Dear Friends, wishing you all the very best gifts of Christmas–peace, love and joy! It was great seeing many of you last evening and for those who couldn’t be with us, please know that you are always in our hearts. See below the homily I shared with the community last evening–Pastor Kathy
My friends—first off, a merry and blessed Christmas time to each one of you! This is perhaps the one time of year that many people across the world truly open up their closed, busy hearts and love in ways that they don’t the rest of the year—at the least; there is that possibility for this to happen.
During Advent each year I attempt to have us live in the present as much as possible, preparing our hearts for the great gift of the Incarnation, because everything that we anticipate is usually better for having set it aside for a while.
A close friend of Robert and mine and a great supporter from day one of my priestly ordination, Sister Marie Regine Redig, School Sister of Notre Dame for nearly 70 years now, just to let you know of her wisdom in years, recently wrote a reflection on Advent wherein she basically instructed her hearers around the idea that our “Advent Walk to Christmas,” must be about Jesus being reborn in us, for our world.
You may have noticed that her family name is “Redig”—a happy fact we discovered at my ordination when she traveled from Wisconsin to be with us. And she is actually part of our extended Redig family even though we had never met before this—part of the joy of my call to ministry! Since that day, she receives my weekly homilies and always has a comment for me! We are now on a first name basis and “Gina” is hers. I asked her permission, to which she graciously agreed to share some of her thoughts here.
She says in her reflection: “We are an Advent people. Winter and Advent bring to us quiet, rest and darkness, a time to ponder Advent stories and invite their meaning into our hearts. Like Mary, God’s Spirit will overshadow us if we choose to give birth. We can be the cosmic womb destined to be bearers of the universe; to know ourselves and others in Christ Jesus.”
Gina then shows us through several examples of how we can, “be Jesus” to our world reflecting on the Christmas story characters.
- Zechariah and Elizabeth, for instance, unfulfilled physically, they thought, until John came into their lives might be our call to visit an elderly person needing human company and effectively, in the here and now, “be Jesus” to them.
- Likewise the example of Mary, a young girl asked by God to do something astounding—giving birth to Jesus, might be the prodding we need to look with bigger eyes and hearts into the situation of unwed mothers in our world.
- Joseph, a young father-to-be, willing to live out his love for the mother of a child he didn’t help to create, might prompt us to see the plight of those in like situations who are looked down on and criticized in our world through no real fault of their own.
- And finally, Christmas tells the story of a young family running for their lives from persecution and ultimately death, if caught, and Gina invites us to see this holy family in those families coming to our southern border and “be Jesus” to them.
She concludes her reflection this way: “Mary was told that there is nothing that God cannot do. She believed and we need to believe that the Spirit of God who over shadows us can inspire us in ways that we can open what is closed, widen what is narrow, and make love large where it is small in our families, communities and countries.
From the womb of your Christmas-self, live with the pain and labor of birthing Christ Jesus into the world.” She then quotes Angelus Silesius who said, “Christ could be born a thousand times in Galilee—but all in vain until he is born in me.”
I believe my friend Gina has captured well what we need to do about the Good News of Emmanuel, “God-with-us” and because we all love a good story; I would like to end tonight with a good story, one of only two that I have found over the years that is spot-on in describing why it was so important for our God to come into our world, as one of us, so that we can try to know God as one who loves us without end and then allows us to do the same. I haven’t shared it for 5 years so perhaps you will find meaning in it again tonight.
There was a farmer who struggled with the whole concept of the meaning of Christmas—he just couldn’t quite get his head around the idea that God would send Jesus into the human race to live for a while, suffer as we all do and then die. What was the point? He just didn’t get it!
Well, Christmas time rolled around once again. The 24th of December–Christmas Eve day dawned with the threat of a winter storm. The farmer had been out most of the morning tending the cattle and other animals to make sure that they were well bedded, and had plenty of feed and water to get them through the day and night. So, when he got in for lunch later than usual; he was exhausted fighting the elements and ready to sit down and be warm and comfortable himself.
In the early afternoon, his wife was planning on heading over to the country church with other neighbor women to help prepare for the late afternoon Christmas Eve service. The farmer, whom I said struggled with the whole idea of what the Christmas story was about; decided as usual to stay at home where it was warm and rest. His wife understood because she knew that in all other ways he was a very good man and her hope was one day the truth of Christmas would come to him.
The farmer did in fact doze off in his easy chair in front of the crackling fire and slept for a while until he was awakened by some noise in the yard. Jumping up, he worried that perhaps some of his livestock had gotten out and with the storm increasing he knew he needed to get them inside. He looked out the windows, but with the blowing snow, he couldn’t make out what was in the yard.
He decided that he had to dress up and go out to get a better look. Once outside, he discovered the source of the noise. A flock of tundra swans had come into the yard and he could see that they were clearly disoriented. He knew that the swans stayed as long into the season as possible—as long as there was open water, leaving many times just before bad weather hit. This Christmas Eve storm had come up without much notice, so that the swans must have gotten caught unawares, and now couldn’t see the stars in the storm to point their way. It was going to be a bad night—the farmer knew this in his bones and he had deep concern for the swans, knowing that he had to get them some shelter until the storm blew over.
So, he opened the barn door and tried to call them, lead them, direct them—whatever he could do, to the open barn door. Nothing worked—they were frightened and simply scattered about at every attempt he made. He finally realized that the swans didn’t know him—they didn’t trust him and were just plain afraid. He then thought if he got down among them, more at their level and moved along the ground, maybe the frightened swans would be more at ease and follow him into the barn. Still they wouldn’t come.
Then, he had an idea—perhaps if I looked like them, talked like them, and moved like them, they wouldn’t be so afraid. So, he went into the house—found an old light-colored blanket and draped himself in it. He got down on the ground and moved about near the birds imitating their behavior the best he could, moving his arms up and down, as if “flapping his wings.” The swans seemed to be a bit more relaxed, less frightened. He began to move very slowly in the direction of the barn and to his surprise and joy; he noticed they were beginning to follow.
It took him a long while to move himself slowly across the yard; he didn’t want to rush and as a result, frighten them, but eventually he got them all to the safety and warmth of the barn. He smiled as he regarded his “little ones,” so lost and frightened, that were now safe. He fed them—gave them water and saw that they were beginning to relax and nest into the warm hay.
Feeling proud and happy about what he was able to do for these beautiful creatures, he secured the barn door and walked back out into the wintry night and just as he did the church bells announcing Christmas began to peel across the countryside and he suddenly realized what he hadn’t been able to before—what Christmas was really all about. He couldn’t make sense of it before this night—why?—why would God send God’s son?—he just never got it—but struggling all afternoon to get the swans to trust him, the truth and knowledge of God’s great gift finally dawned—until the people saw God as one like them, they couldn’t hear, believe or trust the message. He fell to his knees praising God for this truth that had been kept from him for so long—Christmas is simple—it’s about “God with us” and we with and for each other!
So, my friends—as we have said here before—and as Gina said so well in her reflection—our God loving us enough to be one-with-us is just the start—that great gift only matters, in the end, if we then respond by becoming “Jesus” in our world. Amen? Amen!