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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advent. And Reprehensible Nonsense



Every now and again I hear people of Christian faith opine that the idea of Jesus as a “personal savior” is foreign to the New Testament message. They say Jesus came to save the “Church,” to establish a Christian community. The pre-eminent focus of Scripture, they say, is community salvation – not personal salvation.

But such a philosophy is not only reprehensible nonsense; it is destructive to Christian faith.

The New Testament repeatedly tells us Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – individual sinners (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:15). To this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 2091) adds: The first commandment is  . . .concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption: By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins (emphasis mine).

The first advent of Messiah was nothing less than God’s personal intervention into history so He could offer individuals like you and me a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. That joyous truth is engraved in the Biblical text from cover to cover, from Genesis through Revelation.

Yes, Immanuel took on human flesh to save the “church” (Ephesians 5:25-27) and to establish a people for Himself (Titus 2:14). But let us never forget or overlook the truth that the Good Shepherd left the ninety-nine safe in the fold to search for the one who was lost (Luke 15:3-7). Jesus left the crowds and went out of His way to minister to the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). He sought the blind man ostracized from his synagogue (John 9:1-38). He made a point to pass through Samaria to meet a lone woman unwelcomed by her community (John 4:1-38). He stopped by a tax collector’s table and said, “Follow Me” (Matthew 9:9).  Surrounded by crowds, Jesus paused by a sycamore tree and told one man, “Let’s have dinner tonight” (Luke 19:5)

The New Testament writers repeatedly told their audiences how much Jesus longed for each of them to know Him as their personal savior. And yes, He longs for you and me to know Him in an intimate, warm, and personal relationship, too.

“What must I do to be saved?” the Philippian jailer pleaded with St. Paul. And the apostle answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 15:25-31). “Come to me” the Lord Jesus invited, “[each of] you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give [each of] you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus said “I will never desert [any one of] you nor will I ever forsake [any one of] you” (Hebrews 13:5); And St. Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi, ‘[Oh] that I might know Him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings . . .” (Philippians 3:10).

Yes, the Lord Jesus came to establish the Church, but the Church is not an abstract entity. It is comprised of individuals – each of whom is critically valuable in God’s eyes. Without its individual members, the Church would not exist.

From Genesis through Revelation – and through the testimonies of the Saints, from St. Francis to St. Augustine to St. Catherine of Sienna to St. Therese of Lisieux to St. Padre Pio – God assures us that if you or I were the only ones out of the 6 billion people on planet earth who needed to be saved – Jesus would have died for you.  And for me.

By our baptismal faith and ongoing devotion to Christ, you and I – singular, unique, special – you and I belong to Christ. God personally formed us in our mothers’ womb (Psalm 139:13). He is intimately involved with us (Psalm 139:3). He knows our name (John 10:3), how many hairs we have on our head (Luke 12:7), and not a word passes across our tongue that He does not already know (Psalm 139:4).

We belong to the community called the Church, but we must never lose sight of the wonderful truth: Jesus came to save each individual who makes up the Church.

THAT is what the first Advent is all about. Oh! Thanks be to God for that indescribable gift!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen! Thank you for sharing this - you have no idea how refreshing this is to me.

Rich Maffeo said...

Anonymous, it gives me great encouragement to know I have encouraged others. Thanks for letting me know.