The Christmas season is over now as we begin the first week of
ordinary time. The Christmas tree has long been put away or thrown
out. Presents have all found their homes in toy boxes, drawers and
shelves. Indeed, many of us are probably even past our New Year’s
Resolution, good intentions already gone awry. Yep, January. Time
to settle in for the remaining drudgery of winter until we can begin
Lent and think about repenting once again.
Although Christmas may feel like a distant memory, today’s
readings continue to focus on the implications of the incarnation
that we celebrate on December 25. “Since the children share
in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them” (Heb 2:14)
Today’s first reading from Hebrews shares with us one of the
central reasons why divine became human flesh: by sharing in human
nature, including suffering and death, Jesus breaks the power that
death has over us. Jesus conquers death for all of us. Jesus even
breaks the bonds of the fear of death, showing us that not even
death ends one’s personal relationship with God.
This idea of Jesus conquering death is a tough one for me, mostly
because “conquer” to me brings images of something ending,
like how war ends after one nation conquers another. (No pun intended,
nor a sly remark about Iraq.) When something has been conquered,
it is no longer an issue to be endured in the present or future.
Yet, we humans still die. We still suffer. Suffering and death are
still to be experienced and endured by us all. So, that does not
FEEL like death has been conquered to me.
And yet, even as I wrote that previous paragraph, something within
me knows that what was meant by “conquering” is that
I do not need to live my life being afraid of death. I do not need
to live my life focused on the finite-ness that is all around me,
no, that IS me. With the incarnation, divine becomes human and humanity
is transformed. Humanity, me and you, are transformed. When we participate
in the Eucharist, it is not that the host becomes nourishment for
our body, but WE are transformed more into Christ. And, if I am
being transformed into Christ, if I am part of his body, then I
also will conquer death. I too will one day rise again.
Like Hebrews, today’s gospel also focuses on the implications
of the incarnation. “Let us go on to the nearby villages that
I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come.” (Mark
1:38) If you look at my profile description, you will see that I
direct a program focused on being more intentional and authentic
about our vocational calls. So, of course, I feel compelled to celebrate
Mark’s passage today where Jesus directly tells us what his
calling is. If Christ conquered death for me, the person of Jesus
was called to preach the Good News and to heal. Divine becomes human
flesh to conquer death. But divine also became human flesh to give
me hope today. Today. Before I die. As I live my finite, limited,
less than transformed life, Jesus will approach me, grasp my hand,
and help me up. Just like Simon’s mother-in-law.
We may be in the first week of ordinary time. But, today’s
readings remind me that Christmas, the mystery of the incarnation,
unfolds in richness and meaning much longer than that holiday weight
gain ever can!