|12/28/2017 9:00:00 AM|
A Savior who meets us where we are
|'If you are searching for truth, longing for love, yearning for peace, you will find it, for you are looking for Jesus and He is searching, longing and yearning for you, so you are sure to find Him or be found!'|
The "12 Days of Christmas" are still upon us. Actually, there are 13, but counting in the Epiphany (traditionally Jan. 6) might ruin the song.
There are a lot of comings and goings in our lives these days, somewhat mirroring the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, which have Jesus making at least three major journeys in the first year of His incarnate life.
Immediately after Jesus is conceived within her, Mary pays a hurried visit to her kinswoman, Elizabeth, herself already six months pregnant with St. John. Even for the teenager she probably was, this 80- to 100-mile journey from Nazareth to the hill country of Judea would have been arduous.
It is not fear or anxiety that likely drove her quickened pace, but zeal, passion and enthusiasm and, above all, a deep joy, that Elizabeth and John clearly caught. For "when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting," Luke tells us, "the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth [was] filled with the Holy Spirit" (1:41).
Mary is the first evangelist. She shows us what evangelization is. Already a disciple of her Son, Mary wastes no time in carrying Him, even in His embryonic state, to her family and friends.
We can assume that Mary was not alone on her journey, or even in Elizabeth's home. It was customary to travel in caravans, given not only the natural dangers travelers faced in that time and region from predators, but the need to have adequate provisions, since it was a three- to four-day trip each way. It is likely that Joseph accompanied Mary and Jesus, as he would on the other journeys that were recorded.
The next trek would have been much more difficult. This would be in compliance with a universal census, reportedly decreed by Caesar Augustus, though undocumented outside the New Testament. Whatever its historical accuracy, Luke wants us to note the world-encompassing nature not only of the decrees of a secular Caesar, but of the universal scope of the mission of the world's newborn divine Savior.
Mary is in her ninth month, about to deliver Jesus. We read in Luke that the city of David, Bethlehem in Judea, was her destination, since Joseph, as a descendent of David, would have had to report there for the mandatory census. Matthew affirms the tradition of the birthplace.
Imagining a woman in Mary's condition making such a journey, however, some have wondered whether the Bethlehem in Galilee, nearer to Nazareth, might have been the more likely historical birthplace. Architectural findings have unearthed an early Christian worship site at Galilean Bethlehem, but little evidence of much of a settlement in Judean Bethlehem during that period.
In any case, the lesson is that bearing the Gospel -- Jesus, the Gospel or "Good News" -- does not come without great personal investment of time, labor and patience by those who bear it.
People in rural areas often have to travel long distances to attend church. Friends and family from my youth told of plowing through the snow and along dirt roads many a Sunday in the times before most people had cars. Love often demands we go out of our way to visit a sick friend in hospital or a family member in some retirement, rehab or nursing facility.
No one has gone out of His way more than the Incarnate Word, to be so close as to have "pitched His tent among us," as one evangelist relates quite literally (Jn 1:14).
We will not get into the flight into Egypt here, which adds a whole new dimension to the Holy Family's travels. The point is how much God puts His beloved Son and those who bear His presence into challenging situations, even in harm's way, for the sake of the Gospel.
Why is this? Even today, we learn of Christians being persecuted simply for attending Mass in various places, when we find it difficult to "watch that one hour" weekly that Jesus hoped His disciples would spend with Him as He prayed and agonized for them in the garden.
When God draws close to our humanity, He pays a tremendous price, as Mary's Son would eventually show us by the outpouring of His life's blood.
The good news for us is, however, that God will not stop coming to us, going out of His way to be with us. Wherever we are on our own journey of life, whatever stage our faith may be in, Jesus is here to meet us where we are.
If you are searching for truth, longing for love, yearning for peace, you will find it, for you are looking for Jesus and He is searching, longing and yearning for you, so you are sure to find Him or be found! It is this incredible love of God for humanity, every one of us, which brought our Savior into our world, where He remains with us in His Church on our journey through history.
Christmas is not just about one day, not even 12 (or 13!) days. Christmas is wherever Jesus can be born again in our hearts and made manifest to the world, one person at a time. We have a Savior who meets us exactly where we are.
As His disciples -- if we be worthy of the name -- we want to imitate the example of that Holy Family whose comings and goings we contemplate during Christmastide, following the lead of the Holy Spirit who will take us on the roads our lives travel along: in our homes and our communities; where we work, shop and worship.
No person whom we meet is unworthy of our respect and attentiveness, for Jesus is everyone's Savior. The powers of this world may take up censuses and amass data, counting people as numbers to maintain their databases. God does not count us as mere numbers or entries, for our Savior comes to each of us personally. Each one counts! Our value is important enough that He would die for us, even if we were the only person in the world.
(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)
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