Sunday, December 25, 2016

seeing Christ in Bethlehem and beyond ...

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

And so, at last, we have reached the destination we have been journeying toward; for all of Advent has been a journey to Christmas and the birth of our Lord which we celebrate this night. Indeed, we might say that all of human history before it was a journey to the night when Christ was born and the long-awaited Messiah, who would save us from our sins, would enter into our world. That night is pointed to again and again in Sacred Scripture, as God spoke to man through his prophets, promising a Saviour to his fallen children, beginning in Genesis as our first parents were cast out of the garden when he told Satan, in the form of the serpent, that he would send one born of woman who would crush his head. And the prophecies went into such specific detail so that all who had their hearts truly open to God could be in no doubt that the words of the prophets had been fulfilled in Jesus: Isaiah, for example, telling us that he would be of David's line and born of a virgin; and Micah that his birth would take place in Bethlehem.

And so, even as we gather this night to celebrate his birth, others gathered on that night to gaze in wonder at this child who had come into the world: the Blessed Virgin, his mother, of course; but also St Joseph, the righteousness man who was her espoused husband; and the shepherds who watched their flocks by night also came to wonder. And then there were the angels who burst forth out of heaven; expressing their great joy that God's plan is being fulfilled, that God has been made man, and that as a result the men and women of this earth would now have the opportunity to one day be with them in heaven for all eternity as God intended when he created them. And far away others are beginning their journey so that they may also gather worship this child that has been born, the great kings from the East, men who in their wisdom understood the prophecies and signs that God had given mankind and that an even greater king than they had been born – a king for all mankind, as the presence of these men from a faraway land showed, a king for men and women of all places and all ages.

What a wonderful gathering there was to see that Christ-child. Is it any wonder that down through the centuries people have sought to gather by his side themselves in their imaginations? That is why we create crib scenes and place them in our churches, under our Christmas trees and on our mantelpieces, and in public places such as shopping centres, hospitals, and even in the streets and squares of our towns. Those people who gathered long ago were driven by a deep-seated human desire to see the long awaited Messiah face to face; and that desire has never been erased. How could it be? The coming into our world of the Christ is the event upon which the salvation of us all depends; how could we not long to see him? 

And so perhaps we even envy those who were blessed long ago with that particular gift from God to be present that night? But we need not, for we have our own particular blessings, sent to us by God also, that allow us to meet with Christ for ourselves.
We can him in the face of every man and woman we meet, especially those in need. 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat' he tells us in the Gospels; because what we do for the least of our brethren we do for him. We meet him when come together as the gathered community of God's faithful people, because the Church, as St Paul tells us, is the Body of Christ. And we meet with him when we partake of the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. This is my Body, this is my Blood he told the Apostles at the Last Supper. 

And these three way of meeting Christ of which I speak are not separate but intimately connected. For Christ also told his followers that if they did not eat his body and drink his blood they had no life in them, making partaking of this sacrament as essential to our life as breathing itself. And this sacrament can only be partaken of when we gather together as his Body, when we come together as his Church, most often in church. And that supernatural food acts as a channel of God's grace in us, a means of his grace entering into us, strengthening to live our lives according to his commands, including giving us the faith to see Christ in the face of all we see.

So we have the opportunity to see Christ in many ways as we gather this night, and not only in our imaginations. This night as we gather as his people and his Church to celebrate the Holy Eucharist he is really and truly among us, just as he was that first night in Bethlehem. The joy and the wonder of Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the angels is our also this night. And I pray that it will be yours always. Amen. 

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