THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C – December 16, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah 3:14-18
A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians 4:4-7
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 3:1-18

 

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

Often the Prophet’s message stands in defiance of the reality that surrounds the people.  Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!  Sing joyfully, O Israel!  Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!  Those being addressed just might have felt like say, “Would you mind telling us why?  What is there to rejoice about?”

Prophets see beyond the immediate to fulfillment of the promise, God’s promise.  The southern kingdom, Judah, was in shambles when Zephaniah prophesied.  Many of the Jews no longer practiced their faith and were living in fear of the Assyrians who might conquer and destroy them.  Shout for joy?  Rejoice?  How could they in the face of their woes?

Zephaniah actually is calling the Israelites to repentance, to a focused return to the Covenant and to the ways of YHWH.  When they do, they will know YHWH’s constant love for them, a love that never wavers.  They will rediscover their strength as a people.  They will have nothing to fear from the Assyrians.

When Israel was unfaithful, Israel weakened.  When Israel lived by the love covenant, Israel was strong.  They now remember their God is a mighty savior.

Does Zephaniah prophesy to our times and us as we sit beneath this reading on the Third Sunday of Advent?  For sure.  For many, these times are anxious.  Horrors abound.  The horrors of war and the slaughter of innocent lives.  Children starve to death as parents watch helplessly.  People flee terror in their homeland and seek asylum in a land of promise only to be tear-gassed and turned away, only to have their children separated from them, left to wonder if they will ever be reunited.  Has God forsaken us?  As we hear the call to our ongoing conversion, we also hear that the Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty savior!  Our God loves.

Now listen to Paul as he preaches a similar message to the Philippians and to us.  Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again, rejoice!  Perhaps the word “always” should be in bold face.  The implication is that people of faith ought to rejoice not only when everything is going right, but even when things are not.  Always means rejoicing when all else is failing.  Remember the wedding vows?  The couple promises to love for better, or for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, until death.  That is what Paul urges the Philippians and us on the journey of faith in Christ.

The Philippians were Paul’s converts.  They had come to think that Christ’s Second Coming would be in their lifetime.  Now that some of their number are dying, the temptation is to doubt the whole message and its promise.  That is why Paul reminds them and us that there will be a second coming of Christ at the end of time, but we live in Christ’s presence now.  That is true in every circumstance, even if the worst should happen.  Rejoice in the Lord always.  How does that rejoicing translate?  The call is to live as a different kind of people whose every action reflects the love of Christ.  If they (we) do that, people will be amazed by the kindness and the generosity that reach out to strangers, aliens, and refugees.  They will be stunned by the love that compels forgiveness and seeks reconciliation.  They will wonder how people can be so joyful and thoughtful and supportive and every other sign that proclaims the one family of God.

A dominant proclamation of this people is: All are welcome at this table, as we imitate Jesus’ table fellowship.  Welcomed strangers just might seek to be one with the source of that strength they witnessed.  That might explain why the church thrives in times of persecution.  The pagan Romans, witnessing the martyrdoms of early Christians, are said to have remarked, See how these Christians love one another.  The love was compelling.  So will it be in our times.

We need to be reminded of the Church’s Social Gospel that speaks to our responsibility for the poor among us.  The “haves” have a responsibility for the “have-nots.”  Those with two cloaks should share with those who have none.  The First World Countries have a responsibility for the Developing Nations.  The challenge is to recognize that we are all, regardless of race, or ethnicity, or country of origin, we are all part of the one family of God.  We see that unity in Christ.  It is not limited only to those who are Christian.  Those who would love as Christ loves must love all, the way God does in Christ. Make no mistake, John the Baptizer’s call to conversion is demanding.  If the tax collector does what John suggest, he will be forfeiting the major portion of his income.  The entire prescribed amount had to be turned over to the authorities.

Who would fear the soldiers if they stopped extorting and threatening and were satisfied with their wages?

In this Advent season, each of us has the opportunity to examine our lives to see how we give evidence of living in Christ.  If we are selfish, the call is to generosity.  If we are prone to anger, the call is to make peace.  If we are gossips, or given to backbiting, we must commit ourselves to voicing only what builds up and edifies.  Do not be afraid to look in the mirror.  The Spirit that Christ pours out on us can strengthen us to make whatever changes we must, if we are willing to let go and let God.

Do you notice how contrary John’s call is to the accepted values of our times?  

Here is something you might not think about.  Advent people have a responsibility to take care of themselves, too.  Live healthy lives.  Avoid those things that compromise your health.  Are you eating too much?  Are you eating the wrong kinds of foods?  Are you drinking too much alcohol?  What about smoking tobacco?  Are you misusing prescription drugs?  Are you getting good exercise?  Pay attention to problem areas and do something about them.  This is part of being an Advent person and will help you to rejoice always.

A final caution: Are you a caregiver?  In today’s society, many have responsibility for elderly parents, a beloved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or someone who is seriously disabled.  As a caregiver, you respond generously to Christ’s command to love one another as Christ loves.  But please have someone watch out for you, someone who can alert you should you be giving of yourself to the point of burnout.  It is alarming how many caregivers break their own health or precede their loved one in death.

Lastly, the spirit of Advent ought to dictate the kind of community we are as Church.  As the Assembly, we come together rejoicing as one people, fully, actively, and consciously celebrating our faith when we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The joy should be palpable.  The message proclaimed should be substantial.  The dominant theme should not be judgmental.  No one needs an invitation to a guilt trip.  Jesus practiced table fellowship with the marginalized of several categories – lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners in general.  I doubt that once they were reclining at his table, Jesus spent the evening telling them how precariously close they were to the fires of Hades.  Jesus loved them as they were.  And that love could transform.

That is our responsibility as Church, as the People of God, now.  We do not judge.  We do not exclude or shun.  We accept and love – the way Jesus does.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus

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THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C – December 09, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Baruch 5:1-9
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 3:1-6

 

Dear Reader,

If possible, read this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word before we being our sharing.

A prophet is one anointed by God to announce to the people a message God wants them to hear.  While foretelling is a part of the prophet’s task, more important is the prophet’s role as the one to encourage the people, to support their faith, and to give them reason to hope. Ultimately the prophet calls the people to conversion, to the restoration of faith, and to take up again their vocation to act as YHWH’s chosen ones.  Often there is nothing to support the prophet’s message, nothing in the people’s situation that would give evidence that the prophet’s proclamation will come to fruition.  Notice also that the prophetic message is for the people as a whole, and not for the individual, other than to support the individual’s response as part of that people.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent speak to the church as the people of God of which you and I are members.  They call us all to renewal as we await the fulfillment of the promised kingdom.

Imagine the situation of the Jews during the Babylonian captivity.  Jerusalem lies in ruins.  The Temple is destroyed.  Many of the people had been led off as slaves.  Others had been scattered afar into the Gentile countries.  Some had forsaken YHWH and gone after Baal and taken up pagan practices.  The circumstances are dire.  Nothing indicates that the present conditions will ever change.

Baruch’s prophecy will impact those this Sunday who have experienced something akin to despondency.  Have you known a dark night and found yourself on the brink of despair?  Have you ever entered with compassion another’s sufferings? Isn’t it difficult under those circumstances to hear the hopeful message?  Disasters make it difficult to hope.

Now hear Baruch as he pulls up the people by their lapels and dares them, dares us to take off mourning clothes and put on the finery fir for rejoicing.  That will give evidence that we believe and live in hope.  Stand up in splendor as YHWH’s chosen ones and know that that relationship initiated by YHWH and enfolding in love will never end.

Up, Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights!  For what purpose?  See your children coming home.  See every obstacle to that restoration removed.  See YHWH leading them out of slavery, just as YHWH did their ancestors when they were led out of Egypt.  YHWH has promised.  YHWH will do this.

Now hear Baruch’s words in your own situation.  For many, difficult times cause estrangement.  Broken relationships can be devastating.  Times of scandal can test the faith of the believer.  That certainly is true in these times as the church is rocked by the scandal of Clergy sexual abuse of children.  The realization of the magnitude of the problem, the numbers of those impoverished, the children starving, those killed in wars, and those burned out of their homes and those killed in the raging forest fires.  

You would not be the first to cry out: Where is God in the midst of all this?  Camus and Sartre wrote of the folly of faith in the shadow of the Holocaust and the Great War.  There is a surge of new writers proclaiming atheism and a godless universe.  Do you feel spiritually alienated?  Have you found it difficult even to think about praying?  Have you, or some of those dear to you given up the practice of faith?  Up, Jerusalem!  Stand upon the heights!  Baruch’s challenge is to believe the promise and hope in its fulfillment.  This all began with YHWH.  YHWH will bring about its completion for us in Christ, the one we recognize as Messiah and Lord.

Sometimes we can forge that we are supposed to live our faith in situ.  Many of the great documents of the Second Vatican Council attest to that.  One is titled: The Church in the Modern World.  God works in the here and now.  Notice how carefully Luke places John the Baptist’s mission in a historical context.  It began in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and those other historical characters were acting on the civic and religious stages.  It was then that the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the desert.

John epitomizes the meaning of Advent.  His vocation is to be a prophet, akin to Baruch, and stir up a flagging faith.  What made John the Baptist so attractive?  Why did people flock to listen to him?  He called people to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He told people it didn’t matter how far they had strayed, or what sins they had committed.  It didn’t matter how deeply they had sunk into despair.  They could turn and return.  God forgives.  Nothing can stand in the way of that forgiveness.  God loves completely and unconditionally, even if they are poor, or prostitutes, or tax collectors, or blind, or lame, or suffering anything else that others could deem to be a punishment for sin coming from God.  Up, Jerusalem!  Stand on the heights!  And so in droves they entered the waters and were renewed.  In spite of all the signs to the contrary, they believed the Kingdom is at hand.

Do you think the challenge of Advent is to take up the mantle and be a prophetic people?  True, we have to respond individually; but our response will be all the more effective if it is in unison with the Assembly.  That is why we are called to be Church and our worship is communal.  We come together as part of the Assembly.  We listen to the Word in unison with the Assembly.  We celebrate Eucharist in the midst of the Assembly.  We share the One Bread and the One Cup in the one meal that transforms us.  We are sent to exercise the Priesthood of the Baptized as the Church in the Modern World, convinced that the Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God.

Paul, believing his death is imminent, writes from prison to the Philippians.  Would it surprise you that he was looking for a response from them that would bolster his own faith as he faced execution?  That is what prophetic stances can do.  Paul loved the Philippians.  He had announced the Good News to them.  They had believed and been baptized by him.  Paul saw them as coworkers with him in the on-going ministry of the Gospel.  From his prison cell, what is Paul urging them and us to do?  Love God.  Love the brothers and sisters in the faith.  Look at the world through the eyes of faith and, following the demands of love, determine what is really important.  And respond to the grace of ever-deeper conversion of life and conformity to Christ, so that God may be praised.

Do you see why the challenge of Advent might be to accept the responsibility to be a prophetic people?  The challenge is to live as if we believe that the Kingdom is at hand.  Love must be at the heart of everything we do.  That love must be practical.  Certainly we must respond to the grace of ongoing conversion in our lives and not be content with anything that is of sin.  Prayerful discerning might be necessary.  Then it is important to discern how as a parish there is a need of conversion of attitudes that divide and alienate.  What can be done as a parish, as Church, to help people find a reason to hope again?  Jesus commanded us to love one another as I have loved you.  That means to love by pouring out self in service.  If there are homeless people, we must shelter them.  (Think of those refugees heading toward the United States seeking refuge and safety.)  If there are naked people, we must clothe them.  If there are hungry people, we must feed them.  If there are sick people and people in prison we must visit them.  It is difficult for people to believe that God loves them unless they experience that love through human exchange.

Advent leads us to Christmas and the celebration of the Incarnation.  God takes on human flesh and becomes one of us in Jesus.  That is important to remember as we think about Paul’s challenge and our response.  When love compels us to embrace the broken and lowly members of society, to welcome the alienated and the shunned, it is Christ we love and serve.  It is his wounds that we bind up, and him that we embrace.

We are reminded of this every time we gather around the Eucharistic Table and hear Jesus invite us to take this all of you and eat it.  This is my body that is given up for you.  This is the chalice of my blood poured out for you.

Now, you do this in my memory.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus 

 

THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C – December 02, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 33:14-16
A reading from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

 

Dear Reader,

What are your thoughts as we begin this new Liturgical Year?  Is your faith being challenged by the events reported on the nightly news?  The wars and accompanying atrocities go on and on.  Death tolls mount.  Children die from starvation, or from lethal gas, or from being crushed in the rubble.  There are natural disasters.  Fires raged on the California coast.  As I write this, over 70 are known dead, with over 1000 missing.  Perhaps you have suffered the loss of a loved one, or are watching as a loved one sinks into dementia and you grieve.  Perhaps your marriage has unraveled and you feel betrayed and abandoned.   As you sit under the Word this Sunday, what is the message you would like to hear?

I asked a friend that question the other day.  The answer I got?  “Just tell me it is going to get better, that these troubles will end.”  Remember what the word Gospel means.  Good news.  This Liturgical Year we will hear the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ as it comes to us from Luke.  Each time we stand for the proclamation, we will stand to let the Good News wash over us and inspire our assent.    We will open ourselves to the grace of our ongoing conversion, our continuing transformation into the Body of Christ, i.e., the Church that is the people of God.  In that context and inspired by the Spirit strengthening our faith, even difficult scriptures become Good News because of the hope they engender.

As we enter into the Season of Advent, remember that there are two comings the season proclaims: The Birth of Christ, and Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time.  The renewal of the first strengthens our hope for the second.  What is key for us as we journey through Advent is the sense of longing.  We long for the rebirth of Christ in our lives, and we long for Christ’s return in glory, when all that is promised will be fulfilled.  So, enter into the silence.  Sit with the Word.  Let your heart be open.  Listen.

The reading from Jeremiah should resonate with us.  The times in which it was written were desperate.  Four centuries after the era of King David, Jerusalem is in shambles and the Jews are enslaved by the Babylonians.  The people are enshrouded in the darkness of despair, convinced the terrible times will never end.  Will Jerusalem ever be restored?  There are not a few people struggling through similar thoughts in our own times.  In our country sexism, racism, elitism, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, when have we been more divided?  Have you noticed how popular apocalyptic stories are these days?   Some are warning that the end of everything is going to happen soon, maybe in 2019.  There is no shortage of evidence.  Why shouldn’t we despair?

Jeremiah says to the troubled and nearly broken people: The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the House of Israel and to Judah.  The Lord had promised that David’s reign would last forever.  What the people suffered seemed to say there was no way that promise could be realized.  What physical evidence could the people seize upon to support their hope in the promise?  I will raise up for David a just shoot…in those days Judah shall be safe.  The prophecy serves to strengthen the people so that they can be faithful to the One who chose them to be a people peculiarly God’s own and to believe that God would never abandon them.

We see the promise fulfilled in Jesus as the Just Shoot rising up from the stump of David’s family tree, the Messiah, the one who is sent to bring Good News, the one who is our hope and our salvation.  As Jeremiah’s prophecy reverberates in our consciousness, we hear the Gospel.

Jesus speaks to us from those final days before his passion, those final days before his disciples will witness the greatest test to their faith in him.  Jesus warns that the apocalyptic times will be filled with dreadful signs in the heavens and disastrous natural events on earth that will terrify even the strongest.  People will die of fright before the roaring wind and rushing waters.  There is no mention of earthquakes, but they might happen, too.  

The challenge for disciples, those who walk with Jesus and believe in him, is to be different from the rest of people and stand tall in the face of all this turmoil, suffering and death, as we recognize in these dreadful signs that our redemption is at hand.  Did you hear Jesus say that that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth?  Remember that this is Gospel, Good News.  Why?  Because even in the face of the worst that can happen, Jesus is our hope and deliverance. In these days of scandal in the church when many are saying they can no longer participate, we must hear Paul’s words first addressed to the church at Thessalonica.  May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.  In other words, Paul is urging them and us to live what we have become through Baptism.   We are to be Christ’s other self and do what Jesus did.  It is all about love, love that binds the community together and reaches out even to those who are not part of the community.  Imitate Christ who came not to be served but to serve.  Be a people whose lives give evidence to the fact that we believe, that our hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ, that like him we are willing to pour out our lives in service so that even the least will feel the embrace of God’s love that comes to us through Jesus.  Pray for the renewal and direction that may come out of the Bishops meeting with Pope Francis in February.  May it be the start of the reformation the church must experience now.

Is it clear now why the Eucharist is at the center of our faith lives?  Does it make sense that our lives revolve around the Sunday celebration of Eucharist?  We come together at the Table of the Word to be transformed by the proclamation.  Wearied by the labors of the past week, we gather at the Table of the Bread to be transformed by the Eucharist we celebrate in the renewing of Christ’s dying and rising.  The Assembly is transformed into the Body of Christ and is sent out for another week to be that presence in the market place.  Just as the Bread was broken and the Cup poured out so that we could share the Meal, so must we be broken and poured out until all are fed.

Perhaps this Advent it is important for us to make the operative word for us to be all.  There is no shortage of those sewing the seeds of judgmentalism, fundamentalism, and division.  Even in the Church, there are those telling others they are unworthy to approach the Table.  That carries with it the judgment of their being sinners and therefore condemned.  Are we forgetting that we are all sinners and that our forgiveness is in, with, and through Christ?  Jesus did warn that what we sow we would reap.  What does that say about sowing the seeds of judgment and condemnation?  Look around your parish.  Experience the Assembly.  Is it clear that ALL are welcome here?  Jesus was condemned because he welcomed sinners and ate with them.  Could your parish be, too?

These are dark days.  The Advent Season for us in the Northern Hemisphere happens as the daylight hours are fewest.  Maybe this year we should focus on the darkness and imagine what our lives would be like without our faith, what it would be like to be still in our sins.  When the darkness threatens to envelop us, then remember the light whose coming we will celebrate this Christmas.  

Jesus is our hope as he comes with a love that is universal and unconditional.  His table fellowship proclaimed that message.  So ought ours.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus