December 22, 2017

Christ the Cornerstone

Rejoice! God is with us. Come, let us adore him!

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“ ‘Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,’ the angel said. But Mary was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (cf. Lk 1:28-29).

Last weekend, we celebrated Gaudete Sunday. The Latin word gaudete means rejoice. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written that the first word of the angel’s greeting, which we translate as “hail,” might just as easily be translated as “rejoice.” That means that “rejoice” is one of the first words spoken in the New Testament.

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul tells us to rejoice always because the Lord is near. Christians should always be filled with joy, but we rejoice in a special way during the Advent and Christmas seasons because the Lord is near.

What do we mean when we say that the Lord is near?

Christ lived among us as a man 2,000 years ago. After his passion, death and resurrection, he ascended to his Father. But we Christians believe that he will come again in glory on the last day. We also believe that he is with us here and now—in the holy Eucharist and all the sacraments, in our prayer and in the works we perform in his name, and wherever two or more are gathered as his Church.

What do we mean when we say that the Lord, who is with us always, is also coming again this Christmas season and at the end of time?

Jesus Christ is the Lord of history. That means that, while he is the goal or end of human history, he is not bound by the limits of time or space as we are. As a result, he can be present with us now and, at the same time, he can be coming again in the future.

Advent celebrates this mystery. Although we know that Christ is with us always, we still wait in joyful hope for his coming again in glory. While we believe in his Real Presence in the Eucharist, we long for the more perfect communion that we will enjoy when we are with him in our heavenly home.

This “perfect communion” that is still yet to come is hinted at in the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. The season of Christmas is the time of year when we rejoice at the coming of the Lord. We sing of his presence and we celebrate the wondrous fact that God is with us (Emmanuel), the Lord of history freely choosing to enter into our time and space in order to be one with us.

As Pope Benedict XVI has written, “As a child, Jesus came not only from God, but from other human beings. He grew in the womb of a woman, from whom he received his flesh and his blood, his heartbeat, his gestures, his language. He received life from the life of another human being.” Christmas celebrates this great mystery. God is with us—really and truly—in the person of an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The Almighty God has emptied himself, as St. Paul says, and taken the form of the most vulnerable and dependent human being, a little child.

So, we rejoice. We are filled with joy because the long-awaited Savior has come at last. We rejoice because we are not alone in a vast, uncaring universe. God is with us. He knows us—each one by name—and he loves us as his sisters and brothers in the one family of God.

But even as we rejoice at the mystery of God’s presence here and now, we also celebrate the profound hope that he will come again. The suffering and evil that we experience in this world will pass away one day. God’s kingdom will come—on Earth as it is heaven—and on that day every tear will be wiped away, and we will see God face to face.

This is the source of all our rejoicing. This is why we wait in hope for the one we believe is our Blessed Hope. It’s why we celebrate Christ’s birth, and why we proclaim with the absolute certainty of our Christian faith: Jesus Christ has died. He is risen. And he will come again!

My prayer for you and for all the clergy, religious and faithful people of the Church in central and southern Indiana is that you will be filled with Christian hope, and that you will experience all the joys of the Christmas season. Now, with the whole Church, we proclaim: Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! And, at the very same time, we can sing with joyful hearts: Adeste, fidelis! God is with us. Come, let us adore him!

Merry Christmas! †

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