Friday, December 25, 2015

Between Speed & Presence


Nativity of the Lord (Mass During the Day)

Picture: cc Fatima

Sisters and brothers, have you ever heard people say that our world is shrinking? You know what it means, right? Or at least you know what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the world is actually getting smaller in size. The way a piece of clothing might shrink after washing. No, when people say that the world is shrinking, they’re not talking about size but about speed. What they mean is that we can now travel long distances in a much shorter time than before. This is the gift of technology. You hop onto a plane today, and you can find yourself in a friend’s house, halfway around the world, tomorrow.

Or, if you prefer not to travel, then you can just WhatsApp or Tweet or Facebook. And your friend will receive your message instantaneously. Speed. This is how technology allows us to shrink our world. To bridge distances. By increasing the speed of our movement and our communication. And who can deny that this is a good thing? A great gift. By increasing our speed, technology helps us to connect with more people. And in a much shorter time than before.

And yet, we also cannot deny that there are side-effects to this  continual increase in speed. Do you know what these side-effects are? I can think of at least two. Stress and shallowness. Whether we care to admit it or not, the constant increase of speed puts a strain on us. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Even relationally. Although we may have many names on our list of contacts, don’t we often continue to feel lonely and disconnected? As though no one really understands what we are going through? And when we do get together with others for a meal, doesn’t each person often end up fiddling with his or her own smartphone, instead of interacting with those at table?

Quite ironically, our constant connection often leads instead to disconnection. We interact with many people. But often in ever shallower ways. Always feeling the need to keep moving on, we no longer take the time to linger. To ponder. To connect more deeply with our own selves. Much less with others. As much as speed may shrink our world, it also often stresses us out. And makes our interactions with others ever more superficial.

But what alternative do we have? How else are we to bridge the distances between us? To shrink our world? I’m not sure, my dear friends. But I thought that I found the answer earlier this morning. In something that a visiting Jesuit said to me at breakfast. Your church is getting smaller, he said. And I knew exactly what he meant. You see, he had concelebrated the Midnight Mass last night. And, as expected, the church was packed to the rafters. Which is why he said what he said. Like the world, our church too appears to be shrinking. Not because of any change in its physical size. But because more people seem to be showing up.

Could this be another way of bridging distances? Of shrinking our world? A way that depends not on speed. But on presence. Actually, isn’t this what Christmas is really all about? We celebrate how God bridges the tremendous distance that separates us from God. Not by moving faster. But by drawing nearer. By deepening God’s presence among and within us. Isn’t this what we find in our Mass readings today?

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news, who heralds peace, brings happiness, proclaims salvation… Why is the coming of God’s message described as beautiful? Not so much because of its speed. Not because the messenger moves very quickly. But because his words are full of the consoling presence of God. Your watchmen raise their voices, they shout for joy together, for they see the Lord face to face... the Lord is consoling his people... God shrinks the distance between us. Not by moving more quickly. But by involving himself more intimately in our lives. Allowing us, quite incredibly, to even see him face to face.

We find a similar message in the second reading. At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God has progressed from communicating with us through prophets, to communicating through His Son. And we must not mistake this change for a mere substitution of one messenger with another. For the reading makes it quite clear that the Son is far more than just another messenger. He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature... The Son is the very presence of God himself. In and through him, God bridges the distance between us by deepening his presence among us.

The gospel puts it even more poetically. In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.... The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth... In and through Jesus, the Word of God comes among us as a living breathing human being. Immersing himself in all our pains and struggles. Sharing in all our hopes and dreams. Forever connected to us in a bond that can never be broken. In and through Christ, God shrinks the world. Not by the increase of speed. But by the deepening of God’s presence.

What does this mean for us, my dear friends? We who often do not seem to know any other way of bridging distances except by increasing our speed. We who shrink our world by moving ever more quickly. But who then discover distances opening up within and among us that we are quite unable to bridge. Distances reflected as much in the loneliness and disconnection that we experience within ourselves. As the conflicts and divisions that we see around the world.

Perhaps what makes Christmas such tremendous good news for us, is that it reveals to us a better way of bridging distances. A gentler way of shrinking our world. Not through stressful and superficial speed. But through consoling and enduring presence. The presence of a poor, innocent, defenceless baby. Whom we believe to be nothing less than the Wisdom of God. The Word of God. The Son of God. Made flesh for us. For you and for me.

As we come and adore this baby. As we come and allow his presence to fill our minds, our hearts, and our lives. Perhaps we can also begin to learn from him how to bridge distances by deepening our presence. To ourselves. To our families. To our communities. To the world.

My dear friends, what must we do to allow our Lord to continue shrinking our world, yours and mine, this Christmas?

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