we celebrate the child who would embrace suffering to fuse Divinity and humanity in the most selfless act of love the world has ever seen, and will ever see. Three days later, we lament the slaughter of the Holy innocents, those who had to die at the bloody hands of Herod who gave himself wholly over the malevolence and pride of the evil one.

The former says to the guilty I must suffer and die, so you can live, the latter says to the innocent, you must suffer and die, so that I can live as I want.

Two responses to the person of Christ. The first is reflected in the true love of God exemplified by a grieving parent watching their child suffer, wishing they could trade places. The second, by a child molester mopping up his selfish and disgusting urge with an innocent child. Though these are polar extremes, the truth should not fail to meet you where you are.
For each day, you choose, of your own free will, to heal suffering, to cause suffering or to be indifferent to suffering. Only the first leads to Heaven, where suffering is vanquished. The others lead to hell, where souls are plunged in a universe of suffering.

Jesus does not desire that last, tragic end for us. In fact, so much does He desire rescuing us from the fire that He came down here to be with us and like us. Many of my protestant friends have it wrong. They think salvation is something Jesus does for us. No, it is something Jesus does with us, uniting our sufferings to His and working out our salvation through us. (Colossians 1:24-25, Phillipians 2:12)

Jesus is one of us. That is the message of Christmas. That is the message of Christianity and that is the message of the Catholic church. We could not find Him, He found us. We could not stretch up to reach Him, He stooped down to reach us. Our suffering is in vain, He gave it value. If Jesus is not in your life, it is not because He does not knock, it is because you do not answer. You do not seek Him and you do not answer when He seeks you.
The Angels appeared to the shepherds and proclaimed the good news for all people.....even the stranger on the bus.

So, my Christmas wish to those who hold Him dear is that you will stoke that flame and make it burn hotter and brighter that others may see it. To those who had Him and lost Him, try TRY to find Him again. He did not leave you nor forsake you. He was with you when you suffered and He did not give up on you when you failed Him. Search again for Him who is your only hope. To those who never had Him (or only did with a shallow effort), give us a chance to show Him to you. If you will only attempt to come to understand why this time and this faith, is so sacred to us, we will try to find you where you are and show you how to become whole.

Merry Christmas

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