Homily – 2nd Weekend in [Extra] Ordinary Time

Friends, this weekend brings our focus back to that time in our Church Year, Ordinary Time, while not a specific period like Advent, Christmas, Lent, or the Easter Season, is just as surely, an important time because this time of some 30 weeks, nearly 2/3 of our Church Year calls and challenges us to live out the messages instilled in us from our brother Jesus during those seemingly more special times named above.

And it is for this reason that I, as some others have chosen to name this part of our Church Year, “Extra” Ordinary Time, so that we wouldn’t forget its importance.  We only have to look at today’s readings to realize that we do not have a free-ride during Ordinary Time.

Isaiah and the God who inspires him, gets right to the point:  “You are my servant in whom I will be glorified.” Notice that we aren’t being asked here—there is just the realization that, “Yes,” this is the response that we will make in first having been loved by our God! It is almost as if God is saying, “Could you make any other response given what you know of my love for you?”  The prophet continues God’s words:  “I will make you a light to the nations,” and your light will be such that it will be seen, “to the ends of the earth!”

There is great joy here and we really shouldn’t miss that—it is much the same as we will see in upcoming weeks as Jesus calls his first disciples to be those same, “lights” that will shine to the ends of the world—or at least throughout the world within each of them lives.

The joy within those first followers was palpable when they said, “Master, where do you live?” and Jesus answered, “Come and see!” I am of course getting ahead of the scriptural story for today that simply identifies our brother Jesus as the One sent by our God to show us the way.  But one step really does lead to the next and our response to the knowledge that Jesus is the Christ—the Anointed One is to respond with the psalmist, “I am here to do your will!”

Paul then lets us know in this regard that he, “is called to be an apostle of Jesus,” and therefore tells the Corinthians that they are called to “be a holy people!”  “And what does that mean to be a holy people,” we might ask?  I would say that it calls us to be our best selves.  And going further, what does that in fact look like in our own lives?

Looking over my past week, a few things come to mind:

  • As you know, Dick Dahl stood in for me last weekend as I spent time with my family completing our Christmas celebration. He always tells me, “Doing this is his privilege!”  That in itself is wonderful!—certainly a way that he shines his light.  In the homily that Dick shared last week, he commented on serving twice monthly at the Catholic Worker house staffing that facility over the dinner hour.  Very honestly, he spoke of not looking forward to this service, but doing it anyway because he knows that we will find Jesus there!  I value his comments so much because they support me when I feel the same way.  I too instinctively know that I must go as well or else I make a sham of ever looking for Jesus any place else, especially here among the love and care and respect of all of you—if I can’t find him there; I shouldn’t expect to find him here, either.
  • I read a number of letters-to-the-editor of the National Catholic Reporter this week, probably 2/3 of them in support of the paper’s decision to name Nancy Pelosi, Catholic Newsmaker of the Year. Regardless of where any of us might be politically, I believe it is important to say that what Nancy Pelosi has done to earn this recognition went far beyond party and politics as she is accused of, by some—her actions were about patriotism—upholding the Constitution of this country that says that no one is above the law.  Now of course, everyone doesn’t see it that way and when a person decides, “to shine the light of our brother Jesus in our world, as we all must do if we are to be his followers; we can be certain that we too, as Pelosi, as Jesus, as Paul, may be ridiculed—but we must do it anyway.
  • As I prepared for this homily, I took a look at what I wrote 3 years ago at this time as one administration in Washington was ending and another about to begin. Throughout the rhetoric of the previous election year, there was much talk about “making America great again.”  I found myself then, as now, asking, what is not great about working for the weakest among us, securing healthcare for millions of people who had none, standing up for equality in marriage for all those who love each other, protecting the environment through laws that curb abuse, done simply for monetary gain, leading the way in making our world safer from nuclear proliferation, standing up for women in equal pay for equal work and for women’s rights over their own bodies?  All of the above are about “shining our light” as Jesus asks of each of us.

In his final speech to Congress, President Barack Obama challenged each of us to do our part for our country and the same could be said for our Church, and of our families, because all these entities are ours and they will only be as great as we each are great.  At that time, the president’s words were simple–we all need to lace up our shoes, put our feet on the ground and get going!”

I can’t help but reflect on what a different tone this is to so much of what is coming out Washington these days—the hate, the back-biting, the meanness, the smallness, the lies and lack of truth-telling—a tone so much about, “what is best for me,”  so devoid of service toward all the people which should be the guiding force of any and all who would ask to be an elected official of this great nation.

But with each New Year, in both Church and State, there is hope anew, for change. A new year’s letter from a friend had some hope-filled thoughts—here are a few:  walk more—to the library, the post office…go outside, even when it looks gray and cold, eat more vegetables, get more often into that appreciation state of mind, noticing all the things that are genuinely worth appreciating….

Our Church and our brother Jesus, calls us in today’s liturgy as throughout the entire Church Year, “to be lights” in our world, “to touch,” “to be seen with,” “to keep company with,” those we may not want to be with—to see their needs, to hear their stories, to do our parts and in so doing, to make life better for all, including ourselves.  I can still hear Barack Obama’s encouragement to us in that final speech—“Yes we can!”  Amen? Amen!

Homily – Baptism of Jesus

Dear Friends, below find a homily from Pastor Dick Dahl who stood in for me last Sunday as I was away completing our Christmas celebration with our immediate family. Our gratitude to Pastor Dick for covering for me and for this wonderful homily–and my apologies for my lateness in getting it out to you!–Pastor Kathy


On New Year’s eve I had the pleasure of being invited to dinner at the home of friends whom I know through the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship. After dinner we watched the movie “The Two Popes.” In it there are flashbacks to 1976 to 1983, when the Argentinian military dictatorship took thousands into custody, tortured, and who “disappeared,” never to be heard from again. During that time our present Pope Francis whose name was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was head of the Jesuits in Buenos Aires. To appease the generals, he told two of his priests to stop working with the poor in the slums but which they refused to do. By his censuring of them, they lost the protection of the Church and were taken into custody and tortured for many months. Bergoglio came to recognize his sin in not standing up for them. He was sent to live and serve among the poor in a small village. In a moving scene when he first arrived to celebrate Mass with them, he sat down in front of them and said, “I have nothing to tell you. I need to listen to what you have to teach me.” The Holy Spirit opened his understanding and his heart to a new awareness as he found Jesus in the poor and the outcasts of society. 

In these first days of a New Year we see Jesus beginning something new–his public life, after three decades of living in obscurity. He entered the water of the Jordan with others to be baptized by John. Despite John’s protestations, Jesus did this to act out his identification with all who are sinners. He then went into the desert for forty days where the Spirit prepared him for his life especially in reaching out to the marginalized—lepers, the sick, the blind, the deaf, the lame, prostitutes, tax collectors, even a Roman soldier whose daughter was dying. 

It is no wonder that early Christians found the Servant songs in Isaiah, such as the one in our first reading today, to be describing Jesus: 

“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out, nor shout, nor make his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” 

We find a similar process of new understanding in chapter 10 of the Acts of the Apostles from which we heard a few verses in today’s second reading. It dramatically describes a member of the occupying Roman army whose name was 

Cornelius. He was a centurion who commanded 100 archers in the Italica cohort. Despite this, he is described as a man who prayed constantly and gave alms generously to the Jewish people. The Spirit came to Cornelius in a vision and called him to send some of his men to Joppa, a city by the sea, more than a day’s journey away, to find a man named Simon Peter and to bring that man to him. 

At at the same time the Spirit told Peter in a vision that the Centurion’s men were coming to get him and he was to go willingly with them. When the group finally arrived in Caesaria and came to Cornelius, the centurion fell down in reverence before Peter who immediately told him to get up–that he Peter is a human just like the centurion. Peter then described how God anointed Jesus with the Spirit and power, how Jesus went about doing good and healing the afflicted, how Jesus was put to death nailed to a tree but rose from death and was seen by witnesses who even ate and drank with him. 

While Peter was speaking the Spirit fell on all who were listening. Peter was astounded that the gift of the Spirit had been poured on on these Gentiles. He exclaimed, “I see that God shows no partiality. Rather in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” 

So the readings today powerfully reveal the way God has continued through to bring about change and an ever more inclusive awareness of his presence in and love for all people. The Spirit came upon Jesus and prepared him for his ministry when Jesus emerged from the Jordan. Moved by the Spirit Jesus broke norms of rigidity and by his actions he showed God’s preference for the poor and outcasts. In the same way the Spirit led people in the early Christian community like Peter and Paul to see God in the lives of people different from them. 

Bergoglio was also led by the Spirit to find Christ in the poor, the helpless, the outcasts the imprisoned. As Pope he is now teaching and urging us to do the same—to recognize Jesus in people different from us, to see beyond distinctions of status, culture, politics and religion. In his recent Christmas message Francis denounced rigidity in the Church. He warned that “rigidity” in living one’s faith is creating a “minefield” of hatred and misunderstanding in a world where Christianity is increasingly irrelevant. He declared, “Tradition is not static, it’s dynamic.” 

The Spirit, promised to us by Jesus, enables us to be more open, to recognize him in those who look, think and act differently from what we are comfortable with. I think it is well summed up in a recent daily meditation sent by Father Richard Rohr in which he quotes the thoughts of his friend and colleague Brian McLaren who has spent the last two decades passionately advocating for “a new kind of Christianity.” Brian identifies shifts Christianity must make if it wants to serve as a universal path of spiritual transformation. The first shift is to become “decentralized and diverse.” Brian writes, “In other words, it will have the shape of a movement rather than an institution. It will be drawn together . . . by internal unity of way of life, mission, practices, and vision for the common good. . . . 

“This, of course, was Jesus’ original approach. He never announced to his disciples: ‘Hey folks, we’re going to start a new, centralized, institutional religion and name it after me.’ Instead, he played the role of a nonviolent leader and launched his movement with the classic words of movement, “Follow me” He used his power to empower others. He did great things to inspire his followers to do even greater things Rather than demand uniformity, he reminded his disciples that he had “sheep of other folds” He recruited diverse disciples who learned…his core vision and way of life. Then he sent these disciples out as apostles to teach and multiply his vision and way of life among ‘all the nations’.” 

So, as we proceed in this new year, with the hope it brings, I suggest that like Peter in his meeting with the centurion Cornelius, and Bergoglio’s immersion in the slums of the poor, that we seek to be open to the dynamic presence and enlightening action of the Spirit in our lives. Let us recognize the Jesus in people we consider outsiders, the ones we tend not to identify with, perhaps even people we may in all honesty not like. These are likely the ones we need to humbly approach as Bergoglio did, to learn from and pay attention to. 

Along with a lesbian friend from the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, I host at Bethany, the Catholic Worker House, twice a month. In all honesty I usually do not look forward to going there for my 3:30 to 8 PM shifts. I go there because it is the place I believe I find Jesus as surely as I would in the tabernacle of a church. 

This past week, one of the men who comes there daily for a meal is in his 70s and looks even older. He has been homeless since last summer and goes to the Warming Center to sleep. The Warming Center doesn’t open until 9 PM and Bethany House closes at 8 PM. So I have given him a ride to McDonalds downtown where for a dollar one can buy a cup of coffee and stay in a warm place for an hour. Several times I have given him the necessary dollar, but this past Wednesday he had some money. He was sharing the few dollars he had dollars with a couple others who also needed to go to McDonalds before the Warming Center opened. One was a woman in her early 40’s who had just been released from five months in jail and knew no one in Winona. The old man not only gave her a dollar, but when it looked like she had no gloves, offered her the warm pair he had. It turned out she did not need them, but I was struck by his generosity. I saw Jesus in him. 

I’d like to close with a prayer for our community that Father Rohr has posted with his meditations this week: 

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens…. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world.. . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, Amen. 

 

Homily – Epiphany

With today, as you know, we conclude our official celebration of Christmas time.  Also, with this feast today; we find ourselves in a new year—2020.  I read a piece somewhere relating this New Year to 20-20 vision and as we all know, such vision represents, “seeing quite clearly”—perhaps a wish, a prayer for a new year, a new decade of time!

“Epiphany” is from the Greek meaning, “manifestation” and it refers to the divine coming into humanity in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Such a coming, as we have heard all of our religious-spiritual lives has the ability of changing the course of history.

One of the wonderful things with a new year is that it gives us a new start—a time to reflect on what has been, what hasn’t been, and what could be in our lives.  A friend sent me a reflection recently that was advocating for all religions going back to their sources, finding what is best there and rather than leaving behind institutions that have failed miserably in living out their founders’ missions, picking up those core beliefs and beginning to live these best principles again.  A worthy cause for a new year—it would seem.

In modern language, “epiphany” means an “aha” moment—coming to a realization, perhaps, of what is needed to make a situation, an institution—our world, in fact— better.  It would seem our world is in need, now, of some “aha” moments!

There must have been something wonderful that the Magi, astrologers from the east saw when they encountered the baby and his parents in Bethlehem to enable them to first of all, recognize the child as someone special in his poverty and simplicity and then to be able to go back to their own country and share the wonder with others of what they had experienced in a stable so far from home.

These kings, in their own right, went in search of a king, following a star by day and night, for several months, we are told, and discovered that to be a king is really more about “how” one behaves as a king than “who” they ultimately are.  Would that those who lead us now in church and state could wrap their minds and hearts around that concept!

These kings, that we celebrate today, going in search of a king were at first surprised to find the object of their long search in such surroundings, but something about what they experienced was indeed, for them, an “aha” moment.  So profound was their experience that they knew what they must do.  If this were not so; we wouldn’t be talking about these kings today!

So for us friends; what can be our takeaways from this feast?  The prophet Isaiah is clear about what must be done—we are to, “arise” and “shine,” for our “light has come,” he says.  Exegete Diane Bergant says that this demands a two-fold action from us.  First, that we take notice (arise), but then this action requires another action, that we, “shine.”

To me this says that we must take notice of how our loving God chose to come into our existence—not in glory, but in poverty—not with a great deal of notoriety, but in simplicity.  This reminds me of one of the years when I was working as a chaplain at our local hospital and our pastoral care department was looking for a nativity set for our chapel.  The gift shop had a set that depicted not just the 3 Kings, but Mary, Joseph and the baby in royal, golden robes and to me, it was just, all wrong!

Even the Magi didn’t know what they were looking for and foolishly went searching for answers from the only person who would see Jesus’ birth not as a blessing, but as a rival to his throne.  But those who have written at any length about the ultimate finding of the long-awaited child say that “the place” of his birth was not what they expected, but upon seeing him there with his parents realized, “the rightness” of the place and the circumstances of his birth—not in glory, but in poverty.

Why is it, do you think, that we as humans need to rewrite this beautiful Christmas story about a God who loved us so much as to become one-with-us, to help us then to  become our best selves—“shepherding,” as it were, all the people who are in need just like Jesus ultimately did throughout his life?  Is this call just too hard for us?—making sure that the basics of this world are there for everyone, instead of just a few? Why is it that so many of our mainline churches just don’t have the following that they once did?  Could it be that too many of them, especially for us, the Christian ones, very seldom proclaim the message of Jesus?  Has their message become too much about the rules and regulations, devoid of love, with too little understanding of peoples’ true needs with little willingness to grow and change as times change?  For a good study in this, the film, The Two Popes, depicting the relationship between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis is a good watch.

The beauty of the Christmas story is found in its simplicity—if we can look there and see how our God chose to become one-with-us.  This signals then, how we, as Jesus’ followers, must move in our world and if we can do this, then Christmas will have worked its magic on us! It was this simple, yet profound message that the Kings from the east discovered in Bethlehem and which they got, by the way, knowing that it was a message that they could carry home and to every place that their lives would lead them.

The God of us all chose to come simply so as not to give the wrong message—it is not about status, “who we are,” or think we are, but about, “how” we are in this world—how we share, care and ultimately, love!  Again, The Two Popes is a good look at that.

The other profound challenge of this feast of the Epiphany is, “to get out of the box,” in our religious thinking!  The Jews mistakenly thought that the Messiah was for them alone and it is this feast that calls the lie to this idea!

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians today basically tells us, that, “the Gentiles,”—translation, “all of us,” are heirs of this great act of love. And it is for this reason that the Interfaith Council of Winona is of such interest to me—demanding that each of us from our different religious backgrounds break out of our small boxes of belief and see what we share in common for the good of all.  Present day writers like Diamuid O’Murcho and Franciscans, Ilia Delio and Richard Rohr call us to this type of thinking in their writings on the “Cosmic Christ.”

So my friends, on this feast of the Epiphany, my prayer for each of us is that we open our eyes, ears and hearts to bigger concepts than we have perhaps dared to think about before—that we would have some a-ha moments in this New Year, 2020, reaching out to those things that include, that heal, that spread the best of all the religious underpinnings in all of us—basically, love for our world, and for its people! Amen? Amen!

Homily – Holy Family Sunday

December 26, 2010

Friends, as you can see by the date on this homily, I shared it early on in my priesthood, and because we aren’t able to meet this weekend, I am sharing it once again for your reflection. I have included just a bit of update but otherwise its message is much as it was originally written. Peace and love to all—Pastor Kathy


At face value, this is a beautiful Sunday—it lifts up for each of us the ideal of what it means to be a family, beginning at the crib in Bethlehem.  Mary and Joseph, realistically speaking, were first and foremost people of great faith, but coupled with that, they had to have shared a great love for each other, as we have spoken of in the past, to have given the world Jesus.  The Scriptures tell us that they took Jesus to the temple to fulfill the law, signaling that they wished to raise him according to their beliefs.  Jesus, under his parents’ watchful eyes, grew in strength and wisdom and the grace of God was upon him.

When we look realistically at the life journey of Mary and Joseph, we realize that it isn’t all a Hallmark card depiction of serenity at the crib and life lived happily ever after.  In fact, there are many missing years—from Bethlehem to the boy Jesus in the temple—to Jesus being baptized in the Jordan.  What went on during all those years of “growing in strength and wisdom and grace?”  The grace of God was no doubt upon him, instructing him, little by little, through the loving example of his parents—how to be, “God-with-us.”

So, beginning at the beginning, I believe it is good today to reflect on the real life journey that Mary and Joseph most likely experienced in saying, “yes” to God.  Mary was pregnant, outside of marriage, and she had to carry that shame, because what could she say—“Oh friends, it’s OK, don’t look down on me, it’s the Messiah that I carry!”  She and Joseph had to bear, no doubt, insults and ridicule from family and friends who couldn’t see beyond what their eyes told them to the bigger reality.  The traveling through the hills and across the plains to Bethlehem in her ninth month, to be counted—living their entire lives together knowing that Jesus’ day would come, and that there would be nothing they could do to save him from his inevitable fate.  Truly we see and know in our own lives that loving carries the possibility of deep hurt, but likewise, the possibility of great joy.

Earlier I suggested that Mary and Joseph had to have shared a great love for each and along with their faith, were then able to give the world Jesus, who lived so greatly and taught so clearly how to love, how to love everyone—even the most despised.  He needed this base, the family of love that Mary and Joseph gave him, out of which to give.  “Nothing comes from nothing,” Maria in Sound of Music says.  Where love and selfless giving are present and a desire to rear children to be good people in their world, with an ability to care not just for themselves, but for others, the children that such families give the world are truly gifts.  Wherever love lives, whether in the form of children or in forms of goodness and justice, the gifts given back to people, will always be of love.

The Feast of the Holy Family always causes me to reflect on my own family of birth and be troubled by its message, because of my inability to respond as Sirach challenged coming out of a somewhat dysfunctional family.  My mother found it difficult to love her children, because she felt unloved as a child and was constantly working on getting her needs met rather than meeting the needs of her family.  My siblings and I suffer to this day because we don’t know how, or aren’t able to be a family.  (I can happily say that some of us have grown and become closer over the years, but scars remain for some of us, still).  Now, in an ideal world, everyone should get their needs met, but that sadly, is not always the case.

As an adult, I have found love within my family of marriage and it has been a blessing! So now, as with other New Years, I am going to try and concentrate less on what wasn’t and more on what is, attempting to live love in my own life so as to have it spill over into the lives of others.  And on this day when we remember the Holy Family, it is good to remember that each of our families is holy, made up of young and old and those in between, each with a gift to give—each with potential.  Are we perfect specimens?—no—but all belong to God’s family and deserve to be treated with dignity.

Paul’s reading from Colossians today gives us probably the best resolution as we look toward the New Year:

“Clothe yourselves with heartfelt compassion, with kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another—forgive as God has forgiven you.  Above all else, put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect.”

I find that when I try to put myself in another’s shoes, even if I don’t agree with their action toward me, it is easier to respond in love rather than with an action in kind.  Do Paul’s words preclude truth-telling or give permission for abuse?  No!—but they do give  us, a wider view–the view that Jesus took and lived in his life.

May each of us be blessed today within our families of origin—if there is strife, give us the strength to make it less this year—if we have been blessed with harmony—let us be most grateful.  It is funny how when all is going well, we take that for granted.  And when something goes wrong amidst so much that goes right, we think we have received such a bad deal; like this week when I got a flat tire on the loner car I was using while mine was in the shop for repairs.  And of course I had left my cell phone at home.

It seemed that nothing had gone right that morning—my computer wouldn’t let me do what I needed to at work, I wanted to visit a shut-in friend, but couldn’t find her house and so on.     It took my dear husband to remind me of the grace of God in this day that I had labeled as “not going right.”  “No one got hurt Kathy,” he said, and that is what counts.”  Even the tow guy said, “A tire can be replaced, not a life.

It was a beautiful day as Robert and I sat in the warm pickup and waited for the tow truck to come.  A neighbor picked me up and took me home after the flat occurred. Earlier, I had a nice visit with my friend and even though my day behind me felt less than good; she felt blessed by my visit.

So friends, as we reflect on family, friends and life—that which is holy in the context of this Holy Family Sunday, let us keep our eyes on the blessings and do all we can to allow Jesus to live through us and thus in our world by being grateful, hope-filled and loving people. Amen? Amen!

 

Homily – Christmas Eve

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.

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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!