The Lord reveals himself in quiet ways at Christmas
December 20, 2019
In this interview, Archbishop George J. Lucas speaks with communication manager David Hazen about how the Lord reveals himself to us during the seasons of Advent and Christmas.
Q: There are so many distractions this time of year, but during the season of Advent, the church repeatedly draws our attention to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God. How can we receive this announcement anew this Christmas?
One of the basic themes of Advent is the truth that the Lord is near, but you are right that there are a lot of distractions. I think it’s our responsibility – our joy, really – to look for the Lord because he is close. He is not hiding from us. In our prayer, in our worship, and in our relationships with one another we try to recognize the places where he reveals his presence. He makes himself accessible to us and as we encounter him, we also encounter his proclamation of the kingdom of God. That is another way of saying that Jesus reveals our heavenly Father’s loving plan for us.
The Father looks at us in our sin and instead of giving us what we deserve, he gives us his Son, Jesus. However, because of all the distractions and preoccupations, it is easy enough to miss the coming of the Lord in our time.
The church talks about his coming in three aspects: his birth in Bethlehem, his coming in glory at the end of the time, and how he reveals himself to us now in and through the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit. But, like his first coming, this is often very quiet and may happen in an unexpected place. It is incumbent on us to be open to how the Son of God will be revealed to us in the way that he desires, not necessarily the way that we expect.
Q: The Gospel reading for Mass during Christmas day is from the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel, in which the evangelist says, “And we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” How do we see his glory today?
We have to look for it. He does not knock us over, though he will do that at the end of time when he comes in great power and majestic glory.
Today, we encounter the risen Jesus in a way that helps us understand what the kingdom of God is like. As we experience it in this world, the kingdom does not appear in power, or in riches, or the trappings of political authority. But, the Lord reveals himself to us in quiet ways.
We experience them during this season in beautiful liturgical celebrations which give a foretaste of the glory of heaven. I think we experience it too, if we can be calm enough to take it in, in our warm interactions with family and friends.
Moreover, the Lord was very clear in telling us that he reveals himself to us in the poor, the lonely, the outcast. That is where we are to look for him. If we are humble enough to meet him as he humbly reveals himself, we will experience something very powerful.
Is it the same as worldly glory and pizazz? Not usually, but the revelation of the glory of God in our brothers and sisters is very profound, to be sure.
Q: How then can we take the next step in recognizing the poor in the way you describe?
Many people make an effort to reach out to the poor during this season – there are many collections and gift drives and the like. Those are beautiful things, of course.
But we want to make sure that those gestures are not just an exercise or simply meeting an expectation for the so-called giving season, and that instead we are looking for Jesus. He has promised to reveal himself to us now and we want to find him. As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, the poor have names, and faces, and stories and are not simply projects.
I keep returning in my prayer to a Gospel passage that was presented to us earlier in the liturgical year, the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man was dining sumptuously every day and had the finest of things. And outside of his door was Lazarus, the poor beggar. It is a very powerful story because one of the principal characters ends up in hell at the end of it.
That should shake us up a little bit because we realize that the rich man did not kick Lazarus when he walked by, he did not call him by a racial slur, or call the cops on him; rather, he simply did not notice the poor man.
There was a revelation available to him right outside of his door, and the means for him to be drawn into the kingdom of God was right there. There was an action and an encounter that he was perfectly capable of.
So, the rich man did not end up in hell because he did not save the world, or because of some abuse or act of aggression against the poor man or anyone else. It was because he missed the invitation to encounter someone who needed something that he had to give. If he had been open, he would have found that Lazarus was able to give him something that he needed as well.
That is not a Christmas or Advent story per se, but I find I’ve been using it in my preaching during this season. I think it offers us a challenge. The Lord is near. He is right outside the door, inviting us to encounter him in a way that we are perfectly capable of. Particularly, he invites us to encounter him in the person who needs something that I have to give.
It may be somebody who is materially poor. It may be somebody in my family or somebody at work who needs something as simple as a kind word or a few minutes of my time, some encouragement, maybe somebody who needs my forgiveness. But we cannot forget those who are materially poor.
I live in a pretty prosperous community in Omaha and I certainly have everything that I need, but I know that there are always people not too far from me who do not have enough to eat, or a decent, safe place to live. The Lord is inviting me to notice them and to notice them not as a project, but as people in whom he is revealing his presence and in the encounter will reveal his glory.
Again, that is a different kind of glory than the world offers. In faith, we see that what is offered in that encounter is a glimpse of the glory of the Lord. He makes himself humble for our sake, so that he might enter into our poverty and lift us up.
Q: It often seems we can ignore that fundamental poverty in ourselves. For instance, we can observe Christmas as just a nice celebration and a break from work.
Yes, Christmas is nothing but tinsel and lights if there is no possibility of real glory.
The key to this season and of the feast of Christmas is the recognition that we are in need of a savior, and that the Lord does enter into our weakness. He wants to come close to us where we are needy. He comes to us not because we are attractive or because we have something he needs, but because we need something that he is ready to give.
Jesus offers us his friendship, a personal relationship with him. That is what it means to be his disciple. If we stay close to him, he rubs off on us and we start to speak and act like him – we start to notice the people that he noticed. And so he takes flesh in us, the living members of his body, the church. The church herself, as an agent of mercy, becomes a revelation of the glory of Jesus.
As Pope Francis has said, the church is a field hospital. We are meant to be continually going out to those in need to proclaim the good news in practical ways. We do not simply tell people about Jesus, but we look at them with love as Jesus looks at each of us, to see where and how we can meet them. That is how we share the glory of the Lord in a practical, humble way.
We have confidence that powerful things will happen when we do this, even if we may not see them in this world.