After a long journey, Bethlehem is in sight. There in the manger our Lord waits for us—”Come to Me all ye who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest for your souls.” It has been a wearisome and worrisome year in many ways, and the burden of it still weighs on us. If this year has shaken us, we can make good use of it by reflecting on what our lives are really about. In his sermon, “The Gift of the Spirit,” St. John Henry Newman helps us understand what it means to be in this world as Christians.
The birth of Christ perplexes us in so many ways – God became a baby! – that some of the mysteries of the Incarnation get missed. Consider how God conducted Himself in coming to earth. The Christian writer C.S. Lewis wrote, “Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
Now, since Christ has reconciled us to God, Christians live in a new reality. We have been given the “gift of the ‘Spirit,’ the gift of ‘glory,’ and through which the Church has become what it was not before, the Kingdom of Heaven.” God is no stranger anymore – He makes our hearts his dwelling place, his sanctuary. And since heaven is being united with God, we can say that in some sense we dwell in both heaven and earth right now.
Newman explains: “Such is the mysterious state in which Christians stand, if it be right to enlarge upon it. They are in Heaven, in the world of spirits, and are placed in the way of all manner of invisible influences. ‘Their conversation is in heaven;’ they live among Angels, and are within reach (as I may say) of the Saints departed. They are ministers round the throne of their reconciled Father, ‘kings and priests unto God,’ having their robes washed in the Lamb’s blood, and being consecrated as temples of the Holy Ghost.” In this we imitate Christ, who was both a citizen of heaven and earth – “no man hath ascended up to Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven, even the Son of man which is in Heaven [sic].” He told his disciples. “In these words our Lord plainly discloses that in some mysterious way He, the Son of man, was really in Heaven, even while, by human eyes, He was seen to be on earth.”
The gift of the Spirit – the gift of glory given to the Church and baptized Christians as its members – is a union with God Himself and one that we can taste and experience even now. Whether we cultivate this gift and allow it change us “from glory to glory” or whether we allow the flame of the Holy Spirit to dim, is our choice. Newman imagines that if we could see the souls of men, we would see “infants just baptized bright as the Cherubim, as flames of fire rising heavenward in sacrifice to God; then as they passed from childhood to man’s estate, the light within them fading or strengthening as the case may be.”
If we find ourselves in these remaining days of Advent burdened by the cares of this life, we should recall who we are – sons and daughters of God, supernaturally changed in our very being at the moment of our baptism. God has come to make His home in us. This is the good news – don’t let natural circumstances steal your joy!. Go to Him and share Him with everyone you meet.