The Second Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

Have you ever had the feeling that things were just not right? I don’t mean not right like you got the wrong order at Portillo’s, or your postal delivery person gave you the neighbor’s mail. I mean, really not right, in a fundamental sense, like the world was off its axis in some way. I think these days we’ve gotten a sense of that.  We have those who would govern us telling us how extremely they are in support of abortion, you know, the murder of innocent children, right up until the time of their birth.  And others who callously treat the poor with contempt, abandoning those in real need or fleeing for their safety.  We have politicians and others acting like children in public and expecting everyone to enjoy it.  Crimes of violence, in recent weeks, seem to be on the rise, again.  The bad news never seems to stop.

And perhaps even a bit closer to home, we could all probably think of times in our lives when things just haven’t been right: times of transition, times dealing with the illness of a loved one, or family difficulty, times when we have been looking for new work or trying to discern a path in life. These are unsettling times that we all have to experience every now and then.  And add to that our own sin, especially sin that bites at us time and time again, patterns of addiction, the sadness of past hurts, and so much more.

So in view of the craziness in our world, and the sadness that sometimes happens in our own life, it’s easy to get to feeling like things are just not right.

And God knows it isn’t right. He’s known that for a long time. The whole Old Testament is filled with God’s lament of how things went wrong, and his attempts to bring it back. The fourth Eucharistic Prayer sums it up by saying to God, “Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.” But, as we well know from our studies of the Scriptures and its proclamation in the Liturgy, again and again humankind turned away from the covenant and away from the God of our salvation. Ever since the fall, things just haven’t been right.

So what is it going to take for all of this to turn around? What is going to get things whipped back into shape? Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Nothing ever changes if nothing ever changes. Things don’t suddenly become right by continuing to do the wrong thing. I really think the only way things will ever change is by starting over. And that’s what I believe God is doing, in our time, throughout all time, and particularly in this Advent time.

Today’s first reading speaks of this new creation: a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse. It’s quite a visual, and when I think about it, I remember one of our staff telling me about her visit to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. She saw the horrible death chambers and holding cells. But she also noticed, that growing up through the cracks in the asphalt, were some beautiful little wild flowers. Her tour guide commented that that was nature’s way of healing what had gone on there. It was a new creation, breaking up through the horrible devastation of the murder and destruction that had reigned in that place.  It was a shoot that sprouted from a very unlikely stump.

The bud that blossoms from God’s new creation is something completely different than what we would expect, something incredibly wonderful, something that would never be possible in the old order: “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” None of those species would ever get along in the old creation; none of them would ever have been safe. But in the new creation, all of them will know the Lord, and that knowledge will have them not only get along, but even to flourish.

In today’s gospel reading, Saint John the Baptist proclaims the coming of Christ who will do things in a new way, too: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The all-consuming fire of the Holy Spirit will burn away all that is not right and heat up all that has been frozen in listless despair for far too long. That fire will force a division between what is old and just not right, and what is of the new creation: “He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

All of these are nice words, and the idea of a new creation is one for which I think we all inwardly yearn. But what does it really mean? What does it look like? How will we know that we are moving toward new creation and new life?  Well, I think we’ll know because it will hurt a bit.  Change involves dying to something and rising to something else.  That’s why the Paschal Mystery – Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension – is so important to us.  

I remember going to the profession of final vows of one of my friends who became a Benedictine Monk.  During the ritual, he laid prostrate on the floor while we sang the Litany of the Saints.  I did that too, at my ordination.  But different from what I did: they covered him with a funeral pall.  It was a striking image: he was dying to his former life, the old world, the old order, and when it was over, he rose to new life: his life as a Benedictine, yes, but also his life of salvation and grace.

The death of that old nonsense always has to give way to the new life that God intends for us. We have to be a people marked by new attitudes, new grace, new love. We have to give up things that drag us down: unconfessed sin, habitual sin, impure relationships – all of it.  We have to surrender these to God so that we can become new people.  And then we have to strive for peace and justice – real peace and real justice available to everyone God has created. We have to be a community who worships God not just here in Church, but also out there in our daily lives: a community that insists on integrity, a community that genuinely cares for those who are sick, in need, or lost. We have to be a people who worship God first every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, who confess our sins with hope of God’s mercy, who give priority to prayer in the midst of our crazy lives.

Most of all, we have to be a people who are open to being re-created. If we are not willing to put to death our old stinkin’ selves and embrace new attitudes and ways of living, if we are not in fact willing to take up our crosses and follow Christ, then we are proving Einstein right: we are doing the same old thing and hoping for a different result. It doesn’t work that way. We have to cooperate with God’s new creation, we have to be eager to let God do something new. We have to be willing to live out of boxes for a while, so that the transition can take place. We have to have unwavering hope that giving ourselves to God’s re-creation will be worth it, if not immediately, then certainly in the long run. We have to truly believe our Psalmist’s song: “Justice will flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.”

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord: Mass During the Day

Today’s readings

There’s certainly a flurry of activity in today’s readings, isn’t there?  Especially in the Gospel, we see Mary Magdalene run from the empty tomb to get the Apostles.  And then Peter and the “disciple whom Jesus loved” ran to the tomb.  This flurry of activity centers around a crisis in their faith, a time of confusion that will ultimately lead to stronger faith.

So Mary comes to the tomb, early in the morning, while it is still dark.  In Saint John’s Gospel, the idea of light or dark always means something more than whether or not you can see outside without a flashlight.  Often he is talking about light and darkness in terms of good and evil.  That’s the way it was when we heard of Judas in Friday’s Passion reading: when he went out to do what he had to do, the Gospel says “and it was night.”  That wasn’t just to record the time of day, it meant that we had come to the hour of darkness.  But here when Mary comes to the tomb, I think the darkness refers to something else.  Here, I think it means that the disciples were still in the dark about what was happening and what was going to happen.

Obviously, their confusion gives that away. Jesus had tried to tell them what was going to happen, but to be fair, what was going to happen was so far outside their realm of experience, that really, how could they have understood this before it ever happened?  All they know is what Mary told them: the tomb is empty and she has no idea of where they have taken the Lord.  And after all that had just happened with his arrest, farce of a trial, and execution, their heads had to be spinning.  How could they ever know this was all part of God’s plan?

And even us – we who know that this was part of God’s plan – could we explain what was going on?  Could we give a step-by-step picture of what happened when, and why?  I know I couldn’t.  But, like you, I take it on faith that, after Jesus died, the Father raised him up in glory.  It’s a leap of faith that I delight in, because it is that leap of faith that gives me hope and promises me a future.  How could we ever get through our lives without the grace of that hope?  How could we ever endure the bad news that appears on our TV screens, in newspapers, and even closer to home, in our own lives – how could we endure that kind of news without the hope of the Resurrection?

And so, even though there is this flurry of kind of confused activity among the Apostles this Easter morning, at least this day finds them running toward something, rather than running away as they had the night of the Passover meal.  They are running toward their Lord – or at least where they had seen him last, hoping for something better, and beginning with the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” coming to understand at last.  It’s not night anymore for them.  The day is dawning, the hope of the Resurrection is becoming apparent, the promise of new life is on the horizon.

And may this morning find us running too.  Running toward our God in new and deeper ways.  Running back to the Church if this has been the first visit you’ve made in a long while.  Running back to families if you have been estranged.  Running to others to witness to our faith both in word and in acts of service.  We Christians have to be that flurry of activity in the world that helps the hope of the Resurrection to dawn on a world groaning in darkness.  It’s not night anymore.  The stone has been rolled away.  This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!  Alleluia!

Easter Wednesday

Today’s readings

“Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Today’s scriptures continue to speak to us of the joy of the Resurrection.  The disciples once again have experiences of the Risen Lord.  Today’s experience is one that is really a foreshadowing of the Mass.  Here the disciples walking along the road find that they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, and remember how their hearts burned with joy as he explained the Scriptures to them.  That’s the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Liturgy of the Word, respectively.

What’s important about what they experienced is that we get to experience it too, every time we come to this holy place to celebrate Mass together.  We too are on a journey in our life, a journey from confusion to understanding, a journey from fearfulness to faith.  And along the journey, we are nourished just as those disciples were, by the words of Scripture and the breaking of bread.  The Sacred Liturgy forms us in faith as a holy people.

These disciples had been walking away sad, perhaps returning to their former life, disillusioned that their Messiah had been arrested and crucified.  Nourished by word and sacrament, they return to their new life, energized to proclaim the Good News.  That is our task too as we go forth from this Mass to the life God has given us.  We too are called to proclaim the Good News that Christ is risen to all those who need to hear it, everyone God puts in our path.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

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