All posts for the month December, 2011

December 25, 2011 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Isaiah 9: 1-6 + Psalm 96 + Titus 2: 11-14 + Luke 2:1-14

For generations without number, the words of Isaiah ring out with undying hope. “A people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.” and those words sustained a faithful hope and led to great joy.  And then almost suddenly during the reign of the most august, powerful, feared, and imperial of Rome’s emperors, a child was born whose birth renewed that hope and led to great joy.  A child;  poor, vulnerable, and homeless; a child who would in a short time so threaten that feared and powerful one that a reign of terror would sweep away all the first born sons, and soon lead to the destruction the great Temple of Jerusalem scattering those faithful to the promise into another age of darkness. In that darkness, another great voice, Paul writes simple yet wise instructions to a young, zealous disciple: “live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age as we await this blessed hope.”

Since those days, one cloud of darkness after another has swept across this earth. There have been times when the people in that darkness have themselves made it all the more dark. Wars and conquests, inquistions, revolutions, and reformations have swept across the face of this earth again killing children and the innocent, burning and desicrating temples, churches, synagogues, and mosques as one ideology after another maquarades as religion in pwerful conflicts abusing power and jealeous ambitions. So in a world that labors in great darkness, and to hearts that grow weary with disappointment and scandal, the story we tell on this day has the ability to sustain us with hope and expectation as Paul suggests to us through Titus.

This story is not to be heard with just our ears. If that is the case, it will be short and sentimental with hardly any power to sustain hope and stir up joy. This story must be heard with our hearts in the full knowledge of what this birth really means. The story we tell tonight cannot end in Bethlehem. It must lead us to Jerusalem. It cannot end with the visit of magi. It must lead us to Egypt and the story of slaughtered infants that casts all this in the shadow of Moses and a passover to freedom. Swadling clothes become a shroud. A wooden manger becomes a wooden cross. The baby becomes a man, a teacher, a healer, a prophet, a savior, a messiah. The story cannot, must not, and will not end in Bethlehem. If it does, we are hopeless indeed.

Best of all, this story is heard with our hearts because we are in the midst of it.  As long as there are young couples about to give birth to their first-born, the story is told again. As long as there are old couples like Zachary and Elizabeth living faithfully and growing old in love the story is told again. Look at the cast of characters. We’re all there: young couples, old couples, hard working outcasts who work day and night doing work no one else wants to do like those shepherds; people from other cultures and lands like the magi, powerful, abusive, violent enemies of peace; and refugees who flee to foreign lands to escape danger, poverty, and death. There are messengers of good news who sing of God’s glory, there are scholars who study the writings of the past and scientists who look out to the mysteries of the heavens. There are inn-keepers who make room for strangers, and even writers who record the stories. 

What draws all of us very different people together is a hope that rests upon a promise made long ago and repeated again and again by all the prophets.  It is first expressed in Genesis with Adam and Eve, Noah, Sarah and Abraham, and again with Moses. There is a promise in these stories which we tell again today. Yet, Christmas is not the fulfillmentntof that promise. The fulfillment comes at another dawn in springtime when this infant whose birth we celebrate today rises as a man from a tomb glorious in light and in life. This feast for people who live in the hope of that Easter day is the living promise that we are never alone. No matter where we are in life, no matter in what condition we find ourselves, no matter how far we might stray away or how unfaithful we are; God, the supreme lover, will pursue us in love for all eternity.

This is what old Zachaaria and Elizabeth began to experience in the birth of a promised one who would be a voice crying in the wilderness. This is what that young couple began to experience in a Bethlehem stable with the birth of one they were to call: Jesus. A promise was kept becasue fear and doubt never overcame their hope. Without disappointment, there was nothing left but Joy. So Paul’s old  advise to Titus still makes sense today no matter how things may threaten to disappoint our hope and quiet our joy: “live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age as we await this blessed hope.” For this is how those live who are children of God. Hope and Joy mark the difference between those who are lost in the darkness of night and those who are full of grace and truth.

It is not only the birth of Christ that we celebrate, but our own birth as children of God which is the source of our Joy and the reason for our hope. We cannot remain at the crib, amazing as it is. We must leave here filled with the light of Christ that shines in a gentle love of neighbor , a prophetic defence of those on the edge of society, and a joy shared by knowing that we are loved utterly and irrevocably by a God willing to empty himself that we might be filled with his Spirit and share his glory. In that faith, I wish you today a Happy  Birthday, for this is the day of our birth as well.

December 8, 2011 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Genesis 3: 9- 15,20 – Psalm 98 +Ephesians 1: 3-6,11,12 + Luke 1: 26-38 

There are two women set before us today by the Scriputres. The first is called, Eve. Created by God, sinless from the very beginning. 

She enjoyed the best of everything: a garden where everything was for her, and maybe best of all, intimacy with a God she could see face to face, a God who walk with her, talk, and listen. Yet instead of talkng and listening to the creator, she decided to talk with the creation, a serpent. With all the abudance of creation, she decided to be concerned with what she did not have. She lost trust in the God who created her in love, and disobeyed. Then that wasn’t bad enough, she had to get someone else to do the same.

We know the consequences of that behavior. We live with them everyday and every hour. Instead of abundance we now suffer from hunger and loneliness. Instead of having all we need provided for us, we must work and plant, wait and harvest. Most difficult of all, we have the immediate presence of God. We no longer see God face to face, no longer easily know God’s will, and it is difficult to know good from evil and choose to do good. Now instead of living with all things good, there is evil, sickness, violence, fear, and death.

Inspite of all God has given us, we still fail to trust. We still often choose our plan over God’s, and so we hurt one another, poison our enviornment and this beautiful earth. We suffer from despair and loneliness, depression and an emptiness we try to fill with all kinds of things that will never do what God alone can do.

Gladly, what we celebrate today is an assurance that this is not the end of the story, and it need not be this way for us. Another woman comes into this scene also created sinless by God out of love. She never had what that first woman had, all of the fruits of the garden and she never saw God face to face or enjoyed walking and talking with God in peace and confidence. When God’s will is made known to her, she sets aside her plans and dreams, and accepts what she does not understand. Unlike Eve, she accepts God’s plan and entrusts herself to God. As a result, a Savior is born to us, Christ the Lord.

As Eve was the mother of all human kind, Mary becomes the mother of all believers.  On this Thursday, in the middle of the week, we do something that is not usually part of a Thursday. We gather in this place because the truth of faith is more important to us than anything else at this hour: the truth that what she received from God is also in store for us when we trust God’s plan, obey God’s will, and are willing to give ourselves body and soul to the fulfillment of God’s will for creation.It is the will of God that we be without sin as God created us. It is the will of God that there be no evil, sickness, loneliness, and death. Listen to the words of Paul today: “God has chosen us in Christ to be the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless.” On our part, we must work and pray everyday to make the will and the plan of God for us  become real. God has chosen each of us from the beginning to do what no one else can do in fulfilling and completing his plan for creation. Though we may not have all the gifts that Mary had, we can still hold on to the hope that she offers us, and the promise that she fulfills. With her and by her example we can and we do have if we just ask the strength, the grace, and the faith to say, “Yes” again and again and again to everything God asks of us.