MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Here is my homily for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord, December 25, 2012 . The readings come from “The Mass during the Day” - http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122512-mass-during-the-day.cfm . Thanks for your sharing the blog post and all your feedback and comments.
My prayers and best wishes to you and yours for a Blessed Christmas.
“Who are the Mayans anyway?” That was a question I posed to one college student who was joining in with a bunch of his friends, discussing the widely spread “theory” that this past Friday – December 21st 2012 was going to be the end of the world. People (I don’t know exactly who these people are since I can’t say I was overly interested in their theory . . . but I digress), people had based this theory on interpretations that a calendar, from an ancient group of people, had come to its final day and, therefore, was predicting this “final fate.”
It kind of surprised me how little these guys knew about who the Mayans were. Not to give credence to old stereotypes, but I must admit, they are members of a fraternity that I advise, so perhaps this wasn’t the best pool of people to interview. But most of them didn’t know where the Mayans were from, or anything of significance about the people, the culture, the beliefs of the Mayans in general. But, somehow, the message that Dec. 21 was going to be the end of the world did get to them. They knew about that . . .
Some of them simply mocked it - here we go, another wacky prediction that won’t come true! Some joked about it . . . One guy said, “I’m asking for an extension on my term papers and not going to start working on till I see if we’re still here on December 22nd” – wonder how that worked out for him. While none of these guys took it seriously, there were some who did. Some people lived in great fear or anxiety over this speculation that this was going to be the end of the world. Reporters showed people from all across the world visiting Mayan temples (or if they couldn’t afford the airfare to Mexico, they found themselves at other ancient ruins, like a group of people in France who flocked to some mountainous site). Others were anxiously trying to imagine ways to “save themselves” and built bunkers for themselves and their families that would protect them from this history-ending event, complete with stockpiles of supplies and food (how a bunker would somehow protect you if the entire world is “ending” -don’t ask me). It was obvious that some people heard this message and responded in fear to the news.
Which is why these predictions of the end of the world always annoy me. They take a reality of something and twist it in such a way that simply brings about fear for some that ultimately leaves them feeling humiliated, embarrassed and thinking they can’t trust anyone. Often times these “predictions” are based on a mis-interpretations of people’s beliefs (for example, some speculate that the Mayans weren’t predicting the end of the world. They had simply made a “calendar” and this past Dec 21, 2012 would be like Dec 31 on our yearly calendar. They would start a new calendar on Dec 22, 2012 . . . it was simply an “end of an era,” not the end of a world)
What’s worse is when these predictions arise from people with ulterior and somewhat malicious motives. Some leader will preach things in such a way, twisting scriptures and playing on people’s fears to gain followers (like a couple of ministers have done over the last decade or so). When these predictions pass by without being actualized, the rest of the world that didn’t get swayed by the doomsayers often laugh at it, mock it, ridicule it and dismiss it as foolishness.
But the thing is, while this mis-interpretation of the Mayans, or other doomsday predictions, have been proven false time and time again, we’d be foolish to laugh, to mock, to ridicule, to dismiss the reality that there will be an end time. There will be an end of the world. We just don’t know which will come first – the ending for us personally at death or collectively for human history.
Falalalala... I know.
But seriously, the reason these theories gain traction, fascination and attention is that on some level, even the most dismissive and irreligious person knows this truth. The question is – What do we do with that reality, though? How do we deal with it?
Do we try to live in ignorance of this reality? Hoping that if we just pretend it’s not going to happen, it won’t? Some people attempt to do that. But that fades pretty quickly in the face of examples of horrific evil in our midst. Just hearing the words Newton, Connecticut, and remembering the people who’ve suffered unimaginable horrors shatters, whatever blissful ignorance people try to hide behind. We know all too well the reality that death does indeed exist with terrifying, demonstrative ways. Even outside of such horrific examples, we can’t ignore at our own tables this Christmas that there will be someone who’s not at table with us that was at an earlier time. So trying to ignore this reality doesn’t seem to be a really effective option, despite how many of us try it.
Do we live in fear?
Buying into one far-fetched theory after another. . . anxiously moving through life expecting the worst to happen? It’s obvious that a lot of people do this, as well. Which is why, more than likely, a year or so from now, memories of Mayans will disappear as someone new will emerge with new evidence pointing to a new approaching end date. And a group of people will invest a lot of time, energy, attention into whatever scenario that is. Just take a glance on television, right now there’s another reality show that highlights people consumed by this fear. I think it’s called “Doomsday Preppers,” or something like that (on second thought, don’t check that out).
We come together today and celebrate a third option. An option that doesn’t dismiss harsh realities, in fact, one that confronts them head on. An option that doesn’t stoke fear, but gives birth to Hope. The Gospel that we just heard doesn’t recount the beautiful nativity story of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus in a manger. But rather comes from the Gospel of John who proclaims the reason for Christmas with these hope-filled words:
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
God looks at the brokenness that human beings experience . . .
Brokenness as a result of sin, and bad choices . . .
Brokenness that causes us to hurt ourselves, hurt those around us.
Brokenness that causes us to experience things like sickness, poverty, injustice, death.
Brokenness that makes the darkness seem very real - almost too real - that we can even forget there’s light.
Brokenness that wasn’t a part of His original plan.
Brokenness He promised to save us from by entering into a covenant with by offering us 10 commandments to living in relationship with Him, a way to live in “the light.”
Brokenness that he kept trying to save humanity from by sending prophets as messengers of hope and correction when human beings kept straying from those 10 commandments . . .
Brokenness that could only ultimately be healed by Him becoming one of us.
Entering into this mess, entering into the darkness of our world, the darkness of our lives in order to conquer it for all eternity. But in order for us to experience the healing of this brokenness, personally, we can’t treat Christmas as the birth of some super man who is born fix everything. If we want to experience the healing, then we have to know, then we have to love Jesus, personally. That’s what the Gospel is getting at when John says
To those who did accept him
He gave power to become children of God.
Jesus Christ the Word became flesh [who] made his dwelling among us – God comes among us as one of us – but are we open to seeing Him in our midst? Jesus comes as the fulfillment and answer to that brokenness that is still all too present in our midst – will we accept Him? Because it’s only in our seeing Him, accepting Him that the eyes of faith are able to move away from the darkness, as we behold His glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.
Somewhat buried in the hype last week about an impending Mayan Apocalypse, one reporter interviewed people of Mayan descent. They shared that a vast majority of modern day Mayans have become Roman Catholic and, as such, were completely dismissive of the spectacle that people were making of their “ancestors prediction.” One woman simply said, “Only God knows . . .”
Would that all who followed the hysteria – who were swept into fascination, consumed by fear of the dreaded December deadline, would take these words to heart: 'Only God knows'
- only God knows the depth of our suffering, our aloneness, our, at times, 'quiet desperation'
- only He hears our whispered midnight prayers, not just here in this holy place, on this Holy Night [day], but in the darkness of our own rooms, and of our own hearts.
Only He can know the pain we suffer - either by our own doing, or as a result of evil around us - and only He can save us from our own, personal imprisonment and lead us into the world of Light, the Light of His only begotten Son, a Light that (to borrow from an older translation), shines in the darkness, and the darkness grasps it not.
Only God can keep us out of the grasp of evil - the evil in our world, and the evil that, at times, we are tempted to do, in the secrecy of our own hearts. Whether our world ends in a day, a week, or 80 years from tonight [today], may we always live with that Light within us, shining for all to see. Let us walk out of this church tonight [today] and into the new year we have been given as if it literally were a 'grace period,' a bonus, a second-chance to enter into (or re-enter into) a loving relationship with God, and the Son He sent into our world.
Then , and only then, will we truly will have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Happy New Year
'What should we do?'
This week, while reflecting on this Gospel, I felt drawn to that question that we hear asked three times of John the Baptist, by three different people in this Gospel. Then came Friday. At first, hearing the reports of a school shooting, I couldn’t even listen to it on the radio . . . Especially as the true horror of it was being transmitted almost simultaneously with the tragedy itself – little kids, boys and girls, 6-10 years old . . . their teacher, their principal . . . All horrifically killed. I turned off the radio, hoping it was just a nightmare that would disappear, which, sadly it did not.
'What should we do?'
There comes a point where random massacres don't seem to even shock us anymore. A mass murder at a mall, at a movie theater – they’ve become tragic occurrences that we talk about, about how badly we feel when these things happen - like we would if a hurricane or tornado visits a town and upends it without any warning. And that’s it. A part of life. For too many of us, as the news closes with images from memorial sites and funerals for the victims of this tragedy or that tragedy, we wipe our tears and move along too quickly. We’ve gotten to a point of almost accepting these acts of evil and violence.
But you could feel it, all day Friday. That this time, where all these innocent ones were all simply doing what they should be doing - sitting in their kindergarten class, using safety scissors, coloring - that, this time, there is no acceptance . . . There is only shock. Disbelief.
'What should we do?'
There’s already been a variety of predictable initial answers to that question:
- Argue over gun control: One side arguing to get rid of every single gun, the other wanting every person trained to carry their own.
- Debate the affects of graphic violence in television, movies, media, video games: People not just wanting to see scary movies anymore, but wanting sick depravity - and,perhaps, a chance to play along as well.
- Ponder how our overly-saturated-social-network-connected world has dehumanized people, rendering them as faceless, nameless entities, lacking empathy and sensitivity for one another
Within just a couple hours of Friday’s brutality, these sorts of things started to be said as we tried to wrap our minds around such evil in our midst. And there’s a part of that which is understandable. It makes us feel some sort of control in the face of helplessness and chaos.
But, at the same time, it contributes to the acceptance of evil in our midst. Which is what we’re dealing with here. And the more we try to label it or put it solely into a category of a sociological, psychological thing that we have to study and explore – the more experts we have come in explaining that if we do this (fill-in-the-blank to your own, personal agenda) - the more we end up addressing symptoms, we more we continue to dodge the bigger issue – the acceptance of evil in our midst.
Which is why we can relate to the question asked of John the Baptist – the question that sums it all up perfectly:
'What should we do?'
Just like the people who first asked that, we recognize something’s not right. Something is very, very off. Just like the people who first asked that - we see horrible things that are classified as “the new normal” - and we feel powerless, collectively, to stop them from becoming such.
'What should we do?'
John the Baptist continues to proclaim good news that God comes to His people. It’s understandable that, after Friday, that doesn’t seem possible to us, right now. As a knee jerk response, some might even blame God for letting this happen - or express the hope that when God does come again He will exact justice for this and all the other brutalities of humanity (or, should I say, of inhumanity?). But, again, those are distractions. John is announcing that God comes to His people. John, as the forrerunner to Jesus Christ, doesn’t allow us to get away with blaming this new normal on a collective “we”; shrugging our shoulders at the accepted evil; and, shirking our own responsibility, blame the Blameless, blame God for man's iniquity.
'What should we do?'
We can’t get distracted by the devil trying to give us a new theory, or new excuse, for such horror. We have to be clear and keep it simple, identifying that this was an evil.
'What should we do?'
Well, for starters, stop looking for scapegoats. We stop looking for someone else to blame, or someone else to “fix” things. It’s up to each and every one of us . . . Each and every one of us has to find that place within us that is sickened, troubled, disturbed, angry – whatever the emotion you initially felt on Friday – we need to see this brokenness inside us and recognize that we, as individuals, need to do something. And that something can begin with us investing ourselves with wanting to change the “new normal.”
'What should we do?'
John gives it to us simply: Live according to God’s commands - share what we have with those who have nothing - don’t abuse, don’t take advantage of others. Live in the ways that God expects us to live. Break out of the routines, patterns and bad habits of the world – and then we begin to make space for the Holy Spirit to enter in, then we can begin to experience what it means to be saved by the God who created us - who loves us and desires our ultimate happiness - Who wishes for our happiness and our salvation even more than we do.
May you and I have the resolve to actively do what we should, in our own world, in our own lives, in order to welcome Jesus Christ into our midst this Christmas . . . and in the meantime, pray for God’s mercy and healing for ever accepting, or tolerating, or even contributing to evil growing this comfortable, this bold, this brazen in our midst that such a horror could ever have occurred.
It was fourth grade. I was in Gym class and we were playing baseball. Our teacher, Mr. Hanson, picked two kids - Frankie and John, both of whom were Little League All Stars - to be the 'coaches' and asked them to pick, from the rest of the class, the members of their teams (I’m sure this scenario isn't unique just to those of us that went to Frank K. Hehnly Elementary School); and, so, you can imagine, the drama began.
Of all the people that were 'chosen' to make up teams, the real drama was for two groups of people: those who were picked first - and for those who were picked last. For the 'coach', this selection process is important - does he go with friendship and pick one of his closest, best friends? Or will his competitive nature win out, with him picking one of the best, fastest or all-around top athletes, regardless of friendship or loyalty?
In the cut-throat world of elementary sports, those two moguls of the sports world went with the best. Frankie picked Joe - probably one of the best Little League pitchers - and John, well, he went with Tom, who even in 4th grade was a huge kid who could connect for some monster hits (now that I think about him, I wonder where he is right now). As the baseball draft continued, the anxiety level rose. My anxiety level rose. Standing on that gymnasium floor, watching as each pick was being made, after a little while I stopped hoping I'd be on the team with the most number of my friends on it and simply had one hope, one wish – that I wouldn't be the last person picked.
Now, being chubby, out of shape and painfully un-athletic (oh, my brothers could tell you stories - painfully embarrassing, but highly entertaining stories about how un-athletic I was - for example, one time I did sit down in the outfield and start picking grass), THE POINT IS I can look back now and, reasonably, I really shouldn’t be surprised that I was the last kid to be picked. 29 years later and after some therapy, those wounds have healed - I have made peace with that, and in fact, I can even understand it.
If you want to win, if you want to be the best; you look for the best; you pick the best. And so as all line-up picks go - you start with those who would seem to be the All-Stars, the future Hall-of-Famers. As you finish making your selections, you try to limit your damages as best you can when you’re looking at the last person anyone would pick.
Today’s Gospel is interesting because it seems to turn this playground principle on its head - we see the reverse of that happening here. God has something important to tell the entire world. Something, no rather, Someone big is coming. Remember this is way before Twitter, Facebook or the internet.
So, how is God going to get His message out? In the passage we hear from St. Luke today, it begins by recounting a couple of names that will be familiar (or rather infamous) - Pilate, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas. Yeah - those guys - the same ones who will figure prominently in Jesus’ passion and death.
Knowing the story as we do, it's understandable that they might not be high on our list of favorites. But if you’re God and you've got something, Someone important to share you have very important information that you want to get out to the greatest number of people - we can’t just dismiss these people. Because these were the political and religious leaders of their day.
They commanded power, and had authority over their people. They wielded major influence. It might have been a difficult decision, which one to choose – the religious or the political leader? But, again, this is God, so couldn’t He use both? In any event, one of these leaders (or a combination of them) would seem to be a logical choice, would seem to make the most sense.
Yet, Luke paints this scene where we hear that of all those who might have been considered the best 'players' to chose, the best options for success were ignored and, instead, Luke says very beautifully that the word of God came to John . . . in the desert. Definitely the last place you would think of to broadcast a message of universal and eternal importance. Surprisingly, the word of God came to the last person anyone would pick, Zechariah's loony son, living off of locusts and honey in the boondocks.
God seemed to know what he was doing (surprised?). All those other leaders, who knows, maybe they would have tried to use God to advance their own agendas. Maybe God had tried, but found they were too preoccupied with themselves, and with what they thought was essential, to busy themselves with Him.
John had nothing. And, because of that, John proved to be a perfect messenger announcing the coming of Jesus to a world that desperately needed Him then (desperately needs Him now) a world waiting for its own salvation, but not prepared to receive it. John, despite his lack of power, authority, position or influence, despite his austere surroundings, He was open to the Word of God. He received it and was consumed by it to the point that he would spend the rest of his life bearing witness to the fact that GOD IS COMING TO HIS PEOPLE, and telling anyone and everyone who would hear him, PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD.
Luke's story is more than just a retelling of a historical episode. The Word of God is still alive. The Word of God is still active. The Word of God is coming to us right here, right now looking for us to announce to a world that desperately needs him, that Jesus Christ still comes to us. The Word of God comes to us to proclaim to the world to PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD. And as I say those words, I can already see people putting up walls; “Yeah, not to me,” “Oh, I hope he’s not talking to me,” “Does this mean I’m going to have to join a committee or something?” or even things like, “I’m not worthy,” “I’m not holy enough,” “There are other people who are better qualified, better speakers, better people," "God certainly doesn't want me."
John the Baptist shakes us up and tells us to GET OVER OURSELVES. Our sins are not that original (and definitely not unforgivable - John’s cousin Jesus will prove that). What is more important? What could we be too busy doing that this call isn’t consuming us, like it consumed John?
Valleys can be filled in, mountains can be leveled at the command of The Word of God - nothing can stop His coming to us - except ourselves - our being closed to His word. our being closed to His Action and His Love, here and now.
The Word of God came to John. The Word of God is coming to me and to you, for a reason. Can we stop looking at our faults, at our imperfections, at our 'unworthiness' and, instead, see our value in the Eyes of God? Can we stop seeing ourselves as 'the last person that anyone would pick'?
Facebook has this thing called a “news feed” which has this constant stream of articles, statuses, posts that runs on the right side of the computer screen... For someone like me who’s very easily distracted it’s one of the worst additions they’ve made to the site. And yes, I know, you can disable it... but now I’m kind of addicted to it and can’t bring myself to getting rid of it, although I probably should. But I was grateful for the news feed on Tuesday night. That time, this picture flipped by that had caught my attention that I had shared it myself. It was of a New York City Police Officer, and there he was squatting down next to a homeless man sitting on the street with his bare feet and legs exposed. There was a short description of the picture provided by the individuals who caught it with their smart phone: Jennifer Foster of Florence, AZ was visiting Times Square with her husband Nov. 14 when they saw a shoeless man asking for change. She writes, “Right when I was about to approach, one of your officers came up behind him. The officer said, ‘I have these size 12 boots for you, they are all-weather. Let’s put them on and take care of you.’ The officer squatted down on the ground and proceeded to put socks and the new boots on this man. The officer expected NOTHING in return and did not know I was watching. I have been in law enforcement for 17 years. I was never so impressed in my life. I did not get the officer’s name.
The story went viral for several days online to the point that within two days over a million people had seen and shared the story on facebook. At that, the curiosity of the press to verify if this was indeed a true story, and even more who was the anonymous police officer who did this generous act got their attention. By late Thursday night they had confirmed that the encounter was completely authentic. Police Officer Lawrence DePrimo had been working a counter-terrorism patrol on 44th Street and Broadway. It was a bone chilling 20 degrees when the officer happened to observe some people laughing and joking at this poor man who had no socks or shoes on. The police officer went up to him and asked “where’s your shoes?” and the poor man said “it’s okay Officer, I never had a pair of shoes.” At that, Officer DePrimo went into a shoe store a couple doors down, said “I want to buy a pair of socks and boots - something that’s going to last awhile.” He put out $75 of his own money purchased them - went outside, knelt down and put them on him as the homeless man... The guy was overwhelmed by the unexpected act of kindness and generosity which made him smile ear to ear. The officer helped the man stand up, and invited him to have some coffee to get something to eat - which the man simply said “God Bless You - Be safe... I love the police.”
Officer DePrimo didn’t even notice that the entire episode had been captured by the tourist on their iPhone... that it had been shared two weeks later on Facebook and then becoming an internet sensation. And there’s a part of him that wishes his actions had remained anonymous. As he was being interviewed about this story on Friday, I hated to disagree with this hero as with all humility he contends that “he was just doing his job as a police officer.” Because while its true police departments look for men and women of good solid moral character, I’m doubtful that part of a persons training to become a cop includes noticing a homeless person on the street; there certainly isn’t an expectation that you would take your own money and buy that person a pair of socks and boots, help him to put them on and then go back to patrolling the streets.
But for us as Christians - that is essential to our “job”, our duty, our responsibility in being a follower, a disciple of Jesus Christ. Which is why the timing of the story is perfect as we begin this four week season of Advent. In these weeks, the Church focuses on the words: COME LORD JESUS. It won’t be until the days before Christmas that we will reflecting on the historic, first coming of Jesus into the world in a manger in Bethlehem. These earlier weeks of Advent causes us to reflect on the reality that we are people waiting for the end of the world, the end of all time, as well as the end of our individual lives (whichever comes first). Rather than live in fear of that or anxiety over that, that’s meant to make us long for Christ, to desire Christ and Him alone. In that the Advent them becomes words of prayerful longing– COME LORD JESUS . That’s what this Gospel is talking about. That especially when we see frightening things that cause us fear, cause us doubt, cause us anxiety... Jesus tells us to be steadfast in our faith “STAND ERECT - RAISE YOUR HEADS.” So in that experience, that prophetic declaration becomes a call, a hope filled prayer from the hearts of his disciples: COME LORD JESUS!
But there’s a third dimension that this Gospel uncovers for us that is very much at the center of the season of Advent which is meant to be a refresher or a reminder for us. Which is in recognizing how the LORD JESUS has already COME into our lives here and now. We hear His word as these readings are being proclaimed anew to us here and now. We receive His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist - where we are to invite the Lord Jesus to come into our hearts, into our lives physically & spiritually and to stay there. Those realities ought to make us look at this Gospel with a greater sense of urgency.
In this Gospel, Jesus says to “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy... and to be vigilant at all times.” How do we do that? By living selflessly, generously, lovingly always... at all times. So often we can lose sight of that on a daily basis. Yes, when Hurricane Sandy devastates our community, people respond incredibly generously to the crisis. Or with the Christmas season approaching (no despite the insanity of Black Friday or Black Thanksgiving it’s not here yet) - people will participate in Toys for Tots, Giving Trees, giving donations to charity - which are all good things to do... But acts of selflessness and love are to be apart of our daily lives, our daily routines. That is what makes Officer DePrimo such a great example. Even though he’s become this celebrity for the moment (thankfully the media has someone else to fixate on rather than Lindsay Lohan) what was remarkable was what was captured seemed so unremarkable, so routine to the Officer DePrimo.
We too are called to live us people who know the LORD JESUS COMES to us here and now...With that knowledge, we are to attune our eyes, our ears, our hearts to the everyday opportunities that present themselves where we bring the LORD JESUS into the lives of those who are longing for His COMing right now. Who is it in our workplaces that we can see are struggling (but we dare not ask) - who is it in our dorms, our classes that we see look sad or stressed or are alone – who is it in our lives that is longing for someone to bring to life the care, the presence, the love they desire that can only be found when the LORD JESUS COMES?