Homily – Baptism of Jesus

Dear Friends, 

Below find Pastor Dick Dahl’s homily from last weekend–thank you Dick! –Pastor Kathy


Today’s homily builds on four related reflections. Here is the first:

In December Father Richard Rohr released a new book titled, “What Do
We Do With the Bible?” In it Fr. Rohr speaks of how since the time of the
the Reformation and the Enlightenment–in other words the last three to five
hundred years–Christians have reduced their way of reading Scripture to a
narrow lens that was supposedly rational, literal and historical—a severely
narrow view that he and many would say is the least spiritually helpful view.
Father Rohr writes, “Such a narrow approach largely creates…a
transactional religion much more than transformational spirituality. It
idealizes individual conformity and group belonging over love, service, or
actual change of heart.”

He goes on to say, “The earlier centuries of Christianity were much closer
to the trans-rational world of Jesus and his storytelling style of teaching
(which does not lend itself to dogmatic or systematic theology). As stated in
Matthew 13:34, ‘He would never speak to them except in parables.’ The
indirect, metaphorical, symbolic language of a story or parable seems to be
Jesus’ strongly preferred way of teaching spiritual realities.”

Now, the second reflection: I went though this background about ways of
reading scripture because when I first read the Gospel account of Jesus’
baptism today, I found myself trapped in a narrow literal understanding. I
questioned why was Jesus even going through a ritual in which John the
Baptist called people to reform their behavior? Did he have to reform his
behavior? And did anyone really hear the voice of God the Father speaking
or see the holy Spirit coming upon Jesus in some visible form?

I was inclined to interpret this description as the much later understanding
of Christians after Jesus’ resurrection and the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit
who made clear to them what it had all meant.

Now, however, I am inclined to read this account with a broader and, I
hope, deeper viewpoint. A crucially longer historical awareness gives the
event deeper meaning than a mere literal approach does. For example,
John the Baptist’s preaching is associated in Luke’s gospel, unlike in any of
the other gospels, with a call from God. This presents him just like the
prophets before him, such as Elijah, whose ministries also began with a
similar call. John the Baptist then prepares the crowds for a major change–
the more than thousand-year-long phase in God’s plan for mankind was
about to change, namely the Time of Promise. He tells them “One is
coming after me who is mightier than I, one who will baptize you with fire
and the holy Spirit.”

Jesus’ baptism then powerfully opens a new phase in history—the Time of
Fulfillment. A voice from heaven identifies the man Jesus as his Son. It
reflects almost word for word the words from the prophet Isaiah in our first
reading today: “Here is my Servant …my Chosen One with whom I am
pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the
nations.” The baptism of Jesus was really an anointing.

The man Jesus was so powerfully affected by the voice of the Father and
the coming on him of the holy Spirit that the next thing he is described as
doing in Luke’s gospel is to go into the wilderness of the desert to come to
terms with it all, to figure it all out. When he emerges from the desert, Luke
writes, “After this, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” One
of the first things Jesus is described doing is to stand up in his home synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the
Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the
poor…to captives…to the blind…(and) the oppressed.”

Now, the third reflection: I have tried to describe for you a way of reading
today’s Gospel that isn’t like a movie, but is more a meditative revelation
with much deeper meaning than simply a plunge in the Jordan. This
reading opens the door to a revolution, a message that turns the
established order upside down.

This message was and remains revolutionary in that it was and is not first
of all for the people with power and great wealth. As Mary declared in her
Magnificat, “The Mighty One… has shown might with his arm, dispersed
the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their
thrones, but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.”

In fact, more than any other Gospel writer, Luke is concerned with Jesus’
attitude toward the economically and socially poor. At times the poor in
Luke’s gospel are associated with the downtrodden, the oppressed and
afflicted, the forgotten and the neglected. It is they who most readily accept
Jesus’ message of salvation.

So, now we come to the last reflection in this homily: The second reading
today from the Acts of the Apostles. We hear Peter being called to go to the
home, not only of a Gentile, but of a Centurian of the occupying Roman
army. In a more modern context, that may have been like being sent to the
home of a Nazi commandant in World War II.

To Peter’s amazement, as he was telling Cornelius and those with him the
story of Jesus, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.”
When Peter realized that they had received the holy Spirit even as he had,
he had them all baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Today it is hard for us to realize and appreciate what a revelation it was for
the Jewish people, like Peter and later Paul, to recognize that God’s
covenant which had made the Jews his special people for over a thousand
years, was now open to all people in an inclusive New Covenant–sealed in
the blood of Jesus and which we are celebrating in this Eucharistic meal.
In the words of the old Negro spiritual, “He’s got the whole world in his
hands” or today’s alternate version, “She’s got the whole world in her
hands.” In other words, no more exclusion. No more dualism! No more
separating people into who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is
out. We are all included, not because we are better or worse than others,
but because God’s love is a transforming power. We are each sinners, yet
the transforming mercy of God has made us temples of the holy Spirit
through baptism.

Before we think or say, “This is obvious and clear to us,” we need to ask,
“Is it really?” If the total embrace of God’s love was truly recognized,
accepted and believed, how could anyone be viewed as an outsider? In the
book by Father Rohr that I mentiohned earlier, he states, “Well over sixty
percent of Jesus’ stories make the outsider the hero of the story….”
What people have we excluded, and perhaps continue to exclude? For
centuries it was the Jews. The Church sponsored crusades and the
Crusaders carried out pogroms against Jews on their way to fight Muslims.
After the Reformation Christians who did not accept each other’s version of
the truth were burned at the stake. More recently it has been the
homosexual, the divorced. The list may today go on to include others
whose political views as well as whose religious beliefs (or lack of them) we
find offensive and hate.

In short, I suggest that the Scripture readings today, read from a more
profound viewpoint, proclaim the clear and fundamental message of Jesus.
He loves each person and has in fact a preferential love for the poor, the
outsider, the outcast. This was the lesson that Peter learned when he met
with Cornelius. The affirmation of Jesus by the Father and the Spirit at his
baptism began his emergence from his hidden years into his public
ministry. His actions were his message. Jesus came to change the minds of people about God, and in doing so, to change our minds about ourselves and literally everyone and everything else in the universe.

Homily – Feast of the Three Kings

The feast of the Epiphany or more, familiarly, “The Feast of the Three Kings,” is all about manifestation, which is the definition of Epiphany.  It is about sharing what one has seen and heard.

Pope Francis said as much in a January 6, 2018 homily, just one year ago today. I will use some of his key ideas and then go from there.  Francis said that there are three actions that these astrologers from the east accomplished that can “guide our journey toward” [God]. Another term used for these ancient visitors is, “The Magi,” a term referring to the priestly class, also meaning, “wise men.”  Francis goes on to say, “The Magi, see the star, they set out, and they bring gifts.” 

If we look to the Scriptures for today; we hear the prophet, Isaiah, proclaim, “Arise, shine, for your light has come!” And we might ask, “Who is this light for?” All of us, or just some?”

The writer to the Ephesians says basically that, Jesus is for everyone, no exceptions!  Matthew, in his gospel, the only one by the way who records this visitation of “wise men,” says that the Three Kings, “saw the star and followed it.”  Now this seems to be the connecting piece to the words of Francis—not only did they “see the star,” but they “followed” it—in other words, they did something!

Being a Christian, a follower of our brother Jesus is not a stagnant thing, but a state that calls forth something in return for the gift we have received with our faith.  We must respond by bringing our gifts to bear in our world.

Pope Francis makes a point of saying that the Star of Bethlehem was there for all to see and then he asks, “Why didn’t everyone see it?” He goes on to simply say and I paraphrase, perhaps those who didn’t see the star weren’t “looking up.”  Perhaps they had their eyes on the ground.

So, it would seem that being a Christian is not just something we say about ourselves, so as to claim credit, but something that we must act upon, knowing that it is not about gaining a reward, but simply about doing what is right and just and true—the loving thing, as Jesus always did.

Francis goes on to indicate that some didn’t see the star, even if they did look up because they didn’t know what they were looking for.  We have talked many times here about how we will find Jesus—God, in our world, always hopefully realizing that if we are looking for glitz and power, than we will miss Jesus.

From all the cards and art produced around the Christmas mystery, the Star of Bethlehem is always depicted as the brightest one in the heavens—perhaps, as Francis says, it wasn’t so “bright” as it was, “constant.”

In the terminology of astrologers, this Star of Bethlehem wasn’t a “shooting star”—one that dazzles and is quickly gone, but one that is more gentle, yet true and constant.  The pope compares the Bethlehem Star to how our God invites, rather than demands, a relationship with us.  Our loving God then promises to stay close—this relationship will never be fleeting as some other “stars” we may choose to follow: money, power, prestige.  They are more like “shooting stars”—here today, gone tomorrow!  Not so with our God!

Going back then to the three actions of the kings that we are to follow; we are told that after they, “see the star,” “they set out.”  In other words, they take a risk! Because after all; they don’t know where the journey will lead, they don’t know if it will come to a good end—only that they must go.  We often see this response to God’s call—this urgency.  We saw it in Mary when she hurried to visit Elizabeth during their mutual time of waiting.

If we are truly living our Christian calls to follow Jesus, we likewise must take risks.  We can’t wait for the affirmation of others to answer the call of our hearts to follow Jesus.  And from studying his life, we know that taking a risk won’t always be easy—we may lose friends and family, but we will know that we have brought the “gifts” that we have to bring to the “Christ Child” in all the places that we find “the child”—the poor, the lonely, the sad, the forgotten, the mistreated.

A final point that Francis challenges us with reflects the story of the Magi as we have come to know it—“they kept moving.”  The Magi, Francis says, “set out, went in and fell down and worshipped him, and they, went back.”  The piece we must understand is that their “setting out” once they “saw the star” had no ending, as our journey in the faith must be, in our life here.  We must be a Christian always, Jesus’ follower, every day, in every way.

With today’s feast, our formal Christmas time is over—the 12 days.  Now we must leave the relative comfort of the crib and continue “to see” and to do that which is ours to do as Jesus’ followers.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – Holy Family Sunday

 

My friends, Holy Family Sunday, at least through the chosen Scriptures for today would seem to conjure up within us all that is good, true and wonderful about family life.  These readings call forth in each of us how we should behave within our families—primarily with respect, honor, love and caring. They don’t address the situations when members within a family aren’t loved and cared for by the very people that should extend these gifts to them. But, we will leave that for now.

Each year the feast day of the Holy Family comes on the first Sunday after Christmas and it seems well-placed in our church year.  We have just remembered the birth of our brother Jesus in Bethlehem, a small, insignificant place—really.

Our God makes it clear from the beginning that this graced life of Jesus will not be about position and power, but about time, place and action. We get the message through his lowly birth and the circumstances of him and his holy family living as refugees in his first years, literally running for their lives, as so many immigrant families at our borders are doing in our present day, of just who he would be coming to serve.

And for all the Christmas cards and greetings that proclaim this a season of peace, love and joy—we know that our brother Jesus would struggle his entire adult life in ministry to help his followers understand that it wasn’t an earthly kingdom that he came to establish—one that would overthrow the powers-that-be, but a kin-dom of love, care, mercy, justice and equality for all. Unfortunately, in our Church Universal, this later notion of “kingdom” and power-over” has clouded the image of the “kin-dom” that Jesus came to establish.

Ideas of getting at the humanity and the everyday struggles of this young family that we have come to call, “holy” have been discouraged and the ideas of a God asking the ultimate from this child, in time, to save humanity and make it acceptable to this God that we were all taught to fear have been those that have been uplifted.

And what has that done to our faith and belief systems?  Basically, it has made God distant, one to be feared and really one who is unlovable.  The real mystery and beauty of Christmas time is that our God, in all the glory that is God’s alone, freely chose to be close to us, in the only real way that it was possible to do so—by becoming one of us—with us.  The theology that teaches otherwise is clearly wrong! That is man’s theology and I do mean, “man’s,” not God’s! We didn’t need to be “saved,” and we were already acceptable to God, more than acceptable!

The humanity of Jesus and the life into which he was born is only too obvious from the Christmas Scriptures shared this week.  This was a poor family—[they] “laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”   Scriptures don’t tell us this, but the human heart knows that Mary and Joseph were a couple in love—that, is a given, because they couldn’t have raised the man that Jesus came to be had they not been a couple who loved deeply.

A friend shared an article with me this past week that talked about showing this purely, human fact—that of Mary and Joseph’s love for each other being at the heart of the Christmas story by the placing of the figurines of Mary and Joseph in the crib scene, not one on either side of the crib, but next to each other, embracing and supporting each other as a couple in love would do, at the birth of their child as they marveled at what had befallen them!

Marjorie Holmes, who writes so beautifully of that first Christmas in TWO FROM GALILEE,  says that God chose Mary and Joseph to be Jesus’ earthly parents primarily because they already loved each other. Love goes a long way to get people through the bumps in the road of life.  I think of many couples I know, family and friends, for which this is true. The outdated theology that depicts Joseph as a caretaker husband and father and wants to put such emphasis on Jesus’ parents living a celibate, married life is simply silly and not of God.  To have the goodness, the comfort, the physical closeness of a partner for the journey is part and parcel of what made Jesus’ earthly family, holy, as all families are holy.

It was through his humanity and his earthly experience in the home that Mary and Joseph provided, complete with daily examples of love-in-action that Jesus was then able to show us, his earthly brothers and sisters on a larger scale, how we are to love as the God of us all intended.

My friends, this is all so simple, yet in its simplicity, profound. Loving well is the hardest thing any of us will do in our lifetime. Now that may sound strange when we have just come through a time of being with family and friends and hopefully physical expressions of love. And while we may still be basking in the goodness of warm times and moments with loved ones; we all know that true love isn’t always easy.

I am thinking of the “tough love” parents may sometimes have to give to help their children to grow “in wisdom and grace”—to become their best selves. Without this kind of love, in the best sense, and their love for each other; they wouldn’t have the stamina to give their children what they truly need to grow up well and be a credit to their world.

In the beginning I indicated that the readings for Holy Family Sunday might not be comforting and even more so, confusing, to those whose experience of parental love and care may have been lacking or downright cruel.  As I said, these Scriptures don’t speak to this scenario, but Jesus helps us out in other places, indicating the way we must go: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We don’t take our lead from our fellow creatures, but from our brother Jesus. Jesus and God truly want us to become whole people, doing what is good for others, but for ourselves as well—it’s a balance.

The Holy Family calls each of us in our families to live as they did; keeping our eyes on what is most important—simply put—the love.  Will it always be easy—no, it won’t, but it will always be rich because we can only measure the result by how much we have loved and again, that includes, loving ourselves.  If we have loved well, selflessly for the most part, then even if all doesn’t turn out as we had hoped, we know that we chose the best in the end.

My friends, may each of you find love, joy and peace within family—however you find it in this blessed season. Amen? Amen!

 

 

Homily – Christmas Eve

Dear Friends, 

Again, my apologies for the lateness of sending this homily–I managed to pick up a “bug” and was in bed pretty much for Christmas Day–ugh! But my family took wonderful care of me and our Christmas celebration moved ahead with a few changes. 

Again, my wish for each of you is that the peace, love and joy that Jesus brings will be with you all now this Christmas and always! 

Pastor Kathy


 

As always friends; we begin this Christmas Eve homily as with all homilies by looking at the Scriptures—they are the best source for the truth that God wants us to know.  The prophet Isaiah has sent his timeless message through the centuries that we heard tonight as followers of Jesus have heard on every Christmas past and will into the future, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!”  Our brother, Martin Luther King, Jr. was known to have said, “Darkness cannot put out darkness, only light can do that!”

So, we must heed the words of these prophets, Isaiah and Martin on this glorious night in order that we might keep our eyes on Jesus, always and forever.  Perhaps that is what is at the heart of all the woes within our beloved Catholic church today—that our leaders lost sight of his message of unselfish love and care for others.

Isaiah continues, “A child is born to us.”  Recall with me the birth or births of children in your lives, whether you physically gave birth or not, perhaps a nephew or niece or friend’s child. Remember the great hope you felt and still feel in the potential of those children, the goodness you saw at their births, that you still see as you watch them grow.

Paul in his writing to Titus, that we just read, spoke simply, the truth, “The grace of God has appeared!” Is not every birth the grace of God? Yes! And for that reason; we need to lose the theology within our Church that speaks of this “grace” as “sin.” Whenever and wherever a birth happens there is new hope, “original blessing,” not “sin!

Luke proclaims why we are joyful tonight—“the angel said, “You have nothing to fear!” God to Bethlehem, that little backwater town, insignificant really in the history of the world—but there you will find the “grace of God,” “an infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  The shepherds were told that this would be their sign that indeed they had found something very special!

We cannot miss the point of that first Christmas friends, because it is the point of each Christmas!  The “grace of God” will be found in simplicity, in beauty, in goodness—all around us—we don’t have to look far!

I love a good story and I think you do as well, because it is often through stories that we can hear spiritual truths that we otherwise might miss. This story some may have heard before, but it is one of the truly good stories that speaks so well what our God’s purpose was in the Incarnation. So whether you have heard it before, or this is the first time, hear it tonight in a new way.

There once was a shoeshine man named Sam who worked the same corner in his little stand for almost 50 years now.  He hated his job.  He didn’t mind the weather conditions so much; the hot of summer, the cold of winter—he made enough to live on, the YMCA had good beds and his friend Cal, had good chili at the corner diner.  No, what he really hated was how people looked on him, or maybe more accurately, was how he looked on himself.

One cold December day while he was shining a customer’s shoes, a little girl appeared at this stand—she was standing near the space heater Sam kept to warm himself and his customers.  The little girl kept looking at him until he jokingly told her to scram, she was bothering him.  She said, “I’ve come to grant you a wish.” “A wish huh?”  The man whose shoes Sam was shining looked up from the paper he was reading and said, “You talking to me Sammy?”  Sam replied, “No, I was talking to this little kid.”  The man looked around, “What kid, Sammy?”  She of course had disappeared and Sam thought perhaps his mind was playing tricks on him.

A few moments later, Sam heard the girl’s voice again and now; she was standing next to him, whispering in his ear.  This time he played along thinking that his friend Cal at the diner was playing a trick on him.  Sam said, “Okay, I’d like to be the richest man in the world.”

Immediately, Sam found himself caught up in something like a whirlwind and he was transported to a grand house—he suddenly had everything materially imaginable.  He couldn’t believe his good fortune!  He could now truly enjoy life and he did!  But after a few months; this got old—something seemed to be missing and he realized that having things didn’t really make much difference—the world hadn’t changed any—still, no one listened to him.  So, he called in the little girl who he had kept her on as an advisor.

Sam told her that he wanted power—he wanted to be the most powerful man on earth.  That was a pretty big order—she said she needed to ask her supervisor, but after a bit she returned, snapped her fingers and Sam now became, King Samuel!  The world now functioned at his command—wars began and ended at his word.  He now not only had enormous wealth, but absolute power.

One day he was out about town with his entourage and he heard singing—it was coming from a church.  He entered and asked an old woman at the back what was going on.  “Why your majesty; they are praying.”  Now thinking that they were praying to him, but needing to hear her say it, Sam asked, “Whom are they praying to?”  The old woman became very quiet and responded, “Majesty, they are praying to God!”

The king could hardly believe his ears! He stormed out of the church and with his entire entourage, returned to the castle. He called in the little girl and raged at her, “I thought I was the most powerful person on earth, but my subjects are praying to one more powerful than me. So, I want you to make me God.” –PAUSE- She asked if he was sure and Sam replied, “Make me as God would appear if God came to earth.” This time she didn’t have to ask anyone, just snapped her fingers and Sam was back at his shoe shine stand.

Friends, throughout Advent we have reflected on the wonder and mystery of our God electing to come and have a human experience with us and it is unbelievable really, when you think about it—that God would love us this much!  Christmas is all about love and joy expressed—God could think of no other way of letting us know how much we are loved, then to come into our midst, to be one of us, and with us. It is the love that brings “light” to our darkness.  And Christmas and Jesus’ coming among us only makes sense if we then do as he did in our lives here.  His coming among us isn’t about “the cross” as some like to remind us this time of year—but about the love, the life well-lived in our brother, Jesus’ footsteps.

Meister Eckhart, a Dominican theologian who lived 600 years ago in Paris says it well I think: “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God [all those years ago] and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and culture?  We are all meant to be mothers of God.  God is always needing to be born,” [Bolding mine] to dispel the darkness with our light; the light of our goodness, love, mercy and care for people and our world.

May our good, gracious and merciful God who gave us our brother Jesus bless us all in the task of Christmas today, to bear Jesus again and again—in our world, to see, perhaps as Sam eventually did, that God resides now, here, where each of us lives and works, making all that we do, good, in that light. If not here, than not at all!

Amen? Amen! Merry Christmas!

 

Homily – 4th Sunday of Advent

Dear Friends, 

I am sorry for the lateness of this homily from yesterday, but if you weren’t with us yesterday, reading this now before the Christmas Eve liturgy today, beginning at 4:15 P.M. with the singing of carols, you will find it a very good lead-in to tonight’s homily. 

And if you can’t be with us tonight, I wish you and your family near and far the best of what Christmas brings to all of us–peace, love and joy! May you find these gifts this night and throughout the 12 days of Christmas in perhaps surprising and wonderful ways. It is good to remember that just as the Magi had to travel  and search for the Christ Child, we too much search…

My love to each of you,

Pastor Kathy


My friends, three years ago; I used this homily and finding this week, except for a few time-sensitive comments, it was still quite appropriate and being that I needed to do two homilies this week, I thought, you would be OK with hearing this one again!  A question for each of us to ask today on this 4th and last Sunday of Advent might be:  “Just what was God up to in the Incarnation?  I invite you to think about the anticipation of a long-awaited event—the coming of special guests—family or friends at this wonderful season of the year, a new baby, job, home.  We have all been in one or more such times of waiting, and have experienced the almost palpable excitement for things to start.  That was our grandson Elliot’s reaction yesterday when he saw for the first time, all the presents under our tree, “I can’t wait!” And that is where we find ourselves too, today, on this 4th Sunday of Advent—on the threshold of something great! The Gospel for today tells us that, “Mary proceeded in haste to see Elizabeth!”  She didn’t know exactly what this visit with her aunt would mean; only that she needed to go!

This reading from Luke, along with the others we just heard, bring together the major themes we have looked at during the season of Advent:  promise, repentance, transformation and joy—and now we are on the threshold of entering into that joy.  A purely human manifestation for me that we are almost there comes each year when we put up our Christmas tree and decorate our house. We always do that about a week before Christmas and then, for me at least; we are at the point of having the preparations move into a special place. The quiet waiting is over–the joy is becoming palpable.  Family begins to gather and gifts start to show up under the tree—a manifestation of the felt love of family and friends.

So what is all this joy really about? What was God up to in the Incarnation?  Today’s readings show us clearly that Jesus, the Christ was born into ordinariness, if not abject poverty.  He appeared incarnate the first time in a backwater town, Bethlehem—the only other notable inhabitant up until that time had been David and no one of any import is known to have followed Jesus. Micah speaks of the “smallness” of Bethlehem out of which this long-awaited event will happen!  That should tell us a great deal about the man we Christians say we follow—not in greatness did he come, but in lowliness—a great sign of what his concern throughout his short life will be and what ours must be as well.

In today’s Gospel, we see Mary, a young maid, going to help her matronly aunt, who like Mary is with child.  Nothing unusual here, except for Elizabeth being pregnant in her later years.  Young girls would often go and help older family members.  But certainly there was more to God’s plan than this.   The two growing babies recognize each other from the sanctuaries of their mothers’ wombs. We catch the excitement through the Gospel words, “When I heard your greeting, my baby leapt in my womb for joy!”

Our loving God probably knew that in an unbelieving world where others would doubt the truth of what each woman proclaimed; they would need the affirmation and support of each other to confirm what each knew had happened within her as a response to her faith and trust in a loving God. This is what Mary’s “blessedness” proclaimed by Elizabeth is really all about—Mary’s faith and trust in a loving God—and that this same God would be faithful to her—her Magnificat shows her to be a woman of strength. In addition, we are presented with Elizabeth, both women to truly emulate in our own lives.

Another question that we might ask:  “Why does God choose the ordinary to show us the divine?”  It might be to direct us back to God wherein all is possible; thus in simplicity; we can see greatness.  We talk a great deal here about seeing Jesus in the everyday events of our lives and the point being, if we miss him here; we may miss him altogether! If it is a problem for us, seeing greatness in the simple, the ordinary, maybe it is because we insist that the divine has to come in loud and flashy ways, rather than through the ordinariness of life: through babies at their mothers’ breasts, through children playing, through moms and dads, and grandparents, through young and old, through all the professions represented here as we go about our daily tasks to make our world better.

The readings today insist that the Incarnation comes to the most ordinary among us and all that is required from us is an openness to do God’s will—a willingness to answer God’s call.  The reading from the author to the Hebrews states that this willingness to answer God’s call and do God’s will was the motivating force in Jesus’ life. The words of Scripture, “God, here I am, I have come to do your will” confirms this for us.

Jesus is proof that God doesn’t want our sacrifices, holocausts, or sin offerings.  What God wants is our open and willing hearts.   Such was Mary’s heart in her “yes” to God as was Elizabeth’s in welcoming Mary into her home.  In the actions of both of these women, they welcomed into their hearts and into our world, the long-awaited Messiah.

And when did we ever need a messiah more than now as our country grieves the loss of so many these past years to gun violence.  Six years ago when these same readings were shared; we were newly grieving the loss of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT—hoping that the deaths of 6 year-olds would finally cause our country to do something to take guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. We may be now on the cusp of some much needed change to keep our people safe with the coming new leadership in our Congress.

The examples of Jesus, Mary and Elizabeth in our Scriptures today should give us a great deal of hope even in the face of the violence which we haven’t as yet got our arms around, but finally are making some progress through the voices of our youth who have clearly said, “Enough!”  If we follow their examples, the prophets of our Scriptures of old and of today, then each loving action we personally do in faith says that the Incarnation has taken place—that Jesus lives within us and by extension then—in all of God’s people.

I believe that what God was really all about in that original Incarnation was to come among us, be one of us, to show us how to be our best selves. I say “original” because you see friends, the Incarnation continues today if we allow it to.  It has been said, we need to give birth to Jesus in each time and place because each time and place needs God to come into our existence in ways that we can understand.

In the Incarnation, Jesus lifts us all up.  We are told that in the face of weapons such as are being used in these mass shootings, those immediately affected, could do little.  But in our daily lives there is much that we can do—advocate for stricter gun laws and allocate funding to adequately assist those with mental illness.

Additionally, when we contemplate the Incarnation and all that it means; we must as a Church realize the travesty it is for us to ever, in any of our Catholic churches, deny people access to the Eucharist.  We then effectively stop the Incarnation from happening in those lives.  We, each of us, are the conduits for God’s presence to be felt in our world—we have an awesome responsibility to welcome all and work for the good of all, think immigrants and especially the most innocent in our midst, as evidenced in our Scriptures today.

A final point that I think it is important for us to meditate on today, given our Scriptures, is the case of Mary and what it was like for her to be found with child in the society in which she lived.  Elizabeth addresses her as “blessed among women.”  Probably many in her neighborhood, if truth be told, gossiped about her and some even shunned her for what they felt was only too obvious.  It couldn’t have been easy for her—Scripture doesn’t tell us—but her family may not have believed her story—even Joseph didn’t at first.  After all, it was quite a fantastic story when one thinks about it—pregnant by the Spirit of God—carrying the long-awaited Messiah!  At the very least;  there was ridicule and shunning.  At the worst, a woman could be stoned in the streets for carrying an illegitimate pregnancy.

But our sister, Mary wasn’t a remote, supernatural being, but a flesh and blood human that came to be called “blessed” through her willing response to God’s call.  Feast days like the Immaculate Conception remembered on December 8th serve only to remove Mary from the flesh and blood human that she was who struggled just like all of us do.  If Mary was without sin, perfect, in other words; she wasn’t human, and if she wasn’t human, then what does that say about Jesus?  Our God never had any problem with our imperfection—she/he, made us that way.  In fact, last weekend, the Scriptures told us that our God “Sings joyfully about us!”  These are the Scriptures we must remember and forget the messages about Jesus’ only purpose in the Incarnation was to save us from our sins by his death on the cross.  We must remember that he “lived” for us too, to show us how to live and to remind us, because we seem to often forget, that we are loved mightily by our God!

We stand now on the threshold of something great as we remember at Christmas time once again that divine love became more fully present in our world through Jesus, the Christ. We assure that divine love will continue in our world if we give birth again and again to Jesus through our lives.  Every time we try to be more understanding, more merciful, more gentle, more kind, more just; when we strive to see the divine in each other, even the most seemingly wretched among us—then and only then, do we incarnate Jesus once again into our lives.

I believe my friends, this is what God was all about in sending Jesus to begin life in poor and humble surroundings, to live a life that wasn’t about glitz and power,  in order that we would know that each of us can be instruments of God’s love, peace and justice in our world. This is what we celebrate each year at Christmas time—the promise and the possibility of love born again into our world. Amen? Amen!