MATTHEW’S GOSPEL TELLS US about the centurion at Capernaum who asks Jesus to heal his servant in distress. “I will come and heal him,” says Jesus. To which the centurion responds, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus says the word and the servant is healed. Of the Roman centurion he then says, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Faith does not assert claims; faith receives the gift that is undeserved. Faith is itself a gift, the gift of receptivity. Mary received the gift in saying, “Let it be to me according to your word.” To her, and through her to us, was given the gift of the Child who is nothing less, no one less, than the Savior of the world. For us he lived and suffered and died; for us he was raised triumphant that we might, even though we suffer and die, forever live in his glory. The gift is already given and forever is now for those who give him permission to let life be a gift in response to gift. It really is a matter of giving God permission, as Mary gave God permission. He will not be the Lord of our life without our permission. Faith is giving permission.
“Lord, I am not worthy.” On our lips and in our hearts, these are words of surrendering love—of love surrendering to love. They are words by which we empty ourselves, by which we open ourselves, to receive the gift. I f we are full of ourselves, complaining about what we deserve and do not deserve, there is no room in our hearts to receive the gift. If we deserved the gift, it would not be a gift. “Lord, I am not worthy.” With these words, we make room in our hearts for the gift.
Christmas is the giving and receiving of gifts. What a joy. What a hassle. What gifts to give to whom? What gifts to expect in return? The hassle surrenders to gratitude as we, setting aside all calculations of who deserves what, respond by giving as we have been given. “Lord, I am not worthy.” With these words, complaints and grievances are banished. With these words, the gift is given to receive the gift of giving. With these words, faith gives permission for Christ to be in our lives Emmanuel, God with us.
~From Richard John Neuhaus, “First Monday of Advent,” GOD WITH US: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe
DID THAT REALLY HAPPEN? In Matthew 15 we read that Jesus took seven loaves of bread and a few fish, he gave thanks and broke them, and with them he fed a hungry crowd of about eight thousand people (assuming there were as many women and children as there were men). Similar events are related in the other Gospel accounts. Incredible? Many people think so. Even some Christians are embarrassed by these miracle reports and try to ignore them or explain them away. After all, we simply know that you can’t feed thousands of people with seven loaves and a few fish.
With this we are brought to the central mystery of Christmas—not a mystery that is like a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery that is a deep truth to be endlessly explored. “With God all things are possible,” Jesus said. And the deepest of deep truths about Christmas—without which Christmas is just a lovely social custom—is that Mary’s baby is God. He is God incarnate, which means God become one of us, which means he is true God and true man. The challenge to faith is not that he fed so many with so little, or that he healed the sick, or that he gave sight to the blind, or any of the other astonishing things reported. The challenge to faith is that he is “Emmanuel, God with us. “If that is true, with him all things are possible.
~From Richard John Neuhaus, “First Wednesday of Advent,” GOD WITH US: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe