Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH

Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

Colossians 3:12-21

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Dear Jesus,

The Sunday that falls between the feasts of Christmas and New Year’s is dedicated to the celebration of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  It’s a feast fraught with difficulties, isn’t it?  I wonder what it is that we are celebrating.  What is the challenge that we are supposed to meet?  What is the conversion that you want the hearts of the Assembly to experience?

It would be easy to have a sentimental, albeit a maudlin time imagining romantic crèches with hovering angels and adoring shepherds and Magi.  We’re quick to combine Luke’s tradition and Matthew’s.  Depictions of the Holy Family are always serene.  I laughed at one rendering in bronze I saw in a church.  There was Joseph in the carpenter’s shop, your Mother looking in from the doorway, and you, as a teenager, making crosses from pieces of wood you took from the floor.  What parents would be pleased to watch their child molding implements of execution? 

But if we pay attention, there is nothing sentimental in these readings.  Violence and rejection lurk in every line of the gospel and societal conventions are challenged in the other readings.  If we wallow in sentimentality nothing will happen.  We won’t squirm.  We won’t hear you calling us to reform.  We’ll miss the social gospel that is being proclaimed, the gospel that is society’s challenge and hope.

The Scriptures are the living word of God.  We make a mistake if we listen and only look back.  The proclamations touch the now.  They are meant to confront our present situation and us.  In the end, this feast isn’t an opportunity to experience a day in the life of your family, but to hear how the powerful can oppress the little ones, the poor, the vulnerable and see this as a very real and present evil.  And to recognize that there is one family of which we all are a part.  The poor and the vulnerable are our brothers and sisters.  And God means us to live in community and love.

The fourth commandment of the Decalogue demands that children honor their parents.  Shouldn’t that be a matter of doing what comes naturally?  Will a commandment make a difference to one who does not have innate gratitude and respect for the ones who are the source of his/her life, to the ones who nurtured him/her from birth to maturity?  Of course all this assumes right relationships, doesn’t it?  Am I correct in thinking that the honor commanded is due for more than simple engendering?  Everyone deserves basic respect.  But the commanded reverence and honor is for more than giving birth.  It may not always be the birth parents that are the nurturers, but the father and mother are the ones who adopt the child and raise him/her as their own and the ones who step in and make up for what birth parents might lack in parenting skills and/or interest.

You know that there are problems with the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.  Dare I say that the first part of the reading is fine and ought to be proclaimed often as a guide for how people ought to live in relationships including familial but also beyond that, in relationships in the faith community that is church, and beyond that, in relationships with our brothers and sisters at large?  We are urged as God’s beloved ones, to put on compassion.  Doesn’t that mean that we ought to be willing to suffer with the suffering the way you did and not be embarrassed by their plight?  Shouldn’t compassion be normative in a faith community?  These in the church are our brothers and sisters in you.  I read what I have written to you and wonder if I can do this.  I listen to the litany of virtues that Paul urges me to put on and I wonder if I can be that vulnerable.  Where will my defenses be?  Kind, humble, gentle, and patient – I think I can only be all these for others if I am able to admit my own sins, shortcomings, and weaknesses and admit that in all humility I will need the kindness, gentleness and patience of my brothers and sisters in Christ as I ask them to bear with me.

See how these Christians love one another.  Apparently that was a frequent observation by those outside the early church.  Is it true that the desire to experience that love was the driving force for many who sought to become converts?  Does the church today have the reputation for being lavish in forgiveness?  Am I a good forgiver?  We will be, I will be, if we remember that we are a community of sinners who have been forgiven.  Shouldn’t we be challenged to reflect our God who is lavish in mercy and forgiveness by having the reputation for being good at forgiving and reconciling?  Maybe I will do a better job at that if I never forget the joy I feel in being reconciled and forgiven.

All I have written above challenges me.  Then, you might ask, why did I there were problems with this second reading?  Certainly the problem is not with Paul’s admonition: whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  The problem I have is with Paul’s urging wives to be subordinate to their husbands.  Subordination is wrong where ever it occurs.  There is no place for it in the church.  You modeled service for us.  I stand in your midst as one who serves.  You washed your disciples’ feet.  As I have done for you so ought you to do for one another.  But that is not subordination.  It is mutuality of service.  Isn’t it true that to the degree that wives are subordinate to their husbands, husbands ought to be subordinate to their wives?  Or better, where is their room for subordination at all since the two have become one flesh in you?  Paul obviously was acknowledging the attitudes of his day.  Women had no legal standing on their own then.  At least Paul urged love.  But wouldn’t it be wrong to use this text today as a justification for subservience?  Love is the challenge.

It’s a good thing the reading stops where it does.  Otherwise, how would we deal with the seeming endorsement of slavery?  I don’t think many use the text to support that horrid institution.  Nor should they use his preceding paragraph to justify the wife’s subordination to the husband.

It is good that we have this feast of the Holy Family each year.  Help me to recognize that as I gather with my brothers and sisters around your table, it is as equals that we gather, and as the forgiven that we celebrate and give thanks.

Sincerely,

Didymus     

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas 2007

Dear Readers,

It has been a sentimental and nostalgic time as Christmas draws near this year.  For the first time in my life, I will spend the Feast away from Seattle and away from family and friends.  I have found myself doing a lot of remembering, remembering both Christmases in the recent past, those of half a century ago and those of intervening years.  Perhaps I have been obsessing about the good old days, but my thoughts have been more about the people, some still in this world and many already experiencing Christmas’ fulfillment.  It is not natural to us in the midst of peak moments to think that this might be the last time we will sit at this table together or share this wine or break this bread.  Something from the core of our being always insists that dear ones will be with us to gather again the same time next year.  It is true that the easiest one to delude is one’s self.

How often have you heard someone say, or perhaps you, yourself have thought: If only I had known that that was to be our last meeting I wouldn’t have let it end the way it did.  Or: If only I had known that s/he was going to die, I would have called; I would have taken the time to visit if I had known it would be one last time. 

What would I have preached that Sunday if I had known it would be the last time I would preach to this assembly?  The last time.

Not to be maudlin about it, but the fact is we are vulnerable, finite beings.  Anytime could be the last time, the last hug, the last kiss, the last time to say I love you.  And being the last time can also mean that you never have the opportunity to make amends for something said or done.  For years I was haunted by the fact that my grandmother and I had an argument during a visit.  And I sulked as she left rather than giving her a hug and kiss the way I had every other time we parted.  The next day, she was dead from a sudden cerebral hemorrhage.  There was little consolation in being able to stand at her grave and whisper my regrets knowing full well that she forgave me my stupidity.

Christmas can become that time when we do a lot of remembering and regretting. The sentimental songs of the season support those activities.  The whole season becomes one of looking back, remembering idealized times gone by, wishing we could be there again, and wishing we could right a wrong long since passed.  In the end, that is a terrible waste of time and energy.

It occurs to me that for us, the sentimental season we go through isn’t really the Christmas Season.  What others call the Christmas Season for us is Advent – the season of eager longing and preparation for fulfillment.  Remembering can be part of that to be sure.  But only a part.  That is a worthwhile activity only in so far as whatever about the past we regret we vow not to repeat in the future.  I know that I have tried never to end an encounter with an argument or misunderstanding.  And twice when I knew that the parting would in fact be the termination of relationship, the final gesture was a hug.

Memories are to be treasured and stored.  But Thomas Wolfe was right when he said that we can’t go home again.  Our life never goes in reverse.  We never have the opportunity to undo a mistake much less intervene and alter and thereby prevent a terrible and now historical event.

Jesus changed the meaning of remembering for us forever.  In the Last Supper after he had given the bread that was his body and the cup that was his blood he said: Do this in my memory.  What he was saying to us was that whenever we celebrate Eucharist, Jesus is present; the whole Mystery is present in a timeless moment that will continue until time is no more.  As Jesus’ followers, we do not live in the past and ought not look to it with longing. We can’t go there again.  We are part of a church that is ever growing and altering with each new understanding of herself.  To try to turn the clock back, to try to stop the evolution would be to stifle the very life of the church.  No living creature devolves without dying.

It is a comfort for me to realize that Advent is not a time for looking back and longing for the past.  It is a time for remembering, for savoring the Herald’s promise.  It is a season of eager longing for fulfillment, for what is to come.  We are not awaiting the birth of a baby.  We are rejoicing that in that moment of Incarnation the Word became flesh and humanity was altered forever.  The chasm between the human and the divine closed in the union between the two.  In Jesus the union of the two, the human and the divine was affected for the rest of time.  Now we look forward remembering what was as we press on to what is to come.  And the possibilities ought to amaze us.

Live now.  Love now.  Remember and make the whole Mystery and wonder present.  It is traditional for us to wish each other Peace at Christmas.  Peace is the confident assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  In the midst of great suffering and turmoil,l there can still be peace if we remember that Christ has conquered it all and will never let us be conquered forever.  God loves us in the now as if each of us were the only being in the universe and will love us for all of eternity in that forever now that is the face to face vision of God.  That is the way God loves Christ.  That is the way God loves you in Christ.  As you are loved, love the little ones that others might not notice – the poor, the insignificant, the disabled, the aged and all other classes of society easy to marginalize.  When you do you will know God and him whom God has sent, Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate and whose coming in Glory we eagerly await.  It is in Christ that we live and move and have our being.  Our peace comes from knowing that on the last day we will rise with him.  And all things warped by humankind’s inhumanity to their own kind will be made right again.

I wish you peace.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT – A

Isaiah 7:10-14

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-24

Dear Jesus,

What is the Advent experience supposed to be about?  Aren’t these days meant to foster a spirit of pregnant longing for and eager expectation of God’s definitive action among human kind?  Perhaps because these times are dire people will not allow themselves to enter into the darkness so that they can yearn for the light.  Hopelessness enmeshes.  Once we become entangled in it, standing on the brink of despair it is difficult to look up and believe that there is reason to hope.  When wars rage and death counts are tolled, how do we believe there will be peace?  Is it any wonder Ahaz dared not ask God for a sign even though God longed to give that sign and comfort him with a reminder of God’s love and fidelity?  The enemy surrounded Ahaz and threatened his kingdom.  That was the tangible reality for him.  What could God possibly do to alter that reality?

Have you noticed that in these days people are attuned to expecting instant gratification?  Why should material satisfaction be put off when it can be had now?  Many people don’t diet and exercise to maintain physical fitness they have liposuction and plastic surgery to do it now.  I remember the time when young couples began their married life in a rental and looked forward to the time when they could make a down payment on a starter home.  Today those starter homes have a three-car garage and a swimming pool.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people do not have the emotional energy for Advent.  Living in hope doesn’t resonate with them.  I want it and I want it now.

And so instead of starkness and the four-week experience of darkness looking forward to a great dawn with light’s return, well before the Advent Season even begins the signs of Christmas, its lights and carols, are everywhere.  It wasn’t that long ago that people waited for Thanksgiving before the lights went up and the carols began.  Now we’re lucky if Halloween is over before it all begins.  No wonder that by the time the Day arrives all the trappings look tired.  Who in the world could stand The Twelve Days of Christmas?  On the second day of Christmas not a sign of the feast remains.

Would you believe that I can remember when Christmas began in our home the way it did in the church – on Christmas morning?  Sometime during the night a tree was put up and decorated and wrapped presents were placed beneath it all before we came down the stairs rubbing sleep from our eyes to be dazzled by the lights, the presents, and the fire on the hearth.  And we were told that each gift was a reminder of God’s great gift of Love who was born this day.  In other words, we knew right from the start that this celebration was all about you and the peace and love you bring.

I need to experience Advent’s darkness and not fear it.  I need to experience silence and not dread it.  How else will I know Advent’s longing and hope?  In that darkness and silence my defenses would be down and the events of these days could enter my consciousness where I could contemplate them.  I could look at the horror of war and be confronted by the bodies and hear the wailing of those who mourn.  My guard would be down and I would see those classes of people that otherwise I might be tempted to ignore – the poor and disenfranchised, people of other races than my own, and of a different gender from mine and have to admit that we are family.  I would have to ponder the telling of the statistics – the millions worldwide dying from AIDS, the unconscionable portion of the world’s goods consumed by the small number of people living in this country in comparison to the world’s population, the exploitation of the Earth and its resources for profit’s sake, the percentage of the goods we buy produced by what is tantamount to slave labor again for profit’s sake and on and on, all cries that the cacophonous din that regularly surrounds me and seeks to lure me might otherwise prevent me from noticing. 

Advent is a time for silence.  In the silence I might recognize that these horrors in each day’s news are in the reality that faith brings, aspects of your passion.  And if I allow myself to be brought to the foot of the cross dare I ask myself about my participation in the crucifixion?  But that is the stuff of conversion.  It occurs to me that Christmas celebrates Incarnation – God’s taking on human flesh and sealing the union forever.  It is the celebration of God’s love for human kind and the invitation to all to live in love and so find hope.  Your gospel does not end in death.  Neither will our story.  As horrible as the contemporary story might be, the vision that dawns with Christmas is not overcome by the evil.  Love conquers.  God is faithful and will raise us up.

Ahaz was challenged to ask for a sign that would give him reason not to yield to despair.  He couldn’t do that.  But the sign was given anyway – a child who would be called ImmanuelGod with us.  In Christmas we recognize that sign, God with us, in you.  I wonder if we listen will we hear you challenge us to be that sign, God with us, today and so help the human family live in hope because of the love that surrounds us.

The story doesn’t end in defeat.  It can’t.  God won’t let it.   Isn’t that the Good News you proclaimed?

Sincerely,

Didymus