She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’” which means God is with us. (Matthew 1: 22-23)
Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations...And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
In the four weeks prior to Christmas, the Church celebrated the season of Advent. It is a time of joyful anticipation and celebration of Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago and preparation for his Second coming at the end of the world. This being the case, Advent should have given us an opportunity for prayer and reflection, a chance to slow down and focus on Jesus’ presence in our lives. However, if you’re anything like me, you probably found yourself caught up in the rush of preparing for Christmas (buying gifts, sending cards, attending holiday parties, making travel plans, etc.) and therefore may not have had much time to slow down and enjoy the Advent season.
Now, however, the rush of the holiday season is over. New Year’s Day has come and gone and, hopefully, our lives will begin to return to normal. As the rush ends and we find time to focus, perhaps we’ll be1 able to reflect on Jesus’ presence in our lives. After all, something as important as this shouldn’t be limited to a specific time or season. In that spirit, let’s take a minute to take a look at the two bible passages above. In the first passage, from the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we are told about an angel appearing to Joseph to ease his fears and encourage him to take Mary as his wife. The angel assures Joseph that the child Mary now bears is the Son of God, the Messiah, who will save humanity from sin. Then, Matthew asserts that all of this happened to fulfill a prophecy of salvation from the prophet Isaiah. In the prophecy, Isaiah promised Ahaz, the king of Judah, a sign to show that Jerusalem would not fall to an alliance of its enemies. As a sign of good faith, Isaiah says a young woman (or virgin) shall conceive a child and that this child shall be called Emmanuel, meaning God is with us. Jesus, who is the Son of God incarnate in human flesh, fulfills this prophecy by literally being God made physically present to all humanity. His words, actions, and presence perfectly revealed God’s love for us.
Going even farther with this theme of God’s love, we know that it was the impetus for the Jesus’ Incarnation. John 3:16 implies this, saying, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. While humanity had turned away from God and fallen into sin ignoring the prophets and other messengers, God did not give up. Instead, God chose to go an unexpected route, revealing himself and his radical love and mercy by becoming a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death and Resurrection convey God’s mercy and ensure that we can always be forgiven. To put it simply, the all-powerful and all-knowing God loved us so much that he chose to be born as a helpless and defenseless infant that first Christmas over 2000 years ago. He did all of this as part of his plan to save us and reveal how great his love truly is, culminating in Jesus’s loving self-sacrifice on the cross.
The idea that Jesus is God with us becomes even comforting when considered in conjunction with the second passage above. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus spoke to his disciples, telling them to go forth and make disciples of all nations. Understanding that this would not be easy, he promises that he will be with them always, even until the end of time. This promise, made to the original disciples, extends to us. Jesus, God with us, is with us everywhere, at all times. This is why we can and should reflect on his presence in our lives. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and because he promises to be with us at all times, nothing that we or anyone else can do can fully separate from God’s love and mercy.
But how does all of this affect our daily lives? First, since Jesus’ is always present, we understand prayer is possible anytime and anywhere. Any relationship requires conversation or at least some kind of communication. If we wish to have a relationship with Christ, prayer is essential. Unfortunately, many of us have busy schedules that seem to make finding time for prayer difficult. This becomes a non-issue when we consider that Christ is always with us. You can use any moment, your daily commute, your workout, a coffee break, etc as an opportunity for prayer.
Second, Jesus’ presence in our lives can be a source of strength and comfort in times of trouble. Life can be challenging at times and these challenges can seem insurmountable. The loss of friends or family members, trouble at home or at work, money problems, or finding out that we or someone we love has a terminal illness, in all of these situations, we can feel like we’re alone or have no one to turn to. However, Jesus promised to be with us always and if we turn to him when life’s challenges seem to be dragging us down, we can experience God’s love and mercy as he lifts us up. When we’re feeling overly stressed, when a situation seems hopeless, and when our minds desperately try to find solutions, we can spend a few minutes in prayer, asking Christ to be our source of strength and help us find the solutions and the comfort we seek.
Finally, once we recognize Jesus love and mercy in our own lives, we should be driven to share this same love and mercy with others. The holiday season is often portrayed as a time of kindness and generosity. Now that the season is over, charitable organizations will see less giving and the warmth and joy that mark the season (in spite of the rush) will fade. While it’s great to be generous during the holidays, as Christians, we should recognize Christ’s presence by showing his love and mercy to others each day of our lives. Pope Francis has made sharing Christ’s love and mercy a major theme of his papacy and has even declared the new church year (which started December 8) to be the year of mercy. Let us seek to positive transformation in this Extraordinary Year of Mercy and resolve ourselves to make a concerted effort to constantly bring Christ’s love and mercy to others. Let’s forgive and be kind those who have hurt us, give to those in need, care for those on the fringes of society, and be present to those who are lost or lonely. In this way, we can become images of Christ for others, drawing them to him so that they too can share in the joy that his presence brings.