Please join me in singing:
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold him, born the king of angels;
O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him: Christ, the Lord!
If you look in the index of songs of most hymnals, including our own, this familiar hymn is categorized as a Christmas song – NOT an Advent song. . .
But just to shake things up a bit – might I suggest that it really is an Advent song. . . after all we are called, we are invited, to come to Bethlehem –
to journey to meet the King of angels, God of God, light of light – our very God who is begotten – not created. Or so the verses of the song tell us.
And we are called, we are invited – to adore Him. And isn’t that what our whole lives as Christians is all about – to recognize and adore Christ not just in Bethlehem – but also in the day to day situations and people we encounter and meet on our journey of life?
And we are called, we are invited to come to Christ in two ways: joyful and triumphant – and therein lies a problem, I think, that we at least need to confront during our preparation period of Advent.
Because it seems to me that on most days, most of us are far from being joyful and come nowhere near being or feeling triumphant.
I think Pope Francis’ description of Catholics leaving Mass rings more true than we are willing to admit --- He said it’s as if we are leaving a funeral – rather than the foretaste of the great feast of heaven we have just received in the Word of God proclaimed – and the Body of Christ received.
Pope Francis says it’s as if we have gathered here and heard bad news – instead of GOOD NEWS. . . So the first obstacle to overcome this Advent – is how can we be more joyful?
And perhaps it is hard for us to be joyful – because we don’t very often feel too triumphant. . . and it’s not just that we all feel beaten up and at the point of being overwhelmed by the covid pandemic of the last couple of years ------------------- but haven’t we felt at our breaking point long before then?
Wearied from work, and responsibilities, and just life in general. . . Broken down by our faults and failings in relationships both with God and others – but also feeling the brokenness of our politics, our Church, and the constant demands placed upon us. . .
How many of us just feel worn out, with little energy, little tolerance, and little hope that things are going to get better ---
a weariness that can’t be shaken even by two cups of a double expresso mocha supreme???
Perhaps our lack of feeling triumphant is due to us trying to carry too many burdens on our own – but I am getting ahead of myself.
I think it is worth the investment of our time as well as our thoughts during this Advent season to simply ask how can we approach Bethlehem – approach Christmas, approach Christ throughout the year and throughout our lives with more joy and a sense of triumph??
Pope Francis has said that JOY is one of the four things by which every Christian should be known – the other three being love, harmony, and suffering.
The word JOY or REJOICE occurs 13 times in our Sunday readings during Advent – and several times in our prayers ---- more than any other word.
Obviously a call to be joyful is as resounding in the life of a Christian as Jesus’ call to be vigilant at all times and not to become drowsy or worn out by carousing and drunkenness or the anxieties of daily life. As resounding as John the Baptist’s call to repentance. . .
JOY: what is it, how do we get it – how do we live it in our lives? Let’s listen to a story.
A 92-year-old woman lost her husband after 70 years of marriage. On one particular day, she was moving into a nursing home – her new home after her husband’s death.
After waiting patiently for several hours in the lobby, she was told her room was ready.
She smiled sweetly. While gingerly maneuvering to her room with her walker, she was provided with a visual description of it including the curtains that had been hung on the window.
“I love it,” she said with enthusiasm.
“But Mrs. Jones, you haven’t even seen it yet,” her escort said.
“I don’t have to see it,” she said. “ Joy is something you decide on ahead of time. I have already decided to love it.”
“I make a decision every morning when I wake up,” she explained. “I have a choice: I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work --- or --- I can get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. “Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes are open, I’ll focus on the new day and all the joyful memories I have had – and all the ones yet to be had.”
Mrs. Jones went on: “Life is like a bank account –you withdraw from what you’ve put in. My advice to you would be to deposit a lot of joy in the bank account of memories. At 92—I am still making deposits.”
I was in Price Chopper the other day and came across a display of a train engine pulling a car behind it. A sign said: CHOOSE JOY--- and the train car was filled with white wine on sale for $8.95!!!
The ad was spot on --- Joy is a choice --- it’s just that joy cannot be found in the choice of wine or any other THING we may have bought on Black Friday.
Mrs. Jones was more on the mark – every day is a gift – and we choose to be joyful with what we have – or we are disappointed in what we don’t have.
Joy is a choice --- it is choosing to activate the gift that is already within us – one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit which St. Paul gives us in the 5th Chapter of his letter to the Galatians:
Where he says the fruits of the Spirit are: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Now don’t you think if you had a few more of those things in your life – you could feel very triumphant??
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. . .
Choose happiness --- would be a better ad for the wine and our other purchases – because happiness is based on external things ---- which can be very fleeting. . .
Joy, on the other hand, comes from within --- and is something that is more permanent – it is a choice to look at things in a different way – and to definitely appreciate the things we already have – rather than always wanting more.
Fear and worry are two things that can crush our sense of joy – and we will look at those next week – as we look at the bold proclamation of the Kingdom of God by John the Baptist. Until then, we will choose to adore Jesus in this Eucharist – and hopefully choose to leave this place a little joyful & enthusiastic. . . NOT as if we are leaving a funeral. . .
I said a couple of months ago –that I miss my parents. I certain all of us who have lost our parents, or anyone we have loved --- can say that: we miss them.
My mother died on April 24, 2018. I was privileged to be with her when she died. She was in and out of consciousness for the last several hours I and my nephew spent with her.
Around 4 in the morning, she woke up and said that she was thirsty and wanted some water. After I gave her a drink – she looked me in the eyes and said, “thank you.” And those are the last words my mother ever spoke on this earth –
And I was left to wonder if they were spoken to me for that simple glass of water -------- or addressed to God for the gift of her entire life. . .
So here was a woman who had spent several days in the hospital --- and was in a great amount of pain. And yet – she could still say thank you!
I could not help but ask myself – what would I say if I were in my mother’s place? My answer was that I would probably have tried to call a little attention to myself. I probably would say – I’m tired. I’m in pain. I’m dying. And then either leave me alone – or crawl up in the bed and give me a big hug.
But Mom? As she was near to breathing her last – she said thank you – with a grateful smile on her face.
To me that means that even those who have next to nothing – who are just holding on by a thread- either to their entire lives or just life for this day or this week --can still have gratitude. Although those of us who have so much – can easily take what we have forgranted.
How much my mother, and those like her in similar situations – were like our Pilgrim ancestors who took time to be grateful even though they had so many reasons to be ungrateful.
Their first Thanksgiving celebration in Plymouth Colony in 1621 --- 400 years ago --- was not born of abundance.
They had suffered a terrible journey to this “new world.” They experienced the harshness of their first New England winter and had lost countless numbers of their fellow travelers due to weather and disease.
They were strangers in a strange land and the land did not yield an easy welcome. And yet they did not shy away of saying “thank you” – to each other, to their native American friends the Wampanoag tribe led by Massasoit --- and especially to their God.
That’s what today is all about. Saying “thank you.” Thank you not just for the good but for all aspects of life – the good and the bad. Thank you for each and every event, friendship and love of our existence. And thank you not just to each other and for our country – but thank you to God without whom there would be no blessings.
Back in his day, founding father and orator Ben Franklin spoke of the need for giving thanks and of gratitude in this way:
Who is rich? The one who is happy with what they have. A home. A spouse. Children – these are the great gifts of life.
Wealth is not theirs that have it – but the one that enjoys it. The one who is content has enough, and the one that complains has too much. Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it is. You are only poor when you want more than you have.
So enjoy the present hour, be mindful of the past, and neither fear nor dread--- the approaches of the future.
If you would have guests, be happy with them, and be happy yourself.
Nothing dries sooner than a tear. A long life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough. Wish not so much to live long, as to live well.
Great beauty, great strength, and great riches are really and truly of no great use: a good heart stands above all.
Proportion your charity to the strength of your wealth, or God will proportion your wealthy to the weakness of your charity. To bear other people’s afflictions, everyone has courage and enough to spare.
People who are wrapped up in themselves make small packages.
May we who celebrate this Eucharist of gratitude today and who will share the meal of Thanksgiving with others later ---
never fail to be aware of the countless blessings that enrich our lives and which we so often take for granted.
And no matter what our circumstances --- today may we be able to say those two simple words, often and loudly: THANK YOU!
Widows at the time of Jesus and long before --- were at the bottom of the barrel. Without any social safety net in a world where men earned the household income – and wives ran the home --- widows had no one to look after them, so were extremely vulnerable.
This would have been especially true of the widow in Zarephath in the first reading.
Her situation was even worse than normal – because she lived in an area where there had been a severe drought for years. In her world – everyone was having a hard time. . .
Into her life walks the prophet Elijah. The widow would have regarded him as an enemy – for he was the one who announced the drought as a punishment for the sins of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
But even this foreigner – this non-Jew was able to put into practice the principle that underlies all the Jewish laws – and what the observance of the law should lead to – love of neighbor – as she practices hospitality by offering Elijah a cup of water.
Amazingly she trusts Elijah’s word that God would provide for her and her son when she makes a small cake out of the little oil and water she has left.
This widow puts herself into the flow of God’s giving by giving the little she has. And God rewards her trust by providing food for her and her son for an entire year: God is generous to those who are generous.
Centuries later, Jesus encounters another vulnerable widow at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Like the widow of Zarephath, she too is at the bottom of the barrel.
Our Gospel begins with Jesus criticizing the learned theologians of the day, the Scribes – who are at the top of the barrel. They enjoy the benefits of their positions:
long robes, seats of honor in the synagogue, and always a place at the head table at banquets and other gatherings.
These scribes are the ones in Jewish society who served as trustees for impoverished widows – who, much like the Roman tax collectors – always took more than enough for themselves to keep up their lavish lifestyles – they took advantage of those they were supposed to be taking care of.
In contrast to these well-to-do folks ---- Jesus points out the poor widow who puts two small coins in the Temple treasury.
Unlike larger and more valuable coins that would have made a lot of noise going down the trumpet shaped collection tubes --- so designed so that the bigger the donation, the louder the noise – hence more eyes turning to observe the giver -----
like a slot machine pay out in a casino with jealous eyes turning to see the winner ---- the widow’s small coins would not have been noticed.
But just as Jesus paid attention to the blind Bartimeaus in the noisy crowd of Jericho – Jesus paid attention to this woman giving her donation. A donation from what little she had --- trusting that God will be generous to those who are generous.
These two widows can teach us a lot – if we are willing to pay attention to them.
When we forget that all we have comes from God and we become too comfortable and accustomed to relying on our own resources – we have a tendency to fill our lives with more stuff – all the while taking the stuff we already had – for granted.
These two widows teach us that it is only when we have hit the bottom of the barrel – or can imagine ourselves at the bottom --- that we can begin to trust that God will provide for all we need.
Those who adopt the attitude of the widows can actually grow in trusting that God will provide. We call those who do this – good stewards: those who receive God’s gifts gratefully, cherish and tend them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with others – and returns them with increase to the Lord.
Good stewards understand that God is generous to those who are generous – they know what the widows came to know --- that God gives back more than we can ever give.
Good stewards set aside their first and generous time for personal prayer – especially the importance of attending Mass when we give thanks to God for all God has given.
Good stewards set aside a first portion of their busy schedule to give time in humble service to others--- beginning with their families & friends.
Good stewards sacrifice a first portion of their financial treasure to God – instead of just tossing whatever is left into the collection basket.
Jesus is in Jerusalem: a city of passion, of death, and of resurrection.
He notices this widow in the Temple just days before he is stripped of everything and gives his life completely for us on the cross. The widow points to what Jesus will do: he will contribute all that he has for our salvation. His trust in God will be returned when he is raised from the dead and shares the power of the resurrection with those who are willing to die to themselves – to give everything they have for the sake of the kingdom.
In the garden of Gethsemene, Jesus had his moment of doubt: if it is possible, let this cup pass from me he says – but not my will but God’s will be done ---
And anyone who takes the first steps in embracing stewardship as a way of life, also have their doubts – the fear that they will not have enough.
But those who take that first step – begin to experience the reality that they receive much more back than they ever give.
We pray for the grace and the courage to embrace the faith of these two widows – and of Jesus – and be willing to give our gifts of time, talent, and treasure – for the sake of the kingdom of God.
For God is generous to those who are generous.
So for the members of our young church preparing for their first reconciliation and Eucharist --- may you come to see that in these Sacraments – God always gives us back much more than we offer:
In reconciliation – we turn our sins over to God – and receive from God abundant forgiveness and mercy.
In the Eucharist – we give to God our gifts – and receive from God the gift of Christ’s own body – which allows us to become more like Christ.
We thank your parents for brining you to this point in your life of faith – and we congratulate you for taking this next step in your commitment to following Christ.