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Why Read the Scriptures
A few months ago, an interaction with my young daughter led me to reflect again on a key reason for spending time reading and reflecting on the Scriptures.
During Advent, my family follows the tradition of the Jesse Tree for the main tree in the house. Essentially, that means we have a bare tree at the beginning of Advent to which we add a simple wooden ornament each night depicting various stories of the Old Testament as we move toward Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we tell the story of the Christ Child and the last wooden ornament adorns the tree. After the kids go to bed, my wife and I replace the wooden ornaments with all the traditional Christmas tree decorations. When the kids wake up on Christmas morning, not only do they find presents under the tree, they also discover a tree which has been transformed by lights and glass bulbs to mark that the time of waiting is over, and the Baby King is born.
This year, in a moment of dramatic rebellion, my 4-year-old daughter asked, “Why do we have to do this every night?” She complained that she didn’t want to hear these stories but wanted instead to watch her television program. I forget what I replied in the moment, but the question struck me in a different way than how I usually receive the stubborn resistance of my children. And since BYOB had begun mere days earlier, the question seemed uniquely relevant. Why do we spend time with Scripture? Why is it important to engage the texts consistently? Isn’t listening to the readings at Mass enough?
For our children, we told them that the reason for our nightly retelling of Scripture was to tell Jesus’ story. The Old Testament and all its players are part of the story of Jesus’ coming to earth at Christmas. But there is a deeper sense of Christ’s coming to us in the reading of Scripture. As St. John’s Gospel reminded us earlier this year, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, and when we read the Word of God in Scripture, it is Christ himself whom we are encountering, not merely words about him. Again, in Chapter 10 of John, Christ says he “came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly.” (10) Later, in his first letter, John reflects more on what this abundant life might be when he tells us that “we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (3:2) So, in effect, Scripture is Jesus’ story, and Jesus’ story is all about making us like him. He loves us and wants to share himself with us, he wishes to share an intimate common life between himself and all of us.
But love is always an invitation, and love is impossible without first knowing who the person is and spending time with them. To love God in return, we need to get to know him and his story. It is impossible to love him in return if we don’t know him. And so, spending time with him in the Word every day is like having a daily conversation with a dear friend or love. It draws us closer to him, and makes us fall more in love with him.
For my children, spending time each evening discussing Bible stories helped them to know God’s story more intimately. At Sunday Mass, they heard names like Samuel or Isaiah and turned to me surprised as if to say, “Wait! I know this story!” Their familiarity with Sacred Scripture has helped them appreciate what God has done for them and has helped them feel a part of what he continues to do in the Church up until this day.