The Nativity of the Lord: At the Mass During the Night

Today’s readings

It’s all about the zeal of the Lord of Hosts!

Because when you think about it, God doesn’t have to care about our welfare or our salvation.  He’s God, he’s not in need of anyone or anything, because he is all-sufficient.  He doesn’t need our love, he doesn’t need our praise, he doesn’t need our contrition … honestly, he doesn’t need us period.

But because God is who he is, because he is Goodness in all its perfection, because he is Love beyond all telling, because he is Truth in its purest form, because he is Beauty beyond anything we’ve ever seen, because he is our God, he cannot not care about us.  He cannot not want us to come to salvation.  And so he pursues us, and pursues us with great zeal.

He created us in love, and even though he doesn’t need us, he still loves us, and can’t do anything but that.  Throughout time, we’ve disappointed him, and when he forgave us – which he didn’t have to do – we disappointed him again.  That’s been the story of us as a people, and also our own personal stories, if we’re honest.  How many times have we all sinned, and after being forgiven, go back and sin again?  Honestly, if we were God, we’d throw up our hands and walk away.  But, thank God, we’re not God, and our God isn’t like that.  As often as we turn away and come back, he reaches out to us with the love of the father for his prodigal son.  Our God pursues us, and pursues us with great zeal.

When our need for a Savior was great, when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, after Abraham, Moses, David and Daniel had made God’s desire for reconciliation known, our Lord Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desired to consecrate the world by his most loving presence.  Being conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, he was born in Bethlehem of Judah and was made man.  As a man, he walked among the people of his time and lived as one of us, in all things but sin.  At the appointed hour, he took on our sins and was nailed to a cross.  He died to pay the price for all of us, in order to redeem us and bring us back to friendship with the Father.  Because of this, the power of death and sin to keep us from God has been canceled out, and we have the possibility of eternal life.  Our God pursues us, and pursues us with great zeal.

We gather this night not to wish each other happy holidays or season’s greetings, but instead to revel in the zeal that our God has for our souls.  We who are so much less than him, and so unworthy of his love, nonetheless have his love and are intimately known to him, better than we even know ourselves.  In God’s zeal for us, he reaches out to us when we fall, walks with us when we suffer, and brings us back to him when we wander away.  There is nowhere we can go, no place we can run, no depth to which we can fall, that is beyond the reach of God’s zealous love for us.  And that’s why this night, when we celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, is such an amazing and holy night for us.  If not for this night, the night of our salvation on Easter would never come to pass.  This night we celebrate not just the birth of a baby, but the birth of God’s intimate presence in the world from the moment of his birth until time is no more.

It’s no wonder the angels sang that night: they knew what the world had yet to behold.  They knew that God’s zeal had obliterated the chasm between the world and its maker.  They knew that the sadness of death was coming to an end.  They knew that the power of sin had been smashed to bits.  They new the light of God’s Radiant Dawn had burst forth upon the earth.  They knew that in this moment, the sad melody of sin had given way to a chorus of God’s glory.  They knew that the dirge of death had dwindled to the peace that God pours forth on those whom he favors.

That moment, all those years ago, changed everything.  Nothing would be the same.  The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this!

The Nativity of Our Lord: Mass During the Night and During the Day

Today’s readings: Mass During the Night | Mass During the Day

We settle for mediocrity way too easily sometimes, I think. All of the “stuff” that we have to have or get to give at this time of year is an example of that. The latest gadgets will be out of date very soon, and the hard-to-get toys will all be forgotten or broken shortly after the new year. The things we think will make us happy are not happiness givers after all, and then we are left with a sense of want for something else, which also will leave us unfulfilled. But tonight/today we celebrate that that does not have to be our enduring reality. We are given, in this celebration, the gift that won’t ever go out of date, or be broken or useless. Today we are given the great gift of the Incarnation of our Lord.

The Incarnation is a great and holy mystery that tells us that God loved us so much, he couldn’t bear to live without us. When we had gone our own way and wandered far away from him, he pursued us to bring us back. He went so far as to become one of us: the Great and Almighty One, who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than all the heavenly hosts, this God of ours took on our frail human flesh to walk among us and touch us and bring us back to himself. He so perfectly assumed our humanity that although he never sinned, he willingly laid down his life for us, paying the price for our sins, the price of a tortuous, ignominious death on a cross. And far from letting death have the last word, God raised him up, gloriously throwing open the gates of the Kingdom for all to enter in.

This, brothers and sisters, is truly a great and wonderful feast! It’s no wonder the angels sang on that glorious night! If it weren’t for the Incarnation – Jesus’ taking on our mortal flesh – there could never be a Good Friday or an Easter, there could never be salvation, never be hope for us. But there is. That’s the good news that we celebrate tonight (today) and every day of our lives.

Knowing God’s love in this way is the whole reason the Church exists. That people would not know God’s love and not experience his friendship was so unthinkable to the early followers of Jesus that they went forth everywhere preaching the Good News of God’s love and grace.

So we come to this holy place tonight, gathered together to gaze on the gift of Christ in our Manger. The message of this peaceful scene is that God wants to save the world. He created us in love and for love, so he greatly desired in his grand plan that we would all come back to him one day, and live forever with him in the kingdom. But he knew that, steeped in sin as our world can be, fallen and flawed, as we individually can be, that we could never really return to him on our own. We were – and are – too bogged down in mediocrity, too caught up in things that are not God, and that are not ultimately going to bring us happiness. So he knew that the only thing that he could do was to enter our history in a decisive way.

And he could have done that in any way that he pleased – he is God after all: all-powerful, all-knowing and present everywhere. John’s Gospel, though, tells us just exactly how God chose to enter our history: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” He chose not just to visit us, but instead to become one of us, taking upon himself all of our weaknesses, our pain, and our sorrows – like us in all things but sin. He was born a baby: the all-powerful One taking on the least powerful stage of our existence. He was born to a poor family and announced to an unwed mother. The one who created the riches of the world and who himself was clothed in the splendor of the Almighty turned aside from all of it so that he could become one with his people. Because he chose to take upon himself all that we must go through and then some, he is the way to salvation for all of us.

The only way that the full brokenness of our human form could be redeemed was for Jesus to take on all of it when he came to save us. That’s why his birth was so messy, why he had to be born in a manger with all the farm animals, that’s why he never had a place to lay his head in all his life. What is amazing is that, as wretched as our earthly lives can be sometimes, God never considered himself above it all, never hesitated for a moment to take it on and fill it with grace.

God didn’t take on our form so that he could become less, he took on our form so that we could become more. So, yes, God becomes one of us and takes on all of our infirmities and weaknesses. But in doing that, we ourselves become more than we could ever be on our own. Our lowliness is filled with grace, our sadness is filled with rejoicing. That was always the plan God had for us.

That’s our story. It’s really important that we don’t forget it, and even more important that we tell it to everyone we can. It’s the best and really only reason for us to celebrate so joyfully every December the 25th. Our story is what makes us who we are, what defines us as a Church and as a people. The story of Christ’s Incarnation is what makes us a living sign of God’s love in the world. That is who we really are, despite the world’s attempts to define us as something far less. The great gift of God’s love shines glorious light into every dark corner of our world and of our lives and calls us broken ones to redemption and healing and joy.

It’s crucial for us to live that story and not accept what others want to make us. If you’re joining us for the first time tonight, or if you’re visiting family, or if you came here looking for something more for Christmas, then we welcome you and we hope that you experience Christ’s presence among us. We hope that you find in your time with us and with the Lord tonight (today) a desire to go deeper in life and find the meaning of it all. Please know that we would be glad to help you in that journey, and please see one of us, to point you in the right direction. Please don’t walk away from this glorious celebration without knowing that God did it for you – for all of us, sure – but specifically for you.

If you’re an active member of our parish family, then I hope the message that you receive tonight and your encounter with Christ tonight leads you to a desire to share Christ’s presence with others. That’s our job as Christians, every one of us pointing the way to Christ in our own way, in our own place, so that everyone we meet knows what wondrous joys await those who live in Christ. The gift we have been given absolutely must be shared, and it is part of our baptismal commitment to Christ to share it.

The Incarnation – the birth and personhood of Jesus Christ – along with his Passion, death and Resurrection, changes everything. When we all rediscover Christ, the Incarnation can change us too, so that we may then go out and change the world around us. When that happens in us, the angels will sing just as joyfully now as they did on that most holy night. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

The Nativity of the Lord: Mass during the Night and Mass During the Day

Readings of Christmas: Mass during the Night | Mass During the Day

I was thinking over the last few days about some of my Christmases past. I was trying to see if I could remember the gifts I had been given as a child. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t remember them specifically, but of course I did remember the happiness of the times. The joy of being with my family and the love that we shared certainly marked my memory of those Christmases. Over time, some Christmases have been wonderful, and some marked by sadness, especially after Dad died. That is how Christmas comes and goes throughout our lives, of course.

But the real revelation that I had while reflecting on those past Christmases is that we definitely sell Christmas short. Sure, we settle sometimes for the commercial, retail version of Christmas. If you love the people in your life, then you’ll gift them lavishly. Then we’ll all sit around the Christmas lights, eat a big feast, and sing some Christmas carols. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, of course, but that’s not the totality of Christmas.

The totality of Christmas is, quite frankly, overwhelming. Christmas is the beginning of the Incarnation, in which our God – God who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than anything we can think of – this God takes on our flesh, broken and flawed as it can sometimes be, and becomes one of us. In fact, he so perfectly assumed our humanity that although he never sinned, he willingly laid down his life for us, paying the price for our sins, the price of a tortuous, ignominious death on a cross.  And far from letting death have the last word, God raised him up, gloriously throwing open the gates of the Kingdom for all to enter in.

That’s pretty awesome, but even that is not the totality of what Christmas is. Because here’s the kicker: are you ready? He did all that for you. Saint Augustine points this out in one of his sermons. He writes: “I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

“You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.”

And if you think about it, we need this kind of mercy right now, maybe more than ever. The constant threat of terror overseas, and even here in our country. The nightly shootings on the streets of Chicago and many other cities. The degradation of real authority sparked by misconduct of politicians, police officers, teachers, and even priests.

Amid all of this mess, Pope Francis has called for a Year of Mercy. He, too, acknowledges the mess in the document that instituted this holy year. He writes: “How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!”

What we have to see on this most holy (night / day) is that our God knew the flaws of human flesh, but he loved it so much that he came into it anyway so that it might be redeemed. He was well aware of our brokenness, but he came into it anyway that he might bind it up and make it whole. Becoming one of us, he was in a powerful position to pour out his great mercy, taking his creation one step further by making it fit for heaven. And, as Saint Augustine points out, he did that for you.

That is Christmas.  It’s the best and really only reason for us to celebrate so joyfully every December the 25th.  God’s mercy is what makes us who we are, what defines us as a Church and as a people.  The story of Christ’s Incarnation is what makes us a living sign of God’s mercy in the world.  That is who we really are, despite the world’s attempts to define us as something less.  The great gift of God’s mercy shines glorious light into every dark corner of our world and of our lives and calls us broken ones to redemption and healing and joy.

It’s crucial for us to live that mercy and not accept what others want to make us.  If you’re joining us for the first time tonight, or if you’re visiting family, or if you came here looking for something more for Christmas, then we welcome you and we hope that you experience Christ’s presence among us.  We hope that you find in your time with us and with the Lord (tonight / today) a desire to go deeper in life and find the meaning of it all.  Please know that we would be glad to help you in that journey, and come to one of us on the parish staff, to point you in the right direction.  If you’re an active member of our parish family, then I hope the message that you receive (tonight / today) and your encounter with Christ in this moment leads you to a desire to share Christ’s presence with others.

The Incarnation – the birth and personhood of Jesus Christ – along with his Passion, death and Resurrection, changes everything.  When we all rediscover God’s mercy, the Incarnation can change us too, so that we may then go out and change the world around us.  When that happens in us, the angels will sing just as joyfully now as they did on that most holy night.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

The Third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete! Rejoice!

Today’s readings

Today’s readings and liturgy call us to rejoice.  That’s the reason for the rose-colored vestments and the more joyful tone of today’s readings.  This is called Gaudete Sunday: gaudete being Latin for “rejoice,” the first word of today’s introit or proper entrance antiphon which says: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed the Lord is near.” The Church takes that antiphon from the words of the second reading today.

And there is reason to rejoice.  The prophet Zephaniah tells the people Israel that, even though their sins had displeased the LORD to the point that he gave them over to the hands of their enemies, he has relented in his judgment against them and will deliver them from their misfortune.  Their deliverance is so complete that the LORD will even rejoice over them with gladness!

In his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul calls us to rejoice too.  The reason he calls for rejoicing is that “The Lord is near.”  He was referring to Jesus’ return in glory, of course, which they thought would be relatively soon in those days.  While he never saw that in his lifetime, we may.  Or perhaps our children will, or their children.  One thing we definitely know is that the Lord is near.  He does not abandon us in our anxieties but instead listens as we pray to him and make our petitions with thanksgiving.  Our Lord is as near to us as our next quiet moment, our next embrace of someone we love, our next act of kindness.  Rejoice indeed!

Maybe this call to rejoice rings a little hollow today, based on the continued presence of terror and mass-shootings and civil unrest in our society. The world can be a very bleak place, and rejoicing can be the furthest thing from our hearts and minds.  But our faith tells us we can rejoice anyway.  The Psalmist sings today about the kind of hope our world needs right now:

God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
a
nd he has been my savior.

And it is up to us to bring this kind of hope to a world that has almost become accustomed to horror and shock and terror and sadness.  The world may almost prefer to sit in this kind of darkness, but not people of faith.  People of faith instead light a candle of hope and dance in the light of Christ!  People of faith can rejoice because even in times of sadness and despair, the presence of our God is palpable, realized in stories of heroism and seen in acts of charity and grace in moments just like this.

And so today we rejoice because our Lord is near.  We light that third, rose-colored candle on our Advent wreath and we see there’s not many candles left until the feast of the reason for our rejoicing.  We look forward to celebrating the Incarnation, perhaps the greatest and best of the mysteries of faith.  That God himself, who is higher than the heavens and greater than all the stars of the universe, would humble himself to be born among us, robing himself with our frail flesh, in order to save us from our sins and make his home among us for all eternity – that is a mystery so great it cannot fail to cause us to rejoice!  Indeed that very presence of God gives hope even in the worst tragedy – THE LORD IS NEAR!

The people who came to Saint John the Baptist in today’s Gospel knew of the nearness of their salvation, because John preached it with intensity.  So today they come to him and ask them what they should do – what’s the next step?  And he tells them.  They need to repent, to reform their lives, and keep watch for the One who is mightier still than he is.  The coming Savior will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and the only way to be prepared for that is to turn away from their practices of darkness and live with integrity.

It’s a message that is intended for us too.  Because we also could clean up our act a bit.  We too have need to repent.  Maybe we have big sins or maybe little ones; maybe we have patterns of addiction that we have been struggling with – we all fall short of the glory God intends for us. If you’re not Jesus or Mary, you have sin in your life and from that sin, Advent calls us to repent.

Because sin is what keeps us from rejoicing, brothers and sisters in Christ.  Sin keeps us mired in the darkness.  Sin breaks the relationship with God and others that keeps us from seeing that the Lord is near.  But we rejoice because our God came to us to give us the antidote to that.  He came to pour out on us his great mercy. That’s good news, and that’s why we celebrate – yes, celebrate! – the sacrament of Penance.

In order to help you to prepare so that you can rejoice, both Father Dan and I will be hearing confessions next Saturday at 3:45pm.  If that time does not work for your schedule, our bulletin has a list of confessions at parishes in our area. I want you to go to confession before Christmas because I want you to be able to rejoice.  If you have not been to Confession in years and maybe are a little ashamed or scared or don’t know how to do it, then rejoice and go anyway.  The priest will welcome you back warmly and help you to make a good confession.  That’s what we do; that’s why we are priests, and it’s our privilege to help you experience the Lord’s mercy and kindness so that you can once again rejoice.  So if you haven’t been to confession yet this Advent, I want you to go this week.  You’ll rejoice and be glad when you do.

These final days of Advent call us to prepare more intensely for the Lord’s birth.  They call us to clamor for his Incarnation, waiting with hope and expectation in a dark and scary world.  These days call us to be people of hope, courageously rejoicing that the Lord is near!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Come quickly and do not delay!

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

One of the amazing truths to ponder in this season of Advent is the nature of and reason for the Incarnation. Why did God choose to save the world by entering into it as a creature? Why did he assume our fickle, broken flesh in the lowliest form: an infant born to a poor family?

There is a theological principle that says something like “whatever was not assumed was not redeemed.” Christ had to assume, that is, take on all of our weaknesses, so that he would be able to redeem all of our brokenness. What great comfort it is that our Advent leads to the Birth of a Savior so wonderful in glory that the whole universe could not contain him, but also so intimately one of us that he bore all our sorrows and grief. It is amazing that God’s plan to save the world took shape by assuming our own form, even to the point of dying our death.

That’s what I thought about as I reflected on today’s first reading. Israel was pretty low and lacking in power, in the grand scheme of things. Almost every nation on earth was more powerful than them. Yet they were decidedly not unnoticed by God – indeed they were actually favored. God’s plan for salvation takes place among the weakness in all of us. God notices that weakness, takes it on and redeems it in glory.

That’s the good news today for all of us who suffer in whatever way. God notices our suffering, in the person of Jesus he bore that same suffering, and in the glory of the Paschal Mystery, he redeemed it. God may not wave a magic wand and make all of our problems go away, but he will never leave us alone in them.

And it all started with the Incarnation. The birth of one tiny child to a poor family, in the tiniest region of the lowliest nation on earth. God can do amazing things when we are incredibly weak.

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

Today’s first reading is a foreshadowing of the Incarnation of Christ. It is also a wonderful treatise on the spiritual principle that when we are weak, God’s strength is amazing. Israel was pretty low and lacking in power, in the grand scheme of things. Almost every nation was more powerful than them. Yet they were not unnoticed by God – indeed they were actually favored. God’s plan for salvation takes place among the weakness of all of us. God notices that weakness, takes it on and redeems it in glory.

That’s the good news today for all of us who suffer in whatever way. God notices our suffering, in the person of Jesus he bore that same suffering, and in the glory of the Paschal Mystery, he redeemed it. God may not wave a magic wand and make all of our problems go away, but he will never leave us alone in them.

And it all started with the Incarnation. The birth of one tiny child to a poor family, in the tiniest region of the lowliest nation on earth. God can do amazing things when we are incredibly weak.

Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Today’s readings

So what did you get for Christmas?  Was it everything you’d hoped for?  Perhaps you, like me, feel that the gifts are nice, but being together with family and friends at Christmas is the real gift.  Today’s first reading is exhorting us to something similar.  While the rest of the world waits in line for hours to get the coveted gift of the year, we have the consolation of knowing that nothing like that is ultimately important, or will ever make us truly happy.  The real gift that we can receive today, and every day, is the gift of Jesus, the Word made flesh, our Savior come to be one with us as Emmanuel.

St. John tells us quite clearly: “Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Because what we have is so much better than anything the world can give.  The real gift this Christmas, and really every day, is the gift of eternal life.  And we have that gift because Jesus came to earth and chose to be one with us in our human nature.  That’s why the angels sang that night, and why we sing his praise every day of our lives.

The Nativity of the Lord: Mass During the Night and Mass During the Day

Sometimes I wrestle with the question of what is the greatest feast of the Church year.  Easter comes to mind, and probably Good Friday, because it is through the events those feasts commemorate that we were saved from our sins and the possibility of eternal life in the Kingdom of God became real for us.  Lots of Church people would argue that Holy Week is the greatest time of the Church year for that very reason.  And I’m inclined to agree, except for one detail: and that detail is the feast that we celebrate tonight (today).

Today we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation.  It’s a great and holy mystery that tells us that God loved us so much, he couldn’t bear to live without us.  When we had gone our own way and wandered far away from him, he pursued us to bring us back.  He went so far as to become one of us: the Great and Almighty One, who is higher than the heavens and more glorious than all the heavenly hosts, this God of ours took on our frail human flesh to walk among us and touch us and bring us back to himself.  He so perfectly assumed our humanity that although he never sinned, he willingly laid down his life for us, paying the price for our sins, the price of a tortuous, ignominious death on a cross.  And far from letting death have the last word, God raised him up, gloriously throwing open the gates of the Kingdom for all to enter in.

This, brothers and sisters, is truly a great and wonderful feast!  It’s no wonder the angels sang on that glorious night!  If it weren’t for the incarnation – Jesus’ taking on our mortal flesh – there could never be a Good Friday or an Easter, there could never be salvation, never be hope for us.  But there is.  That’s the good news that we celebrate tonight (today) and every day of our lives.

Knowing God’s love in this way is the whole reason the Church exists.  That people would not know God’s love and not experience his friendship was so unthinkable to the early followers of Jesus that they went forth everywhere preaching the Good News of God’s love and grace.

So we come to this holy place tonight, gathered together to gaze on the gift of Christ in our Manger.  The message of this peaceful scene is that God wants to save the world.  He created us in love and for love, so he greatly desired in his grand plan that we would all come back to him one day and live forever with him in the kingdom.  But he knew that, steeped in sin as our world can be, fallen and flawed, as we individually can be, that we could never really return to him on our own.  We were – and are – too caught up in things that are not God and that are not ultimately going to bring us happiness.  So he knew that the only thing that he could do was to enter our history in a decisive way.

And he could have done that in any way that he pleased – he is God after all: all-powerful, all-knowing and present everywhere.  John’s Gospel, though, tells us just exactly how God chose to enter our history: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  He chose not just to visit us, but instead to become one of us, taking upon himself all of our weaknesses, our pain, and our sorrows.  He was born a baby: the all-powerful One taking on the least powerful stage of our existence.  He was born to a poor family and announced to an unwed mother.  The one who created the riches of the world and who himself was clothed in the splendor of the Almighty turned aside from all of it so that he could become one with his people.  Because he chose to take upon himself all that we must go through and then some, he is the way to salvation for all of us.

The only way that the full brokenness of our human form could be redeemed was for Jesus to take on all of it when he came to save us.  That’s why his birth was so messy, why he had to be born in a manger with all the farm animals, that’s why he never had a place to lay his head in all his life.  What is amazing is that, as wretched as our earthly lives can be sometimes, God never considered himself above it all, never hesitated for a moment to take it on and fill it with grace.

God didn’t take on our form so that he could become less, he took on our form so that we could become more.  So, yes, God becomes one of us and takes on all of our infirmities and weaknesses.  But in doing that, we ourselves become more than we could ever be on our own.  Our lowliness is filled with grace, our sadness is filled with rejoicing.  That was always the plan God had for us.

That’s our story.  It’s really important that we don’t forget it, even more important that we tell it to everyone we can.  It’s the best and really only reason for us to celebrate so joyfully every December the 25th.  Our story is what makes us who we are, what defines us as a Church and as a people.  The story of Christ’s Incarnation is what makes us a living sign of God’s love in the world.  That is who we really are, despite the world’s attempts to define us as something less.  The great gift of God’s love shines glorious light into every dark corner of our world and of our lives and calls us broken ones to redemption and healing and joy.

It’s crucial for us to live that story and not accept what others want to make us.  If you’re joining us for the first time tonight, or if you’re visiting family, or if you came here looking for something more for Christmas, then we welcome you and we hope that you experience Christ’s presence among us.  We hope that you find in your time with us and with the Lord tonight (today) a desire to go deeper in life and find the meaning of it all.  Please know that we would be glad to help you in that journey, and see our bulletin, or one of us, to point you in the right direction.  If you’re an active member of our parish family, then I hope the message that you receive tonight and your encounter with Christ tonight leads you to a desire to share Christ’s presence with others.

The Incarnation – the birth and personhood of Jesus Christ – along with his Passion, death and Resurrection, changes everything.  When we all rediscover Christ, the Incarnation can change us too, so that we may then go out and change the world around us.  When that happens in us, the angels will sing just as joyfully now as they did on that most holy night.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

The First Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

I don’t know about you, but I always find this weekend after Thanksgiving to be a little strange.  And I love Thanksgiving: I enjoy joining my mother and sisters in the kitchen to cook a wonderful meal, and spend the day with our family.  But this weekend, as a whole, has become rather conflicted, and it really seems to bother me in some ways.

Here is a weekend when we can barely clear the plates at the Thanksgiving dinner table before we have to make room for Christmas.  And I’m not talking about the religious observance of the Incarnation of our Lord, but you know I mean all the secular trappings of that holy day.  It begins about Halloween, or maybe a little earlier, when you start to see the stores slowly make room for the Christmas stuff.  They sneak in some “holiday” signs here and there, and start to weave the garland in to the end of the aisles, just past the Halloween costumes.  On Thanksgiving day, you hear the great “thud” of the daily newspaper, heavier than it is on most Sundays because of all the “Black Friday” sales.

And then there’s Black Friday itself, which now starts bright and early on Thursday morning – Thursday, you know, Thanksgiving Day.  We then get to be treated to Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  I can hardly wait for what they’ll come up with for Tuesday, Wednesday, and the rest of the week.  What a commercial mess this has all become, what a sad commentary on what makes our society tick.  We barely have time to gather up the pumpkins and corn stalks and autumn leaves before we have to set out the Christmas stockings and brightly-lit trees and candy canes.  None of which has anything to do with the birth of our Lord.

This is a weekend that has always brought a lot of conflicting emotions for me.  As a Liturgist, I want to celebrate Advent, but we don’t get to do that at least in the secular world.  And I’m not a Scrooge or a Grinch – I love Christmas, but I’d like to experience the eager expectation of it, and to be mindful of the real gift of Christmas, before we launch headlong into the real sappy Christmas songs that get played over and over and over in the stores and on the secular radio stations.  I’d like to savor the expectation of Advent before we have to deck the halls and all the rest of it.

And, for a lot of people, these upcoming Christmas holidays are hard.  Maybe they’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job or house, or who knows what calamity.  The synthetic joy of these holidays just heightens their grief, and that makes this season anything but joyful for them.  I remember the year my grandmother on dad’s side passed away.  I went into a store one day in Glen Ellyn about this time of year, and it was decorated with all sorts of subdued lighting and homey Christmas motifs, and I had this feeling of grief that was just overwhelming – it came at me out of nowhere, and I had to leave the store in tears for no apparent reason.  Grief tends to sneak up on us, and sometimes the joy that others are experiencing amplifies the sadness that we feel when we are still mourning.

The emotions we feel at this time of year are palpable and often conflicted.  The Church knows this, and in Her great wisdom, gives us the season of Advent every year.  It’s a season that recognizes that there is this hole in our hearts that needs to be filled up with something.  That something isn’t going to be an item you can pick up on Black Friday, or a trite holiday jingle, or even a gingerbread-flavored libation.  Those things can’t possibly fill up our personal sadness, or the lack of peace in the world, or the cynicism and apathy that plague our world and confront us day after day.

And so in our readings today, rather boldly, the Church is telling us to cut out all of this nonsense and get serious about our eternity.  Because if we’re only living from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, we are going to be left behind with our cheap electronics and gaudy trinkets, and have none of the real riches of the Kingdom of God.

And so our first reading, from the second chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy, has us taking a step back to look at our lives:  “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”  We need to go a little higher and look down on what we’ve become in order to see how we fit into the bigger picture.  Do we see ourselves as concerned about peace and justice in the world, looking out for the needs of the needy and the marginalized, blanketing our world in holiness and calling it to become bright and beautiful as it walks in the light of the Lord?

Or do we take part in those deeds of darkness that Saint Paul writes about in his letter to the Romans today?  Do we perpetuate orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and lust, rivalries and jealousy?  Do we participate in these dark deeds to the point of giving scandal to those who carefully watch the activities of people of faith?  If we do, then Saint Paul clearly commands us to get our act together:  “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us conduct ourselves properly…”

So this Advent season is clearly about something more than hanging up pretty decorations for a birthday party.  It’s definitely about something more than perpetuating rampant consumerism and secularism.  The stakes are too high for that.  Because while we are distracted by all of that fake joy, we are in danger of missing the real joy for which we were created.  Just as in the days of Noah, as Jesus points out in our Gospel today, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, so it will be in the coming Day of the Lord.  Just as those oblivious ones were surprised by the flood, we too are in danger of being surprised by the second coming.  God forbid that two men are hanging lights on the house when one is taken and the other is left.  Or that two women are getting some crazy deals at Macy’s and one is taken and the other is left.  We have to be prepared, because at an hour we do not expect, our Lord will certainly return.

Don’t get me wrong: the return of our Lord is not something to be feared.  Indeed, we eagerly await that coming in these Advent days.  I’m just saying that if we aren’t attentive to our spiritual lives, if we aren’t zealous about living the Gospel, if we aren’t intentional about making time for worship and deepening our relationship with the Lord, then we are going to miss out on something pretty wonderful.  We have to stay awake, we have to live in the Lord’s daylight and not prefer the world’s darkness, we have to eagerly expect our Lord’s birth into our hearts and souls, right here and now, and not in some distant day.

Or we’ll miss it.  God forbid, we’ll miss it.

The Nativity of the Lord: Mass During the Night and During the Day

This is an absolutely incredible time of year.  We come together tonight (today) in a beautifully decorated and lighted church.  We hear the most wonderful carols and hymns that our choir has worked on for the better part of the fall.  The homes around us are decked out in their Christmas finery, brightly illuminating the darkness of the nights that come so early this time of year.  In our homes, we’ve all baked up some treats that we only get to have this time of year.  We gather together as families and give gifts that are tokens of our love for one another.

This is clearly a special time of year for all of us.  During this time, it’s so important that we come together as a Church and take the time to reflect on the meaning behind all of this festivity.  It is not, as Seinfeld would have said, some kind of generic “Festivus.”  This is one of the holiest nights (days) of the year, and it is good for us to be reminded why we celebrate, or else the Christmas shopping becomes just shopping, and the cookies are just another thing we have to work off in the coming year, and the carols are nothing more than background noise for all the stress in our lives.

God didn’t want us to live that kind of bland existence.  He wants us to live abundantly and to that end he has sent us the greatest gift we’ll ever get: the gift of his love poured out from the core of who God is, embodied in our own kind of flesh – his only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who came that we might not be mired in sin and death and blandness, but instead live the kind of incredible life that the bright lights and merry songs of this season only begin to foreshadow.

Tonight, as we gaze on the gift of Christ in our Manger, we remember that God wants to save the world.  He created us in love and for love, so he greatly desired in his grand plan that we would all come back to him one day and live forever with him in the kingdom.  But he knew that, steeped in sin as our world can be, fallen and flawed, as we individually can be, that we would never think to turn to him on our own.  We were – and are – too caught up in things that are not God and that are not ultimately going to bring us happiness.  So he knew that the only thing that he could do was to enter our history once again.

And he could have done that in any way that he pleased – he is God after all: all-powerful, all-knowing and present everywhere.  John’s Gospel, though, tells us just exactly how God chose to enter our history: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  He chose not just to visit us, but instead to become one of us, taking upon himself all of our weaknesses, our pain, and our sorrows.  He was born a baby: the all-powerful One taking on the least powerful stage of our existence.  He was born to a poor family and announced to an unwed mother.  The one who created the riches of the world and who himself was clothed in the splendor of the Almighty turned aside from all of it so that he could become one with his people.  Because he chose to take upon himself all that we must go through and then some, he is the way to salvation for all of us.

The only way that the full brokenness of our human form could be redeemed was for Jesus to take on all of it when he came to save us.  That’s why his birth was so messy, why he had to be born in a manger with all the farm animals, that’s why he never had a place to lay his head in all his life.  What is amazing is that, as wretched as our earthly lives can be sometimes, God never considered himself above it all, never hesitated for a moment to take it on and fill it with grace.

God didn’t take on our form so that he could become less, he took on our form so that we could become more.  So, yes, God becomes one of us and takes on all of our infirmities and weaknesses.  But in doing that, we ourselves become more than we could ever be on our own.  Our lowliness is filled with grace, our sadness is filled with rejoicing.  That was always the plan God had for us.

So as we gaze upon and adore our Lord in the manger, maybe we can take some of the items in that beautiful snapshot and see what will come for him as he grows older.  We see the shepherds, lowly men despised often by society, the marginalized ones who are the first to receive the message.  We see the wise men (or rather, we will on Epiphany!), those who in the wisdom they have received from God, are ready to give everything to follow Christ.  We see the angels, the messengers who urge us to take a second look at an innocent child who might not otherwise attract our attention.  We see his father Joseph, who will teach him the law, as a good father would, and help him to grow in the ways of humanity, which he so completely assumed.  We see his mother, who nurtured him in childhood and followed him in adulthood, becoming the first of his disciples.  We see the wood of the manger, a foreshadowing of the wood of the Cross, which will be the means of our salvation.  And we see and adore Christ himself, the Way, the wonder-counselor, our father forever, and prince of peace.

When we look at that manger scene with eyes of faith, we become different, knowing that Jesus paid an incredible price to bring us back to him, not just on the Cross, but even at his birth.  The preface of the Eucharistic prayer which we will pray in a few moments makes this so clear: “For in the mystery of the Word made flesh a new light of your glory has shone upon the eyes of our mind, so that, as we recognize in him God made visible, we may be caught up through him in love of things invisible.”

The world’s eyes can look at that manger and see with cynicism that he’s just like us, nothing special.  But our eyes of faith look at the same event and see that he’s just like us in every way but sin, and that makes him incredibly special, worthy of adoration.  So if our eyes of faith have helped us to see beyond an ordinary child and to recognize our Saving God, then this Christmas has to find us sharing that vision with others.  May Christmas find us open to the needs of others, willing to reconcile differences, looking for opportunities to be of service to others, eager to change our own little corner of the world for the better.  Human eyes see opportunities like that as nuisances or things for other people to do.  Eyes of faith see them as occasions of grace and blessing to both the receiver and the giver.  May this Christmas find us seeing all of our world with eyes of faith.

On behalf of Father Steve, Father Venard and Father Dan, Deacon Frank and Deacon Al, and all of our parish staff, I wish you a most blessed and holy Christmas, today and through the entire season of Christmas.  I pray that you encounter Christ in every moment of the coming year, and that you and your families are filled with every grace and blessing.