Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Mark tells us that as Jesus came up out of the water, the Spirit descended and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Today in the Book of Samuel, we are told that Samuel hears a voice calling his name. He does not recognize the voice and seeks advice from his elder Eli. Eli fails him twice. Eventually, Eli encourages Samuel to respond to the voice. He encourages him to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” This listening changed Samuel’s life.
In the Gospel reading, we hear that John the Baptist and two of his disciples recognize Jesus as he passes by. John the Baptist says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” His two disciples follow Jesus and we hear Jesus invite them to, “Come and see.” The disciples follow Jesus and we are told they stay with him. One of them, Andrew makes a statement of faith, acknowledging that they have found the Messiah. He brings his brother Simon Peter to and encounter with the Lord.
In Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth, Paul reminds the people to avoid sin. He tells them, that they were created for the Lord, that their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul says, ‘You are meant to glorify the Lord in your body!’
At times our relationship with God is great and when it is we give thanks and praise to God. We bless others and we work for the Common Good. Sometimes we find ourselves successful, powerful, arrogant, rich and filled with pride. Sometimes we find ourselves lost, confused, hurting, sad, and filled with grief. When we are successful we think we have it made but we don’t really. When we are lost we should be looking for light. In both instances we should be asking deeper questions. We should wonder about the purpose of our life. We should wonder about and ponder how we are with God.
Sometimes we hear statements from government leaders, from family and friends, teachers and priests that we are in charge of our own bodies. We hear statements that suggest we can do with our bodies what we want. We hear statements that suggest we live and we die. These statements are true – but they are incomplete.
Today, sacred scripture challenges these statements and completes them. Yes, this is my body and I am responsible for it. We hear very clearly that this body comes from God; God calls us, God gives us life and God dwells within us. When we open our eyes, we can recognize the presence of God and we can recognize that there is something more to our life than what we can see with our physical eyes.
Today, these sacred texts invite us to pause and ask some questions:
What do I do when the voice of God calls to me? What is my response?
What do I do when I recognize the Lord present in my life and in the lives of those around me?
How do I respond to the Spirit who dwells within me? How do I honor the Spirit in my body? Can people recognize that the Spirit dwells within me?
At this time in our history we need people like Eli, who will invite us to stop and to listen to the Lord. The Lord speaks to each of us today!
At this time in our history we need people like John the Baptist who will point out to us the presence of God. The Lord walks among us today!
At this time in our history we need people who will follow Jesus, and who will stay with him. We are invited to be one with the Lord today!
At this time in our history we need people like Andrew, who will recognize Jesus and who will lead us to an encounter with Jesus that we might hear from him who we really are. Jesus seeks us today!
At this time in our history we need people like St. Paul to remind us that – within my body – the Holy Spirit dwells. We need people like St. Paul to encourage us to glorify God not only with the words we speak but with our actions. We need people like Paul who will encourage us to be our best selves. God needs us today!
We are good at many things. Let us become good at listening, at recognizing Jesus, at encouraging our brothers and sisters to encounter Jesus. Let us become good at recognizing our dignity as temples of the Holy Spirit. Let us become good at letting the Spirit direct our words and our actions.
As this week unfolds let us be a light, that our brothers and sisters might see their path more clearly and seeing might take one more step so as to stand with Jesus.
Last week we celebrated the Epiphany – the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles – to the world. Jesus, the Son of God was revealed; people saw and believed. We were invited to consider how we will respond to that revelation. Will anything change in the way we act?
In our daily liturgies this week, each of the Gospels revealed a slightly different aspect of Jesus – his person and his ministry. We saw him as the promised one, healer, provider, teacher, Lord of all creation, and a person of prayer.
Today, in our reading from the prophet Isaiah God speaks of the Messiah, the one who is to come. He speaks of how he will provide for his people, he will be a leader for all people, of how we ought to seek him out, of how we should expect that his manner of being and doing is different from ours and of how we should expect results. The Messiah will achieve what he has come to do.
In the Gospel Mark gives us his account of the Baptism of Jesus. He tells us that John the Baptist has been at work as a prophet – calling the people of Israel to repentance, preparing them for the Messiah and baptizing them with water. Mark tells us that Jesus comes and is baptized by John and as he is coming up out of the water he is revealed as the Beloved, Son of God and the Holy Spirit rests upon him.
In our second reading from John’s first letter, the early Christian community is reminded of the life of Jesus and what it means; essentially, you are loved by God. The author tells the early Christians, because you are loved by God unconditionally, you ought to believe in Jesus and you ought to obey God. Obeying God means that they love others and that they take to heart all the evidence that God has given them regarding the identity of Jesus. Believing in Jesus will give them power and strength.
As 2021 begins we continue to struggle with the presence of the virus in our world, we continue to see violence around the world, we continue to witness people who lie, spreading misinformation for their own power and well-being, we witness the anger and the violence that comes from people who believe the lies, we witness a double standard – those who have power and those who do not., those who are white and those who are not, those who are rich and those who are not. We continue to witness the effects of global warming - significant changes in our weather patterns – Spain is experiencing snow this weekend, in amounts never seen before. We continue to witness a loss of jobs and we witness people doing what they want, totally disregarding the common good. We witness the ongoing disrespect of people who are different – racism and prejudice are alive and well in Canada and around the world.
On the one hand, these events are rather discouraging and we could lose hope. If we continue to take a long loving look at the real we find also much goodness. People making sacrifices to keep others safe, people being generous – giving even from what they need, people reaching across boundaries to care for others. There is much love in our world, in our parish and in our local community.
It is our belief that into the wonder and chaos that is our world at this moment, it is our belief that Jesus Christ comes. We believe that he touches our lives – he touches us. Because of our belief we say no to lies and misinformation. We refuse to follow people who are all about power and money. We look for ways to improve the lives of all people and not only those who are like us. Rather than blaming people for the situation they are in, we look for ways to lift people up. Christ came into the world not because everything was going well, he came into the world because there was chaos, darkness and struggle. Christ came into the world historically to save us.
Often times we as Christians try to create this little world where everything is wonderful and we try to keep out anyone who does not get in line. We busy ourselves with judging and excluding, we busy ourselves with making our lives better even if it hurts someone else, even if it destroys creation. We are called to be like Jesus, to do what he has done. Those of us gathered here physically, (those praying with us virtually) we believe in Jesus and we believe in our mission to be a loving, life giving presence in our world.
Because of our relationship with Jesus we have a power that we often forget we have – we are loved. When we realize we are loved we can do amazing things. When we realize we are loved we become super heroes and we share that love with others – we spend our lives for others.
Every time I baptize a baby I am amazed and impressed at the commitment the parents take on when they choose to have children. Those of you who have children, you know that you literally spend your life for them – you give yourself over and over and over again. You make sacrifices so that they might succeed, so that they might achieve their dreams.
Today, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we receive the gift of our God – Jesus Christ. Today, we remember the powerful and transforming love that God has for Jesus, that Jesus has for us. When Christ came to earth God made a statement. God said to us, you are worth my very life, you are a part of me. Because we are loved, because we belong to God, because we are baptized, we are called to do what Christ has done – choose love, choose life for ourselves and for every person we meet.
As we walk away from this celebration of life, from this time of prayer, we look for ways to be a light in the darkness. God made a promise, Jesus made that promise real, John the Baptist recognized that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. Today it is our turn!
The word epiphany in the Miriam Webster Dictionary is defined as:
- a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
- an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking
- an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
- a revealing scene or moment
That is what we celebrate today – Jesus is made visible to the Gentiles – those who were not a part of the chosen people finally see and understand that this is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He is real. God has come to earth. These folks see and understand!
In the first reading from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, the prophet tells the people of Israel, ‘stand up and be proud because there is a light among you. The darkness is beginning to diminish and people will be coming to you – your sons and daughters are coming home. As your sons and daughters come home from exile you will become more and more who you are meant to be. They will come home and others will follow bringing great gifts.’
In the Gospel, Matthew gives his account of what happens after the birth of Jesus. The Gentiles, people from the East, hear that the King of the Jews has been born and they want to pay him homage. King Herod hears of this and is concerned. He wants to know where the King of the Jews will be born and so he consults the Jewish leaders. He learns that the King of the Jews is to be born in Bethlehem. He encourages the wise men to go in search of this King and when they find him, bring news back to him.
What is interesting is that the Jewish leaders do nothing to check out this possible King. It is the wise men, the Gentiles who seek the King. Matthew tells us that they follow the star and they find Mary and the child. The wise men offer this ‘Child-King’ gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. A dream warns them about the real intent of King Herod. and so they head home via a different route.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reminds the early Christians of the extraordinary act of God that resulted in the birth of Jesus. He reminds them that they have heard of Jesus because of God’s grace given to him; given so that he might proclaim this news to the Gentiles.
In Sacred Scripture we often see characters who appear to be deeply religious, from all external signs, failing to recognize God and/or to do what God asks of them. The readings tell us that it is God’s intent to reach out to the People of Israel and to encourage, guide, lead, inspire, support, and direct his people by sending them a Messiah – his Son.
What is striking in both the gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew is that the leaders of the People of Israel – the scribes, the Pharisees, the priests fail to recognize and respond to the news of the Savior’s birth. The elderly, the shepherds and the Gentiles recognize who Jesus is and the role he is to play in the story of salvation. As we continue to read the gospels we will discover that Jesus is often in conflict with the leaders, the wise and the learned, the rich, and the powerful. It seems as if they cannot hear his message, they cannot recognize what God is doing.
How is it that the more powerful we become, the more learned we are, the more influential we are, the greater our wealth, how is it that we are unable to see God and what God wants of us? How is it that the poor, the outsiders, those who are marginalized hear the message, pay attention and seek the Lord.
Today, with the feast of the Epiphany, we are given a wake-up call. Those of us who are outwardly religious – who are engaged in the regular ritual life of the Church, people like me, priests, people who teach and who profess to know lots of things about the faith, are invited to pause and reflect on who we are and how we are.
Is the gospel we live and speak of, the same as the gospel that Jesus proclaimed with his words and with his life or do we pick and choose the parts we like?
Where do we look for Christ? Do we look for Christ among the well dressed, the rich, and the powerful?
Are we able to recognize the Christ who is present in our midst?
Do we align ourselves with those folks – political leaders and organizations who are determined to have more power, more money for themselves and their friends or are we looking to heal broken relationships, dysfunctional systems, and those who are poor and marginalized?
Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany we are given evidence that God loves us, that he has come into our world to be with us and to walk with us? When Mary hears this news, we are told she treasures this news in her heart and she ponders the meaning of it.
Today sacred scripture reminds us that God has been revealed to us. What will we do with the evidence? Perhaps we can take a page from Mary’s life story. Perhaps we can pause and look for Christ in our world.
Perhaps we can think about what his presence means for the choices we make, the things we do!
Perhaps his presence can lead us to change the things we say and the things we do so that we become more and more like him!
Today the Church invites us to hold in our hearts and minds the feast of Mary, Mother of God, the World Day of Prayer for Peace while we are fascinated with the first day of the New Year!
In the book of Numbers, we hear the Lord asking Moses and Aaron and Aaron’s sons to bless the people of Israel. Why? So that the world might see them as God’s very own children. The blessing includes the revelation of God’s face, God’s graciousness and God’s peace.
In the Gospel of St. Luke, the Shepherds arrive with good news. Most of the people who hear the news are amazed but Mary has a different response, a unique response. When Mary receives the news, Luke tells us that she treasures and ponders it in her heart. As the shepherds return home, they praise God for all that God has done. The reading concludes with the news that Jesus is to be circumcised and named according to the directions given by Gabriel before the child was even conceived. God has once again taken the long view!
In the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Galatia, St. Paul reminds them that God has sent his son Jesus into the world as one like us so as to redeem us and welcome us as adopted sons and daughters of God. That is pretty amazing in itself but Paul goes on to tell the Galatians, you have also received the Spirit so that you can speak to God as an authentic child and not a slave. You can speak to God as your Father/Mother! Imagine after years of being told you are a slave, someone comes and says you are a child of God and you can speak to God as you would speak to your father or your mother. The people of Galatia were in shock!
Mary is presented today as the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. This is a big deal. Mary plays a key role in the story of our salvation. Through God’s grace she said yes to God; she, a virgin, became pregnant and became Mother of God. The impossible became possible. When we observe Mary, we can see what happens when we say yes to God.
The readings remind us that we belong to God – we are God’s children and as such there is a relationship between us and God. We are not forced into this relationship; God invites us into relationship. We are free to say yes or no! God cannot say no! God, full of mercy and compassion, is committed to helping us to be fully human, fully alive – brothers and sisters. In Jesus, God has come to us to remind us of who we are! God does not hide from us but reveals his face, his dreams and hopes for us!
Today is special because in addition to being the Feast of Mary, Mother of God it is the World Day of Prayer for Peace. In his message Pope Francis picks up on the idea that our God is a God who is committed to us. Pope Francis suggests that God cares about us and when we care about one another, when we recognize our responsibility for each other, we create the context for peace.
Pope Francis begins his message to us with a reflection on sacred scripture – the story of creation. He writes in reference to the story of Creation, the story of Adam and Eve, that we are all connected. He suggests that today we are becoming more aware of our connectedness and our interconnectedness.
He goes on to write that “Sacred Scripture presents God not only as Creator, but also as one who cares for his creatures, especially Adam, Eve and their offspring. Albeit cursed for the crime he committed, Cain was given a mark of protection by the Creator, so that his life could be spared (cf. Gen 4:15). While confirming the inviolable dignity of the person created in God’s image and likeness, this was also a sign of God’s plan to preserve the harmony of his creation, since “peace and violence cannot dwell together”.”
In other words, God cares about what happens to us. Despite Cain’s behavior God loves him and wants him to flourish well!
Pope Francis says that, “Care for creation was at the heart of the institution of the Sabbath, which, in addition to ordering divine worship, aimed at the restoration of the social order and concern for the poor (cf. Gen 1:1-3; Lev 25:4). The celebration of the Jubilee every seventh sabbatical year provided a respite for the land, for slaves and for those in debt. In that year of grace, those in greatest need were cared for and given a new chance in life, so that there would be no poor among the people (cf. Deut 15:4).
In the prophetic tradition, the biblical understanding of justice found its highest expression in the way a community treats its weakest members. Amos (cf. 2:6-8; 8) and Isaiah (cf. 58), in particular, insistently demand justice for the poor, who, in their vulnerability and powerlessness, cry out and are heard by God, who watches over them (cf. Ps 34:7; 113:7-8).”
God is vitally interested in our well-being. God has his eye on the poor and he repeatedly calls his People, the People of Israel to be attentive to the poor! God cares about what happens to his People.
Jesus, the Son of God, personifies what caring looks like in his ministry. Francis says, “At the culmination of his mission, Jesus gave the ultimate proof of his care for us by offering himself on the cross to set us free from the slavery of sin and death. By the sacrificial gift of his life, he opened for us the path of love. To each of us he says, “Follow me; go and do likewise” (cf. Lk 10:37).”
As followers of Jesus we must care for one another. We must safeguard the dignity of each person. Francis says we have the responsibility to care for each person – especially the poor, the sick and the excluded. This duty flows from the fact that we are cared for and loved by our God, that our God is a God who cares and we are made in the image and likeness of God.
Francis suggests that there can be no peace unless we nurture a culture of care. He acknowledges that it is not easy. He suggests that we look to the life of Mary who is for us, both a model and a source of hope.
“May we never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way; instead, may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, “to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another”.”
Today as we celebrate Mary as Mother of God and as we pray for peace let us pause and know that our God blesses us. As the New Year unfolds let us extend a blessing to every person we meet thus creating for all people the context of peace. When we do this the face of God is made visible here and now!
At Christmas we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light that has come into the Darkness; we celebrated liberation from our oppressors; that the burdens we carry have been lifted and that God has blessed us with joy. We celebrated the fact that God is establishing a kingdom of justice and peace and that He calls us and blesses us with a mission - to be a Light in the Darkness; to be Faith, Hope and Love for a world that struggles. We celebrated our call to be still and to listen to a God who reminds us that we are precious, that we are not alone and that what we do matters to him. We celebrated the fact that God walks among us and that we are living proof that God is here and has a never-ending love for our world.
Today, in our first reading from the Book of Genesis, we are told that Abram and his wife have no heir except a son born from a slave. God makes a promise to Abram – they will have a child and Abram’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abram believes the Lord. Abram is given a reward for his trust in God. God changes his name to Abraham which suggests that there is a new relationship between Abraham and God. Sarai’s name is also changed, she becomes Sarah, and she bears a son. They delight in the unexpected gift of life.
The story reminds us that Abraham and Sarah are well beyond child-bearing years and so the birth of their child is considered a miracle. The birth of their child changes how they see life and it changes how they live, and it changes their relationship with God. It is God who is the author of this change.
In the Gospel reading from St. Luke, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus encounter two Jewish elders in the Synagogue – Simeon and Anna. Simeon is advanced in age and he is viewed as a faithful and righteous man. As a faith filled person, he is attentive to the promptings of the Spirit. We are told God promised Simeon that he would see the savior of the world before his death. When Simeon encounters the family, the Spirit moves him, and he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. He tells Joseph and Mary about the future of their child.
Anna is like Simeon. A faithful and righteous person, Anna is a woman of prayer and she too recognizes that Jesus is special. While Simeon has a message for Mary and Joseph, Anna has a message for anyone who will listen to her. She tells everyone about the child and his role in the redemption of Israel.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the journey of Abraham and the power of faith. We are told that Abraham’s faith in God set in motion the formation of a people intent on serving God. Abraham’s faith spread and inspired others and led them to God. Abraham’s faith led him to believe that God could do the impossible – even raise someone from the dead. The author suggests that faith changes how we see, think and act.
Today the Church invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. When we think of this Feast we often think of Joseph, Jesus, and Mary. When I prayed with the scriptures, I was touched by how God has been creating a family that spans generations and includes everyone.
Abraham’s faith resulted in a family as numerous as the stars in the sky. Simeon reminded Joseph and Mary that their child would touch the whole people of Israel. Anna was telling all people that God was alive and at work in their midst.
These readings remind us that our faith in God creates life. Faith creates a sense of family that moves beyond the bond that is created by marriage or blood. When we think of family, we think of people who are related to us – people who are connected to us by blood or marriage or adoption. These readings urge us to see family in a much bigger sense.
God has taken the long view. Starting so many years ago, God began to create a family – the family is shaped by faith and trust in God (Abraham and Sarah believe that God can do the impossible and he does); the family is shaped by commitment (Joseph and Mary do what is asked of them by their religion); the family is shaped by listening to the Spirit of God (Simeon pays attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit); family is shaped by our sharing of the Good News – Jesus Christ is alive in our world (Anna speaks of Jesus and his work of redemption to anyone who listens).
This vision that God has for family, challenges the way we function today. Today many of us are concerned about our family. We work hard and anything we achieve is directed towards helping us to enjoy the good things – toys, adult toys, holidays, luxury items and such. When we have what we want and think we need we share with others from our leftovers.
When I was young, my mom and dad did not have a lot of money, but there was always lots of food on the table. Whatever was on the table was to be shared equally – in other words everyone got something of what was offered. That principle kept our family together and nurtured within us the idea that we are family, that we are responsible for each other. When visitors came, we made sacrifices, so that they got the best of what was on the table. They never got the leftovers!
Perhaps our world would look different if, like Abraham and Sarah, I trusted in the power of God to transform my life.
Perhaps our world would look different if, like Joseph and Mary, I faithfully practiced my faith.
Perhaps our world would look different if, like Simeon, I listened to the prompting of the Spirit.
Perhaps our world would look different if, like Anna, I gave thanks and praise to God and through my words and actions, told people about Jesus.
Perhaps our world would look different if I saw you as my brother/sister, if I believed that we were all member of God’s Holy Family.
What happens within you when you hear the stories of Abraham and Sarah, of Joseph and Mary, and of Simeon and Anna? What is God asking of you?
Last night we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, the fact that Light has come into the Darkness, that we have been liberated from our oppressors, that the burdens we carry have been lifted and God has blessed us with joy. We celebrated the fact that God is establishing a kingdom of justice and peace – it is not temporary – it is permanent and God calls us and blesses us with a mission. God asks us to be a Light in the Darkness; to be Faith, Hope and Love for a world that struggles.
In our first reading today, we hear Isaiah proclaim that the feet of those who bring good news are beautiful. The Lord has come and is walking among us. He has redeemed and he has comforted his People. His presence and his power are seen by everyone. Isaiah tell us that our proper response is to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving.
In the Gospel reading from John, we are reminded that Jesus comes from God. Jesus was with God and was sent into the world as a light to overcome the darkness. John reminds us that sometimes we don’t recognize Christ or his message despite being his people, his disciples. John reaffirms that Christ has come into our midst, he has taken on flesh like us, and he walks among us. John reminds us that there is more to Christ than his life and death. He is resurrected, he is transformed and we have already seen his glory.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the Son of God and that God is revealed in Christ. The author says, “Christ is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”
It is our custom at Christmas to travel, to gather with friends and family, to visit and socialize with people in our communities. There is something comforting about many of our Christmas traditions and rituals. Even if we don’t go to Church much during the year, many of us make our way to the Church for Christmas. This year, because of the virus we have had to stop doing what is ‘normal’ for us. This pause gives us the opportunity to look deeper, to ask ourselves why we do what we do. I am not suggesting the virus is a blessing. I am simply saying that the presence of the virus is giving us an opportunity to look deeper at our lives.
We can look deeper at what is happening to our earth – to our land, to our water and to the air we breathe.
We can look deeper at what is happening to the people around us – the people we love and care about, the people who are special to us, the people we waste time with, the people for whom we make sacrifices. We can look deeper at the people we hate, the people we ignore and exclude, the people who are different from us and those we have decided don’t matter to us.
We can look deeper at what is happening within our own hearts – the way we see ourselves, the things we are proud of and the things that we are ashamed of, the things we focus on and the things we ignore, the things we are afraid of and the things we value and hold dear!
When we look deeper at our world, the people around us and at our own selves we discover we are small, vulnerable, broken, incomplete and sinful; we also discover that we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are wonderful, gifted, brilliant, funny, delightful, playful and beautiful. When we look deeper at our world, the people around us and at our own selves we discover that there is a God who created us and a God who sustains us.
When we look deeper, we discover that what we do and how we do it matters to us and it matters to God. News that we matter to God is welcome news. News that God sent his Son to us – to walk among us is welcome news. News that in Christ Jesus we can see and know our God is welcome news.
We know well our limitations. This spring when our rivers flooded and our roads were washed out, this summer when storms lashed our land and wind and hail damaged our crops and our property, this year when glaciers melted, crumbled and broke off, this year when earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes happened and this year when heat waves rolled across our planet we recognized how vulnerable and helpless we are.
In and through Christ, God knows our brilliance and our vulnerability. When God sees us God says, “I love you, I delight in you and I will be light in your darkness.”
On the one hand, the world reminds us of how small we are and on the other hand it reminds us of how important we are. We carry this news in our bodies, in our hearts and in our minds. We can choose to be a source of life and of hope for one another or we can choose to frighten, intimidate and harm each other. It really is our choice what we want to do.
There is so much that we cannot do right now and that gives us the opportunity to do something important. This Christmas let us take the opportunity to sit still and to listen to God. We can listen and let God tell us that we are precious to him. We can listen and let God tell us that we are never alone. We can listen and let God tell us that who we are and what we do matters to him. When this knowledge settles within us, we can go and share this news with others. We will become Good News on the mountain tops, on the prairies, on the coastlands and in the valleys, forests and deserts.
With the pandemic all around us it may seem as if God has abandoned us, God has not. We are living proof of God’s love for the world and of God’s presence in it! Let us be Good News! God is counting us! The world needs us!
Last Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent we heard the story of Mary giving her ‘yes’ to God. Mary was confused, perplexed, afraid and yet she was in touch with grace – with her own inner goodness – a goodness that each person gathered here, physically or virtually possesses – Mary got in touch with that goodness and from that goodness she said, “Yes!”
In our first reading from Isaiah, words of comfort ring out! Light has come to the darkness. Joy has come to the people. The People of Israel experience liberation from their oppressors and freedom from the burdens they carry. The promised child has been born. This child will be so much for the People, will do so much for the People. This child will become Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. This child will use his power and authority to build a kingdom of peace and justice, which will last forever. This is God’s promise!
In the Gospel we hear again the story of the birth of Jesus. The Word of God has come to earth – fully human, born just like us: frail, tiny, helpless and yet filled with so much promise. The angel announces his coming to the poor and frightened shepherds, the least among the People of Israel. By the time the angels are finished their songs of praise, the curiosity of the shepherds leads them to abandon their flocks and seek out this child who will bring peace to the world.
St. Paul, in his letter to Titus says clearly, the grace of God has appeared in the person of Jesus Christ. In him we will be forgiven and saved. He has taught us how to live. He is building up a people who will walk in his footsteps – they will be focused on doing good things – rejecting sin and choosing God.
These readings remind us of who we are. They remind us of who our God is.
At times when I have my hat of judgement firmly in place and I have my dark glasses filtering out the light, I think about how messy, broken, incomplete and hateful our world is. I see only the bad and the ugly. When things are really bad, I wonder if Jesus really is the Son of God and if he really is the Savior of the World. When I am trapped in my own way of seeing, I am unable to recognize the presence of God.
Christmas is a really important feast because we are given the opportunity to connect with one another and to hear again our sacred stories. Our connections and our sacred stories help us to look and to see beyond the coldness, the brokenness, the incompleteness and the sin that surrounds us. The scriptures remind us of what God promised. The scriptures remind us that God fulfilled that promise and continues to fulfill it in you and me. The scriptures tell us that the Promise is renewed and experienced from now until the end of time.
Today we get to choose between darkness and light, between freedom and oppression, between joy and despair, between goodness and hatred. We can choose to ignore the goodness present in the Christ child – we can choose to ignore the goodness that is present within us. When we ignore goodness and focus on evil we become small and angry, we become resentful and bitter and there is less light in the world.
Tonight, we celebrate a God who is committed to bringing light into darkness, who is committed to liberating us from our oppressors and our burdens. Tonight, we celebrate a God who walks among us, as one like us, seemingly helpless in the face of evil. We know however, that despite his death on the Cross, he was raised from the dead, he ascended into heaven and has given us the Holy Spirit.
Robert Fulgham has a wonderful story in his book, “It was on Fire when I lay Down on It”; the story is about a Greek professor who said that his mission in life was to bring light into the dark corners of the world. This was a challenge for him and it is his mission.
This pandemic has tipped our lives upside down. It has caused suffering around the world. The suffering has touched every corner of our lives. It has touched our family, our work, our recreation, our learning, and it has touched the celebration of our faith. We can hunker down and be angry or we can tap into the goodness that is within us. From where we are we can choose to love, we can choose to be a source of life and of joy.
As we celebrate the great feast of Christmas let us look for ways to carry on God’s dream, the mission of Jesus. Using the words of St. Francis:
Where there is hatred let us bring love, where there is injury let us bring pardon, where there is doubt and fear let us bring faith, where there is despair let us bring hope, where there is sadness joy, and where there is darkness let us bring light.
We don’t need permission from anyone to do these things – we don’t have to leave our house to do these things, these actions do not cost money.
These actions do have the capacity to change the world.
Two thousand years ago God had a dream to change the world – to let us know that we are not alone. We share that dream. Today we are not alone. Our gathering here reminds us that we are not alone. The presence of so many people who are praying with us reminds us that we are not alone.
Today, let us be a light in the darkness. Let us be the faith, the hope and the love that our world needs!
Last week we were invited to be Good News to the world, to facilitate healing and liberation and new life! This week our first reading from Samuel tells the story of King David and his desire to build a dwelling place for God. David’s intentions seem to be good but God quickly informs David that, he, God is in charge. God has been providing for David his whole life long, he took him from the pastures, from being a sheep herder, he has protected him from his enemies, and is making his name great. God says I will be the one doing the building. God will provide for David and for his offspring forever.
In the Gospel, Luke tells the story of Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel, how God has chosen her to be the Mother of Jesus. Luke tells us of Mary’s doubts and confusion on the one hand and her generous response - I will do what God wants of me, on the other.
Paul invites the Romans to live their lives in praise of God, the God who has been revealed to them, the God who strengthens them, and the God who has been with them their whole life long.
As we approach the great celebration of the birth of Jesus and look closely at our world we notice several things. The most obvious is the pandemic, the presence of the Covid-19 virus. Most of us now know someone who has had the virus or someone who has recovered from the virus, someone who is experiencing the after effects of the virus or we know someone who has died as a result of the virus. Someone I know and worked with has recently died from Covid-19. The virus has created a worldwide crisis.
Worldwide we are polluting the land, our air and our water. As a result, we are experiencing the impact of our behavior; we lack clean water, our air is polluted and our lands are compromised and contaminated. Our temperatures are warming on the earth, in large part due to our activity, and our reluctance to make choices that will heal the earth. This is not a theory it is a scientific fact.
Worldwide we are experiencing the migration of millions of people – because of wars, violence and oppression, weather events and earthquakes/volcanoes or a desire for a better life. Countries are struggling – should we welcome these refugees or not? What would God want us to do?
Worldwide we are experiencing unprecedented racism. We see also the harsh reality of hatred and exclusion. It is evident here in our area.
Worldwide we are experiencing the increasing gap between those who have money and resources and those who do not. The number of people who work hard and cannot provide for their families is growing. A small number of people possess and control most of the world’s money and resources.
Worldwide we are experiencing a crisis of leadership – a growing number of leaders are more interested in growing their bank account and maintaining their power and the power and wealth of their friends, than in lifting up the people they serve; the poor and the marginalized. Our Churches are experiencing the same thing.
While we may not experience all of this personally or directly here in Northern Saskatchewan – these things and much more are happening in our world. A world in which we have a voice; a voice given to us by God!
As we near the end of Advent and as the great feast of Christmas approaches, the sacred scriptures speak of a God who is vitally interested in the suffering of his people. God is so interested in the cries of his people that he sends his Son, Jesus Christ into the world. God enlists the help of Prophets and Kings. God calls upon ordinary people like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, and the Apostles, to help him establish the Kingdom of God and to spread the Good News, to bring healing and new life.
As Catholics we are not bystanders, we are not on the sidelines of life watching things from a distance! We are in the game! The Spirit of God invites us to be involved in all that happens.
This year most of us will spend Christmas alone, with the people of our household. Most of us will celebrate our Christmas liturgies, virtually, in front of a Television or Computer Screen or a smart phone. Many of us will be anxious about our work and how long our job will last. Many of us will be hungry and thirsty. Many of us will be sad and discouraged.
We are all in need of hope!
On this last Sunday of Advent, let us cry out to God in our need.
On this last Sunday of Advent, let us pay attention to the voices of those who cry out.
On this last Sunday of Advent, may God strengthen us!
Like Mary, may we give our best self to the work of God! Let us, you and me, be a sign of HOPE for all peoples!
In the first reading, we have a powerful text from Isaiah, we hear the words of God’s chosen one, the one who proclaims that he has received the Spirit of God. The Spirit has given him a mission:
1. He has been sent to bring good news to the oppressed,
2. To bind up those with broken hearts,
3. To release those who are imprisoned and
4. To proclaim a year of God’s favor to all people.
The chosen one of God rejoices in God and acknowledges that God has done amazing things for him, clothing him with the garments of salvation and with the robe of righteousness. The chosen one also acknowledges that God will do amazing things throughout the earth.
In John’s Gospel, we hear a conversation between John and the religious leaders of Israel. They want to know who he is. Who does he claim to be? John admits he is not the Messiah nor Elijah nor the prophet. He says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’”
John sees himself as one who goes before the Lord – preparing the way for the Messiah. John acknowledges that someone will come after him – in fact, he is among the people already and they cannot see him. John admits that this someone is important – so important that he is unworthy to untie the thong of his sandal.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians invites, the people to be filled with gratitude. He encourages them to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. He encourages them to abstain from every form of evil. He concludes by blessing them, asking God to keep them safe and sound, blameless! He reminds them that
God is faithful, God does things like this.
So how do these readings impact our daily life?
When I prayed with the scriptures this week, I was struck by the behavior of John the Baptist. John had been chosen by God as the one to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Son of God. It was an important mission that he had been given. Most of us, when we are asked to do something important – we strut, and we brag, we act as if we are the important one, and sometimes we exaggerate our importance. Sometimes when our work is done, we continue to behave as if we are still in a position of influence, as if we are important. Often, we will do anything to maintain our level of influence, our status, our power even at the expense of truth, our family, and our own health.
John did not do that. In fact, when the religious leaders of Israel come along and want information about him, his role, his importance etc. he quickly points out who he is and who is not. In fact, he has the courage to tell them that the Messiah walks among them and that he, John, is of little importance in comparison.
John incarnates the virtue of humility. St. Vincent de Paul apparently once said, “Humility is nothing but the truth, and pride is nothing but lying.”
How do we nurture the virtue of humility? It is quite simple really; we look around and we notice the wonder and beauty of creation and of the people around us and we celebrate. We celebrate the beauty and wonder, we celebrate the people and their accomplishments, we acknowledge our own gifts. We all have a purpose; we are all important; there is no need for me to look at myself and rank myself better or worse than you. We simply are! God does not expect me to better or worse than you. We are unique and we, all of us, are gifted by God.
The opposite of humility is pride. I look at myself and I compare myself to others – I compare my abilities, my good looks, my bank account, my accomplishments, my skills, my property, my job, and I rank myself. This is an exercise in futility for always there will be people who are more than or less than me. When directly asked, John reveals who he is and his mission. When that does not satisfy, John says clearly that there is one among them that is much more important for the story of our salvation. He urges them to open their eyes and look!
We are living in a time when roles and jobs and power are important to so many people. This year shows us that the virus does not care who we are. This year also shows us that if we are rich, we can access health resources that others cannot. As Catholics it is important for us to remember the dignity and value of each human life – from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. There should not be a double standard. God values the most vulnerable and throughout sacred scripture; God chooses to care for the poor and the marginalized. In her great hymn of praise which we pray every day, Mary expresses her gratitude that God throws down the princes and the rich and lifts up the poor and the lowly. Mary highlights and rejoices at God’s behavior!
As we continue our preparations for the great feast of the Nativity of Jesus, let us think about our response to the gifts and blessings of others. Do we assume the role of God and try to knock people down or do we try to lift them up? Do we seek people out or do we avoid and ignore people? Do we celebrate people and their gifts or do we long to have what they have? Do I recognize and celebrate who I am, my uniqueness, or do I see myself as less than?
In baptism and confirmation, we celebrate the fact that we are God’s anointed ones – gifted by the Spirit. We are called and we are sent to be good news to all people. We are called and sent to rejoice in the Lord. In us the righteousness and praise of God find expression. This week let our thoughts, our words, and our actions be Good News to everyone we meet! Let us bring joy to the world!
Today we have one of the most beautiful, hope-filled, comfort producing readings in the Book of the prophet Isaiah. Through the voice of Isaiah, God offers words of consolation and comfort to the People of Israel. The text begins with God announcing that the time of punishment is over and that the time for comfort has come. God begins the transformation of his relationship with the People by leveling the land so that it is easier for the People of Israel to find their way. The highways and pathways will be evened out and this act alone will signal God’s presence. Good news is to be announced from the mountain tops – so that everyone can hear. God, the all-powerful arm of God, has come to liberate the People of Israel, to feed the People of Israel, to comfort and to lead the People of Israel to a place of safety.
In the Gospel of Mark, we hear how John is coming to prepare the way for Jesus. John invites the people of Israel to repentance. In John’s mind, repentance is not about punishment rather repentance makes room for forgiveness and enables people to hear God speak. People were impressed with John’s message and his ministry but John, in response to their praise says, “Whoa! It is not about me. It is about the Messiah. Someone is coming after me, and in comparison, I am nothing! I baptize with water, he will give you the Holy Spirit!” For the People of Israel, only God can give the Holy Spirit! Receiving the Spirit of God was a sign that God had chosen you for a special mission!
In Peter’s letter to the early Christian community, Peter reminds his people that God’s ways are different than their ways. He reminds them that they need to prepare themselves for their life with God. Peter suggests that as they wait for Christ’s return they need to make choices about how they act, what they say and what they do. He reminds them that this world is temporary. Something new is coming and they need to make room for it in their lives.
As I prayed with these texts I was struck by Peter’s desire to help the people realize that how they lived their lives speaks volumes about their understanding of God.
From early on in life we figure out that if we say one thing we get rewarded and if we say another we get punished. We learn rather quickly what to do to please people. We often use that insight in our relationship with God. I see it often when I ask people to describe God, who God is and what God does, when I ask them to describe their faith. When they examine their words about their faith and their life choices they find a gap. We all do. There is a gap between what we say we believe and what we do to manifest our faith. The God we actually believe in is revealed in our actions – what we are willing to do for God and for others and for ourselves. Our daily life choices and our religious practices ought to challenge us to do something about the gap that is present in our lives.
Isaiah reminds us that God does not want to make life difficult for us. God wants to make our pathways smooth – God does not want us to suffer, to experience pain, sadness and sorrow. God wants to comfort us, to take care of us, to heal us.
The way to experience the comfort of God is for us to align our life choices with our God. In simple terms we are to turn away from our sin and to do good things. John the Baptist called the People of Israel to repentance. We too are called to repentance – that means turning away from sin and doing good. That means we have to pay attention to how we interact with creation, how we interact with our sisters and brothers, how we manage our personal life and how we manage our relationship with God.
Advent is a time of preparation. Sacred Scripture calls us to take a look into the future – what are we preparing for? On the one hand we are living here and now – 80-90 years here on earth, but as Peter reminds us, that is nothing compared to our life in God. This is a wonderful life but it is not our destination. This life is passing away and we ought to be preparing for eternal life with God. To prepare for our life with God involves developing our relationship with God, turning away from what I want and considering who God is and what God wants.
Healthy relationships happen when we understand each other. If I make life all about me then I am missing out on the other. John tells us, turn away from yourself, recognize God – make room for God. Making room for God takes work and it takes deliberate choices. We make room for God by making room for other people – practicing patience, kindness, generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, and concern for others.
As Catholics we are often very respectful of our Church Building, of rosaries and crosses and bibles and the Body and Blood of Jesus. That is good/great and to be encouraged. Today, Isaiah, John and Peter invite us to take that reverence and respect and direct towards the world around us – the world we live in, the people we live with and meet every day! Today we are invited to see ourselves as precious to God. We are so precious in fact that God is sending his Son into the world to comfort us, to smooth our pathways, to heal us and to lead us home. We are so precious that God sent John to prepare the way so that we have every opportunity to see, welcome and receive Jesus. We are so precious to God that Peter spends his life reminding us of what is expected of us.
As this week unfolds I pray that we will wake up every day, look in the mirror and see how precious we are and then as our day unfolds we will look at the people we live with and work with and recognize how precious they are. I pray that the things we say, but more importantly the things we do, will give witness to our dignity as sons and daughters of God.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI