The recent liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas and now Epiphany all announce, celebrate and even extend the presence of Jesus Christ at this time and in this world. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us,” thus St. Matthew, quoting Isaiah, proudly proclaimed God’s nearness on the fourth Sunday of Advent. St. Luke celebrated the dawn of Christ’s presence at Christmas in these words from the angelic hosts: “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” Indeed, the savior has truly arrived! He is as close as nearby Bethlehem. St. John, on the same feast, made quite clear that God is present through Christ to humankind: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
And now again, at Epiphany, St. Matthew records the awe of the Magi when confronted with the Divine Presence in Christ: “They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” This joy of the Wise Men at the nearness of God in Christ anticipates St. Paul’s later revelation about an expanding presence of God in Christ to all people: “It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph 3:5-6).” So both the nearness and the wideness of God’s mercy are revealed and realized through Christ.
The liturgical season of Ordinary Time (in the sense of ordered or numbered time) will of course be anything but ordinary in the sense of commonplace or conventional. Ordinary time will graphically continue the stunning saga of the nearness of God in Christ. The actual physical Presence of the God/man among his people is made vivid with powerful narrations of miracles and exorcisms and with vivid recollections of insightful sermons and pointed instructions. Ordinary Time insists that Christ in his humanity and in his divinity is very much a man of the people and with the people, truly present to the family of man. The season of Lent, of course, will sadly but rightly accentuate the distressing and difficult account of the Savior’s betrayal, passion and death. The crucified Christ can leave no doubt that the Savior was “a man like us in all things but sin.” Again, the nearness of God to man through Christ is the message.
The Easter season and Ascensiontide would at first seem to remove Christ from any proximity to humankind. Christ has risen triumphantly from the dead and is returning to the Father to reign gloriously from a heavenly throne. Yet the risen and ascending Christ cautions his followers that his return to the Father does not terminate the Divine Presence among mankind. “Behold I am with you all days even until the end of the age,” Jesus re-assures his shaken followers.
Actually, Jesus has returned to the Father only to ensure the nearness of God to man even more intimately through his Spirit. “Remain in the city until you are clothed with power from on high,” Christ instructs his first followers. The birth of Christ at Bethlehem ushered in the real presence of Christ through his human nature. “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” Now at Pentecost the descent of the Spirit of Jesus upon the believing community ushers in the real presence of Christ through the Church. Jesus first made his presence to mankind known through his human nature. Christ now makes his presence to mankind known through his corporate nature, so to speak, through the Church “…it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets.”
What the man Jesus did in his lifetime through preaching and fellowship, through miracles and healings, through courage and suffering, his Catholic Church continues now through preaching Scripture and teaching Tradition, through celebrating the sacraments and honoring sacramentals, through charity toward the poor and justice toward the downtrodden. The nearness of God through Christ that first gladdened the Wise Men at Bethlehem continues to gladden the human heart through the celebrations and ministries of his Church.