Friday, December 9, 2016

3rd Sunday of Advent Year A (Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11) What does the coming of Jesus mean?

Bethlehem, Palestine.
Why was the coming of John the Baptist so important? Why is the coming of Jesus at Christmas so important? What exactly does the coming of Jesus at Christmas mean? We always talk about it being the good news, a message of hope, but what exactly does that mean?

Many of us have been taught that as we grow up we should try to live the right way, following God’s commandments and hopefully when we die, if we are good enough we will be allowed get into heaven. Would you agree with that idea? You might be surprised to know that that is not the message of Christianity at all. The truth is that we can never be good enough, or holy enough to come into God’s presence by our own strength. The reason we call it good news is that it is Jesus who makes it possible. The Lord knows that no matter how hard we try we cannot be good enough for God by our own strength and so God comes among us in the person of Jesus to make it possible. Through Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross our going to heaven was made possible. We can get to heaven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Think of it this way. The holiness of the holiest people on earth, the Mother Theresas and others like that, might bring them 80% of the way to being good enough for God, but no one could ever be completely holy enough by themselves. Not even they could. How could anyone be holy enough to be in God’s presence? Think of what Jesus said about John the Baptist: ‘No one greater than John the Baptist has ever been born.’ That’s a pretty extraordinary thing to say about someone. But Jesus goes on to say, ‘Yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is.’ John the Baptist is less than the least of those in heaven? So how are the rest of us supposed to get to heaven? The answer is, because of what God has done for us through Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus means that God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. God has made us holy enough to be in his presence if we accept it. Why do I say ‘if’? God shows us the path that we must follow, living according to his commandments as best we can, but we have to choose to do that. We can choose not do and some do. We will never be perfect by our own strength no matter how hard we try, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we do try and when we fall we come back and ask forgiveness and Jesus assures us of his forgiveness and mercy for anyone who asks. Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves by his death and resurrection.

In one of the Gospels a rich man comes to Jesus asking him what he must do to get to heaven and Jesus tells him to live the commandments. But the rich man presses him saying, ‘I do that already, what else do I need to do?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, sell what you own, give the money to the poor and come after me.’ It says that the rich man went away sad because he knew he wouldn’t be able to do that. Jesus knew he wouldn’t be able to do that too. Remember he said to him ‘If you wish to be perfect’. None of us are perfect. Then Jesus pointed out to his disciples how hard it was for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were shocked and said: ‘Then who can be saved?’ And Jesus’ answer is both shocking and wonderful. He said, ‘For people it is impossible, but not for God. Everything is possible for God’. What we cannot do for ourselves, God does for us. That is why we need never be afraid of not being good enough for God when we die, so long as we keep trying. It is God who makes it possible and all we have to do is live as best we can and accept this extraordinary gift from God. It doesn't mean that we can take it for granted though. For our part we must try to live as God asks and keep entrusting ourselves to his mercy, but ultimately it is God who makes possible what we cannot.

Think also of when we are about to receive Holy Communion. We are unworthy to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, but it is God who makes this possible too. That is why we say this wonderful prayer: ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof… but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ ‘Only say the word!’ You can make it possible Lord!

Birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem
That is why the coming of Christ among us is so important. That is why Christmas and Easter are such great feasts, because they are not just about Jesus, but they are also about us. God has won heaven for us. That is why it is called good news.

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