“Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel, He has visited his people and redeemed them, he has raised up for us a mighty saviour, in the house of David his servant.” [Luke 1: 68-69].
Reading through the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, we find the father of John the Baptist, namely Zechariah, filled and moved to speak by the Spirit of God. The opening verses of his prophetic hymn are intelligently classified as ‘thanksgiving for the Messiah’ which also are the reasons for the hymn. Keen attention should be paid to what Zechariah speaks about God in the context of the relationship with his people. He pulls the minds and attention of those who heard him, to the gracious action of Yahweh who is ‘visiting’ and ‘redeeming’ his people. This sublime ancient hymn is gallant with the reason for which we share, we give, and we are joyful. Why? Because God has visited his people.
Scanning the pages of the Scriptures, it becomes glaringly clear that visitation of the Lord brings about different consequences. Firstly, in the Hebrew Scriptures, visitation of God brings upon the people, the good things of life [Ps 65:9; Ruth 1:6]; it effects redemption and liberation of people from bondage, affliction and captivity [Gen 50:24]. The culmination and fullest expression of it all is found in the New Testament as God comes to his people in Jesus Christ – the one who will save his people from their sins [Matt 1:21], the one who brings soothing relief to all and sundry typified in the raising of the son of the widow of Nain from the dead to which the witnesses acclaimed, ‘God has visited his people’. [Luke 7:16]
When God visits, the basic things of life – food, water, security, health – are administered to his people.
Who are His People?
As the psalmist avows in Psalm 100:3, “we are the Lord's people the sheep of His flock”; WE = You and I; we are a Divine nation not just the Old People Israel but the New one which is the Church, a people brought together by the same Creed and by extension, a Parish.
God’s visitation to his people – you and I – is what we celebrate at Christmas; it is an ardent response to the cry - “Come to save us! - the cry raised by men and women in every age, who sense that by themselves they cannot prevail over difficulties and dangers.” Jesus “is the hand God extends to humanity to draw us out of the mire of sin and to set us firmly on the secure rock of his truth and love”.
The Impact of His Visit
The two fold realization of this generous agenda of God is crucial to note since on the one hand, the Lord smiles us on with his presence as a 'People' [in a generic sense] as from old with the People of Israel till now in the context of his Church which we are all members. Yet on the other hand, it takes on a very personal touch; he comes to us personally as he did the Blessed Mother Mary, John the Baptist, Saint Paul, the woman with the hemorrhage, the paralytic man, Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate, Zacchaeus, and Lazarus amongst others.
My dear friends, in these different personalities, each of us can see ourselves or situations. Mary the lowly handmaid, represent those who are humble and poor that you may be dignified “and all kings shall see your glory” [Isaiah 62:2]; John the Baptist, the Prophet who heralds the coming of the Messiah and of the Priestly line, refers to all Ministers of God’s Word and Sacrament that you may leap for Joy in telling of the name and deeds of the Lord to all generations; St. Paul, signifies those who blinded by erroneous conviction and overzealousness, that you may be illumined by the True Light which is coming into the world [John 1:9]; the hemorrhage woman characterizes those who are in serious and unending pain, those whose affliction have become their identity, that your agony and shame may be wiped out “and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will give” [Isaiah 62:2]; the paralytic man, typifies those who are sick, that you may be restored in mind, soul and body for “you shall no more be termed desolate” [Isaiah 62:4]; Mary Magdalene exemplifies those who are lured in by all forms of sensual compulsion, that you may be free “for the Lord delights in you”; Pontius Pilate epitomizes those who are in positions of authority ranging from the parents of the house to authorities in the social or religious institutions that you may be directed by Truth and Justice “and be a royal diadem in the hand of your God” [Isaiah 62:3]; Zacchaeus personifies the rich and affluent, that salvation may come into your house “and your salvation as a burning torch”[Isaiah 62:1]; Lazarus embodies those who have no hope nor anyone to care for them, that you may not despair “and you shall no more be termed desolate”. Whatever category we may be, God's visitation is guaranteed because it is a demonstration of how much he values us than we can ever imagine; his visitation brings redemption.
What is in for us?
Christmas is an expression of the Truth and Reality of God’s visit to us, not simply in history of 2,000 years ago but in our present day, in the NOW since as Scripture says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever (Heb. 13:8).”
If God visits, there must be a corresponding action from us, that is, the courtesy of reception. Yet there is a crucial problem which also is the reason we are sometimes oblivious of this awesome presence amongst us. Our highly revered Pope Benedict XVI once said that Christmas is about the birth of the Saviour, the Prince of Peace, and not about sentimentality. Unequivocally he says, “Today Christmas has become a commercial celebration, whose bright lights hide the mystery of God’s humility, which in turn calls us to humility and simplicity.”
Dear friends, we must take note that behind the songs, joys and blush of Christmas we find God coming to us in the small things we often overlook: the humble cradle of Bethlehem, the lowliness of the manger, the austerity of the swaddling cloth and the simplicity of the crib; more than that, in the weak, the hungry, the oppressed and the sick we often neglect. In them we meet the Child Jesus who knocks at the door of our hearts meaning to visit us with the tidings of joy and peace. Therefore, let it not be said that he came and we did not receive him. That in fact will be the severest hostility to the most august visitor whose visit is eternally rewarding and is the reason for our Joy.
Let us ask the Lord to help us see beyond the superficial glitter of this season and discover the child in the stable in Bethlehem. May our God who has visited and still visits his people help us to find true joy and peace. May His visitation in this season bring us His blessings. Amen.
I wish you all a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance.
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