Christmas: Dec. 24/25, 2020
So I want to begin by echoing our welcome at the beginning of Mass: a welcome to all of you here in the Church – those joining us remotely in the gym – and all of you joining us remotely at home.
We’ve been through a lot this year – so may you just be able to relax a little this Christmas knowing that the Prince of Peace, the Wonder-Counselor: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who comes to us today ------ has everything under control!
So did we do the work of Advent?
--Did we stay watchful and alert?
--Did we prepare the way for the Lord?
--Have we testified to the light?
--And have we spoken our YES to God as did Mary ---
All to make room in our hearts and lives for Jesus?
If we did, then we can join the ranks of Wally Purling. . .
Who is Wally Purling you may ask --
Well for years now – whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of
Wally’s performance in one annual production of the Nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend.
But the old timers in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.
Wally was 9 years old that year – and in the 2nd grade, although he should have been in the 4th. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty keeping up.
Wally was big and clumsy, slow in movement and in mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he was.
Wally was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector of the underdog.
Wally hoped to be shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play’s director, Miss Lombardi, assigned him to a more important role – or so she told him.
After all, she reasoned, the Innkeepr did not have many lines to say, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph even more forceful.
And so it happened that the usual large audience gathered for the town’s Yuletide extravaganza of the sheep and the shepherds, the beards, and crowns, and halos and wings – and a whole stage-full of squirming bodies and squeaky voices.
No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wally Purling.
They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time, Miss Lombardi had to make sure he did not wander on stage before his time.
BUT then the time did come when Joseph appeared, slowly and tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the Inn.
Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. And Wally the Innkeeper was there --- waiting for that knock.
“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open.
“We seek lodging,” said a weary Joseph.
“Well go seek it elsewhere,” Wally said as he looked straight ahead speaking vigorously. “For there is no room in my Inn.”
“Sir,” Joseph said, “we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very tired.”
“There is NO ROOM in this Inn for you,” Wally said, properly stern.
“Please, good innkeeper,” Joseph continued. “My wife, Mary, is about to have a baby and she needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner of some small room for her. She is so tired.”
Now for the first time – Wally the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. And then there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with anxiety.
“No, be gone.” – whispered Miss Lombardi from off stage – trying to get Wally to say his next line.
“NO!,” Wally repeated automatically. “Be Gone!” But the words were not said very convincingly.
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to leave.
The innkeeper, however, did not close the door and retreat within his warm inn.
No, Wally Purling just stood there in the doorway, watching the sad couple walk away.
His mouth was open, and his brow creased with concern, and his eyes were filling unmistakenly ----with tears.
And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.
“Don’t go, Joseph!!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.”
And Wally’s face grew into a bright smile. And he said with great enthusiasm: “You can have my room!”
Some people in town thought the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen!!
For that is the message of Christmas – our Savior still comes today – and he is looking for a place to stay.
Each of us is the Innkeeper of our own hearts and lives. We control who is welcome and who is turned away.
This Christmas --- Jesus is knocking at the door of our hearts. Do we welcome him – or do we send him away?
And let’s remember --- it is never too late to do the work of Advent – may all of us make room for Christ not just today – but every day of our lives. And then we will really know --- that we have truly celebrated Christmas.
O Come let us adore Him. O Come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him – Christ the Lord!
4 Advent: December 19/20, 2020
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blest is the fruit of your womb: Jesus.
Meister Eckhart: a 14th century German theologian and philosopher, once said: “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”
So how do we do that? How do we, just as boldly as Mary------ say to God: be it done to me according to your word – and bring forth the Savior into our world??
To answer that, I first want to turn to a few paragraphs from the Vatican II document on the laity. . . and begin with the end in mind ---
the 2,305 Bishops who voted on this document on November 18, 1965 – stated:
“The Blessed Virgin Mary is our true model of a Christian --- as she lived a life animated by Christ.”
How can we, like Mary, boldly say to God: be it done to me according to your word-------- by living a life animated by Christ. . . here is the Bishop’s explanation of how to do this: [Paragraph 4]
We must, as Christians, live a life of faith, hope, and charity.
By living in faith, Christian people see Christ in all, whether neighbors or strangers, and make accurate decisions about the meaning and value in life.
This leads to hope, because we are free from enslavement to wealth and able to choose those riches that lead to God’s kingdom.
And the pinnacle of the Christian life is charity, by which Christians choose to do good to all and harm to no one.
By living the true spirit of the Beatitudes, laypeople grow in a true sense of poverty: which is neither sumptuousness nor destitution.
They grow in a true sense of humility: aware of their gifts but not seeking empty honors.
They grow in their sense of justice: leaving everything to pursue it with vigor.
Whatever their lifestyle: married, raising children, single, or widowed – and whatever their state in life – in good health or not, professional or laborer, private or social – all should live with the virtues of
The Blessed Virgin Mary is our true model of a Christian as she lived a life animated by Christ.
Living a life of virtue. Allowing God to establish a house within us – as God did in King David. Allowing God to strengthen us according to the gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, as Paul challenges the Romans ---- this is how we say yes to God: let it be done to me according to your word.
This is how we become mothers of God – for God is always needing to be born.
This is how we fulfill the mandate given in the Document on the Laity: Wherever they go, Christians announce Christ by their lives and witness.
Hail Mary, Mother of God. Pray for us sinners now – and at the hour of death. AMEN!
3 Advent: December 12/13, 2020
Every Holy Saturday, as the new Easter Candle is lit from the blest fire – we proclaim: Christ our Light! And we respond: Thanks be to God!
At every Baptism when the Godfather lights a candle from the Easter Candle and holds it for their godchild we proclaim: Christ our Light!
And at every Mass, we light candles around the altar, and during this season on the Advent wreath, and display lights on our trees and homes all to remind us: Christ our Light!
At the time of our Baptism – when our Godfather – in my case my father’s brother – Norman – holds our candle for us ---- the priest or deacon says to the parents:
“This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. They are to walk always as a child of the light.”
So, through our Baptism, we are children of the light. . . and so our next question of Advent to be answered on this 3rd Sunday on our journey to Bethlehem is: how are we to testify to the light? As did John the Baptist.
Perhaps by now, you know that I am going to turn to our other readings in order to answer that question. . .
But first – to testify --- means to give evidence as a witness. If one is to testify – one serves as evidence or proof of something’s existence.
So if we are to testify to the light of Chrsit-- by our words and actions we are to give evidence or proof that we believe the light of Christ has come into the world – and believe that Christ’s light does make a difference – and believe that no matter how dark things get around us or in our world – the light of Christ will NOT be able to be put out.
So, with that in mind, we turn to the Prophet Isaiah –
In a way, this Sunday’s prophecy from Isaiah takes us back to St. Matthew’s Gospel reading for the feast of Christ the King:
“Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you drink?” And the king will say “whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine – you did for me.”
Isaiah says that because the Spirit of God is upon us – because the light of Christ is within us: we are sent to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners.”
We testify to the light of Christ, proclaim its power – by taking care of the least of our brothers and sisters.
And while we do take care of those less fortunate than we are, the 2nd Vatican Council’s decree on the Laity says we should keep these three things in mind:
-First: we are to pay attention to the image of God in the ones who are needy – preserving their freedom and dignity even as they are fed and clothed.
-Second: we are to maintain pure motives as helpers: to remember we are sent to serve – not to dominate.
-And Third: the demands of justice are to be met first thus reducing the need for future charity by eliminating the root causes of the poverty or pain. [Par. 8]
Christians have but one goal, this document tells us – and that is to spread the word about Christ so that all people might share in his redemption and be brought into relationship with God. [Par. 2]
And all of this is best done with a good dose of JOY as St. Paul reminds us in his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians. As St. John Chrysostom once said: “you can catch more flies with honey that with vinegar!” So Paul tells us: Joy, Prayer and gratitude will help us to not quench the spirit in ourselves or others.
When we give testimony to the light of Christ: saying that light makes a difference in our lives and in the life of the world:
then the God of peace will make us perfectly holy – and we will be preserved in spirit, soul and body – to be blameless for the coming of the Lord.
God who has called us is faithful – and God will accomplish these good things within us because:
Christ our Light! Thanks be to God!
2 Advent: December 5/6, 2020
Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Words of St. John the Baptist set to song in the musical, Godspell.
But more than words and lyrics – it leads us to the second question we should answer during Advent on our journey to Bethlehem: how do we, you and I, prepare the way of the Lord?
Once again I think if we pay attention to the other readings for today – we find the answer. . .
I think the prophecy of Isaiah calls us to three things that we need to do to prepare the way of the Lord – to come into our hearts and lives.
First, we give comfort to people – not turmoil or unrest, or agitation.
We give comfort – we strive to make people and situations better – not to stir the pot or fuel controversy. We speak and act tenderly toward others – we lift them up rather than put them down.
Second, we go up onto a high mountain and cry out at the top of our voices the Good News of the Gospel – we proclaim God’s mercy, love, forgiveness, and grace to others ----- which doesn’t mean we all have to become street preachers or evangelists --- but by our words and actions we show that the transforming action of God’s gifts are at work in our lives ---
which leads us to be even better at comforting people. We want to be those who others look forward to seeing and welcoming into their midst – rather than turning and running the other way when they see us coming.
The third thing Isaiah would have us do to prepare the way for the lord ---- is to straighten out our lives --- seek forgiveness for our sins and ask for the grace to be better people.
“Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”
This calls us to be honest with ourselves – to be able to admit that we are all a little rough around the edges – and we need to acknowledge and name those rough spots in our lives, in our families, and in our community and church – so that we can deal with them rather than avoiding them. Because avoidance just allows things to fester and stew rather than to heal.
What are those rough spots in my life and yours that we need to deal with in order to be more and more the image of Christ to others?
In our second reading – Peter comes right out and asks the blunt question that should be on every Christian’s mind: what sort of persons ought you to be?
And like, Isaiah, he gives us three specific things to work on:
Being patient with others – as God is patient with us. If we allow ourselves to get caught up in the busyness of Advent only as a preparation time for December 25th – our stress will only increase as we find we don’t have time to get everything finished that we want.
And as stress increases – so does impatience – with ourselves and others.
And as stress increases – so does strife. So Peter also asks us to work at being at peace – again with ourselves and with one another. . . What good does it do to prepare for the coming of the prince of peace if we – and everyone around us is in turmoil?
Finally Peter asks us to be men and women of righteousness – which is the quality of being morally true or justifiable.
We live in a world where people tend to believe that their ways are right in their own eyes. True or false become relative, and many believe they can do whatever they think or feel is right.
But as followers of Jesus Christ – we are called to a higher standard – to walk in God’s ways – not our own.
In its deeper spiritual meaning, righteousness is the quality of being in right relationship with God and those we live with, walk with, and worship with.
This might account for a lot of rough country that needs to be made smooth in our lives. . .
In short, as the Psalmist tells us – we want to see the kindness of the Lord ---- so that we can become God’s kindness to others.
Probably much more difficult than we may have thought. . . difficult, yes. Impossible – no way – because everything is possible with God.
No one prepared the way for the Lord better than John the Baptist. And he once told us his secret: I must decrease – as Christ increases within me.
Perhaps that is a good summary of the active watching and waiting we have to do on our journey to Bethlehem -------- in order to make sure that Christ finds a welcome place in our hearts when we come to December 25th. . .
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.
Moments in time...