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12/23/1999
WORD OF FAITH
Birth, death, resurrection
REV. ROGER KARBAN


 

Only those who have experienced Jesus' death and resurrection can correctly reflect on the meaning of Jesus' birth. Students of Scripture know that Christian faith begins with our trying to make Jesus' dying and rising the central part of our lives. Unless we're willing to die and rise with Jesus, nothing else about Him makes any sense or has any importance -- including His birth.

Scripture wasn't composed as an objective presentation of faith for non-believers. The Sacred Authors weren't trying to convert anyone to the faith they professed.

On the contrary, those who composed the books of our Bible presumed their readers already professed the faith. They weren't trying to lead their listeners to faith; they simply were attempting to point our the implications of the faith they already had.

In the beginning

So when John, for instance, starts his Gospel with the words "In the beginning" he presumes his readers actually aren't beginning their faith journey from that point (Jn 1:1-18). If they hadn't already experienced chapters 18, 19 and 20 of his gospel, they wouldn't be turning to chapter 1.

People who hadn't become one with a dying and rising Jesus could never understand how Jesus, as God's word, "was in the beginning with God," nor could they appreciate that "all things came to be through Him." Only those who can join John in proclaiming, "From His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace!" will even reflect deeply enough on Jesus to explore the possibility of His pre-existing as God before His earthly existence as a human being.

That's why the author of the Christmas passage from the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 1:16) also has no problem speaking of Jesus as the person through whom God created the universe, the refulgence of God's glory and the imprint of God's being. Like John the Evangelist, the Hebrews' writer can only speak in such out-of-this-world categories because, as he reminds his community, it first experienced Jesus not as a pre-existing God, but as someone who gave them purification from their sins.

Though the unknown prophet responsible for the first reading (Is 52:7-10) ministers more than 550 years before Jesus' death and resurrection, and has no knowledge of how this controversial Jewish reformer eventually will bring God's salvation to "the ends of the earth," he's convinced God is most active where most people rarely notice God: their everyday lives.

Going home

Deutero-Isaiah's exiled community spends lots of time looking back, reflecting on the Exodus from Egypt -- Yahweh's 700-year-old act of salvation -- but it almost never reflects on what Yahweh is doing to free them from their Babylonian captivity.

The prophet is so certain Yahweh's salvation is already taking place that he tells the people to send runners back to Jerusalem to announce their imminent return.

Notice how Deutero-Isaiah's oracle is couched only in the present tense. "Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion....the Lord comforts His people, He redeems Jerusalem." The past or future can never be as important as the present.

Whether we're listening to the Hebrew Scriptures on Christmas day or exploring the Christian Scriptures, we're hearing Sacred authors convey the same message: God works right here and now in the life of anyone who recognizes God's working right here and now.

That means that disciples of Jesus experience God's saving presence not by trying to imitate Jesus' birth, but by trying to imitate His dying and rising. If we follow the insight of our first Christian theologians, passion/resurrection plays would be more appropriate during this season than Christmas plays!

(12-23-99)










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