In these last days of Advent, we are invited by the Church’s liturgies to turn to the Lord as we focus on the coming of Jesus at Christmas. We can pray with the words of Psalm 80: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”
God has indeed let us see His face. He showed us His face in sending us His Son. Jesus is not merely a great prophet like Elijah or John the Baptist. Jesus is not just some great religious figure in history. He is the Face of God. Our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, once said, that God’s Face is “the Face of mercy, the Face of pardon and love, the Face of the encounter with us.”
Advent and Christmas teach us to recognize God’s face in “the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Jesus came into the world to reveal to us the Face of His Father and our Father. He came into the world “to speak to us of the Father; to make Him known to us, His lost children, and to revive in our hearts the joy of belonging to Him, the hope of being forgiven and restored to our full dignity, and the desire to dwell forever in His house which is also our house” (Pope Benedict XVI).
Advent and Christmas are seasons of joy and hope. We are filled with joy and hope because God has a human face. This is the great truth of Christianity and Catholicism, that God became one of us, that He is our Savior. He overcomes sin and death. He is the Prince of Peace who gives us the power of peace that no one else can give us. God is not a reality known only from afar. He came close to us. He came at Christmas to bring heaven to us.
“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” God has shown us His face in the child in the manger who later suffered and died for us. That face of Jesus shines forth in the face of every human being, from the child in the womb to the suffering elderly person on his death bed. “As you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me,” Jesus teaches us.
As Christians, we are called to discover the Face of Jesus Christ especially in people who are poor and suffering, in the marginalized and forgotten. When we pray Psalm 80: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved,” we know that we can see God’s face, the face of Jesus, in the sick and the poor whom we are called to love and serve. In faith, we look upon them and their needs with new eyes. In them, we are called to see the Face of Christ. In their faces, we discover the mysterious Face of God. When we care for a suffering person, we discover Christ’s face when hanging on the cross. We can also glimpse, through faith, the radiant face of the risen Christ who tells us that suffering and sickness will not have the last word in our human lives.
Christmas reminds us of our vocation as disciples of Jesus to recognize Jesus in what Mother Teresa called “the distressing disguise of the poor.” It is Christ whom we serve when we show love and compassion to those in need.
In these final days of the season of Advent, and soon at Christmas, we contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery and grace of God’s becoming man, of His assuming our human nature. We can say, therefore, that God has a human Face.
St. Vincent de Paul promoted the Mystery of the Incarnation among His followers. He said: “Honor the Incarnation, a mystery beyond words.” St. Vincent taught: “Since Christ willed to be born poor, He made Himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that He would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against Himself.” St. Vincent de Paul and St. Teresa of Calcutta and many other great saints teach us to see the face of Jesus, God’s face, in the persons of the poor and suffering.
As we approach Christmas, we prepare to celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation. It is a mystery to be believe and celebrated. It is also a mystery to be put into practice by the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. When we do so, we are not engaged in mere philanthropy. Prayer and the works of mercy help us to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. I think of Blessed Frederic Ozanam, the founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He was deeply devoted to prayer and the sacraments. It was His love of Christ that impelled him to love and serve the poor.
I recently reminded the Vincentians of our diocese that their work can become superficial and compulsive if separated from prayer. That is important for all of us to remember. Prayer is our lifeline and should be the foundation for what we do. It is through prayer and action, not one or the other, but both, that we are called to grow in holiness.
My brothers and sisters, let us continue on our Advent journey to Christmas with the words of Psalm 80 in our hearts: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” May God, who has revealed His Face to us in the Incarnation of His Son, bless all of you with joy and peace at Christmas!
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