Encountering Christ’s healing presence this Advent

An Advent wreath is seen Dec. 10 at Jesus the Divine Word Church in Huntingtown, Md. Advent, a season of joyful expectation before Christmas, begins Dec. 3 this year. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Recently, one of my fifth-grade students asked me why there seemed to be so many more “blind” and “lame” people in the Bible than there are today. “They were everywhere, all around Jesus,” he said, “but today we hardly ever see people like that.” A few other students volunteered possible answers: many children with disabilities are killed by abortion in today’s world; medicine is more advanced than previously so we are able to help people avoid long-lasting detrimental effects of diseases. I agreed with these suggestions and also added a theological explanation for the Evangelists’ frequent mention of the sick: their healing provided proof that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.

When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3b). Rather than directly answering the question, Jesus reveals to John and his disciples the answer they had been seeking through the evidence of the healing miracles He performed: “… the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Matthew 11:5).  These miracles were signs proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah sent by God. Indeed, true healing is always a sign of God’s presence.

While miracles of physical healings can and do still happen today, the greatest gift of God’s healing comes in conversion and repentance from sin. Notice that the last sign Jesus mentions to John’s disciples – “the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” – does not on first glance seem to match the other signs of healing miracles. But what is the good news that Jesus proclaims? He has come to us to save His people, to set us free from our sins. This is surely a proclamation of healing and salvation – a clear sign that this Jesus is God Himself in our midst. In fact, “Who but God alone can forgive sins?” (Luke 5:21b).

God’s power is greatest when He forgives sin, when He releases us – in our acceptance of His grace – from our self-chosen, self-inflicted separation from Him. God always desires to give us that deepest of healings, which is a renewed relationship with Him. Healings were not meant only to be a sign of Christ’s presence in first century Palestine; our God wants always and everywhere to reveal Himself to us through His healing power in our lives.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel, OP

As we continue to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord during this season of Advent, there may be no better way for us to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, amidst all the hustle and bustle, than to allow Him to reveal Himself to each of us personally through His healing power. If we go to Him in the sacrament of reconciliation, He will reveal to us His personal love for and forgiveness of each of us. His “healing rays” will penetrate us with the ability to recognize His presence in our newfound freedom from the sin that separates us from Him (Malachi 4:2). During this season, may we recognize our Messiah at work, healing us by His love.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel, OP, is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.