26 December 2012
Wonder & Awe in the Presence of God
Nativity of Our Lord
What can we say on this holy day? What words measure up to the mystery that is celebrated in this holy Mass? What rhetoric could match the truly awesome gift that we celebrate tonight: Emmanuel, God-with-us, a God who loves us so much that He sends His Only-Begotten Son? There are no words. There is but silent adoration.
Not even the Gloria, the song of angels, quite does this celebration justice. Their words, while fitting praise of God, pale in comparison to the mystery of the Word-made-flesh who dwelt among us. That God should marry to Himself a human nature, never to divorce it from Him for all eternity, is a gift which can only be properly praised with silence.
How struck with awe the shepherds must have been when they approached the Christ Child! After taking in wonderment about the angels singing in the heavens, I can see them approach the Blessed Virgin Mary and Joseph, and the little child, and just stop and kneel down and look with love on the Face of Love Himself. Words fail in the presence of the Divine Word. Who could have guessed, though it was foretold by all the prophets, that God, from whom the Israelites shrank back when He appeared to them in fire on Mount Sinai, would reveal His presence in our human nature?
This silence in the awesome presence of God is not a vacuum of sound. It is, instead, the active presence of the raising of hearts to the Lord in a way that not even the human voice can make known, but only our souls can share in the power of the Holy Spirit, with inexpressible groanings, love for Love Himself. This silence is not an absence, but is a presence. It is a power that is expressed as the union of God and His People is achieved in a marvelous new way.
In this active silence nothing else matters, only Him. All the cares of the world are irrelevant not because they have no importance, but because all things that are important are only important in Him.
And in this Mass, as in every Mass, Jesus Christ, the Divine Word, Son of the Eternal Father, chooses to become flesh, and give that flesh to us in the Eucharist. In this Mass, as in every Mass, we have the chance to come before our ever-living God, who, “in times past, spoke in partial and various ways, but in these last days he spoken to us through the Son.” Not in a pillar of fire, or trumpets, or thunder, as on Mount Sinai, but under the appearance of a host. And as that mystery takes place, we, like the shepherds, kneel down in adoration. We respond to the Mystery of Faith, but our words do not fully express what just happened, as Christ is made present for us again in the angelic bread, the panis angelicus, a food though which is not for angels, but in which Jesus joins Himself to us humans in one of the most intimate unions that exists in all the universe.
And because of this, and especially on this holy night/day, in order to honor the mystery made present, there are special vestments, a precious chalice, smoke rises before God as the sign of our prayers, and the spoken word does not even seem quite fitting so those words are sung as an expression of our joy. All of these are ways, including your presence here, that the holiness of the mystery is expressed.
But this mystery is not meant to be kept to ourselves. After kneeling in adoration we are meant to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings.” The mystery is not a secret, but a proclamation of joy to a sorrowful world; a proclamation of hope to people in despair; a proclamation of light to the people who walk in darkness. This mystery of Christmas begs us to conform our lives to it, and to spread it to others. If God loves us so much that He would join a human nature to Himself in Jesus, then what should we not give in return for that love? What part of our lives is off-limits to the God who spared nothing for us?
Let us keep our hearts silent and focused only on Jesus in adoration as we celebrate these sacred mysteries. For in the Eucharist, as when Jesus was born, Christ our God to earth descends now, our full homage to demand.