4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT–12/18/11 THE EUCHARIST–GOD IS WITH US
READINGS: 2 SM 7:1-5,8b-12,14a,16; ROM 16:25-27; LK 1:26-38
I. Setting Up The Nativity Scene
A. One of the neatest things to see at Christmas time is the kids setting up the home nativity scene. They try to do it just right, imagining what it must have been like that First Christmas so long ago. And then, if they are really in the mood, they go and pester their parents for blankets and costumes to imitate Mary and Joseph and the manger scene. We think it’s cute, but in their wonderfully simple way, they express the human desire to be at the manger where heaven and earth meet when Christ is born.
B. Our imaginations are so powerful. We’ve peopled the First Christmas with little drummer boys and shepherds who don’t quite know what is going on. The littlest angel is even there. Paintings have been made, endless school pageants have been performed, all on the strength of our imagination of what it must have been like that First Christmas. We adults haven’t changed that much from when we were kids–down deep, we want to be there, to see what it was really like, to see the Baby Jesus.
II. Trying To Touch Emmanuel
A. We’re trying to touch Emmanuel. The longing that the Old Testament has for the Messiah has not gone away from us. God promises King David that his house shall never fail, that one will come who will do David proud. And all David can think of as that story ends is to say to himself, “When? When will this happen? When will such a Messiah come to my people?” It will be a long time, David–nearly a thousand years, but Mary’s conversation with the Angel Gabriel in the Gospel today anchors the promise in history–Christ is to be born of her. That happened, so why do we still hunger for the Messiah, why do we still long for Jesus?
B. Let’s put it bluntly. If the story of Christmas is true, we should be able to see Emmanuel now. If the story of Christmas is true, we should be able to talk to Christ now. If the story of Christmas is true, we should be able to touch God now. And the problem is, down deep in our hearts, many of us think it is not true because we do not see Emmanuel, we do not talk to Christ, we cannot touch God. The truth of the matter is, to not see, to not talk, to not touch our God makes the Christmas story false–it’s as simple as that. If God can not be reached now, Bethlehem is a fraud.
C. Don’t get depressed. Do you really think Christianity is going to accept the idea that Christmas is a fraud? Do you really think 2000 years of celebration is based on a lie? Somewhere, somehow, people have been able to touch God. How did they do it? You know the answer; the question is, do you believe it in your hearts?
III. The Eucharist–God With Us.
A. What makes Christmas not simply an event to be remembered, but a present reality is our ability to plug into the First Christmas through the Eucharist. In a stable in Bethlehem, Emmanuel was born; God came to stay as one of us. On the altars of our churches throughout the world, each and every day, Emmanuel is made present; God is with us in the Eucharist. The Christmas story is not just a past event enshrined as a children’s tale. Christ is coming into our lives this Christmas, and the Eucharist is the vehicle through which we will experience the Christmas mystery–in the Eucharist we meet Emmanuel, God with us.
B. This isn’t some pious thought. Test the reality. When you receive Communion today, go home and look at the manger scene you have set up. Look at the Christmas cards with the representations of the First Christmas, and open your heart to the Christ whom you have just received. It’s guaranteed that doors will open to you. That whole scene will not be some past event. You will have plugged into the reality that existed 2000 years ago and really exists now. You will be the beasts in the manger, the shepherds in the field, the Kings on their way, the angels in the sky–you will experience Christ for who he is–Emmanuel, God with us.
C. Using the Eucharist this way is a great method for getting some more meaning in Christmas. It only works though if you really believe what we Catholics believe about the Eucharist–that the bread and wine have really become the Body and Blood of our Lord. Do I have that sense of God dwelling in me when I receive the Eucharist? How do I speak to Christ when he is specially present to us in Holy Communion? How has my life changed because God is so present to me in the Eucharist? These are questions that each of us ought to ask.
D. But more importantly, why not just believe? The promise of that First Christmas is for us too. Make your soul a stable, your heart a manger for Christ to rest in–we still have time to prepare our lives for Christmas. In the last week of preparations, take time to reflect on the power of the Eucharist to bring the Christ Child to you. The Eucharist is meant to bring the Lord to us–it’s the way we time travel across the centuries to that tiny stable. We are there and he is here with us, and together, we tell the world the Good News, that the Savior can be born in every person’s life, if they only believe.