The 2nd of Stephen Covey’s well known 7 habits of highly effective people----- is to begin with the end in mind.
Covey speculates, and I think accurately -- that things are a bit easier, and hardships better endured – if one has the outcome of which all the planning and hard work and sacrifice is going to produce --- already in mind – rather than going about things haphazardly and hoping things turn out okay in the end.
Begin with the end in mind. As we begin this season of Advent – it is good for us to keep the end in mind – which, of course, is the celebration of Christmas.
And the goal of Christmas is not to be able to say we bought all the right presents for people, or the tree was perfect this year, or all our holiday doings went off without a hitch – but the goal is to make sure that we have prepared room in our hearts and lives for Jesus to come and dwell in them. We don’t want to end up like the inn keeper who had no room in his inn for the Holy Family – and turned them away.
Begin with the end in mind: making room in our hearts and lives for Jesus our Savior to come and dwell in them. I think even this becomes a little easier – and the hardships and sacrifices better endured if we answer a question or two every Sunday as we proceed on our journey Bethlehem.
The first of these questions, posed by the Gospel today is: how do we stay watchful and alert during Advent??? Because if we are watchful and alert – then we will have room in our hearts and lives for Jesus when Christmas does come.
I think you have to be my age or older to remember Bazooka bubble gum – as I don’t think it is around anymore.
The gum came individually wrapped in packages of red, white and blue --- that were about an inch tall and an inch wide.
Even more important than the gum itself – were the Bazooka Joe comic strip wrappers inside – that if you collected enough of them – you could send off for wonderful free stuff like a pocket knife or x-ray vision glasses, or an authentic Native American peace-pipe.
My sisters, brothers, and I--- chewed a lot of gum – just to collect all the Bazooka Joe comics we could – and we did send off for that exotic stuff –and were usually disappointed because what arrived in the mail was never like what was pictured on that red, white and blue wrapper.
So we sent off our wrappers, and then went about our schooling or our playing – all the while being sure to check the mail as it came every day.
It was a very passive, but anxious, watching and waiting. There was nothing we could do to hurry the mail – nothing we could do to make those magical packages appear any earlier than they did.
And we can do this type of watching and waiting during Advent – in fact it’s probably the type of watching and waiting we usually do.
We go about our cooking and decorating and the sending of Christmas cards and of course the shopping,
all the while complaining there is not enough time in the day to get everything done we need to do – and then all of a sudden it is Christmas and we usually end Advent more exhausted than when it began.
But that’s not the type of staying watchful and alert that the Gospel is calling us to. Rather than being passive – the Gospel calls us to very ACTIVE watching and waiting. . . We’re supposed to be doing something as we anxiously await the coming of the Lord.
And what are we supposed to be doing?? I think our other readings speak to that. . .
The Prophet Isaiah asks: why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways – and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
While we watch and wait – we are called to actively identify those ways in which we have hardened our hearts. . .
Isaiah continues: “we are the clay and you are the potter, O Lord, we are all the work of your hands.”
While we watch and wait – we are called to actively identify those ways we still need to be molded and shaped by the Lord.
Hopefully none of us think that we are already a finished product! What parts of our lives still need to be worked by the hands of the Lord?
St. Paul reminds us that it is through GRACE that are lives are enriched and that we are not lacking in any way.
While we watch and wait – we are to actively identify the ways we still need the grace of God to be at work in our lives.
In short, the Psalmist captures the Advent activity we are supposed to be about quite well: “Lord, make us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved.”
It is Christ that comes at Christmas who will save us --- but only if there is room in our hearts for Christ to come and dwell! And for that to happen – we must do these things, these very challenging self-reflective things – to make room in our hearts and lives.
And if we actively do these things as we watch and wait – unlike my brothers and sisters and I who were often disappointed in what we received in the mail after redeeming our Bazooka Joe comics – we will not be disappointed in the gift God brings to us at Christmas – as God will find more than just sugar-plums dancing in our heads – but God will find open hearts to receive him.
And then God will be able to bring about awesome deeds we could not even hope for – deeds of which no one has ever heard and no eye has ever seen.
Come, Lord Jesus – we are staying watchful and alert as we await your coming!
Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel – shall come to you o Israel. . .
It’s always interesting to see who shows up for this Thanksgiving Mass -- because all of you are here because you WANT to be here – not because you HAVE to be here --- like Ash Wednesday, Thanksgiving is not a Holy Day of Obligation – and yet lots of people usually come ------------ although perhaps not in Covid-times. . .
We are here at 10 o’clock when I’m sure we all have other things we could be doing – trips to make, turkeys to stuff, tables to set. Somewhere there’s a football game waiting to be watched.
And yet we have taken the OPPORTUNITY to be here. It is an opportunity for us to think back on what we have been given – and to give something in return: our thanks. Actually thanks is too small of a word – we are here to give GRATITUDE – here to honor God with grateful hearts, for all God has done for us.
Very often, in our prayer lives, we spend so much time asking for things: God, help me pass this test. Keep me from throttling my teenager. Help me find a job. Keep my son safe in Afghanistan.
Jesus does tell us: ask and we shall receive, and to knock and it will be opened – so we do ask and we do knock. . .
But what happens then?
In Luke’s Gospel today , 10 people are cured by Jesus of leprosy. Only one comes back to say thank you – and that person is a Samaritan. He isn’t Jewish. But neither was St. Luke. Luke is the only Gospel writer who was not a Jew. And so his Gospel was written for those, like himself, who were the outsiders, the foreigners. Christ’s message, Luke is trying to tell us – is meant for everyone – not just Jews.
But in the gospel story – not everyone comes back.
Only that one, a Samaritan, the outsider – returns to give God glory. We don’t know what happened to the others – maybe they had turkeys to stuff or football games to watch. . .
Obviously there is something missing here – and what’s missing is that giving thanks is a vital and necessary part of our relationship with God.
All the lepers were cured – but only one was saved – only one was in right relationship with God – and that is the one who returned to give thanks!
And that is because thankfulness, gratitude – is a measure of our faith. A measure of our dependence on God. >>
Only a humble person can admit that everything they have – is not of their own doing – but is due to God’s generosity.
But sometimes gratitude can be hard to express.
Most of us know someone who is having a difficult time this Thanksgiving.
The woman who is spending her first holiday as a widow.
The father who has lost his job or has had his hours greatly reduced because of covid.
Those friends and neighbors who are hurting or alone.
Where are the blessings for these and others who are feeling, in a particular way: burdened, afflicted, cursed?
Those blessings are closer than we may think. Every breath we take is a blessing. Every moment of every day – a gift. Every struggle a test of our resolve and resiliency.
The German mystic and philosopher, Meister Eckhert, once wrote: “If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is ‘thank you’, that will suffice.”
THAT is why we are here: to pray those words and to make them matter.
So taking a cue from Meister Eckhert – let’s make Thanksgiving more than just a holiday, more than an excuse to have a second slice of pie or to take a long nap in front of the television.
Make this very day a kind of prayer. And as the day unfolds, carry that prayer with you. Live it. Give it. Gratitude doesn’t have to end when you say grace over the turkey. In fact, it doesn’t have to end today – God’s gifts to us certainly don’t. Every beat of your heart affirms an unmistakable mystery: God has given us life. Extravagant. Wonderful. Painful. Tumultuous. Challenging --- LIFE.
So let’s be grateful >>>>>>
Let’s strive to remind ourselves of God’s blessings, wherever we find them and however they come to us. And to give thanks for them, every day, in every moment. AMEN!
We find this Parable of Jesus -- near the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel.
It can be seen as a summation of all that Jesus was trying to teach us about the kingdom of God and what we need to do to make it more real, more present in the world – and also can serve kind of as a cheat-sheet for the entrance exam of heaven.
When the hungry are fed, the thirsty given drink, strangers are offered hospitality, the naked clothed with dignity, the sick are attended to, and prisoners are visited ---- then we are doing our part to build the kingdom – and Jesus the King is being served with love.
And it takes faith to see all of this and grace to do all of this. . . both free gifts from God – that like soap – must be used to be of any use.
As in the Gospel, the king will say to us when we get to heaven: I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine --- YOU DID IT FOR ME.
As Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta once commented on this Gospel:
“At the end of life, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat. . . I was naked and you clothed me. . . I was homeless and you took me in.’
Hungry not only for food, but hungry also for love. Naked not only in clothing, but naked of human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks and mortar, but homeless because of rejection.
This is Christ in distressing disguise.”
The poor, the hungry, the forgotten elderly, the lonely young, the classmate no one wants to talk to, the colleague no one wants to work with, the difficult patient that no one wants to care for, the person who always complains ----
these are the people that you and I must always recognize as Christ disguised in the least of our sisters and brothers.
With this feast of Christ the King, we come to the end of another church year. Where has the time gone?
It’s customary on this feast to sort of take a spiritual inventory, to look back and see how we’ve done this past year. How did we do?
Are we closer to God than we were a year ago?
Have we followed Jesus more faithfully?
Have we helped make the kingdom of God more visible, more realized, more present to a world desperately in need of so much?
Put another way – have we been good and faithful stewards of our time, talent, and treasure?
How did we do these past 12 months??? How WILL we do in the coming year???
Good questions to ask as we prepare to begin our journey to Bethlehem next week on the first Sunday of Advent. . .