Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Dear Friends,

On behalf of Frs. Pius and Jacob I want to wish you a Merry Christmas!  I want to begin with a little bit of Church history.  Back in the 7th century there was within the Church a group of people who wanted to get rid of all works of art that decorated Churches.  No more art in our Churches!  They especially wanted to remove all artistic representations of Jesus.  It was idol worship, they said, to have a painting or statue of Jesus grace the altar of a Church, it was idol worship.  This group of people who wanted nothing to do with art in Churches were called iconoclasts. 

And the Church responded emphatically saying “NO” to the iconoclasts.  It is entirely proper to make an artistic representation of Jesus.   His humanity is real.  Jesus is the image of the Father and for the first time in the history of humanity we have an accurate image of God.  And because of his true humanity, He like any other human can be portrayed artistically.  St. John Damascene of that time put it this way, “I am a man and I occupy a body, and I want to deal in a bodily fashion with the things that are Holy, and I want to look at them!”  I want to look at those things which are holy and beautiful.

“I want to look at them!”  Have you ever had an experience of beauty; maybe you met someone with great inner beauty, or listened to a beautiful piece of music or viewed an exquisite work of art or maybe you even had this happen upon viewing a breathtaking scene of nature.  Have you ever had an experience of beauty and in that beauty, were you moved by an awareness of something more; or better yet someone more.  Beauty can move us to go beyond what is taken in by our senses.  Beauty can move us to go beyond what is seen, touched, heard, tasted, or even smelled.     There is more here than what I see, hear, or touch.  Beauty can move us to go beyond and reach out to the One and only Creator of all the beauty that surrounds us.  God uses beauty to reach out to us.  The natural beauty of this church decorated for Christmas is meant to draw our heats, minds, and souls to the supernatural beauty of Heaven. 

St. Jerome of the 4th century would often meditate on the Child Jesus.  He had a great devotion to the Child Jesus.  And in that devotion, he would contemplate often the birth of Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem.  So great was this devotion that St. Jerome moved to Bethlehem.  He wanted to be close to the birthplace of Jesus.  He wanted to look at and touch the birthplace of Jesus.  He lived in a cave right next to the cave where Jesus was born.  He even received as a gift the manger that Jesus was laid in after he was born. 

St. Jerome would sleep with his head resting in the manger.  He would lay the manger on its side, put his head in, and go to sleep. He meditated often on the rough simple beauty of that manger, and it lifted his heart to heaven. St. Jerome once said, “Nothing can draw me away from the Manger of Jesus.  There is for me no better place on earth.  It’s the very place which God gave to me, His Son from Heaven.”  

One time in a mystical moment of prayer St. Jerome said to the child Jesus, “Oh, Jesus how you tremble!  How hard is your bed for the sake of my salvation!  How shall I ever repay you?” 

And in that mystical moment the Holy Child replies, “From you Jerome, I ask only the song, Glory to God in the Highest!  Let that be enough for you.” 

But St. Jerome is not satisfied he says, “Dear little Jesus, I must give you something.  Let me give you all my wealth.” 

And Jesus the Holy Child replies, “From the beginning the Heavens and the Earth are mine.  I do not need your treasures.  Give them to the poor.  I shall receive that as if you had done it to me.” 

And St. Jerome replies, “Dear little Jesus, this I shall do, and do it gladly, but I must also give you something, something just for you, or I shall die of sorrow.”

And Jesus the Holy Child replies, “Dear Jerome, since you are so generous of heart, I will tell you what you may give to me.  Give me your sins!”

And a puzzled St. Jerome asks, “What will you do with my sins?”

The Child Jesus replies, “I want to take them upon my shoulders.  This shall be my glory, and my glorious deed, as Isaiah once said, that I shall take your sins upon myself and carry them away.” 

At this St. Jerome begins to cry saying, “O, Child, dear, Holy Child, how deeply you have touched my heart!  I thought you wanted something good, but you want everything in me which is bad!  Oh, take what is mine! Give me what is Yours!”

St. Jerome said to the child Jesus, “Take what is mine! Give me what is yours!”  This is the great Christmas exchange.  God became man so that we might become God.  We give to Jesus our humanity and in return He gives us His Divinity.  The entire purpose of the Christian life is not simply to make us better people, but to make us divine, to conform us to a participation the very life of the Blessed Trinity.  We will not be mere spectators in Heaven; we will live within the midst of the love of the Trinity.  God became man that we might become God. 

St. Jerome began his prayer by meditating on the simple rough beauty of a manger.  He looked at the manger and in that experience of beauty he was drawn into the supernatural beauty of a future Heaven that awaited him. 

At that first Christmas 2022 years ago, and every day since, God has been making a proposal to you, He wants you.  Through his son Jesus he is saying to each one of you: “You give me your humanity, I will give you, my divinity.  You give me your time; I will give you eternity.  You give me the bonds that tie you down; I will give you, my omnipotence. You give me your slavery; I will give you, my freedom.  You give me your death; I will give you, my life.  You give me your nothingness; I will give you my all.”

Merry Christmas!

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley