By Deacon F. K. Bartels
1 January, 2014
All history, past, present and future, culminates in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man and assumed human nature in order to restore humanity, that we might gain what was lost. This sublime and priceless gift of God became a reality through Mary’s total “yes” to the salvific will of the Father. Through Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God, the Law is fulfilled in Christ and salvation is brought to the world.
In our first reading today from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians (4:4-7), we hear in the divinely inspired words of Scripture the “why” of Christ’s birth. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (4:4-5).
History reaches its pivotal moment, its climax, in the birth as well as the death of the Messiah, who became man in order to confer divine sonship upon Israel and the Gentiles. All of history centers on Jesus Christ, who is the perfect image of the Father and the perfect man whose life, death, resurrection and ascension brings the promise of new and everlasting life to humanity.
However, we would do well to take Jesus’ solemn words of warning to heart and remember that the Law has not passed away: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:17-19).
Jesus fulfills the Law by keeping it down to “the least of these commandments” (CCC 578; Mt 5:19). Jesus accomplishes what we could not. This fulfillment of the Law “could be the work of none but the divine legislator, born subject to the Law in the person of the Son (CCC 580; cf. Gal 4:4). “Jesus fulfills the Law to the point of taking upon himself the curse of the Law” (CCC 580). Jesus assumes our human nature and carries our sins upon himself to the point of death on the cross, freeing us from the bondage of sin and death.
Therefore the Son of God became man to restore humanity, complete humankind, and elevate us to the status of sons and daughters of God by giving us a share in the divine nature of God. In Jesus we become like God as we share in the glory of God. Jesus is the One whose life fulfills us beyond our dreams. He is the Promise above all promises.
Indeed, we have been given immeasurable gifts in the Person of Jesus Christ, who shares his very life, his divine nature, with those who have been baptized into him and who open their hearts to him in faith. Christ is truly the way to life (Jn 14:6). As we read in Jeremiah, the plan God has for us is for our welfare (29:11-14). The Father so desired to make restoration and salvation a reality for lost humanity that he “did not spare his own Son” for our sake (Rom. 8:32).
Such a wondrous and free gift from God does not mean, however, there is nothing for us to do for our part. We exist precisely to love Christ, to become “little christs,” and thus enter fully into communion with God. Therefore we must live a life of love for God. In simple terms—but not so simple to execute, and impossible without the help of God—we must love God above all else and love our neighbor as another self (Lk 10:27).
We must be constantly mindful of these words: “Speak Lord. I want to listen” (1 Sam 3:1-10), for true faith in Christ cannot exist apart from obedience and a thirst for the truth. If you love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15), says the Savior of humanity. “And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 Jn 2:3-4).
Here we arrive at where much of contemporary society has strayed afar. In the U.S., for example, the vast majority of people claim to be Christian; yet how many or, dare we say, how few make the effort to learn the Ten Commandments and their meaning? For instance, if we profess to love and serve Christ, have we read the third pillar of the Catechism of the Catholic Church titled “Life in Christ”? Have we read section two, which expounds the Decalogue?
St. Paul reminds us that “God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Gal. 4:6-7).
Do we speak, act and live as heirs of the kingdom of God, as a people whose life is sustained by the indwelling Spirit of God? Who or what do we really love?
In today’s gospel (Lk 2:16-21) we should note that after the shepherds received the message of the birth of the “Messiah and Lord” (2:11) they “went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” (2:16). The shepherds immediately leave what they are doing and actively seek out the Christ Child. This journey leads them first of all to Mary, through whom the child is born. Further, it is precisely in finding Mary that they arrive at the infant in the manger and their way is opened to an encounter with the Savior of the world.
Through Mary, wrote Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei, “the believer is completely taken up into his or her confession of faith. Because of her close bond with Jesus, Mary is strictly connected to what we believe. As Virgin and Mother, Mary offers us a clear sign of Christ’s divine sonship….
“Mary’s true motherhood also ensured for the Son of God an authentic human history, true flesh in which he would die on the cross and rise from the dead. Mary would accompany Jesus to the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), whence her motherhood would extend to each of his disciples (cf. Jn 19:26-27). She will also be present in the upper room after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, joining the apostles in imploring the gift of the Spirit….
“The movement of love between Father, Son and Spirit,” continues Pope Francis, “runs through our history, and Christ draws us to himself in order to save us (cf. Jn 12:32). At the centre of our faith is the confession of Jesus, the Son of God, born of a woman, who brings us, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, to adoption as sons and daughters” (Lumen Fidei, 59).
Mary, the Holy Mother of God, brought salvation into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ by her fiat of dedication to and love for the Father’s will (see Lk 1L26 ff.). She is, by the most excellent and unwavering example of her life, the perfect model of faith, hope and charity. It is, then, Mary who goes before us and leads us unfailingly to her Son. As we embrace Jesus in faith, he sends his Spirit into our hearts as the promise of salvation, takes us to himself, shares his divine life with us, and lifts us by the mysteries of his life to the Father, making us partakers of a sublime symphony of forever and unending love.
Let us remember the intricate and beautiful harmonies of this symphony are bound up with the devout notes of free and loving obedience. For the sweet note of love cannot be heard apart from dying to self. It is in discarding the old man and putting on the new, clothed in Christ Jesus, that the ears are opened and the eyes see with the clarity of the illuminating light of faith.
This homily was first published on Catholic Online.