Monthly Archives: December 2014

Christmas Homily 2014

When you look around you at our modern culture, how much do you see that testifies to fact that we profess Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Savior? How many crèches do you see outside anymore? How much is Jesus talked about on the radio and television? If I hear about him at all, it is often negative rather than positive. It has become illegal in many places to put up the commandments, or pictures of Jesus or the crucifix. Merry Christmas has become “happy holidays.” Quite literally as if our culture is trying to stamp out the memory of Christ completely, or if we think of him, forcing us to think of him as a myth or relic of ancient times when people were not so enlightened and advanced as we are now. And yet here we are, nearly 2,000 years after his death, gathered around this altar to stoke the embers of our faith into a flame. When Jesus Christ himself is telling his apostles about when he will come again, he actually sadly raises this question: “When the Son of Man comes again, will he find any faith left on earth?”

I don’t say that to be negative. I say that to be real. Because we don’t find that here. This church is full.

I think that he is happy to find it here. So I am glad you are here, and welcome. We are all here for different reasons, and we all have different levels of faith. Some believe strongly. Some are barely hanging on. Some have been nearly dragged here by demanding relatives. Doesn’t really matter right now. What matters right now is that we try the best we can to make room for the nativity of Jesus Christ in our hearts.

All of us should be models of Mary in one way or another. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that Mary was so pure, and her “yes” to God so complete, that she bore the son of God and gave him to the world. Did you know that you were supposed to do that, too? All of us were born for one reason – so that Jesus might be born again in each and every one of us, each in his or her own special way. As a priest, my yes to God gives birth to the sacraments, and to teaching the faith. That is how my “yes” can give Jesus to the world. A parent has children, and can pass down her faith to her children, giving birth to Jesus in the world. We are all given special talents that were themselves gifts given to us by God, and we are meant to use those – spreading the kindness and mercy and truth and love of Christ in our workplaces, homes, stores, and neighborhoods. This is really supposed to be the whole point of life.

We are all accustomed to giving and receiving gifts for Christmas. Christmas in its real meaning is when we realize that the greatest gift of all is that God himself was born as a man so that human beings might learn how to be God’s friend again.

I would like to focus on one thing about the Christmas story. It’s not easy at all to preach on Christmas, because there is so much – but I only have so much time, so I have to go with my inspiration and focus on what I think that God wants me to focus on.

One thing that I’d like to mention about the Christmas story is just a point I find interesting from the perspective of gender. When it comes to accepting the birth of Jesus, Mary represents woman and Joseph represents man. I find it interesting that woman is asked whether or not she wants to participate in this great event, and Joseph is COMMANDED to participate in this event. Poor Joseph is pulled around in all sorts of directions, and he obeys because he is a just man. He is a good man. And he sees that this is what is necessary. But woman needs to be asked. I’m gonna leave the rest of that one alone for you to argue about in the car later on the way home.

This is what the angel says to Joseph. Please listen closely, because the angel tells us why Jesus is being sent to us:

Joseph, son of David, 
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins
.”

Now think about this – what is the reason given for the birth of Jesus Christ? Is it to come and teach us? Is it to talk about love? Is it to heal wounds? Jesus did all these things, but this is not the reason given directly by the angel for his birth. The reason given is that HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS. Couldn’t the angel Gabriel have given a different reason? But what does he focus on?

He focuses on forgiveness. The gift of forgiveness. You just heard the angel Gabriel talk about it. This isn’t just my opinion. You just heard it straight from the mouth of the angel Gabriel, didn’t you? Jesus saves us from our sins because he forgives us of our sins. He saves us from our sins because he sacrifices himself for the sake of our sins.

Why is this important for Christmas? Well, first of all because it is part of the Christmas story that we might never have thought of before. We are all in the mode of giving gifts, right? Ever thought that God might not want a present this year? Or that there are presents that we could give to each other that far exceed the value of anything you can buy at the mall? What is more priceless than forgiveness? It is priceless because it is a gift of love.

And my friends, I’m not talking about forgiving somebody of something minor. I mean forgiving someone for betrayal. Forgiving someone for breaking your heart. Forgiving someone for leaving you alone when you needed them most. The gift of sacrificing yourself instead of being selfish, even if you are innocent. EVEN IF YOU ARE IN THE RIGHT. The process of forgiveness needs to start somewhere. Jesus was innocent, but he still paid the price. Are we willing to do the same? Seriously, think for a moment about something that you still need to forgive. Something that still sticks in your craw about a spouse or a child or a parent or friend – something that when you remember it, it still feels bitter and leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Why not give THAT to God for Christmas? Why not give that gift to this person who has wronged you? Could there really be a more important gift, considering that that is why we have the story of Christmas to begin with?

I know this is difficult. As a matter of fact, when it comes to certain things, forgiveness is impossible. Impossible, at least, for human beings. But possible with God. There are some people who have done terrible things to me in my life. And when I find it hard to forgive them personally, I start with at least asking God to forgive them. Maybe it’s too much for you right now. Well, start by at least wishing them well. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “To love means loving the unlovable. Faith means believing the unbelievable… and to forgive means to pardon the unpardonable.” Open your heart for a little baby in a manger to fit inside. 

I want you to imagine for a moment that your heart is like a manger – a manger is a feed box for animals, in case anyone doesn’t know. If we fail to forgive, our hearts are full of dirty feed and hay and wordly things. If we forgive, then there is actually room for the baby Jesus to be laid there instead. It may be a simple image – even a silly one. But I don’t think that Jesus finds it so silly.

Is it such a coincidence that there is a close relationship between the word “give” and “for-give.”???? It is not such a stretch at all for us to be talking about forgiveness on the primarily holiday where we give gifts to one another? The literal meaning of the word “forgive” to “to give up” or “to give away.” We give away our grudge against them, whether they deserve it or not. To forgive means to accept the apology that you might never get.

We didn’t deserve Christmas, but we got it anyway. Jesus came anyway.

You know, it’s a strange thing that after this all of you will go to your homes to celebrate Christmas – and Christmas began with a poor, homeless family. That is something that we should never forget. There is an element of seriousness to Christmas that is getting buried beneath discarded wrapping paper, and hiding behind the dishes on the table – It’s the truth that God became a tiny child so that he could grow up to be a man so that he could give us the gift of the forgiveness of our sins. It’s all there hiding in a tiny manger, as we hear again the words of an angel:

Mary will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, 
because he will save his people from their sins
.”

HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST.

AMEN.

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Lecture Tonight

I am planning a lecture for this evening on preparing the way of the Lord.  Please read Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-20.  Sorry for the late notice.  I’m still not feeling the greatest and Satan is enjoying trying to wreck my day, like giving me a flat tire.  But I am going to do my best.

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Advent Conference Update

Just an Update: I know I had intended to do some Advent teachings, but the amount of emergencies and funerals these past few weeks has been overwhelming. I would like to plan do conferences for the next two weeks on December 10th and 17th. They would focus around the Blessed Mother and the Christmas Story — especially its place in our hearts.

Barring further emergencies, I plan to do lectures on both of these evenings at the regular time and place.

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Advent Homily: Have We Grown Tired of Christianity? Bored to wait for the Lord?

I was amused by this joke I read on the internet. Plus, it has something to do with my message:

‘There will be a meeting of the Board immediately after the service,’ announced Reverend Morris.

After the close of the service, the group gathered at the back of church for the announced meeting. However, there was a stranger in their midst. He was a visitor who had never attended their church before.

‘My friend,’ asked Reverend Morris, ‘did you understand that this is a meeting of the Board?’

‘Oh, yes,’ came the rejoinder from the visitor, ‘and after that sermon, I’m about as bored as you can get.’

_______________________________________

GregAsleep

All the readings this week tell us that we must be a people who wait. Look at our banner – “Advent is a time for vigilance.”

But I wonder if we have grown somewhat bored of our spirituality – our religion? There is a great difference between the peace that religion brings and the boredom that empty religion brings. Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time. Peace is a feeling that nothing is a waste of time.

As a people, have we grown tired of waiting for the Lord?

Just think of how much preparation this community would likely do if we learned that Pope Francis was coming for a visit. We would form commities, we would have practices, we would likely pray more, we would dress better and be on our best behavior. Well, Advent warns us that it’s JESUS that is coming, so we need to whip ourselves into shape in a serious way. It’s not just all about peace and joy and Christmas carols piping through stores and radios. Peace and joy actually take a lot of work and preparation to accomplish. That is the real message. Peace and joy are for those who have worked for it. Our veterans of foreign wars knows this only too well. We Christians have a battle to fight, too.

It is difficult to put into words the theme that I see running throughout all the readings. All readings have as a background this kind of “waiting game” that is going on between God and his people. In the first reading, Isaiah laments that God seems distant from his people but locates the reason for that distance in the fact that man’s heart has hardened and no longer waits for God. In the second reading, St. Paul encourages us to persevere and stand firm while we wait for the day that the Lord will come again. The gospel is extremely explicit. The last sentence is Jesus telling us boldy, “What I say to you is, watch.”

Human beings are not too good at watching and waiting for God. In the Old Testament while the Jews were waiting for the Messiah, many of them fell away. Some of them didn’t even believe in heaven anymore, and we called these the Sadducees. Many of the Pharisees burdened the people with so many rules and regulations that they were more interested in following them than in recognizing the Messiah when he came. And when he came, many did NOT recognize him. And when he came, many actually even hated him and crucified him.

The scary thing about that is we would like to think that these people who failed to recognize Jesus were just evil people, but I would be willing to bet that many of them went home and sacrificed for their families and worked hard and worried about the state of their country just like you. I guarantee you that many of them were good people. But being a good person isn’t enough to be a holy person. Being a nice person isn’t the same as being a Christian.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but the Book of Revelation warns us that when Jesus comes the second time, exactly the same thing is going to happen again. When talking about the end times, Jesus says in Matthew 24:24, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” That means that even Christians are going to be led astray by false messiahs, false teachers and false prophets when times get rough. These false teachers are going to appear as if they are doing good things – even working miracles. Do not believe them. If you even have a question mark in your mind about a book you are reading or a T.V. show you are watching, then it’s probably suspect. Let the Holy Spirit guide you to what is truly pure and holy.

But it seems like so many people are becoming tired of this old message.

In the New Testament, even while the church was still young, many people got tired of waiting for the Lord and started trying to turn the Christian faith into the Jewish faith again, or started mixing up the faith with the mythologies and astrologies of the day. Are we any different when we buy astrology books, or listen more to shows about so-called mediums who talk to dead people, or the psychology advice on shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil – are we any different when we listen to THESE things more than we pray, read the lives of the saints, and Holy Scripture? No, we are not different at all.

By the turning of the first millennium, the church split into East and West. For one thousand years there was only one church. Then with Martin Luther we got two denominations about five hundred years later. And in the past five hundred years, according to some statistics there are close to 300 mainline Protestant denominations in the United States alone, and nearly 33,000 Christian denominations worldwide. 33,000!! It is no wonder why atheists and those in other religions hold us in suspicion. Jesus prayed at the last supper for us all to be ONE, and 33,000 is very different from being 1!!

What is my point? My point is that it seems we are not very good at waiting. It seems that we argue too easily, and perhaps get bored too easily with following the same truth year in and year out. We have been told in advance that Jesus just wants us to be faithful to loving one another, faithful to loving God, and faithful to the sacraments until he comes in his glory. The only reason why we would get bored with this is if we are not actually doing it. Because if we did it, then we would be touched by the grace of God and given the consolation of the Holy Spirit. What does Jesus say, “Behold, I make all things new!!” But Jesus has always had those who mock him. Today, the sarcastic people would say that Jesus makes all things boring. It’s easy to mock things and make fun of them. Our generation is an expert at it. But so is Satan. You might want to think about that the next time you start making fun of something. If you think Jesus is boring, my response to you is that boring is in the eye of the beholder. If you are a boring person, then I suppose you could twist Jesus into being boring as well. Maybe you are just hard-hearted like Isaiah talks about in our first reading, and really need to pray for God to soften that heart. Have you ever really met Jesus? If you think he is boring, then I assure you that you have never truly met him. He remains for you like an acquaintance that you see from afar.

It’s easy for me to make fun of a person I have never met or whom I don’t know well. But very often, even when I get to know just an ordinary person very well and listen to their stories and hear about their struggles, I am amazed at how interesting and beautiful they are. This happens very often in my priesthood, and is one of my chief blessings. How much more interesting is the person who created every other person in this church, and in the whole world?

Jesus commands us to WATCH in the gospel today. In Greek, it is GREGOREITE. It’s what a centurion would tell a Roman soldier to do when he is leaving him to keep his post. That’s exactly what it means – keep to your post. Stand fast. Watch for the enemy. Be ready. Have you ever been in a fight, or even a war? I assure you that they are everything but boring. I am amazed at how much imagery is used in the New Testament is used comparing the spiritual life to combat, and to the Olypic games. It requires discipline, regularity, and yes, some waiting. But it’s not boring.

But there are things we are supposed to be doing to make this easier on us. When is the last time we really picked up scripture or a scripture study and prayed with it? When is the last time you picked up the life of a saint – someone who made the word of God real in his or her life? Maybe start with a modern saint like Pope Saint John Paul or Mother Theresa or the past couple of centuries – women like Sister Faustina, Therese of Lisieux or men like Padre Pio? That is not only extremely edifying, but it can breath life back into your faith. When is the last time you did some volunteer work with a view towards really getting out of yourself and meeting another person? What usually happens is that God shows himself in those beautiful moments, and they are anything but boring.

Yes, the Lord tells us to watch. But it’s hard to watch unless you know WHOM you are watching for. Reading scripture, reading the lives of the saints, and prayer help you get to know this God for whom we are waiting.

I can testify to the fact that God can heal instantly. I have suffered most of my life with anxiety and depression, and there was a time I went on a retreat desperate for healing, and by the end of it, the depression simply lifted – it disappeared. No counseling. No medication. Poof – gone! And it did not return with any amount of strength for two years. Therese of Lisieux reports a similar kind of healing. She also suffered with panic attacks. One night while praying with an image of the Blessed Mother, she swears that she was healed instantly when she saw the statue smile at her. Healing is possible. But sometimes it comes more slowly than we would like. We must be a people who resolve to wait on the Lord.

I have heard people who say that great literature is boring. I must admit that some of it I don’t care for myself. But I know enough about great literature to understand that there is a reason why it’s great, and I simply haven’t done the work necessary to truly understand it so that I can SEE it’s greatness. I think that a relationship with the Lord can be similar. A relationship with the Lord is not like a comic strip that we read on Sunday and can get a brief laugh about. A relationship with the Lord is great literature. It is an epic poem. We are in it for the long haul. Jesus tells us along with the saints to watch, wait, and while we are doing that — TO LOVE. And ultimately, it is up to us whether it is a tragedy or that we live happily ever after.

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