God is With Us

12-22-2019Weekly ReflectionFr. Chris Axline

I've always been a huge fan of Christmas; there's such a great joy buzzing around that makes this time so different than any other. This joy that seems to fill every heart is so great that it is hard to describe exactly where it comes from. Some would say it comes from giving or receiving exactly the "perfect gift." Others say it comes from the acts of kindness we perform for each other. Still others might think it's all just a lie that we use to fool ourselves and hide whatever pains and hurts we've had to endure this past year. Yet, none of these three options is really able to pinpoint the source of this great joy; that is, until Christmas.

What is it, or better yet, WHO is it that motivates our gift-giving, our works of charity, and the great hope with which we look to the future? It can only be Jesus Christ, God made flesh, who breaks forth into our world on this Holy day.

Indeed, the very name of Christ - spoken so often in Sacred Scripture - "Emmanuel," literally translates to "God is with us." God, through the Incarnation and birth of His Son, is with us during all the moments of human life: the joys, the sadness, the struggles, and the triumphs. The birth of Christ, Christmas, marks a new chapter in salvation history, a chapter where God shows His power and refuses to leave us alone. The great Hero of salvation history appears ready to begin His great journey. And like every hero in any major story, He does not go alone. Think of the heroes in today's great stories: Frodo has Sam, Han Solo has Chewbacca; Christ had The Blessed Mother and Simon of Cyrene (among others). Every hero has someone accompanying them to guide them through the difficult times; to encourage, to guide, and to support.

I'm sure we can all think of a difficult moment in our life where we had someone to accompany us; perhaps a good friend or a family member. How much easier was that burden to bear with them by our side? For example, I remember when my grandfather died many years ago, he and I were very close and his passing struck deep. Yet, despite the horrible pain of loss, in the back of my mind I knew that my family and I would get through it together and that this suffering would somehow bring us closer together. And it did...in ways that none of us could have foreseen. This is the hope and promise that God offers us at Christmas; that even in these difficult moments, He is with us. By becoming man, God sanctifies all human experience and shows us how to carry on.

Christ's birth offers to us the hope that we can be closer to God than ever before and that "God is with us" through it all. Christ is that hero who makes this possible; the One with whom we walk. He invites us to walk with Him as we find our way back to God. He goes with us...but do we go with Him? If we do, then His advent into our world marks that first step out of the bushes we hid behind in Genesis 3; when God was no longer someone we saw as a friend, but someone we started to fear.

But because God is too Good to leave us terrified of Him, today, He reaches out to us and Christ repairs the broken friendship. "Light and life to all He brings…born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth."

Today's Gospel (for the Vigil Mass) is a powerful reminder of this "second birth," since at the beginning of this passage from Matthew we find a gene- alogy; a list of the ancestors from whom Christ is descended. If we look at the names listed in Matthew's genealogy we find that they were not exactly the most virtuous men and women in history: murderers, liars, betrayers, and thieves. This is what Christ inherits, the legacy He enters into.

However, because He is too Good to leave us in this state, He takes this legacy of sin with Him and returns to us eternal life. The names are placed here, not to be tongue-twisters for the modern reader, but rather to show that Christ, as the Christmas song Hark the Herald Angels Sing states, was "pleased with man as man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel." He was pleased to enter into history to become one of us and to share in the inheritance of sinners so that He might have the final Word and that the fate of man would be life rather than death.

Mary and Joseph are mentioned at the end of Matthew's genealogy. As they say yes to what God shows them, they begin to reversal this cycle of sin as they bring forth God's Son into our world. This is the reason why our hope and joy is so great this time of year. It comes not from a thing, but from a person, the Person of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Christmas can only be a time to rejoice for, as Pope Francis teaches us, "All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart. Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes. The Savior of the world comes to partake of our human nature; no longer are we alone and forsaken. The Virgin offers us her Son as the beginning of a new life. The true light has come to illumine our lives so often beset by the darkness of sin. Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight, we have been shown the way to reach the journey's end. Now we must put away all fear and dread, for the light shows us that path to Bethlehem…this is the reason for our joy and gladness: this child has been born to us ; He was given to us…If we take him in our arms and let our- selves be embraced by Him, He will bring us unending peace of heart."  

Today, therefore, is both a new chapter and an invitation for each of us. It is a new chapter where we are able to see God manifest in our world; it is an invitation to embrace the Christ Child, but surprisingly, as we embrace Christ, we find that it is actually Him who embraces us. We walk with Him only to find that He walks with us, encouraging us to go forward toward the light of the new day, "when 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."