Fourth Sunday of Advent ~ December 20, 2020
Few things have ever been written in the history of the world that can approach the lyric beauty of the Gospel of Luke today. No matter how many times we read it, we are immersed in its majestic simplicity.
This moment in history had been foretold since the days of creation, when it was promised that a woman would give birth to the One who would vanquish the power of Satan. If the moment had been orchestrated by Madison Avenue, it would’ve been surrounded by pomp and circumstance, proclaimed far and wide. As usual, though, God’s ways are not our ways.
The word that had been awaited for centuries came silently as the sunrise, to a young girl in an obscure village, a young one who, until that moment, had but one significant event to anticipate: She was to wed the local carpenter.
Now, with a few soft-spoken words from an angel, and her “Fiat!, her resounding Yes, / her “let it be done according to thy word,” she became the central figure in the plan of Redemption, without whom / God’s plan would not be fulfilled.
(God needed Mary’s YES!)
This was not the first time God had sent a messenger to announce the birth of a child in extraordinary circumstances. Remember Sarah and her husband, Abraham? They had exhausted every hope of having a child of their own, for they were far beyond the age of childbearing. But since nothing is impossible with God, Sarah conceived and bore a son whom they named Isaac, as God had directed.
Centuries later, the scene is repeated: Zechariah and Elizabeth had despaired of having a child, for both were advanced in age. But Elizabeth conceived and bore a child, John the Baptist,whose entire life would be dedicated to one purpose ~ to prepare the way of the Lord.
Now the centuries of prophecy are about to be fulfilled. Again, there is an unlikely conception, for Mary was yet a virgin. Again that this most unlikely of all births might become a reality, God’s intervention was needed. Gabriel, messenger of the Most High, assures her . . .
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born from of your womb will be called holy, the Son of God.”
All that had transpired in salvation history up to this moment hung in the balance waiting for this girl’s response: She took her time. She questioned the angel. and then she finally said, Yes. “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word.”
And then the angel left her, leaving for her and Joseph to work out the details, some of which were going to be quite problematic.
We’ll hear the Nativity story in four days. Today, I invite you to think about the whole story, as though you were thinking about it for the first time. Consider what a wild, crazy, loving thing God did! God created us, when he didn’t have to, simply because he wanted to share his love and his joy. We sinned, rejected God, decided to go our own way, and created a huge distance between God and us. You would think that God would say, “OK, have it your own way, then, but be prepared for the consequences.” But he didn’t. Instead, God decided to bridge that distance and repair the damage that we did.
How? First of all, by becoming one of us. A real, living, breathing, in-the-flesh human being who was also God. And not by coming down in overpowering glory and majesty. No, by being conceived in the womb of a young woman, a teenager, actually. And then by being born not in a palace but in a stable, a shelter for animals, on the outskirts of a small town, in a country that was not one of the big players in the power and politics of the time.
Does this make sense? Is this a normal way of behaving – considering that the person doing it is almighty God, creator and Lord of the universe? No. this doesn’t make a shred of common sense. This is the action of someone absolutely consumed by infinite love for people who were not acting lovably. We get so used to hearing this story that we say, “Well, sure, of course!” when it ought to take our breath away.
Today, as preparation for the great Christmas feast that’s coming in four days, let’s try to appreciate in anew the stunning immensity of God’s love for us ~ God’s desire to get us back when we were gone astray as the Christmas carol says.
Let us say Yes to God as Mary did.
A Yes that opens us up to his great love.
A Yes that shares his love with our family,
with our neighborhood,
with our work place,
with our country,
with all the world.
In a few days we will celebrate the birth of Mary’s child, a birth as striking in its simplicity as was the announcement by Gabriel. Perhaps, during these few days, we would do well to ask Mary to help us prepare our hearts for his coming, as she did. Better than anyone else, she knows how to do that.
And now, before you go, here’s the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with a glorious rendition of Handel’s “And the Glory of the Lord. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
The Feast of the Epiphany ~ Sunday, January 4th, 2015
Today’s feast day has several meanings. In the Roman Church we celebrate the story of the Magi visiting Jesus and offering him gifts. In the Eastern churches, they focus on the story of the Baptism of the Lord. Both celebrate the manifestation, the revelation of Jesus to the whole world.
Paul in today’s letter to the Ephesians proclaims that “that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
We focus on the story of the Magi in our celebration today. In the Gospel of Christmas, the angels proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, who were uneducated and poor folk; The story from Luke indicates that the gospel is to be preached to the poor.
Today’s story is from Matthew. The Magi, are scholars and learned men. They discern from their study of the heavens that the Messiah was to be born in their time; they would risk the search for him and offer their treasures. The Magi represent all the peoples of the earth outside and beyond the Jewish experience. Jesus is the Christ for everyone!
This Gospel story is about darkness and light.
Brilliant light and terrible, fearful darkness.
The Magi were comfortable with the dark. They knew how to find their way in the dark because they could interpret the lights of the sky. They were adventurers ~ seekers ~ explorers.
They represent all people who are at home in the world of the intellect. All people who are willing to journey far to seek and find the truth.
They went out into the night following the light, the great star which marked a singular event in human history.
They stopped to see Herod, expecting that he would welcome the light. He couldn’t; he was filled with diabolical darkness; he could not abide the light of truth. He tried to snuff out the life of the God-Man ~ Jesus the light of the world.
Herod, the guy in charge, a king, was worried about the birth of a baby. Herod was powerful, and yet, as Matthew says, “ . . . he was greatly troubled.”
What was Herod afraid of? Obviously, he knew that Jesus was going to make a difference in his world and was afraid that a change would mean losing the power he had. He wanted Jesus gone before any of that could happen. He liked things just the way they were.
So Herod decreed that all firstborn males under two were to be killed. Jesus and Mary and Joseph had to flee into the night to find a safe place in a foreign land, the land of Egypt. And so a shroud of violence comes over the innocence of the Christmas story. Jesus and his family became political refugees.
Some of us too are swallowed up by darkness, enshrouded by night.
Some of us live in dysfunctional families. That too can be terrible darkness, though we may not recognize it. We may think that yelling and screaming are quite normal.
Some of us get up and work very hard day in and day out. Perhaps it is work that we do not enjoy, perhaps even hate. Perhaps our spirits are far away from our jobs. We go to work trying to make a living while hoping that the darkness will not overwhelm us.
And we know that there is darkness in the world. Israelis refuse to seek peace with the Palestinians. And there’s troubles in Sudan, Iraq, Syria. Hate seethes deep in the souls of neighbors a few miles away from each other.
And so, listen to these powerful words from Isaiah in the first reading:
RISE UP IN SPLENDOR, DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD, YOUR LIGHT HAS COME.
THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHINES UPON YOU.
This feast is about a light that penetrates the most stubborn darkness of our lives.
This feast brings a Light to us all, if only we, like the Magi, would seek.
SEE DARKNESS COVERS THE EARTH
AND THICK CLOUDS COVER THE PEOPLES.
Violence seems to shroud our whole planet at times.
BUT UPON YOU THE LORD SHINES
AND OVER YOU APPEARS HIS GLORY.
Don’t despair of the darkness, dear friends. Know that there is a light that can penetrate it.
There was sadness and a thick veil of darkness over my own life for many years. I had the good sense to move to the little bit of light that I could find.
A candle flame can be as bright as a great Nova when one is looking for light.
WE need the light of God’s truth in the world today.
NATIONS SHALL WALK BY YOUR LIGHT,
AND RULERS BY YOUR SHINING RADIANCE.
Out of the darkness came the Magi bringing gifts for the Light of the World. Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Holy Child who was the Light.
But before we can give a gift, we must ~ often in the midst of the darkness ~ open our hands and our hearts to receive the gift that God would give to us. We must first receive before we can give.
Out of the darkness of your lives, you also can find gifts to give to the Lord and your family and friends.
What gifts do we bring?
Do we bring Jesus the gift of our adoration which the Magi did? The gift of our hearts?
These learned and influential people got down on their knees before this little child.
What or who receives the gift of OUR adoration and allegiance?
The world does not know how to adore God. We adore so many other things ~ a new sports car, a new home, a gifted child of our own, good-looking women or men. Maybe we adore a favorite movie star or our favorite sports team when they’re winning at least. Maybe we adore our career path, willing to do whatever it takes, even if we embrace the darkness along the way.
Remember the story of the little drummer boy?
What one gift can we give to God this day?
Close your eyes. Think about it for a moment.
Now, before you go, here’s The Little Drummer Boy to help you think about what gift you have to offer. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
You can find today’s Mass readings at this link. Click here.
When we were preparing for Y2K fifteen years ago, I dreamed about “A New Humanity for a New Millennium.”
And I wrote some really positive stuff about us humans, knowing full well we really didn’t warrant it.
Can we dust those thoughts now as we come up to the center of the second decade of the third millennium and give them a second thought, a second shot . . . ?
. . . . Even though we have failed to live up to the potential of the human family, we nevertheless are called to a deeper faith and hope. The work of Jesus is hardly begun. The task of building a new humanity, partially begun in the first and second millennia, remains the agenda for the third.
As we reach beyond our self-imposed limits of sight, we can look beyond ~ look to the horizon ~ look where we’re headed.
Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin envisioned humanity as evolving toward the “Omega Point,” a point of union of all of creation drawing together in Christ. The Omega Point, Teilhard observes, is the endpoint of the historical process.
Perhaps we can see glimpses of this wonderful and exciting world view in the theology of St. Paul:
“There is no Jew or Greek . . . Christ is everything in all of you” (Col. 3:10).
“Let us profess the truth in love and grow toward the full maturity of Christ the head. Through him the whole body [the world?] grows and with the proper functioning of the members joined firmly together by each supporting ligament, builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16)
Thus, we are part of something larger than ourselves. With each generation, we ARE growing closer to the goal of all humanity ~ complete and utter union with Christ ~ even though we don’t perceive it!
We can look upon this process with hope that, despite our failures in love, humanity will one day grow into loving relationship with all there is.
Can you feel it? Can you peer down into the future of humanity and see that we are growing in our ability to love? Or can we only manage to be cynical about all of the devastation that so many humans now create for one another and our planet?
If there is one thing that we can learn in the opening movement of the Third Millennium, it is that we live in the present moment, yet we are connected with a past with all of its achievement and failure, and with connection with a future with all of its hope and uncertainty.
The focus of renewing humanity has got to be with renewing ourselves ~ each and every one ~ of having faith in our own growth and hope in our own future. Of realizing that we can be transformed again and again into a new person by receiving the grace of transformation that the incarnate and risen Christ extends to us.
Where are we, this New Year’s Day 2015, Lord?
Are we better off or worse off than we were last year?
And what will 2015 bring to us?
Are we prepared for whatever it will bring?
Do we realize that . . . . “You never know . . . what the next minute will bring?”
Give us hope, Lord, this New Year’s Day.
A realistic hope that we might be a little kinder with one another,
a little less self-centered,
a little more willing to go the extra mile for someone, even ~ or especially ~ a stranger.
Give us the strength to be ready for whatever may come . .
~ If the economy would get worse;
~ if we lose our job;
~ if we meet the girl of our dreams.
Give us the grace to be truly thankful ~ truly repentant ~ truly humble this New Year’s morning.
This is my prayer, Lord, for me, for my friends, for our country, for our world.
This morning may we pray as St. Francis taught us . . .
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen!
May it be so! may it be so for each of us and our country and the whole world!
And now this prayer on YouTube sung by Angelina Be sure to enter full screen.
A Happy and Blessed New Year, to you and your family!
The Sunday after Christmas
The 4th day of Christmas, December 28th — the Feast of the Holy Family (the 3rd day of Kwanzaa.)
I met this young couple at a welcome station in the mountains of Virginia in October 2007. As I ponder this image I see Joseph and Mary and Jesus in them. May there be a touch of holiness — of wholeness — in their lives and in our families. I pray for them and all young families — indeed all families on this traditional day in the Christmas season when we reflect on the hidden, ordinary life of Joseph, and Mary and Jesus in Nazareth. They are a model of simplicity for us.
My bishop sent to his priests for Christmas a little book entitled Pope Francis and the Family. Francis has spoken often about the family. Here is one quote I’ll share . . .
What is the power of the family? It is indeed love. And the one who sows love in our hearts os God, God’s love, it is precisely God’s love gives meaning to our small daily tasks and helps us face great trials. This is the true treasure of humankind: going forward in life and love, with love which the Lord has sown in our hearts with love. This is the true treasure. It is a love that gives value and beauty to everything else; a love that gives strength to the family, to work, to study, to friendship, to work, to art, to all human activity. It even gives value to negative experiences, because this love allows us to move beyond them, not to remain prisoners of evil, it moves us beyond, always opening us to hope. (Angelus, St. Peter’s Square, August 11, 2013)
And yet, for many of us, our family lives were (are) very dysfunctional.
I think of those families today, Lord. Children (many are friends of mine) who grew up with alcoholic parents and were in favor one moment and cast aside the next, who had little normalcy, little stability.
I remember the night, Lord, you allowed me the grace to strengthen a young mother who needed the courage to at least temporarily separate herself and the children from fearful dysfunction. She and her children are now in safety. Be with her, Lord.
Be with all families who struggle, Lord. Be with us because we’re imperfect and weak and selfish and perhaps capable of little love because we may not have received much love ourselves as a children.
We’re trying, Lord. Strengthen our capacity to love ~ to be present to our children and our spouse. Help us realize, Lord, that it is not as important to have a successful career as to love our children and our spouse. To be a community of love in which to call forth the gifts, the love. the moral courage and strength of our children for the next generation.
And so, on this Feast of the Holy Family, we honor you, Jesus and Mary and Joseph. as I honor this young couple whose name I do not even know because I saw in them an image of you in their simple, ordinary love.
Lord, keep us all in your loving care.
Now, before you go, here’s a song a with a slide show with lots of family pictures. Click here.
And today’s Mass readings can be found at the following link. Click here.
Today, December 26, is the second day of Christmas, the first day of Kwanzaa (African American). May we learn about our own and each others’ celebrations. It’s easy, just Google the word Kwanzaa.
For us Christians the mystery of Incarnation (God-becoming-human in the person of Jesus Christ) needs more than one day to celebrate. Here is Day Two: The Catholic liturgy centuries ago placed the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, the day after Jesus’ glorious feast to show that our faith is not sentimental but requires of us heroic, sacrificial love. Stephen fearlessly witnessed in court (the word martyr means witness) his conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, knowing that his testimony was his death sentence.
Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.
When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59
How heroic is our love, Lord?
Do we abandon people — our friends, our lovers, our spouses, our children when the going gets rough?
And I ask you please to be with those who have been abandoned by loved ones, Lord, such as children of alcoholic parents or kids who have gone through the foster care system and may never feel Your Love, as a result or those who have to prostitute themselves in order to survive.
Are we only concerned about our own survival? What’s best for Number One — Me?
Are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of a friend in need — for You, Lord?
Allow me the grace to witness to your love for me, Lord, to share it when I can.
My life has meaning only when I share the love and kindness you have shown to me. Allow me the grace to do that this day, St. Stephen’s Day and every day.
Stephen, a young man, has always been one of my heroes, Lord.
We need such heroic love in our time, Lord, such heroic young people.
Inspire young women and men to break through the wall of their isolation and be there for their friends in the hard times ahead.
Teach us to never abandon a friend, Lord.
And let my readers know that you love them, Lord, and will never abandon them either ~ no matter what.
Now, before you go, here is Joan Baez’ Forever Young that I referred to a young man that I wished to aspire to heroic love. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
The Birthday of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
While all things were
in quiet silence,
And that night was
in the midst of
her swift course,
Thine Almighty Word,
Leaped down out
of thy royal throne,
~ And the Word became flesh and lived among us. John 1:14
WE Christians tend to sentimentalize the Christmas story.
And yet the whole message is there beneath the charming Christmas pageants with the cute little girls holding baby dolls and boys dressed up in bathrobes as St. Joseph. Yes, it’s all there. Now let’s think about what it means.
John sums the whole story in one sentence(!) saying “the Word became flesh and lived (dwelt) among us” or as the Greek word actually translates as “pitched his tent among us.” Thus, he intended to move with us and stay with us a while!
He is Emmanuel ~ God with us!
Now there are two words here that Christians generally don’t like. One is “flesh” as in “the world, the flesh and the devil.” And the other is in the middle of the Christmas part of our faith story in theology. That theological word is “Incarnation. The “carn” part is carnal. We don’t like that word, do we? We think it ~ um ~refers to sin!
But there you are, folks “flesh” and “carnal” referring to what our God has taken upon himself.
Let’s look at what this charming Christmas story means ~ what its implications mean for your life today:
If God accepted our “fleshiness” (by becoming flesh, by taking on a human body) – then so should (must) we accept our own bodies and, yes, our sexuality, our “fleshiness.” This was the reason he became Man: to throw his lot with the human race and show us how to become fully human, fully alive!
Our waiting is over.
Christmas is here.
I have the peace and satisfaction that I have poured my love into my writings.
I think I’m ready to receive the special gift Jesus wants to give me this Christmas.
And I pray so very earnestly that you receive the special gift God wishes to give you.
Cleanse your heart of resentments / of preoccupations with unnecessary things.
Ask yourself what really is the meaning of life ~ your life.
For me the answer is to love as best I can.
I also have some wisdom to share that arises out of my own crosses I’ve carried over the years.
But it’s all gift!
So, I hope you have received something nourishing and sweet in the 23 posts I’ve been able to create this Advent.
They are my gift to you.
Have a wonderful Christmas with your family.
And if your Christmas is lonely with no one really special to share it with,
know that you have someone here who understands and who reaches out to you from my heart to yours.
And be sure to open yourself to the holiness ~ the wholeness ~ the peace of Christmas.
It is there beneath all the craziness and hype. It is yours if you seek it and ask for it.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will!
If you would like the Scripture readings for the Scripture readings for any of the several Masses for Christmas Click here.
Here is a very special Christmas music video for you. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And, before you go,here’s another one, if you would like, of Handel’s glorious GLORY TO GOD ~ PEACE ON EARTH ~ GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN!
P. S. We’ll be back again on December 26th ~ The Feast of St. Stephen and the Twelve Days of Christmas!
“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
~ O Antiphons
Yesterday evening at 6:03 pm we observed the Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and celebrated by our pagan brothers and sisters. I do not use the term pejoratively; they are the peoples who are reverently close to the earth.
Actually the date of Christmas was taken from the winter solstice because it marks, in the northern hemisphere, the beginning of the ascendency of the sun. It connotes the phrase from John 3:22-30 in which John the Baptist says the “He must increase; I must decrease.” And the Baptist’s feast, likewise is near the summer solstice on June 24th. Thus, the church did not hesitate to borrow from the existing pagan customs. Christmas trees, for example, came from Germany and the wreathe symbolized eternity. Again, these were pagan customs.
Did you know that in the middle ages they lit real candles on their Christmas trees? How ’bout that?
Some Christians today misunderstand our “cross-enculturation” of things that once had a pagan origin and sometimes berate those of us who celebrate Christmas.
Now before you go, here’s a terrific of Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, everyone” from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, composed and sung by Andrea Bocelli. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.
Friday of the third week of Advent
Luke tells us the charming story that God became incarnate ~ enfleshed ~ as a little vulnerable baby boy.
It truly is amazing to really think about that.
Even if you’re not ready to accept the story as true, the meaning of that story can really grab you if you let it.
But, sadly, so many of us celebrate Christmas all our lives without really reflecting on the implications of the story for our lives.
Jesus was not only vulnerable in his birth, but also in his death.
He chose to stand before Pilate, bound, scourged and silent.
He chose to say nothing or do anything in his defense.
What’s the message here?
St. Paul gives us a clue:
“When I am powerless then I am strong” ~ 2 Cor. 12:9-10.
How can that be?
I think about that a lot because I was powerless a lot dealing with depression.
Some days I wasn’t able to get out of my chair.
Jesus is showing that in our vulnerability,
in our weaknesses,
in our poverty of spirit,
in the brokenness of our lives
we will find God.
You came into this world as a little child
as needy as any other baby.
You sucked at Mary’s breast
and received your nourishment as God from a human mother.
You became one of us and with us.
You accepted our fleshiness, our misery, our joys and sorrows.
You came down to our level to raise us up to the dignity of God.
Thank you, Jesus!
Come into our world this day.
Help us to accept our own vulnernabiity as something positive.
Teach us to recognize Your face in the most vulnerable among us
for they can be our most radical spiritual teachers.
Help us understand, Lord. Help us truly understand.
Now to get us in the mood here is a charming YouTube rendition of The Little Drummer Boy. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
O come, thou dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
~ O Antiphons
Thursday of the third week of Advent (Hanukkah Day 3)
There sometimes can be a lot of depression swirling around at Christmas.
People can feel lonelier because we’re expected to be cheerier and we just don’t feel it.
This blog is meant for us to pray and reach out and notice these folks.
Let’s be with folks who have lost a loved one and still miss them.
With kids who are shuffled back from one parent to another to “celebrate” the holidays.
With soldiers far away from home and their families at home without them.
And so, may we pray:
There are sometimes dark clouds in our lives, Lord.
Pierce the gloominess of our lives with Your very own Light.
May we allow You to dawn in us this day.
May we be ready for Your dawning in a new way in our lives this Christmas.
May this celebration of Jesus’ birth bring meaning and joy in the midst of our worries and concerns.
And may we BE the dawning of your light and love and justice
in our homes, our neighborhoods, our jobs, our world.
And there are dark and ominous clouds over our world right now, Lord.
Pierce our greed and hate, fear and complacence, violence with hope, Lord.
May we pray earnestly for a new dawn for our beloved country and our world.
May we BE the dawning of your light and love and justice in our land.
Lord Jesus, come! May we be ready for the dawn of your coming in a new way this Christmas,
May the light of that dawning transform our lives and our land.
We need Your Light and Your Love more than ever.
Now, before you go, here’s an enjoyable music video for you. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.