O Key of David

Today’s readings

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

The one with the keys has power, as well as great responsibility. The power is to open and close doors, and the responsibility is to care for the safety of those who are protected by locked doors. “O Key of David” is the “O Antiphon” for today. Today we celebrate our Savior as the one descended from King David, long promised and hoped for, who comes to set his people free from death.

O come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Jesus Christ is the promised one who has power to release us from death, and power to open the gates of heaven to his people who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. Death is not a fitting end for the people God has created and the ones God has chosen as his own. Jesus Christ comes as the Redeemer who opens the gates of heaven and makes possible our redemption and the great promise of eternal life.

Jesus Christ is also the one who has great responsibility. This Key of David bears the burden of our sins and takes them with him to the wood of the Cross. He releases us from captivity into freedom and makes the way to heaven safe, closing the path to misery and locking it up forever.

Come, O Key of David!
Come, Lord Jesus!

O Sacred Lord

Today's readings

During the last days of Advent, from the 17th of December until Christmas Eve, we celebrate a very holy and sacred time. During this time our expectation of the Lord's return increases and we turn up the heat, as it were, on our call to repentance and renewal. Each of those days we sing one of the so-called "O Antiphons." These antiphons are titles of Jesus, and are used each day during Vespers, the official Evening Prayer of the Church. These antiphons are also immortalized in the familiar Advent hymn, "O Come, O come, Emmanuel" which we sang this morning.

Today, the antiphon is "O Sacred Lord." This Sacred Lord is not simply one who is out there, watching our every move, judging from afar. This transcendent Sacred Lord wished to become immanent and be born among us as our Gospel today proclaims. The only almighty Lord, who made the earth and sky and seas and all that is in them, who fashioned the heavens and the earth and breathed the breath of life into his creation, this Sacred Lord chooses to become one of us and be born among us. This Sacred Lord comes near so that we can know his salvation. This Sacred Lord has come to us to put things right, so that we can say with the Psalmist that "Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever."

Today, this Sacred Lord can be received in the Eucharist we now celebrate. This Sacred Lord can be the one who renews us all in his love and gives us a life filled with hope.

Come, O Sacred Lord. Come, Lord Jesus!

Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice in God’s Promise of Renewal

Today’s readings

candle3Today’s Scripture readings remind me of some kind of street festival with all of God’s faithful people shouting in praise. Just listen to some of the exclamations we hear today:

Gaudete! Rejoice!”

This third Sunday of Advent has traditionally been called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin for the very first word in today’s second reading from St. Paul to the Philippians: Rejoice! On this third Sunday of Advent, more than half way through the season, we pause during our time of repentance to remember that there is indeed reason to rejoice.

And this rejoicing in the midst of repentance is probably the reason that Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. The joyful expectation of this season just speaks to me spiritually. As a person who prays with music, the hymns of Advent just speak to me of the hopeful expectation that we live during this season. I find that the gradual progression of lights on the Advent wreath leads me to open myself more and more to the warmth of God’s presence. The growing numbers of Christmas lights on people’s houses lights up the darkness and reminds me of the light of Christ. The truth is, our world has all sorts of reasons not to hope in anything, but our Church reminds us every year at this time that we have the only reason for hope that we need: the promise of Jesus Christ.

Another exclamation: “The Lord is near!”

That is the greeting we receive from St. Paul in the second reading today, and it is also the Episcopal motto of Bishop Joseph Imesch, whose fiftieth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood Fr. Ted and I attended yesterday. And it’s a wonderful motto for God’s people too, because we are decidedly not a people who believe in a God who has set the world in motion and then backed off to watch things happen. No, our God is intimately and immanently involved in his world and in the lives of his people. If that weren’t true, we never would have had our Savior born among us. And that’s not just a promise that was true two thousand years ago and is done. Our God is active among us, leading us to holiness, blessing us with wonder, and giving us the ability to hope for eternal life. The Lord is indeed near, and we have a right to shout about it.

Another exclamation: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!”

Zephaniah the prophet, from whom we don’t hear too much in the Liturgy except during this season of Advent, tells the Church in those days that even in sadness there is time to rejoice. The reason for their rejoicing was that the people had been delivered from their enemies. They had been delivered over to their enemies because of their sinfulness. But now God has taken mercy on them, and has noted that their enemies have gone above and beyond the punishment God had in mind, and he has delivered them. They have indeed no further misfortune to fear. Again, this isn’t just an age-old promise. We have been punished for our own sinfulness. That punishment may have been a kind of feeling of abandonment in our spiritual life or in our life with others. Maybe it has even been an illness caused by the poor choices we have made. Or perhaps it’s just been the guilt that we have suffered because of the sins we have committed. God has allowed those effects to take place in our life to draw us back to him. We now can hear Zephaniah’s words today: “The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies … he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.” God promises to renew us, and we can sing joyfully because of it.

Another exclamation: “Cry out with joy and gladness!”

This one is from the prophet Isaiah, who is serving as the Psalmist today. Isaiah cries out with joy and gladness because he knows for certain the Lord is in the midst of his people. Just as St. Paul reminds us, God is not distant, but very near, right here among his people. We can experience that in our own day if we will open our hearts to him. When we do that, we can then realize his power in our lives and take courage and strength from our Lord. We do that every time we open our hands to receive the Eucharist. With that great gift, we too should give thanks to the Lord and acclaim his name. As we go forth from this holy place into the world made holy by God’s presence, we should make known among the nations his wondrous deeds and proclaim how exalted is God’s name.

I have been teaching the folks who come to daily Mass one of my very favorite Advent hymns. I want to reflect on it a bit today, because it is truly a song that goes along with this wonderful theme of rejoicing. The song is called “O Come, Divine Messiah” and is a French carol that goes all the way back to the sixteenth century.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

To me, this is one of the quintessential Advent hymns. It speaks of the hope that we await. And it also speaks of the joy that we celebrate today: the hope that we have will indeed sing its triumph and all our sadness will flee away. As hope triumphs in our lives, we can truly pray with the early Church “Come, Lord Jesus!”

All of this rejoicing bids us shout one more exclamation from today’s Liturgy of the Word: “What should we do?”

All of this rejoicing demands a response. Shouting it out loud is one response, but there has to be more than that. If the hope that we have is truly going to come to birth, if the renewal that we are promised today is truly going to happen in our lives, then we need to respond to that hope and promise. John the Baptist answers the question in today’s Gospel. What should we do? Stop trampling on the rights of others. Think of other people before ourselves. Do our jobs quietly and joyfully. Don’t step on others on our way to the top. Treat everyone with justice and live lives dedicated to peace. And above all, we must be people who look forward to the reign of Jesus Christ who will baptize us all in the Holy Spirit. The response to the work of God in our midst has to be all about living the Gospel and rejoicing in its promise.

There are so many reasons to shout with joy and gladness on this Gaudete Sunday. We have much to rejoice about, even in our sorrows. We can pray for the nearness of our Lord and Savior:

Come, Lord Jesus and give us true joy.
Come, Lord Jesus and heal our illnesses.
Come, Lord Jesus and deliver us all from the effects of our sinfulness.
Come, Lord Jesus and speak your Word among us.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to take our strength and courage from you alone.
Come, Lord Jesus and be near to us.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to proclaim your glorious achievements in all the earth.
Come, Lord Jesus and make us a people of justice and peace.
Come, Lord Jesus and baptize us in your Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord Jesus and renew us.
Come, Lord Jesus!

John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

A long time ago now, someone once gave my family an ornament for our Christmas tree. It was very curious: basically just a large nail hung from a green ribbon. You probably already know the significance of the nail: when looking at the manger, we remember the cross. When gazing on the Christmas tree, we remember the tree from which our Savior hung. When glorying in the Incarnation, we remember the Paschal Mystery. Jesus was born into our world to die our death and take our sins with him. The nail was a reminder that Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are all part of the same mystery.

When I think about the great men and women of Advent, John of the Cross seems a bit out of place for me. Born in Spain, he eventually became a Carmelite. He came to know a Carmelite nun by the name of Teresa of Avila, and through her urging, joined her in a reform of the Carmelite order. His great writings helped to accomplish this and are noted as spiritual masterpieces, and helped him to be recognized as a Doctor of the Church. But the other side of being a reformer is that he was also persecuted. Not everyone, of course, agreed with the reform of the order, and he paid the price in prison for it. St. John of the Cross reminds me so much more of Lent than Advent. But then, so does that nail ornament.

Even today’s Gospel reading reminds us of the Cross:

From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.

Even as we wrap ourselves in the hope and promise of Advent, we have to pause and remind ourselves of what the promise is all about. Jesus came to pay the very real price for our sins. Today we should reflect on John the Baptist, John of the Cross and that nail ornament on my parents’ Christmas tree. May we all be truly grateful for the birth of our Savior who died on our Cross.

Advent Reconciliation Service

Readings: Malachi 3:1-7 and Luke 3:3-17

reconciliation3I have to say that Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. As a person who prays with music, the hymns of Advent just speak to me of the hopeful expectation that we live during this season. I find that the gradual progression of lights on the Advent wreath leads me to open myself more and more to the warmth of God’s presence. The growing numbers of Christmas lights on people’s houses lights up the darkness and reminds me of the light of Christ. The truth is, our world has all sorts of reasons not to hope in anything, but our Church reminds us every year at this time that we have the only reason for hope that we need: the promise of Jesus Christ.

Throughout Advent this year, I have chosen to reflect on God’s promises. I am finding that the hope that reflecting on those promises brings casts out the darkness and depression of barren trees, cold weather, and earlier nightfall. The hope of God’s promises also casts out the darkness of sin and death that seems to surround us and creep up on us in every moment. Last Friday night, I turned on the evening news, only to be filled with worry for my brother-in-law who works downtown and travels in and out of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, which had been closed due to gunfire in the building. The news continues to bring worry and concern for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s so obvious that our world needs a Savior. Not just two thousand years ago, but right here and right now. We need a Savior who will lead us to justice and peace. We need a Savior who will lead us to reach out to the poor and oppressed. We need a Savior who will bind up our wounded lives and world and present us pure and spotless before God on the Last Day. We need a Savior who can bring light to this darkened world and hope to our broken lives. We need a Savior who can bring us God’s promise of forgiveness.

This Advent, I’ve been teaching about an ancient prayer of the early Church. In the years just after Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, the early Christians would pray in their language, Maranatha or “Come, Lord Jesus.” So I’ve been saying that we should all pray that prayer every day during Advent. When we get up in the morning, and just before bed at night, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” When you need help during the day or just need to remind yourself of God’s promises, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” The early Christians prayed this way because they expected Jesus to return soon. We do too. Even if he does not return in glory during our lifetimes, we still expect him to return soon and often in our lives and in our world to brighten this place of darkness and sin and to straighten out the rough ways in our lives. Let us keep the expectation of the Lord and the hope of his promise of forgiveness alive in our hearts:

Come, Lord Jesus and change our hearts to be more loving and open to others.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to pray; help us to grow in our spiritual lives.
Come, Lord Jesus and dispel our doubts; help us always to hope in your forgiveness.
Come, Lord Jesus and heal those who are sick and comfort all the dying.
Come, Lord Jesus and bring those who wander back to your Church.
Come, Lord Jesus and turn us away from our addictions.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to be patient with ourselves and others.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to eliminate injustice and apathy.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to welcome the stranger.
Come, Lord Jesus and give us an unfailing and zealous respect for your gift of life.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to be generous; teach us all to practice stewardship of all of our resources.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to work at everything we do as though we were working for you alone.
Come, Lord Jesus and bind up our brokenness, heal our woundedness, comfort us in affliction, afflict us in our comfort, help us to repent and to follow you without distraction or hesitation, give us the grace to pick up our crosses and be your disciples.

The good that John the Baptist preaches in this evening’s Gospel reading, is that God does indeed promise to forgive us. Wherever we are on the journey to Christ, whatever the obstacles we face, God promises to make it right through Jesus Christ. We may be facing the valley of hurts or resentments. God will fill in that valley. Perhaps we are up against a mountain of sinful behavior or shame. God will level that mountain. We may be lost on the winding roads of procrastination or apathy. God will straighten out that way. We may be riding along on the rough and bumpy ways of poor choices, sinful relationships and patterns of sin. God will make all those ways smooth. And all flesh – every one of us, brothers and sisters – we will all see the salvation of God. That’s a promise. God will forgive us all of our sins.

All we have to do is to take God up on it. And that’s why we are here tonight. God promises us forgiveness, and we are here to receive it. As we confess our sins and receive absolution, we make Christ’s light a little more brilliant in our world and in our lives. There may only be one unforgivable sin: the sin of thinking that we don’t a Savior. When we think we’re okay and that there is nothing wrong with our lives or our relationships, then we’re lost. When we live our lives as if we’re the only one who matters, we’re very far from God. It’s not that God doesn’t want to forgive us this sin, it’s more that we refuse to have it forgiven. If Advent teaches us anything, it’s got to be that we all need that baptism of repentance that John the Baptist preached, that we all need to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, making straight the paths for his return to us.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

Sometimes I think our spiritual imaginations are stunted. That certainly seems to have been the case for the scribes and Pharisees who were among those crowded into the place where Jesus was teaching in today’s Gospel. Seeing the man lowered down from the roof in front of him, Jesus at once gets to the heart of the matter and forgives him his sins. Sure, he was paralyzed, but that was the least of his problems as Jesus looked at him. Jesus saw the real issue and moved at once to heal him from the inside out.

But the scribes and Pharisees were indignant. Maybe in some way they did not want to see themselves as just as bad off as the poor paralytic was. If his real problem was his sins, well, they could have been seen to be in the same way as he was. And that, for them, was unacceptable. In addition, they were angry that he presumed to forgive sins because only God could do such a thing. Their spiritual imaginations were stunted, and in a way, that made them even worse off than the paralytic.

We have to stop trying to decide how God should act in our world and in our lives. If we follow the example of the scribes and Pharisees, we stand a good chance of missing the real gift that we are offered this Advent: the gift of God’s healing in our lives. God promises to forgive us whatever stands in the way between him and us. We have but to let him do that.

Tomorrow is our Advent Penance Service. I encourage all of you to be there for that. When we turn to the Lord for forgiveness, we can receive much more than we can ever imagine. That’s the joy of Advent. Then, as Isaiah says to us today, “will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”

Come, Lord Jesus, and give us your promise of forgiveness.