Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, December 15th, 2019

Third Sunday of Advent-A

Isaiah 35: 1-6a, 10

James 5: 7-10

Matthew 11: 2-11

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         There was a businessman flying from New York to Los Angeles.  He knew exactly how long the trip would take and brought along work to get done.  Boarding the plane he had that look that said, “Don’t bother me.  I’m busy!”  And then a mother and her little boy sat down in the two seats next to him.  He tried to remain distant but the little boy kept talking to him.

         The man began listening to him and found that he actually liked the boy.  That whole flight he put aside his work, talked with the boy, read him stories and played games.  When they arrived in Los Angeles the mother said to the gentleman, “Thank you so much for paying attention to my son.  You see, his father died several months ago, and you were very good to him.”

         Later on the man realized what had happened:  that child had really gotten into his heart.  He felt a deep satisfaction that he had opened his own heart to someone who truly needed his attention.

         Children can get into hearts that have been locked for years.  The Child Jesus came to enter our hearts and fill them with His love.  One of His names in Scripture is “Emmanuel,” a name which means “God is with us.”

         There was a play written some years ago entitled, “Green Pastures.”  In it, God is on the stage with the Archangel Gabriel, who has his trumpet in hand.  God is looking over the world and saying, “I have sent prophet after prophet, and still they won’t listen.”  Gabriel suggests, “Lord, how about if I blow my trumpet and call an end to the whole thing on earth?”  And God replies, “No, this time I’m not going to send another messenger.  I’m going to send my Son to them.”

         And so the Son of God left His throne in heaven and became man.  And not only that.  Jesus Christ became our “Wounded Healer.”  He is Emmanuel, “God with us.”  And this Child wants to enter our hearts.

         This Advent season shows us that, so many times, God comes to us through some very unexpected people and in some very unexpected ways.  Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, we have John the Baptist before us.  And Jesus says to the crowd, “Why did you go out to the desert?  To see a prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  This is the one about whom it is written:  Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;  he will prepare your way before you.

         John the Baptist is the greatest and last of the Old Testament prophets, pointing the way to the Messiah, to Jesus Christ, who is “God with us.”  But, to so many people, John was a rather unexpected messenger and in a rather unexpected place, the desert.

         There was a Christmas pageant in his church and young Bradley wanted a part.  However, Bradley was “an accident waiting to happen.”  The previous year, his angel wings caught on fire and he nearly burned down the church.  But the director knew that Bradley really loved Jesus with his whole heart.  And she just had to give him a part.

         This year, she decided, he could be the innkeeper.  All that he needed to do was open the door and deliver a line. 

         Everything went smoothly at the rehearsals, but then came opening night.  When Mary and Joseph came to the inn, Bradley opened the door and said, “Be gone.  I have no place for you.” 

         Mary and Joseph turned to walk away.  The people in the front of the church could see tears welling up in Bradley’s eyes and his lower lip quivering.  Then Bradley shouts to Mary and Joseph, “Wait!  You can stay in my room!”

         Pandemonium broke out in the church.  Once again, Bradley had sabotaged the Christmas pageant.  The director, after wiping away Bradley’s tears and then a few of her own, quieted down the audience and said, “Perhaps this year Bradley is God’s unexpected messenger to us.  Because it is only when we make room in our hearts that the Christ Child can come in.”

         The world around us is already celebrating “the holidays,” and we can run the risk of missing out on the Child who made all of this possible.  After all, it is His birthday that we celebrate, and it is His coming again in glory that we look forward to.

         There was a four-year-old named Sarah who had been an only-child.  And then her baby brother was born.  Sarah’s mother and father were worried about some sibling jealousy, so they watched her carefully.  Sarah began asking for a some “time alone” with her new brother.  So they allowed her to go into the nursery all by herself.  But they stationed themselves just outside so they could see and hear what was taking place.

         Then Sarah put her face next to his and said, “Baby brother, tell me what  God is like because I’m starting to forget.”    

So how do we find ourselves on this Third Sunday of Advent?  We can be casual observers that look at the crib and say, “Isn’t that nice.  See you again next year.”  Or we can be like Bradley and say, “Wait!  You can stay in my room…. in my heart.”

         Children can draw so much out of our hearts.  The Christ Child can put everything into our hearts, if we make room for Him.  And as we come close, like Sarah, we can whisper in His ear, “Baby Jesus, tell me what God is like because I don’t want to forget.”

Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, December 8, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent-A

Isaiah 30:19, 30

Romans 15:4-9

Matthew 3:1-12

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         It is not always easy getting ready for Christmas, is it?  As wonderful as the season is, it still takes a lot of work.  That is why the words of John the Baptist to us today are so important, so that we don’t miss out on what we are really getting ready for.  He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

         There are three questions that follow from John’s words that I would like to place before all of us who are busy getting ready for Christmas.

         The first one is:  Is there something in my life right now that needs some adjustment, some change, to be ready for the birthday of Jesus?  “Repent,” John the Baptist says, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

         There is a story about two friends:  one lived his whole life in the city and the other in the desert.  The city-friend regularly went out to the desert to visit but the desert-friend had never accepted an invitation to come to the city…until now.

         Well, on his journey to the city, he came upon a set of railroad tracks and he wondered what they were for.  And then a train came roaring by with whistles blaring, and the desert-fellow was darned scared.  When he finally calmed down, he followed the directions and arrived at his city-friend’s home, where a Christmas party was in full-swing.

         He began exploring the house which was filled with so many things he had never seen before.  He entered the kitchen and was fascinated by the appliances when, all of a sudden, the tea kettle on the stove began to whistle.  He had a scary flashback of his encounter with the train.  So he went through the kitchen drawers and found a hammer and began beating the living daylights out of that tea kettle.

         Just then his city-friend walked in and asked what in the world he was doing.  And the desert-friend answered, “Sometimes you gotta kill these things while they are still small!”

         Well, within this silly story, there is a lesson about sin.  We have to root out sin early on or it can quickly grow and take charge of our lives.  And so John the Baptist tells us, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Is there something in my life right now that needs some adjustment, some change, to be ready for the birthday of Jesus?

         The second question is:  Is there somebody to whom I should be extending my hand?  Repentance is not only turning away from sin but it is also turning towards God and towards each other.

         Rob lived on a farm and the cows needed to be milked early each morning.  His dad would wake him at 4:00 AM and they would go out to the barn together.  Rob really didn’t mind doing this, although he did sometimes wish the cows would sleep-in a bit on the weekends.

         Early one morning he heard his dad telling his mom in the hallway how much he appreciated Rob’s help and that he really looked forward to their time together. 

         Rob was very touched because he knew that his mom and dad loved him, but they found it difficult to say so.  [Sometimes people can love each other very much but just can’t say, “I love you.”] 

         Rob had been trying to figure out what he would give his dad for Christmas, and this gave him an idea.  He decided that, on Christmas morning, he would get up extra-early and milk the cows all by himself.  And he did.  When his dad knocked on his door at the usual time, Rob told him that he would be right there to meet him in the barn.  His dad came back from the barn a short time later with tears in his eyes.  He knew that Rob loved him, but they had not told each other this in a long time.  Early that Christmas morning, Rob and his dad hugged and told each other, “I love you.”

         Rob gave his dad a gift that didn’t cost a penny, but was priceless.  He gave his dad the gift of his love.

         During this second week of Advent, as we look into our hearts:  Is there something in my life right now that needs some adjustment, some change, to be ready for the birthday of Jesus?  Is there somebody to whom I should be extending my hand?

         And the third question is:  Have I truly allowed Jesus to take up residence in my heart?  Because isn’t this the reason that we do all the things we do this time of year?

         Jeannie Wilson tells about having a rough Christmas, when she just couldn’t get in the mood.  [Maybe some of you are there right now.]  But she needed to provide a good Christmas for her family.  So she went to the mall.

         She wandered up and down the aisles, not finding anything that interested her, because she just wasn’t in the mood.  And then, up ahead of her, she saw that some figures of a Nativity set had fallen to the floor and a little girl had picked up the Christ Child.

         The girl asked her mother, “Mommy, would you please buy this for me?”  Then Jeannie heard the mother tell her that, as much as she would like to, she just couldn’t afford it.  She hugged her daughter and her daughter said, “It’s all right, Mommy.  My teacher told me that Jesus really lives in my heart.”

         As the mother and daughter moved along Jeannie picked up the whole Nativity set, paid for it, and then said to the cashier:  “Would you please give this to that little girl who is leaving the store right now with her mother?”

         Jeannie says that on the mantle in her home today is an identical Nativity set that she bought in that same store where she couldn’t get in the mood for Christmas.  But there is no manger.  If you ask Jeannie why, she will answer, “Because Jesus really lives in my heart.”

         It is not always easy getting ready for Christmas.  But on this Second Sunday of Advent, the words of John the Baptist help us to look in the right direction:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

         Is there something in my life right now that needs some adjustment, some change, to be ready for the birthday of Jesus?  Is there somebody to whom I should be extending my hand?  Have I truly allowed Jesus to take up residence in my heart? 

Because if we do, no matter how far behind we are with our holiday preparations, we will truly be ready for Christmas, the birthday of Jesus,

Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, December 1, 2019

First Sunday of Advent – A

Isaiah 2: 1-5

Romans 13: 11-14

Matthew 24: 37-44

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         Advent isn’t exactly a comfortable season.  And I don’t just mean the frost on the windshield and the certainty of January bills.  Advent has a strangeness about it that won’t be tamed by the caroling that begins at Thanksgiving or by the outdoor lighting displays.

         The measured sobriety of Advent clashes with the festive rush in the stores.  And the urgency of the Scripture readings clashes with our secular culture of materialism and individualism.  And, if the truth be told, the threat of final cosmic judgment in today’s Gospel grips us no more than the “eager longing” of the Advent hymns.

         Just how are we to identify with this season of Advent? Its purple sobriety contrasts with the red and green festival of an American Christmas that begins with October advertising.  And for all of the expectancy we feel for the coming of “the holidays,” the coming of Christ Himself can seem so remote and even unlikely.

         What are we to do?  We can, of course, feel guilty.  But guilt is not the keynote of the Advent season either.  Joy is so characteristic of Advent that nearly every Responsorial Psalm is a Psalm of rejoicing.  The Advent Psalms don’t say:  “Feel guilty that you are not rejoicing.”  They just say:  “Rejoice!”  But it is not exactly the rejoicing of the office party either.

         Advent seems to be such an untidy season.  Here a comforting  Scripture passage, and there a threat;  unusual John the Baptist at the edge of the desert and meek Mary in Nazareth;  the purple of repentance and the songs of rejoicing;  the “last day” in the Gospel on the first Sunday of Advent is a day of final judgment and we pray to greet it with joy.  What a mess!  No instant relevance and not even a tidy thematic.

         How, then, should we deal with Advent?  As a cherished heirloom, annually dusted off for a churchly For Auld Lang Syne?  As a little bit of “liturgical Williamsburg”? 

But here is another possibility:  that we attempt to penetrate what the Bible and the liturgy are saying to us during this season – without asking them to say what we would like them to say, and without asking them to say it in a way that we would like to hear it.

         For both the Bible and the liturgy are about the relationship of God with His people.  And relationships – in case anybody hasn’t noticed – aren’t always tidy.

         And the Bible and the liturgy are not always communicating information about the relationship between God and His people.  In many cases, they are more concerned with the meaning of the relationship between God and His people.

         And while the passages we read in the liturgy are grounded in the past, they are here for us to reflect upon their meaning for today.

         Advent’s thematic is so simple that it is not likely to make the banners this year:  God is present to us.  For “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”

         Advent looks to that great feast of God’s presence to us:  Christmas.

God is present to His world through His Son, Jesus – who became one of us so that we could become one with Him.

         Our medieval ancestors, in their statues and iconography, often portrayed Mary as pregnant. 

         In our “enhanced” church at Saint Joseph, there will be a new shrine in the back with a statue of Mary expecting the Christ Child, the Pregnant Virgin, Our Lady of the Advent of Christ.  And this image has so much to say to our age which is in serious danger of forgetting that the God-given gift of human life begins at conception.

         As mothers know, pregnancy isn’t a very comfortable thing.  Its hope is tinged with morning sickness.  You know that your child is living within you.  You can feel your child kicking.  But right at the moment, you can’t see the face of the one who is soon to be born.  But you will.

         And that is what Advent – the coming of Christ – is about.  The splendor of God’s presence is hidden within the everyday untidiness of our lives – and lies beneath the pain and poverty of this world.

         But we live in hope.  God is present to us — in His Son, Jesus.  We long to see His face, and one day we will.  But even now we can feel His presence within us and among us.

         This Advent season – like the pregnant Virgin Mary – is short on explanation and heavy with meaning.