The Story of Salvation
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - December 16, 2017 - 4:00pm

A non-believer once asked a Christian, “You said you are a Christian. Then where the hell is your joy?” In a more recent time the question was asked again in a magazine article: “Why We Feel So Bad When We Have It so Good.”

Or, as one Jesuit author puts it, “Why is the Good News, no longer good and no longer news?”

Today’s liturgy, Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday to rejoice, confronts the problem head on. The opening prayer hits the bull’s eye: “Lord God, may we your people, who look forward to the birthday of Christ, experience the joy of salvation.”

Three powerful words there: Salvation… Joy… Experience. Let’s look into each of these words more closely.

Let’s start with joy. For joyful reading this Advent, sacrifice today’s best sellers, Nostradamus or other prophets of doom. Instead read the four Gospels at leisure. Why?

To find out where the Gospels locate joy, where God’s inspired Word tells us to look for joy. Make this your personal Christmas shopping, your gift to yourself.

First, in the Gospels, joy is linked with life, especially new life.  An angel promises joy in the birth of John the Baptist. When John is born, Elizabeth’s neighbors rejoice with her. With child in her womb, Mary rejoices in God her Savior.

The birth of Jesus is “good news of great joy.” (Luke 2:10) A mother no longer remembers her anguish “for joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21-22) The Father of the Prodigal Son calls for rejoicing because “this my son was dead and is alive again.” (Luke 15: 24) Life!

Second, in the Gospels, joy is linked with discovery. There is the man who “hears [God’s] word and immediately received it with joy” (Matt. 13:20); the man who finds a treasure and with joy sells all to buy it; the shepherd who rejoices when he finds a straying sheep.

There is joy of the woman discovering the lost coin, the joy of the 72 disciples discovering that demons are subject to them, the joy of Jesus, because the childlike have discovered their God. There is the father of the prodigal summoning his elder son to joy: “Because your brother was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:31)  Discovery.

Third, in the Gospel, joy is linked, strangely enough, with suffering. The disciples are to rejoice when slandered and persecuted. When hated and outlawed for Jesus’ sake, they are to “leap with joy.” And when Jesus’ disciples are told to take up their cross everyday, surely they are to do so with joy in their hearts.  Suffering.

Fourth, in the Gospel, joy is linked most especially with Jesus, the fullness of joy. John the Baptist’s joy is “complete” because, as the bridegroom’s “best man,” he prepares Israel for Jesus.

Only if the disciples abide in Jesus’ love, only if what they ask they ask in Jesus’ name will their joy be complete.

When we see Jesus again, it will bring a joy no man will take away from us. And so, it proves after his rising from the dead – for the disciples and for Mary Magdalene.

Why, in Jesus’ risen presence the disciples are so joyful they can hardly believe what they see – Jesus.

All this brings us back to the opening prayer: “May we your people, who look forward to the birthday of Christ, experience the joy of salvation” – the joy of salvation.  Salvation is what we have just uncovered in the Gospels: Salvation is Jesus – is joy – is discovery – is life – is suffering.

Salvation is Jesus. For salvation is God’s only Son becoming one of us – for me. Salvation is a stable in a little town of Bethlehem, a baby lying helpless in a manger – for me. Salvation is a God-man sucking at a mother’s breast – for me.

Salvation is the boy Jesus learning from Joseph how to make a plow, learning from Mary how to love God – for me, for you. Salvation is the man Jesus hungry, weary, lonely – for me. Salvation is God’s Son sold for 30 pieces of silver and crowned with thorns, whipped like a dog and nailed to a cross – for me.

Salvation is simply, St. Paul’s exclamation, “He loved me and gave himself” – for me. Salvation is discovery. For salvation is finding Christ at work – as St. Ignatius said, like a laborer, in every creature he has fashioned – working in the billions of stars to which Christ brings to existence; in the four thousand varieties of roses to which he gives life, in the long-haired poodle, and chow dog, or the friendly black Labrador, to which he gives senses; in that mind of yours to which he gives intelligence; in that heart of yours into which he infuses love.

Salvation is Christ, not on a majestic throne in heaven, but everywhere – in every nook and corner of his universe – alive not only yesterday, but each moment of each creature’s existence. Yes, the world is charged with the presence and grandeur of Christ, with the labor of Christ – for me.

Salvation is life. Salvation is three divine Persons alive in me, active in me, energizing me. Salvation is new life, a new creation, through repentance, and reform, God murmuring to me, “I forgive you; go in peace.” Salvation is life within your family – what the early Christians called “a little Church,” with Christ the unseen guest.

Salvation is the life within this community, loving one another, loving less fortunate sisters and brothers as Jesus loves you. And yes, salvation is a cross, many a cross erected over history, over you and me.

For salvation is following the footsteps of Christ, wherever he may lead. Salvation is a journey to Jerusalem, and the road is rough, rocky with pain, twisting and turning where we never expected. Yet even here, especially here, we touch salvation; for it is in dying that the Christian rises to new Christ-life – dying to sin, dying to self, dying the countless deaths that dot a human life, all the loves and pains we offer to God as years move on.

Very simply, salvation is now, every moment you and I live. Now such is the salvation we pray to enjoy. But our opening prayer is not satisfied to explain that salvation is a joyful reality. We ask to experience that joy.

The God-man, who cried at his mother’s breast, who felt the pangs of hunger in the stomach, who sweated blood out of overwhelming fear, who recoiled in pain on the cross for us did not experience all this simply so that we might accept God’s revelation to us in Christ with an abstract act of faith: I do believe that there is one God in three divine Persons, that Jesus is both divine and human.

What Advent asks of us is that we experience the story of salvation. The same passion that inflames thousands of basketball fans should lay hold of my blood and bones when I look at Jesus in peaceful slumber in Bethlehem, and rising gloriously from the tomb for me.

Thank God I can rejoice with angels on Christmas. Thank God my body trembles when I remember what my sins did to Christ, and my skin makes music when I listen to “Ama Namin” sung or “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” Thank God I thrill in wonder, when I sense Father, Son, and Spirit shaping this fragile skin-and-bones into a new creature, alive with God’s own life.

The high point of knowledge is when I feel God. This is what God’s grace wants to do for each and all of us. Yes indeed, let’s pray for an Advent grace beyond compare – perhaps address our prayer to her, who first held this infant in her arms.

 

“Mother of Jesus and my mother,

Help me to experience the joy of your Son’s birth.

Not just another head-trip,

an orthodox realization in my mind

That he took flesh to make me one with him.

“Let this realization flood my whole being,

Take possession of all my senses, excite me, thrill me.

Let this Advent be a discovery.

Let me discover your Son

Somewhat as you discovered him in Bethlehem.

 

“Not words about him, but Jesus himself, wearing our flesh.

 

“My Lord and my God yes,

But still wonderfully human, approachable,

loving and lovable, caring.

“When he touches my hand, my tongue,

my heart in the Eucharist,

Open my whole person to experience his coming,

not to a crib but to me.

“Let me not experience bread;

Let me experience your Son’s smile,

hear the beauty of his voice,

Touch his glorified wounds, taste the sweetness of the Lord.

“Even with death all around me,

the violence that saddens my existence,

Let me experience the joy of being alive in Christ,

Alive in Christ.” 

Amen.

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