Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 17, 2001
'God so loved the world . . .'
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
These words of Jesus to Nicodemus became clich‚ with the American fellow who drove to major sporting events all over the U.S. and held up a board with simply "John 3:16" written on it so that it would be seen in the background on network TV. Presumably, his hope was that, seeing his sign, some would be moved to pick up their Bibles, read the passage and come to faith in Jesus Christ. How fortunate if evangelization were that simple!
But the man still knew something. He knew that in those words of Jesus to Nicodemus is contained the heart of the Christian message. God loves us, he gave us his Son, his Son died for us and now we have the possibility of eternal life.
If you want to know how to live, watch the Son. The Son, whose mission was simply to do the Father's will. The mission that was apparent even in Jesus' birth and babyhood.
It was not "all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant" who first witnessed the Saviour. It was humble shepherds attending to the words of an angel who made their way to the stable. There, they found a newborn baby, the son of poor parents - not intellectuals or worldly rulers - who was dressed in a burial garment and placed in an eating trough.
A most unlikely sight! And yet, "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen." These simple shepherds were blessed with great but simple faith.
Eventually the time came for the baby to be presented in the Temple. Again, this time Simeon, without the benefit of angels, recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and gives praise to God. But Simeon warns Jesus' mother that her son "is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that is opposed." As for Mary, "a sword will pierce your own soul, too."
How odd? Jesus offers the promise of eternal life to those who believe in him, but there is also the prophecy of rejection and suffering, both for him and for those close to him.
At the heart of this is love. Love is something we too often reduce to sentiment and emotion. But real love always involves "mourning," a continual giving-up of much that is precious to us. Even supposedly committed to love, we can still flee from it when it asks us to stretch a bit further, to be a little bit less humanly speaking so that we can be a little more in the ways of the Lord.
The early fathers of the Church saw our divinization in the incarnation- just as God became human, so we become divine. We can share in God's life, here in this world.
But liturgy and prayer are not "sacred moments," moments set apart from the rest of life. The liturgy is the source and summit of the Christian life. All that we do in our daily lives should prepare us for the liturgy; all that we do should overflow from the abundance of God's grace in the liturgy.
Sharing in God's life must help us build a better world even if indeed we have decided to accept that sharing. It must help us to build better relations with our families, friends and enemies. It must lead us to build a better world where war and economic inequality are vanquished. It must help us make God's reign present here today. This is the hope of Christmas - that we "may not perish but have eternal life." Not just after death, but right here today.
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