Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 20, 2004
Bring Jesus' love to one another
Our acts of humanity validates Christ as our saviour
By FR. THOMAS RYAN
Special to the WCR
In the readings of Advent, I identified with John the Baptist's two disciples who came to Jesus with a big question. "Are you he who is to come, or are we to look for another?"
The messiah John preached about was going to come with his winnowing fork in his hand to clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary; "but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
And then along comes his cousin with a decided inclination to the poor, this Jesus who dines with tax collectors and invites prostitutes into his travelling entourage. So I understand where John was coming from. And I have a few questions of my own as we come to Christmas.
What about the sorrow?
If you're the Messiah, and the Messiah brings salvation, liberation for the people, then: What about 40 million people with HIV/AIDS? What about four million Palestinians living in squalor in either the West Bank or the Gaza strip, with more than 30 per cent of the population unemployed and 50 per cent living below the official poverty line of two dollars a day?
What about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, where the government and its Janjaweed allies have killed thousands and put a million civilians into refugee camps where they live on the edge of survival?
And I haven't even mentioned Iraq!
So: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" If this is salvation, where is it?
And Jesus' response to John's disciples is: "Go, tell John what you hear and see. The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offence at me."
Now suppose that, contrary to expectations, the coming of the messiah did not mean the end of human history and the definitive establishment of God's reign. Further, suppose that it marked a decisive stage in regard to both. Suppose that in Jesus, God manifested God's love and acceptance of us and planted among us a seed of new life, a seed that is meant to bear fruit now and to be brought to fulfillment in eternity. And suppose that the Advent Sundays and the celebration of Christmas are about reviving our hope and trust in God's future.
One of the ladies who lives alone in the neighbourhood shared with me a little dialogue she had with herself while setting up her Advent wreath and Christmas tree this year. "Why am I doing this? No one will see it, and I don't need it."
Then she hears herself say: "You have to do this. Not so that others will see it, but to remind yourself that the hope is not just words or a dream, but it's real. Jesus really did come. And so you really have a wreath, and you will go out and get a tree, and you will decorate it, and you will buy real gifts for the people you love, and you will go to midnight Mass and you will have a real Christmas dinner. This is how you keep the hope alive and real."
But can we identify in our midst any real and concrete reasons for believing that a seed of new life has in fact been planted and is bearing fruit now?
Here are some that I'm looking at: The L'Arche movement was founded by Jean Vanier in France in 1964. Today there are 130 communities of L'Arche on five continents. In L'Arche, people with developmental disabilities and those who come to assist them share life together. In a recent newsletter, Jean told how in their communities in Calcutta, Christians, Hindus and Muslims, are living together in peace.
"Go and tell John what you hear and see: the poor have the good news preached to them."
Like Jesus, we should be able to point to the works of salvation taking place, to the ways in which that seed of new life is bearing fruit now through the life of Christ in us.
Families for Peace
And he told how in Israel, he met a Jew named Aaron whose one son was killed by Hamas. In grief, he contacted another Israeli father who had lost a son in the army. They then contacted Palestinians who had lost their sons. Together they've created an association called Bereaved Families for Peace.
"Go and tell John what you hear and see: the lame walk and the deaf hear."
Forty million people on our planet are infected with HIV/AIDs. Thirty million of them are Christian. That means the Church is just as affected by AIDS as the society around it. Are there signs of new life here? A report received this week from the World Council of Churches told how faith communities all across the globe are on the front line of responding with care, support, and education for prevention.
"Go and tell John what you hear and see: the lepers are cleansed."
Like Jesus, we should be able to point to the works of salvation taking place, to the ways in which that seed of new life is bearing fruit now through the life of Christ in us, inspiring us to use our intelligence and energy in finding solutions to the problems we face.
The final validation of Christ as saviour must await the consummation of the reign of God. But the signs of the reality of that reign must be found in our commitment not only to the Sudans, Palestines, and Iraqs of our world, but to the suffering of people on our own streets and in our own offices and homes.
To the Baptizer's question we can then reply: No, we're not looking for another. There is no other way to salvation than the love manifested in the message and self-giving of Jesus. Nor are we simply waiting passively for that love to come in a future, definitive way. We have been touched by it. We are being changed by it. And we commit ourselves to bringing it to each other.
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