The Catholic Thing
This Is Your God! Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 15 December 2013

Editor’s Note: As Father Bramwell wisely explains in today’s column, the wonderful extravagance of God should not be confused with the materialistic excesses of this season. He comes to us with gifts we couldn’t have merited or even anticipated. Here at The Catholic Thing we’re quite aware of how grace-filled our beginning was and continued existence remains. We’ve had to depend on your generosity these five years and more now. And if the day ever comes that we are no longer serving our original purpose, we’ll stop asking for your help. But it’s fair to say that since we started these daily columns there’s even greater urgency of real Catholic voices in the Church and the public square. We’re still only about one-third of the way to where we need to be to keep TCT appearing every day in the new year. I’ll do the math for you one more time: it would be great if everyone who is a regular reader could give $50, but since we know that’s not possible we invite smaller gifts but also larger ones, multiples of $50 to help make up for those who just don’t have the wherewithal. The sooner we hit our marks, the sooner we can all get back to the essentials of the Christmas Season and the work of Catholic commentary. Today is a good day to do your part in the work of The Catholic Thing. Donate now! – Robert Royal

This is a here-is-your-God-moment, not a what-are-we-getting-for-Christmas moment. Just what is God like? Today’s readings shout out with immense hope and joy about God reaching into the world. Starting with Isaiah: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.” Unless we are really jaded we should rejoice in the fullness of this God who causes the world to “bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” We enjoy flashes of God’s exuberance when we say the rosary or when we feed the poor. Today has to be such a day.

But there’s more. The readings explain that we can actually feel the glory and splendor of God in this world. The Greek word for God’s glory Δοχα implies a weighty presence. This means that we are meeting God on his own terms, not ours. This is what Christmas is about and not a single department store is involved!

Moreover not only is God’s presence signaled by the sheer lavishness of nature, but also in a further act God then “comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” After the wonder of creation in which God reveals Himself, he comes into the world to redeem us and he reveals much more about himself in the process.

Now, way back, centuries before Jesus, prophets spoke about God’s Messiah, the Anointed, the Christus (Latin) who would come to God’s People. In His presence would “the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” This was Jesus, who was not just about precepts, but about blessings. We have accounts of these miracles in his life on earth. They continue to happen in the Church up to the present day.

Then in a nod to God’s extravagance in the future, Isaiah continues: “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing.” We have the Lord’s ransoming presence at Mass, at Penance, and when we forgive each other. We get flashes of the Messiah among us even in the daily struggles of life amid all the dross and sin. In Isaiah’s words, we also get hints of the great community of companionship with God in Heaven. The nations will gather at Mount Zion, at the banquet prepared by God. These are further clues about the infinite abundance of God. This is your God!

   The Prophet Isaiah by March Chagall, 1968

Singing the Psalm at Mass, we celebrate more of who God is. God is the one who “keeps faith” even when we don’t. He brings justice for the oppressed, feeds the hungry, and sets the captives free. This is your God. The whole psalm celebrates the loving power of God. We are involved in these things as we enter into his power. We help bring justice to the oppressed because that is what people baptized with God’s Spirit do. Baptized feed the hungry and pray for healing.

Then the Letter of Saint James explains how we exist in the tension between the flashes of God’s wonderful actions in life right now and when his glory will be fully manifested at the end of time: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” The word “patience” comes from the Latin word for enduring or suffering. Intellectually we know that we follow someone who was crucified but we have to learn how to endure and to do it with grace. In fact, James reminds us: “Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” Being baptized will get difficult, as some of us know.

Doesn’t that prick the balloon? God’s plan is not at all sentimental. From the lavishness of God we then hear about our part in all of this. God’s generosity breaks into the world and challenges us mightily. Joining God’s plan takes endurance on our part. That is why James says: “Make your hearts firm.” We are not bystanders when God reaches into our world. His presence compels our response.

Now to the Gospel: Here is the fulfillment of the prophecies that we have just heard. John the Baptist heard about Jesus and sent people to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. (We heard about the Messiah in the reading from Isaiah.) He would heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and so on. These were clues to the arrival of the hoped-for Messiah. Isaiah’s prophecies were coming true in Jesus.

Then Jesus spoke specifically about John the Baptist. Jesus quoted another part of Isaiah where God said: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.” Jesus said that John was the Messenger – another way of saying that he (Jesus) is the Messiah. Jesus is God’s abundance personified – people are healed, fed, given sight by his presence.

This is the marvel of God. He is this healing and this generous and this close. On this Advent morning, we should be filled with joy that this is really God. This is your God!

Fr. Bevil Bramwell is retired, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. He has published Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments. 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Patsy, December 15, 2013
I've been so busy with at work and some out of the ordinary personal things that Advent is passing me by like a Japanese bullet train (I hadn't even given a thought about the approach of Christmas until yesterday...), so I really needed these words this morning. They will be good material for reflection so I can finally settle in to waiting for Him. Thanks, Father.
written by Stanley Anderson, December 15, 2013
Jesus’ words to his disciples about John have always struck me as significant somehow in their very formation and command. He says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

Isn’t it fascinating that the instructions he gives them at the beginning of that line essentially physically manifest the very things they are to tell John. He says, “Go and tell John…”, i.e., walk, just as the lame walk, and tell John, just as the poor have the good new proclaimed to them, and is followed by “…what you hear and see”, i.e., what they hear, just as the deaf hear, and see, just as the blind see. His disciples seem to become, in effect, the message they are to give to John.

This interwoven quality of his instructions with the message they are to tell John simply delights me.
written by Riki, December 15, 2013
Christus Latin
Actually Christ comes from the Greek Christos (pronounce the CH as the Spanish J or X : Ιησούς Χριστός Θεός Υιός Σωτήρας which means Jesus Christ God's Son Savior. The first letter of each word forms the word Ichtus : Greek for Fish. That's why Christians used and use that symbol for Christianity and NOT because the apostles were fishermen :o). That's mostly the answer I get when I ask people if they know the meaning of the fish emblem/sticker on their car or any other object. Have a great Advents Sunday and a blessed and merry Christmas in Jesus our Lord and Savior.

written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, December 15, 2013
Riki I did not say that Christ comes from the Latin. I just said that it is Christus in Latin. I do enjoy the American presumption of error!
written by Riki, December 15, 2013

I can live without fancy goods
without flamboyant cloths or foods
but not without my Jesus, my God, my Lord
My Master, my Savior, my eternal Reward

Although You, I don’t deserve
don’t let me make the swerve
from the saving, Heavenly route
I would be lost without a doubt

I hear You say : I set you apart
feel the beating of My Heart
it beats with love for you
believe it or not, but it is true

Ask Me everyday for this gift
for My love for you knows no thrift
for you I still have so much in store
but first go close the back door

I won’t allow you to escape
from the stage of the great reshape
once completed I might call you home
freed from the human pressure dome.

Thank you, My daughter for visiting Me, for consoling Me in MY loneliness

Rita Biesemans, December 15 2013
written by Louise, December 15, 2013
Father, I've always found JtB's question one of the most'd think he would have already asked Jesus that long before since he jumped for joy in his mother's womb on first encountering Jesus. What about after the baptism of Jesus and the Father's public "anointing" of Jesus...I have just never really understood it.
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, December 16, 2013
Louise - good question. The scriptures do not give us an answer. My thought is that the whole concept of the Messiah actually was so vast that it was difficult to grasp then as it is similarly for so many people today. Don't forget that the scriptures also tell us about many of the disciples having difficulty and falling away. We (and I think John too) need continuous reassurance.
written by debby, December 19, 2013
Dear Fr., and Louise (if I am not too late to ask),
would it be theologically fair to speculate that since Jesus declared JtB the "Greatest born of woman" that he would be invited to the darkness of faith, the feeling of abandonment Jesus would experience on the Cross, that so many other Saints after him would experience? i never read JtB as "doubting" any more than our Lady "doubted" the word of God at the Angel's visit. Rather, questioning so as to understand better. Being human, wouldn't both Our Lady and JtB have finite minds even if, being spared original sin's effects, they had infinite capacity of will to respond to God? If they Knew Everything, they would not have been "walking by Faith, not by sight...."
is this line of considering this Gospel going down a wrong path?
Thank you!
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, December 19, 2013
Hi Debby, thanks for the question. The interesting thing is that the tradition never interprets the line this way. So the interpretation does not have any traction. Grace is the key. JtB is a prophet and so he has the grace of a prophet. Faith was still necessary. Why did JtB send his followers to ask Jesus? He needed reassurance. He was working on faith. Does this answer your whole question? I fell that I am still missing something. Please let me know.
written by debby, December 19, 2013
Yes, Fr., your comment does answer my question. I had only learned a couple years ago about the Church teaching that John was also born without original sin, being "saved by Grace" at the Visitation. So, although he was conceived in sin, he was born without it. I thought that was a pretty amazing teaching. It is helpful for me personally to see that even Mother Mary and John had to CONTINUE to walk by Faith, grow in Faith. If John could experience such a dark loneliness and longing for Him, a kind of stumbling in his Faith, then in my own life I can be assured that any glimpses of those places does not mean I have fallen away or do not love God enough. I am just human needing more exercise in the Faith marathon. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I appreciate your counsel!

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