St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

StJohnBig“He saw and believed.” The “other” disciple, often called the “beloved” disciple or the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” is St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, the one we celebrate today. St. John had a very special relationship with Christ. He wasn’t as zealous and boisterous as Peter could be, but he had a faith as strong as Peter’s in his own way. His was a faith that observed and processed and believed. His was a faith that grew quietly, as he made connections between what Jesus prophesied and what came to pass. It’s no wonder that when he stood at the tomb, “he saw and believed.”

In John’s writings, the theme of love is almost overwhelming. We hear that in today’s first reading, from John’s first letter. That love is bound up in the whole theme of fleshly existence. John proclaims that because God loved the world so much, he could not bear to be apart from us or aloof from our nature. Instead, he took on our fleshly existence, this body that can so often fail us, can so often turn to sin and degradation, can so often lead us in the wrong direction. Taking on that flawed human flesh, God proclaims once and for all that we have been created good, that we have been created in love, and that nothing can ever stand in the way of the love God has for us.

John’s preaching of love and the goodness of our created bodies is a preaching that has a very special place in the celebration of Christmas. It was because of that love that God had for us, a love that encompasses our bodies and our souls, that he came to live among us and take flesh in our world. His most merciful coming was completely part of his loving plan for our salvation. That’s the message St. John brings us on his feast day today, and throughout this celebration of Christmas.

The Nativity of the Lord

Various readings for Mass

christmas-nativityThe older I get, the more I become convinced that every Christmas has its own flavor, and every Christmas comes with its own gifts. Not the kinds of gifts you wrap and put under the tree, but the kinds of gifts that fill your heart and give you the grace to move into the year ahead.

When I was little, my Christmas enthusiasm could hardly be contained. I kept Advent by opening a door each day on a little cardboard calendar, to see what was underneath. But the picture on the calendar probably wasn’t as important to me as the days passing by. The eagerness of my anticipation was for that moment on Christmas morning, when I’d wake up way earlier than I would on any other day, wake my sisters and parents and go down to open gifts. We would spend those opening moments of the day together, and there was a warmth that came from the love we had for each other. The gift of those Christmases was one of eagerness, they joyfulness of anticipation being fulfilled, and the sharing of love with those who loved me back.

As a teen, I knew a little more about what Christmas meant. Some of our family traditions came to mean more to me: the cookies we baked, visits to family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, going to Mass as a family. There was still a sense of anticipation but it was a little different now. I anticipated time off from school – whether I was in high school or college – and I looked forward to seeing loved ones I hadn’t seen in a while. The gift of those Christmases was singing one more Christmas Carol because Grandma’s new oven wasn’t cooking the turkey as fast as the old one, of enjoying old and new family traditions, and the joy of days spent without papers due or tests to study for.

As a young adult, my faith became more important to me. I was involved in my church and spent many hours practicing music and preparing to celebrate music with the choir I was in. For several of those years, I wrote the mini lessons and carols service that we did before Mass began. There was a busyness of that time and a growing anticipation of being able to celebrate my faith with a community that knew that same faith. It was a time to pull out all the stops and celebrate the Mass with a bit more solemnity and joy. Even at work, there was talk of our traditions both family and religious, and the sharing of belief that Christ was present even in the mundane day-to-dayness of our work. The gift of those Christmases was one of renewed faith, and the joy of celebrating the wonder of the Incarnation – the birth of our God into our world – with people who helped me to grow in that faith.

When I went to seminary, things changed a lot. The anticipation of Advent was held in an environment that was slowly teaching me how to preside in it. I learned more about the traditions of our faith, the vibrancy of Scripture, the poetry and hymnody that made me long to be filled with Christ in new ways. Going to Christmas Mass became a strange, but not unpleasant experience: wondering what it was going to be like to celebrate Christmas as a priest. The gift of those Christmases was a personal growth that helped me to see who I was as God’s son, and who he was calling me to be.

Last year, my first year as a priest, I got to experience the joy of being a priest at Christmas. The days of Advent anticipation were filled with hearing confessions and school programs, and the many things that go on here in the parish. I got to go to not just one Christmas Mass, but three or four! My role had changed not only at Church, but also in my family, and I attended my family Christmas gatherings with, well, exhaustion! The gift of last Christmas was being able to celebrate Christmas by celebrating the Eucharist as a priest.

This year, things are a little different for me. Dad died in May, and so I think the anticipation of Christmas for me has been a little bit weird. I approach this holy day with a little heaviness of heart, with a sense of loss. I never put up the Manger Dad and Mom gave me last year. I didn’t because one of the pieces – the angel – was broken, and Dad was going to help me fix it. We never got around to it, and I didn’t want to open the box and see the missing piece, which for me represents the missing piece of my family this Christmas. I’m not sure what the gift will be this Christmas. I guess none of us can know what the gift will be for us just yet. I’d be tempted to think there won’t be a gift, but only sadness, except that’s not who I am, and certainly that’s not who Dad was. I do have a certain sense of anticipation, and it’s anticipation of the hope that waits for us all.

What kinds of Christmases have you celebrated? You might find some of them are like some of mine, or maybe that you have others. The gifts, I am sure, differ from year to year. Maybe your Christmases have been happy, and maybe you have had the occasional sad one. But there’s always a gift. More specifically, there’s always the gift: Jesus Christ, born into our world, God with us, God our salvation, has come to give us everlasting life.

Pope Benedict says in his encyclical, Spe Salvi that “God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect” (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 31).

God’s love reaches us every time we come to this holy place and celebrate the Eucharist. The hope that we have in Christ is the only hope worth waiting for, the only hope that can bring to fruition the desires of our hearts and the anticipation of our souls. And so this Christmas, whatever flavor of Christmas we’re having, the gift – the real gift – is as it has always been, the presence of Christ among us, the eternal life he brings us, and the love that he pours out on us. Perhaps that gift will give us the ability to forge ahead in the year to come and bring the presence of Christ, the light of Christ, to a dark and lonely world.

Because we don’t just celebrate (tonight / today) something that happened two thousand years ago; we celebrate the fact that God is born into our lives and into our world every time we open ourselves up to his forgiveness and renewal, cling to the hope he brings us, and allow him to make us his holy people. When we stand up for the rights of the unborn, the powerless, and the disenfranchised, Christ is born among us and warms up our cold and heartless world. When we reach out to others who are needy or lonely or oppressed, Christ is born among us and gives light to our darkness. When we introduce someone to the Church or witness to our faith by being people of integrity, Christ is born among us and revitalizes a world grown listless in despair. When we receive our Lord in the Eucharist and go forth from this place to love and serve the Lord, Christ is born into a world that desperately needs his presence. Christ is born in every moment when his people allow him to be present through their lives.

On this Christmas, a watching world looks to all of us who call ourselves Christian. Can we make the hope of all the nations present by our living the Gospel? When the world sees that happen, when enough people take notice, maybe all the earth can take part in our singing:

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth!

On behalf of Fr. Ted and me, Deacon Chuck and Deacon Tom, and all the parish staff, may God bless you and your families this Christmas. May you find Christ in every moment of the coming year

O Come, Let Us Adore Him

O Come, All Ye Faithful
Adeste Fideles, John Wade

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

Refrain

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created;

Refrain

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;

Refrain

See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;

Refrain

Lo! star led chieftains, Magi, Christ adoring,
Offer Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
We to the Christ Child bring our hearts’ oblations.

Refrain

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?

Refrain

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be all glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

Refrain

The Epiphany of the Lord

Today’s readings

ephiphanystarSee, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples.

Barbara hated Christmas this year. Every time she went into a department store, she had to get out as quickly as she could; taking with her a depression that fatigued her and permeated throughout the day. The bright lights and the festive decorations were all reminders to her of the joy she should feel this time of year, but could not bring herself to actually experience. Whenever she had a quiet moment to think, she would recall her father, who passed away last August. Dad had been Christmas for the family. His joy at this time of the year built up to frenzy on Christmas Eve, and rubbed off on everyone around him. This would be the first Christmas without him, and Barbara could not imagine how they would get through it without Dad. Last night, she talked to her son Bill from Iraq, and was reassured that he was safe and that things were going well. He had received her care package, and that made her feel a little better, but nothing could truly fill the emptiness. She dreaded the family celebration with the kids and the gifts and all the rest. Even in a festive gathering like that, she always found herself feeling so alone.

See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples.

Herod was a jealous and insecure man. His authority rested on the good will of the Roman government, and he was always on the lookout for those who would usurp his throne. The truth was, his throne wasn’t all that big a deal to begin with. Jerusalem wasn’t that important in the grand Roman scheme of things, but well, it was his. Three visitors from afar were bad enough to get him feeling uneasy, but when they came asking for the newborn king of the Jews, Herod was furious with jealousy. He was indeed “greatly troubled” and all Jerusalem – at least all the nobility, the ones who mattered – was troubled with him. He put into motion several schemes to defend his position. He interrogated the visitors, he put the scribes and chief priests on the case, he even eventually had all the boys less than two years old murdered. He turned out to be a rather pathetic and miserable creature.

Both of these stories are indicative of anything but the Christmas spirit. But, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what’s out there. I know several of you here today resonated with Barbara’s story. And if you didn’t, you probably know someone who would. The joy of Christmas is lost on those who have suffered the death of loved ones, or are afflicted with depression, or put up with abuse, or don’t have enough money, or have just received a bad diagnosis of illness, or any one of a thousand forms of thick dark clouds that affect us. It’s easy for people to identify with Isaiah’s observation of darkness and despair. And if that’s where you find yourself these Christmas days, then the joy of everyone around you only adds to the misery and sadness that you feel.

I remember a time years ago, shortly after my grandmother had died. She had always been a good friend to me, and I used to call her every week when I was in college. She supported me and prayed for me, and in truth is a big part of why I’m a priest today. Shortly before Christmas the year she died, I went into one of the little shops in Glen Ellyn where I lived. It was all decorated with warm holiday home decorations and just screamed Christmas from every part of the store. After being in there for only a minute or two, I was overcome by a sense of sadness and depression that surprised me. It just came out of nowhere. I had to leave right away, and when I got home I think I cried for ten minutes. I wasn’t ready for Christmas, and didn’t want it forced on me.

To those of us who have had to deal with this kind of feeling, or perhaps are still dealing with it, Isaiah’s words today provide the best comfort we can hope for:

but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.

Out of the darkness that sometimes permeates our lives and our world, God’s light appears. Maybe this doesn’t seem like much comfort to those who are suffering in darkness, but here is what we need to hear: God created light out of nothing at all. The universe was awash in darkness and chaos, but out of that, God brought order and light and everything that exists. Every light that we see: stars, moon, sun, love, grace, forgiveness, and all the rest; all of these have been created by God and are ways that the Lord shines upon us.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. An epiphany is a divine revelation into the world of humanity. It’s God doing a God-thing. An epiphany is when God breaks through all the mundaneness of our human condition and destroys the limitations of our fallen world and makes his presence known among us. Traditionally, the Church has celebrated the Epiphany in three ways: first, today, with the visit of the magi to the Christ Child; second, tomorrow, at the Baptism of the Lord by St. John the Baptist; and third, next Sunday, at the wedding feast of Cana. Each of these epiphanies is an occasion of God breaking through our darkness, showing himself, and bestowing his grace on us. In the epiphany of the magi, God shows himself by taking human form in its most vulnerable and lowly state, redeeming fragile human flesh by becoming one of us. In the epiphany of his baptism, Christ identifies himself with sinners, redeeming broken human flesh with water and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the epiphany of the wedding feast, Christ shows himself powerful over the ordinary by changing water into wine, redeeming the petty things we consume by providing the finest of all wine, and showing that he has power from God above.

Wherever you may find yourself on the darkness spectrum right now, the Epiphany of the Lord can be your redemption. If you find yourself like Barbara in the story I told at the beginning of this homily, then the Epiphany can provide you with joy in your sadness, companionship in your loneliness, and every good gift in your emptiness. If God can break through the darkness and chaos of the uncreated world to provide light and order, if God can break through the darkness and sin of our fallen human nature and become one of us, then God can break through the darkness and despair of your own broken life to provide a peace that goes beyond any relief you may be able to imagine or hope for. Indeed, the Epiphany celebrates that the light that God brings in his Epiphany is a radical transformation. It’s not the paltry comfort of a pat on the back and a “there-there.” It’s not the relatively small comfort of the resolution of all your problems. It’s instead the great opulence of brightly-shining gold and the rich fragrance of the most precious incense. Isaiah says it will be like this:

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea will be emptied out before you,
the wealth of the nations shall be brought to you.

In the darkness of the created world two millennia ago, magi from the east observed a star rising in the eastern sky. That bright star guided them to the place where they found the newborn king of the Jews. The brightness of that star was nothing compared to the brightness that came into the world with that tiny Child. In Him, God revealed himself as a loving, compassionate God who does not just observe his creation from afar, but rather breaks into our world, takes on our human condition, and redeems us from the inside out. The Epiphany takes hold of the world in the glory of the Incarnation, and that Incarnation reaches its fulfillment in the Paschal Mystery. Christ comes to take on our human form, wipe away our sins, and bring us back to the glory of God for which we were created. The Epiphany is a radical transformation of our world and our lives.

May this new year find us watching for our rising star, and finding light for our darkness in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. May we all find God’s Epiphany in every place we look.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Today's readings

From the first time I came here to St. Raphael's, my favorite piece of artwork was this, the statue of the Holy Family. The figures looked so real and compassionate. I loved that Joseph has the scroll of the Law, since he would have been the one to teach the Law to his son in a good Jewish family. There is a peace, and a great love that is conveyed by the figures' eyes and faces. I have spent many moments sitting here praying.

But I am aware that the idyllic holiness, peace and love this statue depicts is often quite foreign to the experience of many families, including many families in this congregation. I know there are families where communication is anything but good. There are families who may never have known the kind of love that is shared between Jesus, Mary and Joseph. There are families who struggle with abuse: physical, sexual, or emotional.

Even in the "best" of families, there is often hardship. I know there are families who struggle to keep up with all the activities that are required of them. There are families who can't find time to have a meal together, let alone take a trip together. Families often struggle to make ends meet. There are families who struggle with the changing needs of children as they grow older. Families may be separated by great distance, or may have suffered the sickness or death of one of the members. Other families may find themselves changing roles as a parent, the one who provided for his or her children, grows old and becomes ill and needs care.

Families can be and are the source of our greatest joys and our deepest anguish. Sometimes all in the same day. The truth is, and perhaps you find yourself thinking this as you sit there and listen to these readings today, none of our families is perfect. Few of us would rush to describe our families as well-functioning, let alone holy. And so we can sit there and look at that statue and find its serenity meaningless in the hectic anxiety of our day-to-day family lives.

But maybe we need to look a little deeper or listen a little harder today. "Holy" and "perfect" are not the same thing. We don't need to be perfect to be a family. That was true of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as well. Would a perfect family have lost their child on the way home from a trip? I don't think so, but that's exactly what happened, isn't it? Mary says to Jesus when they find him that she and Joseph had been looking for him with "great anxiety." Those of you who are parents can well imagine the anxiety and can totally identify with what Mary and Joseph had to have been feeling.

Jesus' response shows the struggle that so often happens in families when the children are trying to grow up faster than the parents would like to see. He knows his mission and feels ready to take it on. They still see him as a child, a child for whom they feel great responsibility, not to mention great love and concern. This story is the last time we see Jesus until he begins his ministry at the age of about thirty. It has been theorized that the reason for this is that he was grounded until he was thirty.

I don't know if that's true or not, but the point is that even in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, there were struggles. Nothing was perfect in that family, not even from the beginning. Right at the beginning, there was a hint of scandal about the pregnancy; they had to flee for their safety; they suffered from poverty and violent threats. Like many modern families they suffered under political and military oppression, had to settle far from their original home and had to start a new life in a foreign place. Two thousand years may separate the modern family from the "Holy Family," but there is much to link us, much that we share.

So it is not perfection that we are supposed to be seeing in the Holy Family on this, their feast. I think what we are supposed to see in them is faithfulness. Faithfulness to God and faithfulness to one another: indeed, it is this faithfulness that leads them to the holiness we celebrate today. Look at the way the situation in the Gospel reading today was resolved among them. Even though they were panicked and anxious about the disappearance of their son; even though they did not understand what was going on with him, yet they appreciated his uniqueness, and Mary kept all of these memories in her heart, kept them to be sorted out and understood much later. And even though Jesus was ready to grow into adulthood and ready to begin his mission, yet he understood the concerns of his parents and continued to be obedient to them as he continued to grow in wisdom and grace. They were faithful to one another.

Our first reading today from Sirach addresses these same concerns. The family members are instructed to care for one another, to honor one another, to love and respect one another all their days. Even as parents age and the roles become reversed, still we are to respect them for all they have been for us. We are called to be faithful to one another.

I continue to be aware that even as I pull that theme of faithfulness out of today's Scriptures, that can still seem insurmountable to many of you. Why should you be faithful when the hurts inflicted by other members of your family still linger? That's a hard one to address, but the call to faithfulness is still there for all of us. And we're not told to be faithful just when everyone else is faithful. Sometimes we are called to make an almost unilateral decision to love and respect the others in our families, and let God worry about the equity of it all. I know that's easier to say than to do, but please know that this Church family supports you with prayer and love as you do that.

Every single one of us is called to be holy, brothers and sisters. And every single one of our families is called to be holy. That doesn't mean that we will be perfect. But it does mean that we will be faithful in love and respect. It means that we will unite ourselves to God in prayer and worship. It means we will love when loving is hard to do. Mary loved Jesus all the way to the Cross and watched him die. What we see in the model of the Holy Family for us is not perfection, but faithfulness and holiness.

That holiness will make demands of us. It did for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our church still has the Nativity scene on display; we are still celebrating Christmas. But today's story of Jesus in the temple reminds us that our faith in the Incarnation does not stop at the crib. The Gospel already has hints that Jesus' disciples will be asked to make a break with the past and accept a new life of sacrifice. Just as Jesus is beginning to show signs of entering a larger world and responding to its needs, so too must we move out of the confines of the safe and serene and enter and respond to the areas of need that the world presents to us. It will take holiness for us to be able to do that.

Jesus, emerging from childhood to adulthood, reminds us that in his name, we must be ready to live faithful and holy lives, regardless of whether others are doing the same, and no matter what the personal cost. Because the cost of rejecting holiness in our lives is just too great, and the loss of an earthly family is nothing compared to losing our place in the family of God.

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Today's readings | (St. Thomas Becket)

The birth of Christ in our world ought to mean something to us. I mean, of course, it ought to mean something more than rich food and brightly wrapped gifts (although there's nothing wrong with those!). The birth of Christ ought to mean a change in our attitudes and our behaviors and even in the course of our lives.

Today is a commemoration of St. Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who ultimately lost his life to the man who gave him that prestigious post. When King Henry began to usurp Church rights, Thomas Becket found himself in a bind. Would he be beholden to the king, or would he protect the Church on behalf of the King of Kings? While it was a struggle for Thomas, he ultimately knew that the he must take a stand, no matter what the cost.

In today's first reading, St. John makes the point very clear. We cannot say we love God and yet defy his commandments. And we certainly cannot love God who is love itself, while at the same time refusing to love our brothers and sisters. Being Christian looks like something, and the world looks at us to see what it is. If the birth of Christ means something to us, we have to share that meaning with the world by loving, no matter what the cost.

Perhaps the one who knew this best was Mary herself. Simeon the prophet knew that he had seen the promise when he looked at the child Jesus. Then he clearly told his mother that this Savior would cost her some happiness in life. Because Jesus would be a contradictory sign in the world, her heart would be pierced with sorrow. But all of this was to make manifest God's glory, no matter what the cost.

The birth of Christ in our world and into our lives this Christmas ought to mean something to us. A watching world should be able to look at us and see Christ. May this Christmas find us changing our hearts and minds so that we can be that Christ for all the world to see, no matter what the cost.

The Nativity of the Lord

Today (tonight), we gather to celebrate that GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISES.

nativity

God promises us salvation. Even though we were lost, having wandered far away from our God, preferring to pursue our own bleak interests and passions, even though we had turned away from the One who formed us and gave us his very breath that we might have life, even though we looked away from all the many gifts God had given us, preferring to pursue everything we saw that someone else had, even though we had spurned our God, yet our God continued to love us and desired to have us close to himself. Even though we gave up on God, God never gave up on us. God’s Word told us on the First Sunday of Advent that God promised us salvation. He said to us, “I will fulfill the promise I made to Israel and Judah … I will raise up for David a just shoot.” This just shoot would be our Lord Jesus Christ, who would lead all of us wandering souls back to the God who created us for himself. We have the great promise of salvation, all we have to do is look to our God, and “be vigilant at all times.”

God promises us a Savior. The thing is, having wandered away from God, we did not know how to get back to him all on our own. Even if we had known the way at one time, we long since forgot, and perhaps had even given up the desire to return to God. It’s kind of like getting lost in the woods. After a while, it’s hard even to see your footprints so that you can go back the way you came. The trees and underbrush all snap back into place once you’ve passed and it looks like you had never been there in the first place. You need someone to come and show you the way back. God promises us a Savior. On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we heard about a young girl named Mary who was told she would give birth to a Savior. Even though it would be a hard and sorrowful life in some ways, Mary extolled God’s greatness and said “May it be done to me according to your word.” Through the fiat of Mary, God promised us a Savior.

God promises us forgiveness. When someone we love wanders away from us, preferring to be with others, it hurts us deep within. If a child or loved one gets caught up in the wrong crowd, we cannot help but feel abandoned and discouraged. Forgiveness is so hard to offer when another person refuses to even accept it. It would be easy to understand if God gave up on humanity, when we so often reject him in our day-to-day lives. But God’s love is bigger than our sin. On the Second Sunday of Advent, God promised to prepare in our hearts a place for his Son, if only we would seek out his forgiveness. 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. God promises us forgiveness.

God promises us renewal. Sin has a way of making us feel dead to anything. We may have rejected God so often, that we fail to find life in worship or prayer. We may have made the wrong choices for our lives so habitually, that we cannot find joy in our lives. But all things are possible for God, who promises to raise us up out of our darkness and sin and give life to our hardened hearts and stony souls. On the Third Sunday of Advent, we heard that Jesus would come and baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, that fire that would kindle the coldness in our lives and renew the zeal in our spirits. We heard that the penalties that we have paid for our sinfulness are gone and we can now look forward to a renewed life and spirit. Far from rejecting us, the prophet Micah tells us that God will “rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.” God promises us renewal.

God promises us holiness. Having been saved and forgiven and renewed, we are now God’s holy people. God visits his people and promises to do great things among us. On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the prophet Micah told us that God promised it in ancient days, shepherding and guarding his flock, calling them to concrete peace in days of great evil. St. Luke reminded us of the wonderful, incredible, holy things he did in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth bore God’s prophet to pave the way for the Son of Mary who would be our Savior. Elizabeth was too old to bear a child, and Mary never had relations with a man, but none of that matters to God, through whom all things are possible. God promises to do holy and incredible things in and through his faithful people. God promises us holiness.

Throughout Advent, we have prayed “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us salvation.
Come, Lord Jesus, and be our Savior.
Come, Lord Jesus and give us your forgiveness.
Come, Lord Jesus and renew your chosen people.
Come, Lord Jesus and do incredible deeds in and through your holy people!

God’s promises have sustained us through Advent and brought us here on this holy (night / day). On the way into Church today, we stopped to bless the Manger scene, which reminds us that God has visited his people to keep his promises. Even if we sometimes think our flesh is expendable and even profane, God proclaims that it is good enough for him, by taking on flesh and becoming one of us. Sinful humanity is given salvation and forgiveness. We who are graced with a Savior are renewed and revitalized. Having been renewed, we are made holy by God’s grace, and God does incredible things with us and in us every day.

If this holy (night / day) is to become anything more than a commercialized cliché in this darkened and jaded world, it has to happen by all of us becoming God’s holy people yet again. We don’t just celebrate something that happened two thousand years ago; we celebrate the fact that God is born into our lives and into our world every time we open ourselves up to his forgiveness and renewal, and become his holy people. When we stand up for the rights of the unborn, the powerless, and the disenfranchised, Christ is born among us and warms up our cold and heartless world. When we reach out to others who are needy or lonely or oppressed, Christ is born among us and gives light to our darkness. When we introduce someone to the Church or witness to our faith by being people of integrity, Christ is born among us and revitalizes a world grown listless in despair. When we receive our Lord in the Eucharist and go forth from this place to love and serve the Lord, Christ is born into a world that desperately needs his presence. Christ is born in every moment when his people make him present through their lives.

On this Christmas, a watching world looks to all of us to be more than a Christmas cliché. Will God’s holy people let God’s promises be fulfilled in them and through them? When the world sees that happen, when enough people take notice, maybe all the earth can take part in our singing:

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth!

On behalf of Fr. Ted, myself, and the parish staff, may God bless you and your families this Christmas. May you find Christ in every moment of the coming year.

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