This weekend, each of us has to make a decision, although we have already made it. Here is the issue.
Do you believe that God came among us and then left us after the Ascension?
Or, do you believe that God came among us and never left us?
This is basically the primary issue between Catholics and Protestants.
Our scriptures tell us that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said to her,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
And, he said to her,
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
The Angel told Joseph that the child would be called “Emmanuel”, God is with us, as was foretold in Old Testament prophecy.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples,
“The kingdom of God is at hand.”
At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus echoes the prophecy of himself as “Emmanuel”, when he told the Apostles,
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
I am with you always, until the end of time: God is with us.
So, now we have to make a decision, each of us independently. Is God with us on earth, in the Church? Or did Jesus go away like an absentee landlord, only to return at the end of time? Which is it?
If you were to ask this question of the early Church, “Where did Jesus go after his Resurrection?” Did he stay or leave us? The early Church fathers taught that Jesus never left. He stayed with us, among us, and is manifest to us in the Sacraments of the Church. Jesus is truly present to us in our Baptism, in the Eucharist, in Confession, in Confirmation, in the vocation sacraments, Marriage and Holy Orders (Bishops, priests, deacons), and in the Anointing of the Sick. Jesus never left the Church. Jesus lives in the Church. We live with him when we live the Sacramental Life of the Church.
Just some 500 years ago, the Protestant reformation began to question this. The result of this is a belief among them that Jesus does not live in the Sacraments in the Church. Gradually they began to stop practicing the Sacraments. They lost their Sacraments, because they reject that Jesus remained in his Church. In general, most Protestants today do not teach sacraments as the real presence of Jesus. They read and teach scripture. But, they lost the Eucharist, Confirmation, Sacred Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick. They stopped teaching them and practicing them.
So, who are you celebrating this Christmas? Our God who came among us as an infant, born to the Virgin Mary, suffered and died for us and comes to us in the Sacraments? Or, a God who appeared to us, but then went away and does not reside in the Church.
There can be no compromise or common ground on this matter. Either He is with us, “Emmanuel”, or He is not. Each of us must decide.
Who is born to us at Christmas?
Following his teachings we do not miss Mass. We receive Holy Communion every chance we have. When we fall off the bicycle, we reconcile with him in Confession. We live the sacramental life of the Church.
This weekend, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, is also the weekend of the ancient prayer, “The Angelus”. We have no idea how ancient is this prayer, it may be 1,000 years old. The final prayer is also the opening prayer for today’s Mass. About the time of the of the Protestant Reformation it became very popular to reinforce our faith regarding Jesus identity and his relationship with Mary, his mother. This prayer is connected with the date of the annunciation and conception of Jesus on March 25th, and in Advent on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Let us now pray with the entire Church the Angelus.
“The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary….”