Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: December 2016

25 December – Christmas Day

Gospel Lk 2:15-20

and everyone who heard it was astonished.

This is truly an astonishing encounter.

The circumstances are beyond what we would consider normal – choirs of angels appearing seemingly out of nowhere announcing the birth of the Messiah to lowly shepherds.

Yet despite the extraordinary nature of the events leading up to this encounter, what is perhaps most astonishing is the fact that what the shepherds found not only matched exactly what they had been told – but that the child they encountered corresponded to the deepest desires of their hearts. Extraordinary events surrounded something that was otherwise so ordinary, so natural.

This child, innocent and helpless, in fact changes everything. This vulnerable child is in fact ‘the center of the universe and of history.’ (RH, 1)

And this is what we celebrate at Christmas – the All-Powerful taking on the weak and vulnerable human flesh of this little child. God comes to meet us in the ordinariness of our daily life.

As we must remember, the Christian faith is not a series of intellectual propositions or moral precepts that must be accepted an abided by – ideas (propositions and precepts) do not need a mother. No. The Christian faith is an encounter with an event, a person which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ (DCE, 1)

The encounter that the shepherds had corresponded to the deepest needs and desires of their hearts, and this is an encounter that we can now share.

Point to Ponder

‘Mary and Joseph are not ideas. They are real people who made decisions on which our faith depends. Christianity is not a timeless set of ideas. Christianity is not some ideal toward which we ought always to strive even though the ideal is out of reach. Christianity is not a series of slogans that sum up our beliefs. Slogans such as “justification by grace through faith” can be useful if you do not forget it is a slogan. But Christianity cannot be so easily “summed up” even by the best of slogans or ideas. It cannot be summed up because our faith depends on a young Jewish mother called Mary.’ – Stanley Hauerwas

16 December – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Gospel Mt 1:18-24

They will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’

The story of the nativity of Jesus is happily a familiar story for the vast majority of us. Sometimes though this familiarity can result in us glossing over important, but otherwise inconspicuous details in the story.

The name Emmanuel, we are told means ‘God-is-with-us.’ Such a bold statement deserves a little unpacking.

Often we think of this event of Christ’s coming amongst us as a man as an event that occurred in the past. Jesus, Emmanuel, is then conceived merely as ‘God-was-with-us’ – here though, we are presented with the tremendous claim that God is (and remains) with us.

These words remind us that the reality of Christ’s coming was not only a once-off event that occurred some 2000 years ago in some backwater of what is now modern day Israel. No. The faith we have is not mere memory of something that has come and gone. A memory of a past event cannot sustain us for that long – it cannot answer the deepest questions of our heart.

Our faith is born of an encounter – an encounter with a real person who continues to come, who remains with us, (Cf. DCE,1).

The event of the Incarnation remains the essence of our faith. His Incarnation, instantiated in a particular time and place, is now universal – Christ comes amongst us through Word and Sacrament, through acts of charity, through the testimony of the mystical Body of Christ, the Church throughout the ages.

As this season of advent reaches its climax, the longing of our hearts intensifies. We await his coming again in Glory at the end of time, and we watch and wait for His coming in the interim.

Let us continue to pray that we would remain attentive to His coming amongst us. Let us live this Advent season intensely as we await, in joyful hope, the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Point to Ponder

 ‘The fact of the incarnation, this inconceivable Christian claim, has remained in history in its substance and entirety: a man who is God–who thus knows man–and whom man must follow if he is to have true knowledge of himself and all things. This initial experience has an unequivocal meaning: destiny has not left man alone. It is an event which was announced throughout the centuries and which reaches us even today. The real problem at hand is that man recognize this with love.’

– Luigi Giussani, At the Origin of the Christian Claim, 107.

11 December – Third Sunday of Advent

Gospel Mt 11:2-11

‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see?

Why was it that so many were drawn, first to John, and then to Jesus. These figures, enigmatic in their appearance and in their words drew tremendous crowds.

They spoke words that were often harsh and challenging and they were, in the end at least, unsuccessful – at least in worldly terms – in their ministries. Both met rather ignominious ends.

When Jesus poses this question, he tries to lead his listeners to an answer – John was much more than a pleasant novelty.

What John proposed was, in fact, something that corresponded to the desires to the human heart.

While his message was hard: we are all sinners and need to repent. What he provided though was the hope of forgiveness. His preaching pricked the consciences of the people (including Herod, who eventually was to order his execution), but did not leave the people in the despair that often accompanies such a profound awareness of one’s sinfulness. Instead, the Baptist pointed the way to a repentance that was truly life-giving. He smoothed the way for the one who was to come, the incarnation of mercy itself.

How do we react when the awareness of our own sinfulness hits us, when our consciences are pricked? Are we prepared to acknowledge our wrongdoing, and seek the grace to repent and repair broken relationships?

The words preached by John the Baptist find a resonance within us – they correspond to the inner desire of our hearts. They awaken us to the reality of our need, our sinfulness. And they call us forward, out of our sinfulness toward a place where we can open ourselves for the coming of the Incarnate God, to encounter Him who gives us life.

Point to Ponder

‘No act of our conscious life is true if it does not start out from the awareness that we are sinners.’

– Fr Julián Carrón: Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, Rimini 2016.

4 December – Second Sunday of Advent

Gospel Mt 3:1-12

But the one who follows me is more powerful than I am

From the very beginning of the Jesus story, and even further back into the history of salvation, we are confronted with, and confounded by, the profound power of paradox. Preference is given to the poor and the lowly; and, power is found in weakness.

The Baptist is one who exemplifies the profoundly powerful nature of this paradox. He owns nothing, clothes himself in camel-hair, eats bizarre food and behaves wildly, and yet he holds a power that is widely acknowledged, and is even threatening for the establishment.

His mysterious appearance in the wilderness drew a crowd, and despite this harsh manner of dress and speak, the people listened intently to him. Aware as they were of his significance, not only personally, but of his ministry in preaching repentance and baptising, John the Baptiser is a model of humility. Despite his being acknowledged as ‘great’ (cf. Mt 11:11, and  Lk 7:28), John functioned merely as a sign of what was to come.

In his ministry, John does not accumulate influence or power for himself, but instead points forward to the ‘one who follows.’

John functions as a powerful model for Christians today who seek to prepare the way for the Lord, not only so that He can come into their own lives, but so that He can be present in the lives of our family and friends, and all with whom we come into contact. He makes us uncomfortable, ruffles feathers and then gets out of the way. Breaking the mold of what we think is acceptable in ‘polite society,’ John points the way to an unusual and astounding ‘encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ (DCE, 1)

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