It probably would be a safe bet to say that everyone here has at least heard of a man by the name of Albert Einstein. If you’re like me, you might not really know why he’s considered an intellectual heavyweight – you just accept that his face could be an illustration of “one who is brilliant,” or that his name seems to be synonymous with genius. If you studied physics in High School (I barely got through Chemistry and Biology, so I didn’t) you probably learned a great deal about Einstein and why he is somewhat revered for his knowledge. Particularly his major contribution to the field of Physics - his discovery of “the speed of light.”
I remember in college one day trying to understand what this meant and asking friends of mine who were science majors about it in one of our highly enlightened conversations. My one friend started by saying that there’s nothing faster than the speed of light. I questioned that saying “I thought Superman was?” to which my one friend said “no Superman is faster than a speeding bullet... it’s ‘the flash’ who’s faster than the speed of light.” “Who’s the Flash?” I wondered. At which point my science major friend told us to shut up as he pointed out this was why I couldn’t study physics (or a bunch of other things for that matter:) and then went back to trying to explain this theory of the speed of light.
My buddy explained that if the Sun was a giant light bulb, that got flipped on, that it would take something like 8 minutes for the “light” ray to hit earth. So the speed of light moves 91 million miles in 8 minutes. The reason this is important, the theory goes, is that everything in the universe affects other things. And by knowing the “speed of light”, Einstein was able to discover this one “constant” in the universe. That nothing could go faster than the speed of light. So in discovering that, Einstein had come upon an essential thing to beginning to understanding everything.
Which is why I was kind of puzzled a few weeks ago. There was a headline on (I think) Yahoo - a small headline - very unimpressively listed with dozens of other headlines, that you could easily miss it, that said that scientists have now discovered things, these particles, that are faster than the speed of light. Like I said, I’m not a scientist by a long stretch, but I thought when I saw that - isn’t that kind of a big deal – to the Physics people?
And, when I read it, yeah, it really is. In fact there’s some that are dismissing it outright trying to protect Einstein. There’s also some healthy skepticism and arguments by various scientific teams who are continuing to study this latest “discovery.” Because quite simply, if they have found something faster than the speed of light - then, as one scientist put it: “Einstein was wrong... [and] our traditional concept of the universe would be ripped apart.”
The whole thing is fascinating to me - which is strange to me not really being interested in science. And it’s not a matter of wanting to tear down a hero in the science community. Because even if they do discover there’s something faster than the speed of light, it’s obvious Einstein’s work was the first step in them being able to do that. What’s fascinating though is that something that was seen as the standard by which the universe was measured... that one constant was the speed of light. And now that constant might be gone. That standard might not be in effect. And all that people thought they knew about the mysterious aspects of the vastness of this universe have to be reconsidered.
We celebrate a similar thing that happened over 2,000 years ago. Christmas proclaims how the whole universe would have to be reconsidered – not by the Speed of Light, but by THE LIGHT Himself. It’s easy for this essential truth of Christmas to be missed. Our focus on Christmas – very beautifully and appropriately – centers around children. As we see the innocence, the anticipation, the excitement, the joy of kids – they give life to our images of the baby in a manger, blissfully unaware of his meager, humble beginnings. The brilliance in God’s plan is that a baby is unthreatening. The Christ-child, like our kids, simply desire our attention, our affection, our love. God’s entrance into our history does so wishing for our eyes to gaze on him and love him.
But there’s more to Christmas than meeting Jesus in the manger. Our human nature is prone to ask questions that need grown up answers. We don’t simply wish to unlock the secrets of the universe in an inquisitive way. No, we wonder what has happened to those promises of the “God-with-us” Emmanuel born in the manger. We sing of that “silent night holy night” with “the Son of God, loves pure light” and wonder with the darkness in our lives or the darkness of those near and dear to us, the darkness throughout the world - wonder, was that Silent Night, Holy Night, for just one night only? The darkness gives us pause, makes us wonder if we need to reconsider “the Light’s” affect on the universe.
Which is why the Church gives us this beautiful and rich word of God from St. John reminding us that with the birth of Christ, the history of humanity, the very course of the universe has changed:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.
St. John’s Gospel talks about Jesus as being “The Word” – the essential, the unifying thing that unites all the cosmos; He refers to Jesus as “The Light” - an element that without which life would not be possible. For us, Christmas reminds us of these unchanging, eternal realities. God enters as a baby to make himself accessible to humanity. But He remains fully God. And while things like war, poverty, abuse, illness, death continue to ravage the lives of the world around us, His promise that He has come and dwelt among us, and remained with us which is what draws us together for this feast. We might not be able to fully understand this mysterious presence defined by St John as “light.” But the true gift that is Christmas is that God allows us to come to know Him and love Him and welcome Him in the person of Jesus Christ. To have a personal relationship with this miracle ourselves.
A famous man once said “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” - That was Albert Einstein. Will we this Christmas allow this universal miracle to penetrate our hearts and radiate in our lives?
So last night I watched Saturday Night Live. I usually will tune in, always with the hope that perhaps it will be funny as it was. For some reason SNL goes through these cycles of funny/unfunny. When they’re good, they’re really good. When they’re not... well, they get desperate. Which they did last night. Not to mention wildly offensive.
After a funny show – thanks in part to tons of funny former cast members returning as Jimmy Fallon (a former cast member himself) came back for the “Christmas Episode” – with a few moments to spare till the end, they went with a cheap, unfunny, pathetic and insulting “sketch.” Having “Jesus” visit the Denver Broncos locker room post-game – Christ was portrayed telling Tebow to “tone it down”; took credit for all the victories (which is something none of us, including Tebow himself would ever claim) and then told Denver star kicker Matt Prater “Prater I pray to you.”
I’m not a prude or puritanical by any stretch of the imagination. Which you could probably figure out by the fact that I watched the entire episode and found most of it funny. But the lack of any reverence anymore is just surprising to me. Maybe I’m still naivete in being surprised. But seriously, making a faithful, religious, devout man – who happens to play football (and is doing better than any of the Sportswriters had predicted) a target to ridicule by Jesus?
I took comfort that most in the audience seemed to be silent. Perhaps because it was unfunny as well as offensive. Only hope the writers took notice. If not for their jobs, than for their own reflection, to ask themselves – do they really think it’s okay to mock God?
– Phew... I feel better just posting that... Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent to come later tonight. God Bless!
For the most part, I don’t consider myself a Football fan. Its not that I dislike Football, it’s more a matter of time. After investing a lot of time in the New York Yankees from late February when Pitchers and Catchers report to Florida for Major League Baseball training till the end of the World Series in late October (which on a somewhat regular basis the Yankees are in, or at least get close to it) by then, Football is already half-way through their season, so I’ve never gotten overly interested or excited about different teams. With most of the games being played on Sunday, which happens to be quite a busy day of the week for me, its hard to get into a team when you’re not able to watch them and support them on a weekly basis. I must admit that I do have teams that I root against, like the Patriots and the Eagles (just because they’re the home towns to Baseball teams I hate); and most Jets fans are Mets fans which is another problem. But aside from those dislikes, and catching a game here or there, I don’t follow the NFL, their teams or their players too much.
Which is why it’s interesting that I do know who Tim Tebow is. I know that he’s a Quarterback. Off the top of my head I remembered that he played football in college at a School in Florida and got selected for the NFL for Detroit? (A quick check on Google filled in the blanks he actually plays for Denver – I knew the city started with a “D” – and the college was University of Florida).
But the main reason I know who he is, has little to do with Football. It’s because not only does he not hide his faith in Jesus Christ, but he actually (get prepared to be shocked) tries to live his life as a follower of Jesus Christ. Taking such a public stance has resulted in some surprising things that you’d find few parallels with other athletes. A few years ago at a news conference, he was asked “Are you saving yourself till marriage” and he responded yes - he is still a virgin. Can’t remember seeing that question asked of many athletes at their press-conferences. He has taken things like his signing bonus and gives it to charity. He, at this early stage of his career, has already started a foundation to help inner city kids, orphanages in the Phillipines (where he was born) and get assistance for kids who are suffering from a variety of illnesses through helping establish hospitals or other medical assistance. His belief is that all that he has, all of his gifts, talents, abilities come from the Lord, and so he publically acknowledges that with taking a knee in prayer on the field - as he does off the field.
Sadly, all of this has become controversial. He’s made fun of both on the field and off for this. A few weeks ago, when Tebow’s team lost, several players on the opposing team mockingly went to their knees in what they called “tebowing.” And then this past week a retired NFL player, Jake Plummer went even further. He was interviewed on a Phoenix radio station and said he would like Tebow more if he would "shut up" about his faith in Jesus Christ.
If it had been me I probably would have pointed out the irony of his detractors finding difficulties with how he lives his life rather than looking at their own. So Tebow challenges me as well as he responded true to himself and his faith as he said: "If you're married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife 'I love her' the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and every opportunity? And that's how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ is that it is the most important thing in my life. So any time I get an opportunity to tell him that I love him or given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I'm gonna take that opportunity. And so I look at it as a relationship that I have with him that I want to give him the honor and glory anytime I have the opportunity. And then right after I give him the honor and glory, I always try to give my teammates the honor and glory. And that's how it works because Christ comes first in my life, and then my family, and then my teammates. I respect Jake's opinion, and I really appreciate his compliment of calling me a winner. But I feel like anytime I get the opportunity to give the Lord some praise, he is due for it."
That shouldn’t be controversial. That’s not supposed to inspire hostile reactions. That’s called “testifying” to Jesus Christ. It’s precisely what John the Baptist is doing in the Gospel today. To put the Gospel in context, we have to remember that for awhile, John had his own followers. People who were coming out to hear him preach. People who were being moved to repentance, to changing their lives, to conversion.
But John realized that wasn’t because of anything he was doing. He knew that the Lord had commissioned him. Entrusted him to be “the voice of one crying in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.” He knew that all his gifts, his abilities were not to make him into an idol himself – he clearly knows this as he declares who he is not – I am not the Christ; he recognizes that the “baptism” he’s offering of water (that throngs of people are coming to receive) pales in comparison to the Baptism to come in Jesus Christ. John the Baptist knows in his innermost being that his goal, his mission was by his very life to point to the one who is the Christ, to prepare people to welcome Jesus into their lives, to be the one who would call humanity to “Behold the Lamb of God.”
For you and I this Third Sunday of Advent, we’re left with the same mission. We are not unaware of who it is that’s coming, or in fact, already here. We are not confused as to who’s birth it is at Christmas that transformed humanity forever. But perhaps we need to remind ourselves of our responsibility to share that good news, to point to Jesus Christ in all that we say and do in our lives. Which is perhaps why Tebow makes some uncomfortable. In a day and age where there’s been a shift to humanize heroes and to trivialize virtue, people wait for dirt to come. One commentator put it like this in an opinion piece that was published this week:
“...we don't want heroes who are truly good. We want them to fail the occasional drug test or start a bar fight from time to time. It makes us feel better about ourselves. Tebow, however, doesn't make us feel better about ourselves. People like him make us feel a little convicted about the things we say and do. So we find a reason to dislike them. Or, when Tebow says that glory goes to God and the credit for a victory goes to his teammates, coaches, and family, we are suspicious. An increasingly jaded culture, we don't believe that anyone can say such things and really mean them.
So we wait.
We wait for evidence that he really isn't that good. We hope to see him kick a player on the ground, drop an F-bomb on television, or Tweet pictures of his privates. In the meantime, we always have Penn State's Jerry Sandusky to make us feel better about ourselves. (Larry Taunton, USA Today)
I wonder if that’s true. Have we grown so cynical, so jaded that the life and message of Jesus Christ seems too good to be true, so we profess our belief in him to a certain extent as an insurance policy just in case rather than truly believing with all our hearts and souls that it is true, than nothing else really matters.
Tim Tebow seems to be secure enough as a man not to need the defense of some priest who’s never met him or any of us for that matter. And I’m sure he takes comfort that the Lord Jesus who was ridiculed and mocked as well, till he ended up dead on a cross - is with him when the attacks and mockery get ugly. Because Tebow realizes that the love he has for Jesus barely scratches the surface of the love Jesus has for him and for each of us. So rather than trying to defend Tebow, the challenge is will we try to imitate him, as well as John the Baptist - by using our lives to point to Jesus Christ as well?
The past couple of weeks has been a bit of a downer for me when looking at television news, seeing news stories online or reading a newspaper (yeah I actually still get those ancient things called newspapers) To see that each year, how the hype of Black Friday, Cyber Monday - shop on Thanksgiving night gets worse... That no one seems to care about the store workers who have to work, or the public servants cops, firefighters, EMT’s who are even more necessary to deal with greater insanity... That each year we see more commercialization and absolutely atrocious behavior ... hearing all of this “news” described as “Christmas preparations”; leaves me somewhat disheartened.
Which is why when I was scanning the news and saw a picture of this 103 year old woman in her bed and quickly saw a headline that said something about “evicting” her, I really was about to look for the Maalox or Rolaids. Vinia Hall, who’s three weeks away from her 104th Birthday has been living in this home in Northwest Atlanta (with her 83 year old daughter) for over 53 years. The family has been in some dispute with Deutsche Bank, to the point that on Tuesday, the Bank had planned on evicting Vinia and her daughter from their home.
But here’s where the story took an unexpected turn. When the sheriff’s deputies and the moving company hired by the bank arrived at the house of this elderly woman who said of her modest home “I love it... It’s a mansion” - the deputies and movers got back in their cars and left, saying they would not be part of kicking these two older women out. Vinia seemed steadfast through the whole ordeal saying "No, I knew that they know what they were doing. God don't let them do wrong." She added one request, "Please don't come in and disturb me no more. When I'm gone you all can come back and do whatever you want to."
It remains to be seen if the sheriffs deputies will be charged for insubordination, the movers fired and whether initial promises made by bankers and politicians to allow Vinia and her daughter to remain in their home or not will be fulfilled. But it’s hard not to see in the mix of the daily news feed, how Vinia’s story seemed to be like a prophet’s voice calling out to us who contribute to this “desert” of an environment that we call the “Christmas season”... and that voice cry’s out, as Isaiah did in the first reading, as John the Baptist does in the Gospel – to prepare the way of the Lord... to Make straight his paths.
Because hearing a story like this, we can go to the usual commentators on the left and right who will all argue about financial stuff - point lots of fingers at one another: politicians, bankers, lenders... And we can go off angry that the other side is wrong and my side is right, as we storm off and line up at midnight for 70% off a HDTV or whatever it is – all the while we continue to ignorie the poor, the needy, the helpless, the sick, the sorrowing, the imprisoned.
Meanwhile, the scriptures remind us, very simply, that “GOD COMES.” That is the hope filled sentiment of Advent – not “God has come” not “God will come” – GOD COMES - here and now. In this time and space, through the hearts, the souls of His faithful people. Often times God comes to us in the ordinary, routine, everyday experiences and encounters of daily life. For Vinia, no doubt, as her family and the bank has fought and argued for years over this mess, there were opportunities God was inviting people to come to a reasonable resolution that were ignored. There were moments where God was trying to break through to people to come to their sanity that were not taken... Which led to the moment where this poor old woman about to be steamrolled out of her apartment.
Her last refuge was God. Who she put her complete faith and trust in. That God would come to her, and “save her.” But how sad is it that it had to have been in this dramatic, public way – through the non-actions of those ordered to fulfill their “duties” (which to me seem heroic considering the consequences they could be facing). That’s not how things are supposed to be. That’s probably not how Vinia expected her prayers to be answered, with her face, that sweet smile splattered on the nightly news.
But she knew that “God comes” - and that if He has to, as He did to Vinia in her moment of trial, He will reveal Himself in quite unpredictable ways. For you and I, who are blessed to be here - we know the fullness of these prophetic calls – that the hopeful dreams of the prophet Isaiah were realized beyond his imaginations in Christ. That John the Baptist’s knowledge of the Jesus being the “Lamb of God” was only a glimpse to the fullness of who Christ is, probably greater than he could have expected. We know that God has come to us, and remains with us... That’s why we’re here. We know that Jesus has come and stayed with us.
But as injustices continue, as the poor and hungry await relief, as the persecuted and suffering long for deliverance, in many ways God’s coming remains simply a promise, or a distant hope. And often times if we look at those situations objectively, there’s no reason it should be that way. His salvation, His redemption remains distant because what we’ve experienced and known to be true of Jesus Christ hasn’t become enrooted in our hearts and transformed our lives to make us the prophets and messengers to proclaim God’s word; we haven’t become the presence of Christ to bring His healing to those desperate for it.
He who has come, died and rose from the dead - is expecting us who wish to celebrate His birth at Christmas in a few weeks to “prepare His way,” to be His prophet: To proclaim with whatever talents and skills we possess His presence in the wastelands and barren places around us. To create a highway for His compassion and justice to enter and re-create our world so that the Vinia’s around us who are looking for signs that “God comes” isn’t just a promise, but a reality.