18 Dec 2016
“‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” (Matt. 1:23)
In the name …
I can’t stay up and watch Saturday Night Live. It starts at 11:30pm. That’s too late on any night, never mind the night before Sunday Mass. But I do watch segments of the show on YouTube. Last weekend they aired one of their recurring skits that is based on a news program. The topic being discussed was what is now called “fake news.” People or organizations can put almost anything out on social media and others can use it as their news source. You may remember a couple of weeks ago, a 28 year old guy with a gun from North Carolina walked into a Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. to investigate for himself if Hillary Clinton was running a child smuggling ring out of the basement. He was motivated by “fake news.” So Saturday Night Live had their fun with this story.
I bring it up now because of something they said in jest, but is important for us as people of faith to think about. The Pope had made a statement in opposition to the rise of “fake news.” The fake news commentator on Saturday Night Live, however, then made the awkward joke that even people like the Pope who hear voices coming out of the sky and from burning bushes don’t believe in “fake news.” The implication being that the truths we call revealed are also suspect, can also be considered “fake.”
We here this morning are people of faith. By definition this means that we trust in things unseen, unproven and even unprovable. We believe, for example, that what takes place here is way beyond what can be seen. We believe that somehow heaven and earth touch through the mystery of our worship. There’s even that wonderful line in the liturgy that calls upon God’s heavenly angels to come down and carry our offering to His altar above. There’s the whole unseen mystery that we are not only receiving bread and wine, but the mystical body and blood of Christ when we come forward for Communion. We are gifted by God to be able to believe in these sorts of things, but for others it is not the same. That’s where the Saturday Night Live comment comes from. For people outside of faith, voices from out of the sky and out of burning bushes are as reliable, for them, as “fake news” stories about human trafficking rings run by Hillary Clinton out of pizza parlor basements.
Today is the last Sunday of Advent. The fourth and final candle of the Advent wreath has been lit, the candle of love. But there’s a beautiful and profound symbolism in the lighting of these four candles of faith, hope, joy and love. They symbolize for us the increasing light in the world as we approach the birth of Jesus, but the light stays here in the Sanctuary. It has grown brighter with each passing Sunday, but still the light stays here in the Sanctuary. That all changes on Christmas Eve when we gather with the angels to proclaim the birth of the Son of God. In the middle of one of the longest nights of the year, we light the Christ Candle as part of our announcement that Jesus has been born in Bethlehem. Then the light of that candle is carried from the Sanctuary and out to everyone in the congregation. The light leaps the barrier, in a sense, and enters the world. It moves out beyond the Sanctuary, the place of the holy, and becomes active in the world through all of us.
Last Sunday we read of Jesus’ testimony about John the Baptist when He said, “‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’” Everything up until the moment of the Incarnation, the moment when God left the glories of heaven and entered our world as one of us in the child Jesus, was about God in our world. Christmas is the new reality not about God in our world, but of God actually in our world. And with that singular event of the coming birth of Jesus, God leaps beyond the boundary separating the sacred and the profane, the holy and the ordinary, and God becomes a part of our world. The light of the Advent wreath can only grow so bright. It is the light of the Christ Candle that we carry out to all the world.
This is God’s answer to those who think faith is only about voices out of the sky and out of burning bushes, who can see no difference between faith and “fake.” God becomes “real” in Jesus. No more is it only disembodied voices from somewhere called heaven. With the coming of Christmas, we can now speak of Immanuel, as we read in today’s Gospel, that “God is with us.” And the light leaps forth from the Sanctuary. Barbara read for us a passage from the Gospel of John as we lit that fourth candle. Jesus said to His followers and to each of us here: “I give you a new commandment: love one another … This is how all will know that you are my disciples.” Christmas is God not becoming Jewish or Christian. Christmas is God becoming a part of creation as a human being, as us. This speaks to the fact that God is concerned about all of creation and most especially about all of His people, even the ones who at present cannot see the difference between faith and “fake.” And this is why when that Holy Child grows up and begins to teach He shares with us a new commandment, the commandment to love one another, and that this love will testify to the fact that we are followers of Jesus. No longer do people who are not yet gifted with faith have to rely on voices out of the sky or burning bushes. Now they can see the real effects of God in the world by the different way in which we Christians act. Our acts of love and charity, inspired by Christ, are the hard evidence that God is real and that Christmas is real.
We have one week’s time until the wonder of Christmas is upon us. Make time for the Christ Child. Even share a Christmas invitation with others to help the light spread even further, to help Jesus move people from “fake” to faith. And celebrate the loving mystery of Immanuel, that God is with us. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo