Born to Die!
One of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem is the Wailing Wall. This wall is the only standing remnant of the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem totally destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 A.D. The pilgrim Jews make it a point to go there to pray. It is called Wailing Wall because they would cry and wail, and even bump their foreheads on the wall. Why do they cry? It is for two reasons: first, because they could not yet rebuild their Temple. At present, the site of the Temple is occupied by the Golden Dome, the mosque of the Muslims. And second, they cry because the Messiah has not yet come. They are still waiting for the Messiah.
For us, Christians, we all profess our faith that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah sent from heaven to save us. This is what the evangelist, St. Luke, painstakingly illustrated when he mentioned the names of prominent historical figures at the time: Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, King Herod and his brother Philip, Lysanias, Annas and Caiaphas. He was pointing out that the coming of the Messiah, as announced by John the Baptist, took place in a specific time and place in the history of mankind. Indeed, through the mystery of the Incarnation, God entered human history. He has become part of humanity in a very concrete way. God becoming man like us cannot be denied. That is why the birth of Jesus became the point of reference of the calendar of the world: B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini).
This is the first reason why we rejoice during the Christmas Season. We thank and praise God, for by His Incarnation, He has become one with us, “Emmanuel”, God-with-us. God is not anymore unreachable. It is now possible to approach God through Jesus.
However, the Incarnation of God poses a great challenge to us. Jesus said, “Be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). In other words, since God became man, He has become like us in all things except sin. Jesus now becomes the benchmark or the model of our life as God’s adopted children. We cannot anymore hide behind the excuse that we cannot move forward because we are just human and our nature is frail. Through Jesus we can achieve what he has achieved, for he is also human like us. St. Paul is very clear on this: “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint co-heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:16-17).
There is, therefore, one important condition that St. Paul stipulates: “that we suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with him.” This leads us now to the second point for reflection. Why did St. Luke mention these horrible names: Pontius Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiphas? These were the powerful persons who sentenced Jesus to die on the cross. We are in the Season of Advent, preparing for Christmas. These names do not belong to this season. So, why did St. Luke bring them up? It is to remind us of the very purpose of the birth of Christ. Pope St. Leo the Great said: “Jesus was born to die on the cross.” His mother, Mary, knew this from the start. Her first sorrow was at the Presentation of the Child in the Temple when the old man Simeon prophesied: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Lk 2:34-35).
In preparing for Christmas, then, we should not be mesmerized and bewildered by the glitter and noise, the commercialism and consumerism that abound during these days. Let our focus be on Jesus. He is the God-made-man, precisely to bring us close to God. This entails a lot of sacrifice, conversion and repentance. We are following a crucified Lord. We cannot separate Christmas from Good Friday; the crib in Bethlehem from the cross on Calvary.
St. John the Baptist tells us what has to be done during this Advent: the valleys of our shortcomings and sins of omission shall be filled in, the mountains of our pride and arrogance shall be made low, the winding roads of our crooked way of life shall be made straight, and the rough ways of our bad manners and ill behavior shall be made smooth.
By all means, let us rejoice! God is with us in Jesus. But we have to face the challenge to remain pleasing in the eyes of the Lord all the days of our life. May this Season of Advent bring us the grace of true repentance and conversion to the Lord.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002