“… let the earth be open and bring forth a Savior.”

Life_Giving Faith.pdf

The early weeks of the new liturgical year correlate with the end of the calendar year, as we celebrate incredible feasts back-to-back: the Fourth Sunday of Advent, within hours of Christmas vigil Mass, then the following Sunday’s Feast of the Holy Family, within hours of the Solemnity of Mary, the mother of God on New Year’s Day. We have the opportunity to go to Mass A LOT over the next two weekends. And according to Pope Francis, we should!

A dwelling place for God

The focus of Christmas is an extraordinary moment of grace. The star was the brightest ever seen. It penetrated through the darkness of the world and illuminated a baby, his mom and foster father. The whisper of the night was interrupted by the song of an army of angels shouting, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2: 14). God opened the floodgates of heaven and poured upon the earth grace everlasting through Jesus who made a dwelling place among us. Salvation has come to all who believe, hope and love. The promise is peace.

Ark of the Covenant

A few thousand years preceding the incarnation, God made a dwelling place with the Israelites, his chosen people. God said to Moses, “And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst.” Within this movable tabernacle were placed the Ark of the Covenant, a table for the bread of the presence and the golden lampstand. Each illuminates the divine. King David years later desired to build a more appropriate place for the ark, which resulted in the construction of the temple in Jerusalem built by Solomon. The temple replaced the movable tabernacle with a permanent dwelling place for God, or so they thought. Overtaken by enemies, the temple was destroyed and the chosen people exiled. They felt lost and afraid. Hope was restored through the great prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, that one was to come to restore God’s people: “I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance” (2 Sm 7:10).

Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant

“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel” (Is 7:14). The sign of hope given years before is perpetuated with Mary’s fiat, her “yes” to the message of the angel Gabriel as he announced, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Mary, thus, became a dwelling place for Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, who was sent to bring us home to the father; to show us the way of love; to free us from sin and bring us to everlasting life. She is the model for all Christians who are called to open their entire being to the presence of God, a dwelling place for Jesus. How can we become such a dwelling place?

Eucharist, the bread of the presence

Dr. Brant Pitre, professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, poses this question in his book “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: How would God be present to his people, as he had been in the past, in the tabernacle of Moses?” He explains the bread of the presence is “the bread of the face of God.” The fulfillment of this holy offering is made available each day in the sacrifice of the Mass. We see the face of God in the Eucharist. His real presence is what we eat and drink at every Mass. Established within in our soul at baptism is a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Established in our body and soul at Eucharist is the capacity to be a dwelling place for Emmanuel, God with us.

Inexhaustible spring of the Eucharist

This brings us back to the original point: the real reason for the season. Pope Francis, during his Oct. 25 general audience in St. Peter’s Square, challenged the faithful: “But how can we practice the Gospel without drawing the necessary strength to do it, one Sunday after another, from the inexhaustible spring of the Eucharist?”

The reason for Christmas is to celebrate the “opening of the earth and bringing forth a Savior.” Jesus’ saving birth will eventually lead to his saving death and resurrection. The hands and feet of this child will grow into an adult, who ultimately will be pierced for the salvation of all, yet not before showing us how to live, love and be merciful. To keep us close, he sent the Holy Spirit and cleaved us to his body and blood in the real presence, the Eucharist.

The power of the “inexhaustible spring of the Eucharist” can move mountains. Once received in good faith, we can become loving and merciful dwelling places for God. We are called to move mountains by our love, our actions and our prayer. Strengthened by Eucharist we are capable of sharing this good news to all so they may come to know that Jesus Christ is our savior and shout with the angels, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!”

Christmas opens the path for pilgrims to humbly follow the star, led by angels, and bear gifts to give to the one who is the face of God. Jesus incarnate, God in the flesh, is touchable, knowable and lovable. He is the way, the truth and the light. We call him Wonder Counselor, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. May this Christmas season renew your faith in Jesus Christ as the greatest of all joys and sing, “…veiled in flesh the God-head see. Hail the incarnate deity. Pleased as man with us to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. Hark the Herald angels sing. Glory to the new born King.” Make room for God. Come to Mass each Sunday. Become a dwelling place for him. Amen. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Dow is the director of the Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.