I realize I am dating myself, but I remember George Burns, the crusty comedian. One of his lines I enjoyed was, “It’s not that I don’t believe in God. I do! It’s just that I’m wondering when He’s going to show up!”
Advent and Christmas answer George’s question! We need to hear the reply, because we’re all often tempted, like George Burns, to wonder where the Lord is!
This radiant season of the year showcases the three ways the Lord “shows up” in the world and in our lives.
He did show up,
He does show up,
He will show up.
Next week, Christmas Day, we’ll recall with joy that God did show up, born in a crib at Bethlehem, announced by the angels as our Lord, Savior, and Messiah.
These days of Advent prod our trust that He will come again, as judge of the living and the dead, at the conclusion of time, when this world ends.
Those two comings of Jesus—in history as the newborn Savior that first Christmas; and in majesty at the end of the world—are rather clear and evident. We all know that He did come; we all believe that He will come.
We do get fuzzy when it gets to His coming now. He does come to us right now! Sometimes we term this arrival in mystery. So, by its very nature, it can be much more difficult to detect.
Thus do Advent and Christmas summon us to faith and sensitivity.
The Lord gave us a hint of His preferred manner of coming to us now in the very way He arrived 2,018 years ago.
Think of that birth of Jesus. He could have arrived with trumpets and drums, but He came in an extraordinarily simple, humble way.
Born not in a palace but in a barn,
not to an earthly queen
but to a meek virgin of Nazareth,
worshipped not by the elite and powerful
but by shepherds.
surrounded not by splendor and courtiers
but by cows, sheep, and donkeys.
God came in history in a way so humble, simple, and routine, so gentle and quiet, that most missed Him.
That’s the way He shows up now! One of the biggest errors we make in our faith is to think that Jesus comes to us only with thunder and lightning, with drama and flair.
Not so! He still arrives as softly, unexpectedly, and meekly as He did in the crib at Bethlehem.
Here’s an example: Christmas Eve 2002 was a rough one for me. I had been archbishop of Milwaukee for only four months. To this day I cherish my seven happy years there, but those first months were rocky.
I had joined the homeless for lunch that Christmas Eve, helping volunteers dish out the turkey dinner, then headed to a bustling parish for the jam-packed Christmas Eve vigil Mass, smiling at the many families united for the holy days.
Then I headed home...to an empty house! On the drive back I passed so many decorated homes with family and friends being welcomed at the door.
Not me...I had six hours to kill, on Christmas Eve, until Midnight Mass at the Cathedral, all by my lonesome self.
I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and began to feel sorry for myself, wondering when the joy of Jesus was going to “show up”!
Well, I figured, I might as well go into chapel to pray my Divine Office, go over my homily for Midnight Mass,...and to wish I were with family and friends!
I turned on the lights in the little tree in the chapel, put a Christmas carol CD into the Bose, and began my prayers.
The cadence of the psalms, the beauty of the biblical readings, calmed me down; Silent Night on the CD swerved by attention to the crib set in front of the altar. The flickering sanctuary light reminded me of the Real Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle; on the kneeler in front of me was the long list of names, family and friends, to whom I had promised a place in prayer in my Christmas card to them.
“all is calm,
all is bright!”
The Lord came to me then, right there! His presence, yes, was gentle and unassuming, like it was in Bethlehem.
Timothy, I whispered to myself, you are not by yourself! You are in the company of your Lord, your savior, your closest friend.
He is here speaking to you now in His Word in the Bible!
He is here under the form of bread—about as everyday as you can get—in the Holy Eucharist!
He is here in the loving recollection of family and friends, part of your past holidays!
He is here as you recall the homeless people you fed earlier, and the beaming families you led in worship at Mass a few hours ago.
For moments that Christmas Eve, I was with Mary and Joseph holding the baby, with the shepherds in awe of the tiny Savior of the world.
Yes, dear Jesus, I confessed my faith, you did come back then at Bethlehem, and we’re celebrating your nativity today;
Yes, I realize you will come, Lord knows when (literally!) and the end of time;
But, Jesus, you are coming to me right now.
And I’m sure grateful you are! Because I was feeling alone and down in the dumps! I love you! I believe you! I need you! I want you!
“Joy to the world!”
“O come, let us adore Him!”
O blessed Christmas!