An Advent Reflection
The theme of the fourth week of Advent in our parish is “The Promise of ‘God with us’” from last Sunday’s readings. The advent verse for Saturday, December 24 is from the final words of Jesus to his followers in the Gospel of Matthew.
Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. —Matthew 28:20
Is there a promise more powerful than this one? I am with you always. I am with you on the cold nights when darkness seems to govern the earth. I am with you in the joyous moments when you dance with delight. I am with you in the searching days when the path is hard to find. I am with you in the morning light and the first taste of spring. I am with you when family life is brittle and unrewarding. I am with you when it is full of goodness and peace. I am with you.
I am with you when the bones creak and fears crowd. I am with you when the home team rises victorious. I am with you when you dinner table is full and when it is spare. I am with you.
I am with you in the morning prayers full of the Spirit, and in the prayers that echo off empty walls. I am with you when you travel alone and when you cannot find a private moment. I am with you when sleep comes too late and the alarm too early. I am with you when conflict surrounds. I am with you when hopes soar and when they are dashed. I am with you.
Of course the ‘you’ here is plural, so it means also, and more profoundly, that Christ is with the community of his followers. He is with us when we bicker over Peter’s decision to baptize a Roman soldier. He is with us when we struggle over the welcome given to Greeks in Antioch. He is with us when argument breaks out over Paul’s preaching. He is with us when Roman authorities arrest pastors demanding they surrender their copies of the scriptures. He is with us when Constantine sees his vision at the Milvian bridge and paints a cross on the shields of his marching army. He is with us when church becomes feudal lord and pope renaissance prince. He is with us when pilgrims cross the sea and German churches acquiesce to a strong leader promising to make the nation great again. He is with us when we gather food for the hungry and when we sing hymns and chants and high thanksgivings. He is with us as we pray and when children are baptized and when we gather at the table. “I am with you.” “Always.”
And from that promise springs every effort to be faithful sons and daughters. From that promise springs the desire to welcome the stranger and visit the sick and care for those in need. From that promise springs every desire to work for justice and to advocate mercy. From the promise springs every kind word and shared sorrow. From that promise we journey slowly, sometimes painfully slowly, but journey nonetheless toward that day when he who is with us governs every heart and all that is torn is mended, and all that is broken made new.
It is why we gather Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning and each of the Sundays and holy days to follow. He has chosen to come to us. He has chosen to be with us. Always.