One day in the midst of His work as Preacher and Healer, our Lord Jesus invited three friends up a mountainside. When they arrived, a wondrous bath of light shone on Him and through Him. The trio fell on their faces. They trembled, hearing a voice, “Look at the Son I love. Listen to Him.” The thunderous sound and the words clearly meant, “Drop whatever blocks the way and pay Him full attention.”
Today’s celebration of His birth as a member of the human race is a good time to ask how much attention we are offering Him in our day-to-day thoughts and activities. The key truth in Christianity is that the Second Person in God is one of us: body and soul, a human being.
Which brings us to a claim you may have heard somebody parrot: “I don’t need a building to interact with God. I can talk to Him when and where I want—without any church.” This is a total truth—as far as it goes. Everybody can and everybody should, not monthly, not weekly, but at least once a day—more is better—interact with God.
Look once more at the truth I just quoted. We can address God anywhere. I offer a proposal to do something twice a week: For 15 minutes close the door. Think about God as God. If you do this for a quarter-hour, you will be hit with some of the awe that struck the disciples on the mountaintop. Start with: Our God is an invisible spirit. The term “invisible spirit” also describes angels and souls, the “deceased.” The difference: God is everywhere. But there’s more. God knows everything you, and I, are thinking. And will be thinking next week. And God knows everything else. And is keeping us in existence. The most awesome geniuses who ever lived on earth could not give an adequate description of God. No wonder the First Commandment in the Bible adds a section that rules out images of the Lord. God, as God, is beyond picturing.
What we celebrate at Christmas offers a strong correction for us who call ourselves Christians—Christ-people—to the “I don’t need a building” claim. God, with the power to do anything, localized Himself as a man. First in Bethlehem as Mary’s Newborn, later in His ministry in which persons like us knew Him as a Friend and bringer of God’s News. In the carpenter shop at Nazareth, in the living room of Mary and Martha, in the meadow where He multiplied the loaves, they were in the presence of a man. They could see and hear Him, talk to Him, look in His eyes and know His kindness and empathy. He was there in a place. On top of this, we wonder at the amazing truth that, as man, He could die and did so for you and all of us.
When He became the risen Lord, He gave the Church the sacraments in which He goes on doing for people what He did 2,000 years ago. Taking the chief sacrament, Eucharist, we realize that He is personally present in a building every day, and especially on Sunday, so that we can meet with Him as did His mother, the Apostles, and many others did back then. In our day, it happens in the forms of bread and wine, a blessing He gives through a power only God has. The appearance may be bread or wine, the reality is Jesus. Compare with Nazareth in 25 A.D: the man down the street repairing a table leg is a true man. The further, tremendous, reality is that He is God. That’s a good reply to anybody claiming that it is just too hard to believe the Eucharistic Host is Jesus.
He genuinely comes to us as our Friend of Friends: Bethlehem and Nazareth and Calvary then, and on the altar now. How do we treat the true friends in our lives? We eagerly meet with them as much as we can. Since He is our Friend above all others, deserving to be the center of our lives, isn’t it true that we have no real choice but to come to Him where we can meet Him in Eucharist, and so heed His word, “Do this in memory of Me”? This is why we, who call Him God in the flesh, should feel when Sundays and holy days come around. And if we realize there are ways we have not put Him at the center of our lives, there is the sacrament of forgiveness, His moment of guaranteed soul-healing for all who repent.
The next time self-labeled Christians in your workplace, or among family and friends, say, “A building is not necessary,” ask them whether Jesus, God made Man, Who spilled His blood for us, Who under the appearance of bread and wine is truly here in a place, a building, deserves a “Yes” response to “Do this in memory of Me.” Wait for an answer. Listen. Then share yours.