Friday of the Third Week of Advent
(Jeremiah 23:5-8; Matthew 1:18-25)
Listening to the poor may provide a whole new concept of “Christmas gift.” Once, a missionary went to the highlands of Honduras to celebrate mass on the day following Christmas. Arriving early in the evening, he went to the church where the youth group was holding a meeting. The adult moderator asked the missionary to address the adolescents. Not having anything particular to say, the missionary asked the children to tell him about their Christmas gifts. But they did not seem to understand. Rather than describe a toy or clothing article that they received, they talked about how they planned to be more obedient and prayerful. Then the priest realized that he was the one who lacked understanding. The children’s parents were too destitute to provide material gifts for them. “Christmas gifts” were what they all did to show Jesus how much they love him.
In the reading today from Jeremiah, the prophet provides us with a similarly new concept of “the Promised Land.” He foretells that the descendants of Israel now in Babylonian exile will take up residence on their own rightful land. Jesus fulfills this prophecy by giving his followers, the “new Israelites” because of their relationship with him, the Promised Land. But the lot that Jesus has in mind is not an acre of Israel. No, Jesus provides a place in God’s kingdom for those who practice his care for all.
The promise of a place in God’s kingdom may sound like a shady deal to some. They will ask, “Why should we change our ways just for the promise of some peaceful place in the distant future?” But those more chastened among us will not dismiss the offer. We are the ones who realize that those Honduran highlander children have better Christmas gifts than kids receiving the latest version of IPad. We also know that a share in the kingdom, which begins with authentic love right now, is better than any real estate on earth.