Thursday, December 25, 2014

Homily for Christmas 2014 - Jesus in the Box

Note: for all of the Christmas Masses this year, we used the Gospel from the Mass during the Day:  The beginning of the Gospel of John.

Is this Joy for everyone?  Remember your Christmas story – when the angels appeared to the shepherd in the field – what did they say?  “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for”…. For who?  For all the people who are Jewish?  For all the people who go to church every week and follow all the rules?  For all the people who are one specific religion?  Or maybe it’s like Santa Claus, and the Joy is only for all the ‘good’ boys and girls?  Nope… the angels simply said… I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.  Yeah – ALL the people. 

That means if you’re not Catholic, Even if you’re not Christian!!! This good news is meant for you!  That means if you only make it to church once or twice a year, this good news is meant for you too!

What is the good news?  Well – that’s why I wanted to use THIS Gospel reading from John, because it explains the very core of our beliefs… this is the very ESSENCE of the good news.  If you and I fully understand this reading, then we can claim for ourselves that Joy the angels proclaimed.  So let’s walk thru this reading a bit –

In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God.
Shoot – I could talk all day just about what that one line means.  First, hopefully you caught-on that the ‘Word’ is Jesus – he is the Divine Logos: the active word; the reason; the command of God sent into the world.  So it says ‘He was in the beginning’ – which means he was not created AFTER God.  It says in the beginning he was WITH God – which means he was also not created BEFORE God.  Right there, we learn that Jesus is ‘co-eternal’ with God the Father…they bost existing ‘in the beginning’.  And then it says the Word WAS God.  In this one sentence, John teaches us that Jesus is Godthe God – the alpha and omega – and in no way inferior to God the Father.  Right there – we see clearly two of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  He’ll get to the Holy Spirit later.  At the same time, this also tells us that there is only one God – and we might not catch that, if it weren’t for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who added the smallest little word into this reading and changed the whole meaning… they think it says ‘and the word was with God and the Word was A god’… see what a difference one little letter can make?  That would imply there are many gods and Jesus is just one of them.  But - Because the ‘a’ is not there, it’s clear to us that there is only ONE God.   See how deep this theology is?  And that’s just the first sentence!  We’ll move on…

Through him all things were made and without him nothing was made that has been made.
Because Jesus is the active Word of God, it is through Him that the world was created!  We often think of Jesus as the Redeemer… but He is also the Creator!  In fact, He is the source of Life itself….read on:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Jesus is the source of life –both in this world and the source of eternal life. 
Are you seeing how deeply important this reading is?!  I’m not gonna go line by line – just because it would take too long.  But one more line…. Skip down to:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
There it is…the goal of our lives…. Because Jesus came, we have been invited to become children of God.  Specifically – it says we have the ‘right’ or the ‘power’ to become children of God.  That means there’s something else has to happen…it’s not a done deal.  It IS a free gift – open to everyone – but you have to personally open that gift.  Have you opened that gift yet?

Let’s say you gave your best friend a sweater for Christmas.  You do it right – you even shear a sheep yourself – make the wool into yarn – then knit the sweater by hand.  It was perfect color and style for your friend.  You wrapped it and put a pretty bow on it and took it over to his house on Christmas Eve.  Your friend says – That’s a beautiful present – I love that bow – I hate to mess it up.  I’ll stick this present under the tree to open later…and you go upstairs to play x-box.
A year later, on Christmas eve, you go over to your friend’s house again – and – you think- that present there looks familiar to me… your friend explains – that’s the present you gave me last year!  The wrapping was so pretty, he couldn’t bring himself to unwrap it – so he put it in the attic with the Christmas tree and he just takes it out each year to look at it.  Isn’t it beautiful?

Silly isn’t it?  Who would receive a gift and never open it?  A sweater left in the box is wasted.  We would never do anything that silly would we?

One of our missionaries to Haiti had gone down numerous times to install a water filtration system at the school in town.  This was the first CLEAN water EVER to be available in the town.  This was a huge deal, because people are dying every day from water-borne illnesses.  He setup the program so that each student could take home two gallons of clean water with them each day for their family to use.  It was a brilliant plan and was bound to save many, many lives.

However, on a subsequent visit, he went to visit a lady on the outskirts of town.  Her youngest child was very sick and needed medication, so He was checking to see how he could help.  Turns out, the child had dysentery…  which comes from drinking bad water.  He was in disbelief!  How can this be?  There’s perfectly clean water available just down the road, and your child has the right to bring home two galloons every day….why did your daughter drink bad water?

She explained that the other children often forgot to take their jugs with them to school – or – stopped to play soccer on the way home and ended up spilling it.  After a while, they just quit even trying to get the clean water. 
His jaw dropped…. this life-saving gift which had been given to the village for EVERYONE…  it was their RIGHT!  They were now entitled to clean water.  But each person has to do something to claim this right before it becomes their own PERSONALLY. 

Just like a sweater left in the gift wrap – we could freeze to death because we never bothered to open the present and make the sweater our own. 

See where I’m going with this?  Here’s what it’s all about:  this good news of great joy really IS meant for EVERYONE.  No exceptions!  Jesus is God’s present to all of us.  BUT…if we don’t let Jesus out of this box… if we don’t let Jesus change us every day… then it is the same as never opening the present.  If all we do is look at the pretty Bible once in a while, we’ve left our true source of joy under the tree.  We’ve left Jesus – in the box.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

2014/12/14 – 3rd Sunday Advent – It this all there is?

Before Mass
Today is gaudete Sunday...  Any idea why we call it that??  Well pick up your missalette and turn to page 40.  Lets read the entrance antiphon together.  Rejoice!  In latin, it is Gaudete this right here is how this Sunday got its name.  Also, youll notice three of the four readings Tell us to REJOICE!  Pay particular attention to the psalm and the second reading.  In case you don't recognize it, the psalm is Mary's prayer when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.its call the Magnificat.  Powerful stuff.  And the letter from Paul gives us some advice which may sound like wishful thinking:  Rejoice Always!  Is that possible in this life?  Let's lift at question up in prayer during today's Mass and see if applies to our own life.
Homily 3rd Sunday Advent 2014 It this all there is?
This may sound corny or cliché, but I want you to think back to Christmas as a child.  Now immediately, we usually think of the gifts and the lights and Santa and Midnight Mass and all the magic in the air because thats what Christmas is supposedto be like.  But I want you to think just a couple of years AFTER that time.  That one Christmas when after all the gifts were opened you felt well empty.  Is that all there is?  Is this what all the hype was about? 
That year, somebody asked you, Did you get what you wanted for Christmas?  And you thought well – “No.  Im not really sure what I wanted, but obviously I didnt get it, because I just feel like something is missing.  Is that all there is?
For many of us, THAT Christmas was the first time we had the feeling that Life is not all about feeling good and doing whatever we want and getting everything we want.  In fact, many of us Id even venture to say MOST of us have learned THAT lesson all too well.  Weve learned that this life is one struggle after another.  From the first time we skinned our knee by falling off our bike to the first time we failed a test in school.... Thru the car trouble we had recently...through all of lifes challenges:  failed relationships, unfaithful spouses, addictions, wrecks, kids and family members getting sick and dying.  Yeahwe learn THAT lesson over and over.  Life is full of pain.  And if thats really all that life is about, we'd always be thinking is this all there is?
You may think Im off in the weeds with all this depressing talk on Guadete Sunday when were told to REJOICE!  Thing is, many of us dont FEEL like rejoicing.  Life has dealt us a bad hand, and theres just nothing worth getting excited about.  All this Christmas talk is just another reason to be depressed, because it only serves to remind us of who is no longer with us and the things that we DIDNT get for Christmas.  Is this all there is?
But there IS reason to rejoice here. In that second reading, Paul says, Rejoice Always.   In all circumstances give thanks.  Really?  Is that even possible?
About 20 years ago, I was given this book Prison to Praise. 20 yearsbut its message has stuck with me.  The message is the same as Pauls reading today:  'In all circumstances give thanks.'  I remember story after story of how this guy turned his life around completely by learning to thank God not just for the Blessings but for the worst things in his life.  Did you catch that?  He even thanked God for his life of crime that led him to be stuck in prison where he learned about God for the first time.  He learned that lesson the hard way, and his life took a 180 degree turnand then helped many other people experience that same joy by thanking God for EVERYthing.  Can you imagine thanking God for your spouses addiction to alcohol?  Thanking God that your teenager is rebellious and wont listen?  Thanking God that your family member got sick?  Thanking God for the cancer?
I remember reading this and thinking this is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo  Some sort of Pollyanna psychology which just says if you "think" everything is great, then it will be great!    Honestly, I didnt like the book the first time I read it.
But the message kept coming back to me.  Thank God for EVERYthing.  So I tried it first in small things.  God thank you for putting this slowpoke in front of me to slow me down on the highway.  Apparently, you want me to learn patience or maybe youre keeping me from hitting a deer up ahead.  Thank you for that tough test in schoolas painful as it was, I know it is teaching me how to handle tough situationsand to prepare myself better for lifes tests...and maybe teaching me not to waste time.
After maybe a year, I read it again and this time took the message to heart.  Ill admit, there are things about the book I still didnt like but the basic message felt right to me, and the truth of it is being revealed more and more in my own life.
I can thank God that my Mom got sick and was near death, because it shook me from my complacency of thinking shell always be around and now I consciously make time to spend with her because I know time is precious.
See how it works?  If you and I can start by thanking God - even for the bad stuff-  the Spirit can lead us to recognize the impactto see the good that God is bringing about through that trial were experiencing.  Usually, we won't see the good until the trial is just a memory.  Looking in hindsight, we see God's hand.  Here's the key though...If you and I practice this attitude over and over, it becomes part of who we are.  Eventually, we develop enough trust in God that even though we can't FEEL God's hand on our shoulder, we trust that in time he will turn the situation to accomplish His will.
Now Im not gonna say life gets any easier!  Things still happen which will make us say Why?  It doesnt make sense, God!  How can I thank you for THIS?  How do you expect me to rejoice about THIS!  Seriously, there are things we will never understand this side of heaven. 
But oh to have the faith of the young virgin who found out she was having a baby.  Her life was over... She was destined for a life of pain.  Yet, in today's psalm, we hear her Magnificat....the ultimate example of how we can respond to every trial:  "My spirit rejoices in God, my savior".