Fr. Glenn: Waiting…waiting…

By Fr. Glenn Jones:

We who live in arid areas know that deserts often do not deserve their negative reputation; they produce some of the most beautiful panoramas imaginable. One need only look west from Albuquerque toward the Sandia mountains to behold the beauty of peaks bathed in reddish hue at sundown. Or, travel “down the hill” from Los Alamos just prior to the sun being occluded behind the western Jemez range to behold the grandeur of the Rio Grande Valley. We give thanks to behold such, and for that marvelous organ that is the eye.

Now at the beginning of the Christian season of Advent the desert sparks many thoughts: visons of wise men (a.k.a., “magi” or “kings” in various Bible translations) traversing the desert, urged on and led by a guiding star. A carpenter and his very pregnant spouse traveling to a village for a census. The Christian imagination strains to glimpse across open plain and 2000 years camels in the distance…a retinue of the wise seeking the newborn King of the Jews.

One wonders why such efforts to traverse many desert miles, not to mention to present gifts of such value as the author of the Gospel of Matthew describes. They came to worship him, the text relates, seemingly believing that he would be at least semi-divine, especially as his birth was foretold by prophecy and signaled by celestial sign. It’s almost certain that they did not expect to find what they found—a newborn in a feed trough. And yet, being wise, they knew that great leaders often arise from humble origins, and thus were not dissuaded—nay, perhaps more convicted—to offer their gifts and worship.

Tradition (and Christmas hymns) place the number of the magi to three because of the three gifts, and named them as each representing a different race—typically European, Middle Eastern and African (Asia not well known at the time)—in affirmations of the theology that Jesus was born not simply as King of the Jews, but, as we Catholics celebrated in anticipation last weekend, king and savior of all the world; indeed, along with the Father and Holy Spirit, the divine and eternal origin, sustainer and ruler of all that exists—a concept anathema to some, and (literally) Gospel for others.

Nonetheless, most know of the basics of the story following Jesus’ birth: early life at Nazareth, a few years of preaching, teaching and mission, culminating in His trial, death, resurrection and ascension. And now the Christian faithful await His promised return—foretold to be much less “low-key” than His first; indeed, “as lightning from east to west”—to separate and reward according to their faith and works those who have been righteous and observant of the good, and those who have…not.

Many read this whole story as a fable…an imaginative tale. Except…there’s just those pesky and undismissible facts that nag: the many accounts of Jesus’ super-natural works, His companions dying torturous deaths themselves testifying to the truths they witnessed, the wildfire-like spread of the Christian faith (which continues even today) after Jesus’ reputed ascension, the growth of the Church despite wars, persecutions, crimes, etc. Is it reasonable to think that all is fabricated, considering that Jesus was a humble manual laborer from a vassal nation, and that He could affect the world so? How many empires have come and crumbled over those 2000 years, and yet the faith He began not only survives, but thrives.

Recently there was an op-ed of a Harvard scientist speculating that our universe could be a creation of aliens. I couldn’t help but chuckle, wondering whether he would even admit the possibility of the existence of a divinity. And another story not long ago that the universe was created from nothing—something basic to Christian theology—the initiating, creating force being God. (“I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.” (2 Maccabees 7:28))

When will Jesus return? He tells us that’s not for us to know. Our task—and our wisdom—is simply to live in faith as if His return is tomorrow, because it may very well be for all that we know. Then, if tomorrow is that great day, it will be joy-filled beyond any other, not one of panic and uncertainly. Scripture reminds us: “Can a man hide himself…so that I cannot see him? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24) And the psalmist cries out: “Where shall I go from thy Spirit? Or where shall I flee from thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in [the underworld], you are there!”  (Psalm 139:7-12)

But servile terror is not how it is meant to be for us, and not what God wants for us. The Father sent His Son to save us from such uncertainty and fear, and to show us the depths of His love for us. We need only look at a crucifix to witness that love, for on the cross He brings divine justice into balance, taking the unrighteousness and sin from those who accept Him unto Himself.

Yet God will not force our acceptance of Christ. But…what could WE possibly to offer to atone for sin, for all we have is given to us by Him.  What we CAN give is our free will…freedom to choose Him, or not.  To live in goodness and in His Word…or not. To love…or not.

But in this life is when we choose. Now is when we make the choice given to the Israelites by Moses: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life…loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you…” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

And then, in following that star faithfully with determination and with charity, at the end of our journey we find—not stable, manger, or bleating sheep, but rather the King of Heaven, angels singing “Glory to God in the highest”…and life everlasting.

“O come, O come Emmanuel…”

Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.

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