The Advent of Friendship with God

As we enter the last few days before Christmas, I thought it might be worth dedicating this homily to considering the ultimate purpose of the events we are about to celebrate. At Christmas, of course, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but why, exactly, was Jesus born? What is God's ultimate purpose?

Well, Scripture describes God as 'love' and tells us that God desires to bring all his people to heaven. To be in heaven is, of course, to be in friendship with God forever in paradise, to see God face to face in the company of the angels and the saints. So, then, if God's desire is for all his people to reach heaven, why, then, is this goal so difficult to attain and how does the birth of Jesus Christ at least make it possible for us to reach heaven?

The answers to this questions are rooted in the nature of friendship. What does it mean to be friends with someone? To be friends means sharing things in common, of liking and disliking similar things. Friends take joy in one another's good and find joy in being together. Friendship is regarded as one of life's greatest blessings, yet true friendship is quite rare. Friendship takes time and is often proven only through trials or suffering. Furthermore, friendship requires freedom: someone can be forced to be a slave, no one can ever be forced to be a friend. All such difficulties apply to friendship with God as well as to friendship with another human being. To become friends with God, however, we face at least two more challenges. First, of course, we are not like God and no friendship is naturally possible between a human being and God. Second, friendship with God can easily become corrupted. God is, after all, all-powerful and fallen human beings often yearn for power. Hence the rituals of paganism often focused on bargaining with God or the gods for power, their modern counterparts being found, for example, in spiritualism and the occult. Hence also in today's second reading, God says that he does not desire sacrifice or oblation. The problem identified here is that even divinely instituted practices can become corrupted, can be reduced to a relationship in which one bargains with God for benefits. What God desires, rather, is for us to say freely, "Here I am! I am coming to obey your will." In other words, God wants our friendship to be based on love, our wills to be in union with His will in the manner of friends, not slaves to their master or even business partners.

So how, then, does the birth of Jesus Christ offer us the hope of attaining true friendship with God? Well, first of all, while we are not God, God can choose and has chosen to become one of us, to be born like us from a human mother. In his very person, Jesus Christ unites his divine nature with a human nature, a human nature taken from his sinless and perfect mother, Mary. Jesus Christ can therefore be thought of as a kind of bridge, a bridge across a gap that we could not otherwise cross even in thought. By means of the person of Christ and the sacraments he has instituted, we can share in the divine nature and become friends with God. Second, because of the risk of this relationship to God being corrupted by the desire for power, God comes to us in weakness. He chooses the People of Israel, not one of great empires of antiquity. From this people he chooses one tribe, the tribe of Judah, and from this tribe chooses the most insignificant clan. As today's First Reading says, "You, (Bethlehem) Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, out of you will be born for me the one who is to rule over Israel." And in Bethlehem, as we know, the kings of kings chose to be born, not in a palace but in a stable for cattle. Such is the humility of God, but also the wisdom of God, who knows that human beings need to approach him through love, not through the desire for power.

What, then, does success look like in God's plan? The answer to this question is shown to us by Mary. She is the one who says to the angel, "Let it be to me according to your word." She is the one who surrenders wholly to God out of love, not out of servile fear or the desire for power or benefits. She is the one who is most blessed, and who brings forth Jesus Christ to the world. She is one who shares the joy of Elizabeth and the suffering of Christ at Calvary. She is the one who has is now crowned as Queen of Heaven, our heavenly mother. May the prayers of Mary help us to prepare well for this Christmas. May she show us what true friendship with God means and may her prayers help bring us one day to the joys of heaven.

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