Catholic Christians claim our faith and mature in our faith by repeating the truths of our faith over and over again, year in, year out. If we don’t repeat these truths, as children and young adults, and older adults, we lose our grasp of them; we lose the clarity. Worse, others don’t hear them.
But we do more than repeat the truth of our faith. We live it. Some have asked, “Why doesn’t the Catholic Church do more evangelization?” The answer is that we do much more than many realize, by repeating the truths of God’s revelation all year long, every year. We evangelize the time in which we live. The entire year is divided into segments of our evangelization. Where did the tradition of Christmas come from if not from the celebrations of the Church? The challenge is to pay closer attention to our liturgical year, including Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.
There was a member of the formation faculty at St. Mary’s Seminary who would warn us, “If you say Christmas was a flop, then Advent was spiritually shoddy.” We live our Advent by repeating the facts of our faith, and preparing ourselves, repenting again and again.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent. Every year in Advent, we prepare for the coming of the Lord into our lives. As children we are first introduced to the coming of the Lord. We repeat the lessons every year and we understand the same lesson differently at different times of our lives. These are the facts of our salvation, not simply children’s stories.
In Advent we tell the world what God told us. He has already come to us; “Emmanuel”, “God with us”, as Jesus Christ. He is coming to judge the world again at the end of time, and he has already come among us as a man, first as a child. This child is the Christ, Our Lord, the anointed of God, the Messiah of prophecy. Throughout Advent we have been hearing these prophecies echoed in the words of John the Baptist,
“Prepare the way of the Lord…”
We prepare ourselves by our repentance from sin and renewing our faith.
One of ancient prophecies is found in the first reading from Isaiah, written over 700 years before Christ. In Isaiah we hear,
“The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
St. Paul announced himself to the Romans in the letter used for our second reading, saying of himself that he was,
“… called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David….”
By the time of Jesus’ birth there was no longer a king of Israel descended from the line of King David. Joseph was of the line of David, but just a carpenter, not a king. When Joseph adopted Jesus, he brought Mary’s child, God’s Son, to the rightful line of David, and the prophecy was fulfilled. Kingship follows the father’s bloodline, not the mother’s.
Joseph had been betrothed to Mary. When Joseph learned that Mary was already pregnant he knew this could not be a lawful marriage, according to his Jewish faith. However, in order to spare her from certain stoning, he decided to marry her and then divorce her quietly. The angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and told him,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Jesus’ name given by the angel was, in Hebrew, “Yeshua”, meaning, “Yahweh helps” or “Yahweh saves”. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells the Apostles,
“I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
His conception and his name fulfill the prophecy we just heard from Isaiah,
“… they shall name him Emmanuel.”
The word “gospel” is really from the Old English, “gots spell”, or God’s truth. Only after the time of the Apostles, centuries after the writings of the New Testament were collected together in our Bible, did we begin to call the four books about Jesus’ life by the term “Gospel” or “Evangelium”. Prior to that time, St. Paul and the Apostles used the term “evangelium” or “gospel” to refer to God’s revelation to man, God’s Truth, the facts of God’s promises and their fulfillment in His Son, Jesus Christ.
The angel told Joseph about Jesus in the dream,
“… he will save his people from their sins.”
This was Jesus’ mission, and he would be with us always, until the end of the age. This is one reason why we have Reconciliation services in Advent, to prepare the way of the Lord.
This is our “gospel”, our truth. These are the facts. These are the truths we have been proclaiming throughout Advent, once again, to children who are hearing this for the first time; and to young people, who have heard them before, but who may be hearing them differently now that they are older. We repeat these truths to ourselves as adults, to couples, parents and older people. We grow again when we hear it again, perhaps as if for the first time. God came to be with us, Emmanuel, to give us everlasting life with Him. The same message is repeated every year. We are “Christmas People!” Hear it again! And again! Don’t allow the story to become old and stale in your ears!
Christmas is always with us, and the story is told over and over again for the salvation of the world and our own salvation. By celebrating Christmas in our annual cycle of faith we renew our faith and evangelize the world. Read the story again from the Bible in your own homes. Share it with your families! Prepare for Jesus to come again into your life! Again! And again! This is who we are, as “Christmas People”.