Sunday, December 20, 2015

HOMILY – 4th Sunday in Advent (Year C) 2015

I took to heart Fr. John’s words at the beginning of this Advent, but too quickly I found myself too often grumpy, stressed and overwhelmed with the lead-up to Christmas – I became the “bah hambag” Fr. John warned against. While not quite 100% Ebinizer Scrooge, the season of busyness quickly left me not eagerly, vigilantly focused on the coming of our Lord. So, I am already planning for next year – I am thinking maybe a full, four week sabbatical for Advent will keep that from the same thing happening next year. Fr. John is hearing this for the first time, so I will wait to receive his blessing after Mass; and I have not yet run this by my wife, who may have some “reservations” with a four week sabbatical in December! Truth be told, I think that I would probably end up as stressed and overstretched regardless of where I was or what I did. Nonetheless, my prayer this Advent has led me to be maybe a little less grumpy, a little less stressed, and a little less anxious this Advent than prior years. And I attribute this to a growing/greater trust in God: a trust in God’s plan for me; a trust in God’s help; a trust in God’s care for me; a trust in God’s love. When I have found that I can place my trust in God more, I truly experience God’s help – his grace, and his care, his love. This is not to say that all my worries go away, that things will instantly be simple, easy or neat – there will still be challenge, difficulty and confusion and uncertainty at times. But when I put my trust in God I am less anxious, less stressed and less grumpy. Today’s readings exemplify and even inspire such trust. Certainly, the two women in today’s Gospel – Elizabeth and Mary – faced great challenges and showed incredible faith and trust in God. Elizabeth - advanced in years, with no children, thought to be barren, was pregnant. She trusted in God. She trust in his plan for her, which included some hardship – as a mother of advanced years – and God flooded her with his love and care for her and her family, like sending a cousin to help her. Which brings us to Mary – engaged to Joseph, but not married and now pregnant. She was asked to assume a great risk; she could have been rejected by Joseph, by her family, and her community – and she also faced great embarrassment and shame. She nonetheless believed and trusted in God and God cared for her by ensuring that she would have the support of her family and husband to do the extra-ordinary. Today’s first reading serves in one sense to foreshadow Christ being born in Bethlehem; it is Jesus Christ who as we read “shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD…his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.” This is who we celebrate being born on Christmas Day and who we eagerly await his return to defeat evil and sin in the world and to restore all thing to God the Father once and for all. This Christmas, we celebrate our Creator, who so loves us, that he sent his Son to teach us how to love and restore us in the love relationship we were made to know and enjoy eternally. We celebrate Jesus born on Christmas Day whose love for us is modeled in his obedience to – doing the will of (as the Second Reading reminds us) – the Father. Truly reason to rejoice and worthy of waiting for. It is also the message of the prophet Micah in today’s first reading that should inspire trust in God. While there is some scholarly debate whether Micah lived during the period of the Assyrian threat to Judah or during the Babylonian exile – both were difficult and trying times for the Israelites – and so his message was one of hope: hope that can only come when one has trust in God’s plan; a trust in God’s help; a trust in God’s care; a trust in God’s love. Today’s Psalm Response is then a wonderful Advent prayer: Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved. We do need to be saved from our sin that leaves us bah hambag. We need Christ. We need to turn to Christ, with his help, and see and experience his love, his mercy, his peace. We need to know his love so that we can grow deeper in trust with him. We know this from our own human experiences and it also true in our relationship with God. Going back to the Gospel – there is great power in a greeting, right? As we read in the Gospel: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” As you prepare for Christmas – just a couple of days away - consider how you greet others and the effect that your greeting has on them. Is your greeting towards loved ones and even strangers kind and charitable, one that would invoke joy in others (and even cause infants to leap in their mother’s wombs)? Is your greeting one that someone would immediately recognize that your are blessed by God for your trust in him? Even if you are burdened with stress or worry or pain, is greeting to those you meet filled with a joy that comes only from a trust and confidence in our God who will care for you, will love you, and will do whatever you need to be in relationship with him – even to send his only Son to be born of a woman in Bethlehem and to suffer and die so that we might have joy and peace. May God bless you this Christmas and may your greeting to others be full of hope, joy and peace that comes from a great trust in God.