Today, this Fourth Sunday of the Advent Season we hear in the Old Testament reading from the Book of the Prophet Micah about the foretelling of the gift of Jesus to the world. This is the gift we've received from God: the gift of Christ which many of us celebrate this season; a gift that has no strings attached. Christ was given to us freely by a Father who gives because He loves us. There was no pre-screening, nor was the gift given secretly to only a select few. Jesus died for all of us—every human being on the planet—because the Father loves us and giving us this gift brings our Father great delight. As people who love each other, just think how happy we feel to give a gift! God is like that; His is a gift offered with grace and received by faith—not earned or won by anyone's good life. But if you receive it, you have to be willing to live with this gift…
When a person receives the gift of Christ that person is changed—re-created. St. Paul says that we are what God has made us; we are the results of his craftsmanship, the finished product of his artistry. Christ didn't come just to forgive us, solve our problems, give us rules by which we are to live, or drop a to-do list of necessary religious acts into our laps. Jesus came to make us new creations; to live by our better angels. It’s not about stuff: but about love and sacrifice—the best gifts of all.
God gives us this great gift expecting that we will live with it and utilize it. He has in mind that we will do good; to be the best we were created to be and that we will do good works. It's still a free gift offered in grace with no strings attached, but this gift does come with the responsibility that those of us who receive it will live so that this gift occupies the central place in our lives and motivates us to lives of love, integrity, purity, kindness, holiness and righteousness.
God understands and knows that our new lives will not always be easy to live and that our old habits and perspectives may die slowly. He recognizes that we're always learning about the implications of the gift He that has given us has for our lives. His expectations are realistic. He understands that we won't perfectly live this gift we've received for quite some time, but He gives us this gift expecting that we will do the best that we can to live up to the responsibilities of receiving it.
The bottom line is that the gift we've received from God, this gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, cannot be put away in the closets and basements of our hearts and ignored. It cannot be placed on a shelf, dusted off and admired periodically, and then put back. Even more importantly, this gift will absolutely not conform to the old patterns of our lives—our lives must be re-patterned to fit around the gift that God has so graciously given us.
This gift really is no burden, though. Living with the gift of Christ brings new joy with each new day. Each day we discover something new about God, about ourselves, about the people and the world around us. These new discoveries will thrill us, delight us, and surprise us, bring joy. Before too long, we won't be able to imagine living without God's gift and returning in love to the world the love freely given to us.
These last few weeks I have witnessed incredible gifts of commitment, time, faith and love to our Parish Community. Last weekend the final formal blessing prayer before dismissal from Mass said: “May (God make) you steadfast in faith, joyful in hope and untiring in love.” I have seen the living reality of this blessing during this time of ‘too many things to do’ evinced by many of the people of this parish. The usual things to do are quite enough—yet with all of the extra liturgies, events and projects that have taken place—more than the typical help and support was needed and the call was answered!
We have so much for which to be thankful: an untiring staff of personnel who work above and beyond all (reasonable) expectation and a host of volunteers who make all things possible. Think (and be thankful) about the last few weeks and all that has been achieved: from collections and donations to meaningful liturgy. In the Music Ministry and other Worship Ministries: all the young and the youthful; the families participating in the lighting of the Advent Wreath; the Lectors, the Eucharistic Ministers, ushers, acolytes, enhancement (decoration) of the liturgical space, all while surviving the secular perception of Christmas. We have had Christmas parties, potlucks, concerts, pageants, teas, fundraisers, extra liturgies, meetings, rehearsals, hard work and fellowship. I would like to extend my personal, heart-felt appreciation and gratitude to those in the Music Ministry for their continuing love and hours of commitment to this parish. Much has been accomplished by the people of St. Aidan. May God bless you all in these holy-days—at Christmas and in the New Year to come—for your gifts of steadfast presence and faith, your joyful hearts and your untiring dedication and devotion to this Community.