04 January 2008

Looking for a What, or a Who?

January 4th (A): I John 3.7-10 and Luke 1.35-42
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Serra Club Mass, Church of the Incarnation

Exhausted though we may be of anticipating and now celebrating the birth of our Lord, we find ourselves still in need of remembering exactly why the second Person of the Blessed Trinity became Man. Why did the Son of God take on human flesh? John, writing in his first letter, argues that “…the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the Devil.” No doubt Macy’s, the wrapping paper industry, the candy makers, and the reindeers’ union are disappointed to hear that this joyful season is not about them! Sorry to disappoint. But this little chunk of the church calendar is set aside to help us answer a question so fundamental to our human nature that our scientists may one day find its gene and name it “Telos,” or “Purpose.” So, time to store the glazed ham recipes, the shopping lists, the gift receipts, that torn plastic bag of worn discount bows and ribbon, and pick up a nice clean sheet of paper and write across the top in permanent Magic Marker: “What am I looking for?” Like Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem, like the shepherds obeying the angel, like the Three Kings coming from the east, and like billions of souls since Jesus lay in his manger, we are all looking for something, and that something is, in fact, a Someone.

So, John the Baptist is standing around with a couple of his disciples and Jesus walks by. John says for all to hear, “Look! The Lamb of God!” John’s disciples start following Jesus around. After awhile, Jesus stops and turns to them. He asks, “What are you looking for?” The disciples’ strange answer comes in two parts: 1) they address Jesus as “Teacher,” and 2) they answer Jesus’ question with a question—“where are you staying?” This question is not a request for a street address or an apartment number. They want to know where Jesus abides; basically, in what truth or peace or justice does this Teacher rest? Jesus answers them, “Come, and you will see.” The invitation, “come and see,” is gospel-speak for “there is no explanation I can give you that surpasses the excellence of simply experiencing the Christ first-hand, so come on!” And they do.

Now that you have written “what am I looking for?” in big letters across the top of your page, what will you write in answer? You can be practical and write something like: financial security, lots of friends, a good marriage. You can be spiritual and write: peace, wisdom, mercy. Or maybe you want to be philosophical and write: truth, clarity, goodness. Or psychological and write: integrated, actualized, self-possessed. Or maybe, just maybe, you want to be Christian and write: “I am looking for Christ, the Lamb of God.” All those other things you might write can be had in varying degrees without Christ. You can be practical, spiritual, philosophical, psychological all day, everyday and never once think of Christ. Let me ask you another question then: where are you staying? On whom do you live? From whom do you derive your life, your love, your beauty? If John’s disciples walked past you today and someone said of you: “Look! A follower of Christ” and then the disciples asked you—“where are you staying?”—could you say to them with the confidence and assurance of Jesus himself, “Come, and you will see”? What would you show them of Christ in your life? Could you say with Andrew and the shepherds and the Three Kings, “We have found the Messiah”? Can Jesus look at you and change your name to “The Rock”?

The Son took on human flesh to destroy the works of the Devil. One such work is the filtering edifices of abstractions, -ologies and –ism’s, theories and speculations, all the gunk we set up between our desire for God and the satisfaction of that desire. Jesus said, “Come and see.” Follow and see; do and see; walk with me and see. Dissolve the gunk in hearing Jesus ask you: “what are you looking for”? Then glory in triumph to hear him say, “Here I am.”

1 comment:

  1. A nice challenge - very Ignatian in some ways (what would I show the Lord of my work today? how was I His hands?) It also reminded me of the beginning of a Mary Oliver poem Six Recognitions of the Lord:

    I know a lot of fancy words.
    I tear them from my heart and my tongue.
    Then I pray.