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Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

21st December 2014

First Reading:
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Second Reading:
Romans 16.25-27
Luke 1.26-38

Our Advent series , which we'll finish tomorrow, invites us to explore Advent in the new universe story. Looked at this way the Nativity narratives are about the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation. However, the birth of the Christ is God's love made manifest with the birth of the universe. During our Advent retreat we looked at the holy disturbances God placed in the lives of the scriptural characters we encounter in the Christmas story. Today's first reading and Gospel emphasize the theme of God's Presence throughout the holy disturbances God places in people's lives as well as how God is present in the new universe story. 
First let's look at God's holy disturbances. The first reading refers to how God transformed David from a simple shepherd boy into a King of Israel. God is there for David throughout each stage of this sometimes painful transformation. God doesn't even abandon David when he repeatedly transgresses but sends his prophet to nudge David to return to the right path. Like us, David is not always open to what God or his prophets have to say. Even when we ignore what God is trying to tell us, God's is present. But because we are closed we may not understand God's promises to us, which are always kept but not always in the way that David or we can understand. For example, David's legacy is not an earthly dynasty.

Mary believes Gabriel when he says, “the child to be born will be holy.” But she must have been wondering, holy or not, this is going to mean trouble for her, trouble with her betrothed, with her parents, with her community. She is aware that what God is asking of her is not going to be easy. Although she is young, Mary is a practical woman, she only asks one question, “How can this be?” Once the technicalities have been explained, that nothing is impossible with God, and, she is told of the equally impossible pregancy of her kinswoman, Elizabeth, Mary is open to what God is asking of her.

We know that Mary's life had sorrows that are almost too much to bear. But we know that God was and is with her, and she is with us as her miraculous appearances attest. We also know that with the birth of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ, God's presence became immanent. Human beings were able to see and touch and feel God's love made manifest.

We are not alone in our pains and sorrows, just as we are not alone in our joys. Just as God was with David and Mary in their times of trial as well as triumph, so Christ is with us—always. God instructs his prophet Nathan to tell David, “I have been with you wherever you went.” Likewise, the Angel Gabriel tells the overwhelmed young Mary, “The Lord is with you.” This Presence, Christ Sophia that became manifest at the moment of Creation is what some call the Cosmic Christ and is God-with-Us-Always. This is the Christ of the prologue of John's Gospel. This is the Wisdom or Sophia of Proverbs 8, who says, "YHWH gave birth to me at the beginning, before the first acts of creation....” The is the Christ Sophia who Proverbs 8 also tells us, rejoices in the whole world and delights in humankind. 
Christ is God's love made manifest. Jesus is human, the Incarnate Christ; and, Jesus is divine, the Cosmic Christ. Just to keep it Trinitarian, I suggest the Holy Spirit is the voice of God conducting the music of our hearts.

The New Testament tells the story of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ. The Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, and the whole of creation tell of and are permeated with the Cosmic Christ. The Cosmic Christ is constantly being born and nurtured with each act of love and communion/community. Like the universe, the Cosmic Christ is expanding, expanding through people trying to live the Gospel in the imitation of Jesus, the Incarnate Christ. What I am trying to describe is not how the different pieces fit. Rather, it is that everything, all that is, belongs to One Reality: All-that-is, is infused with and reflects God. 
This is a brief summary of my reflections on themes we have explored together this Advent. Nothing I have said here is dogma. It is but one person's way to conceptualize the humanly unconceivable, to describe what is beyond our language and ability to describe. 
I hope most of you have had the opportunity to set aside time for yourselves to reflect a bit on the Advent season or, at least, the opportunity to slow down from the hectic demands on your time the season brings.

Take a moment now to reflect on some of your own thoughts or insights this Advent. When you're ready, please share one or two of your insights?

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent

Dec. 7, 2014 - Shared Homily Starter (see note)

First Reading Isaiah 40:1-5,6-8, 9-11
Second Reading 2 Peter 3:8-14
Gospel Mark 1:1-8

Every Sunday during the Lord's prayer, I say the words, “protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Although it's hard to be hopeful with all that's going on in the world, Advent is our liturgical season of joyful hope. Today's second reading tells us that we are to wait for the fulfillment of God's promise for “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Isaiah tells us, that “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” and Mark's gospel suggests that John the Baptist is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” So Advent is also a wilderness time, a time where we too, prepare the way for the Christ to be born again in us.

For the Jews and early Christians, wilderness was a favourite place for great expectations. Wilderness was a reminder and a symbol of the expectation for a repeat of great miracles like the parting of the Sea and manna from heaven. The wilderness was also the favourite place for preparing for new acts of liberation. John the Baptist begins his work of preparation in the wilderness. Later, we see that Jesus undergoes his testing in the wilderness before setting out to spread the good news. The wilderness is the entranceway to hope.

St. Mark has John the Baptist eating what the wilderness provides, locusts and honey. By this, the Evangelist is really reminding us of the age-old tensions between living by farming and building settlements on one hand and living simply by hunting and gathering the food that nature provides on the other. In today's terms, we are called to consider the very serious question of whether the globalized values of international city dwellers are not only marginalizing the rural peoples but threatening the well-being of the planet and all its inhabitants.

When someone deliberately returned to the wilderness to live off the land, that act was a challange to the lifestyle chosen by others. John's behaviour was a challenge, a call to repentance. It is a call to examine our lifestyle choices. Throughout Israel's history, the alternative lifestyle called people back to a sense of God in the natural world and to a way of trust that inevitably sought to live with the land not against it.

Jesus called for the same repentance as John. But, Jesus carried the confrontation into the settled areas of Galilee by living the lifestyle he followed and invited his followers to share this lifestyle. They were to live simply. By calling many to abandon wealth, land, and family, Jesus was subverting traditional values and calling for a radical reassessment of priorities. At one level his challenge could bring dislocation but at another it invited a new and different relationship to land and to people. Jesus' vision of God's reign included a right relationship with creation, a synergy such as we find in today's Gospel.

The lifestyle confrontation that the good news brings is an opportunity for us to be part of the good news for the Earth and all creation. We can't all move to the actual wilderness hunting and gathering but we can all simplify our lives and most of all, slow down. Advent is a time to take the opportunity to enter into our own wilderness spaces and prepare the way for the Godseed within us to flourish; a wildernes place where we prepare and wait in joyful hope for Jesus to be born again in our hearts, so that by our actions, we participate in fulfilling God's promise of a renewed earth, where justice is at home.

I conclude with this question: Jesus had John the Baptist to “cry out in the wilderness” and “prepare the way.” Who in your life has played this role? Who has paved the way for you in your journeys?

NOTE: This homily leans heavily on the work: Loader, William. “Good News—for the Earth? Reflections on Mark 1:1-15” in Habel, Norman C., and Vicky Balabanski (eds.). The Earth Story in the New Testament. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002

The Feast of Christ the King

23 November 2014 – Shared Homily Starter

First Reading
Ezekiel 34.11-12, 15-17
Second Reading
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

Today is the feast of Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. The mental images that the words “king” and “reign” bring to mind are based on our knowledge of the actions of kings and political leaders. Today's first reading from the priest and prophet Ezekiel gives us God's view of leadership. The image of the shepherd is commonly used to portray good monarchs in biblical literature. So, if we think of Christ the King as Christ the Good Shepherd, we have a truer sense of what this day is about.

Now, Ezekiel lived during the time the city of Jerusalem and it's Temple were destroyed in 586 BCE. He experienced the early years of the Babylonian exile. So through Ezekiel, God is saying that the "shepherds" have not taken care of the "flock," and because of their poor kingship the people of Israel were "scattered," that is, sent into exile. Later in this chapter of Ezekiel, portrays the leaders as stronger sheep who trample the pasture and dirty the water that others must use, and who push the weaker aside.

If we look at what's happening around the world today, Syria, Iraq, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hungary, Columbia, and for Indigenous Peoples, the Americas. The people who wield the power push the weaker aside, “trample,” destroy or confiscate their lands and pollute the water that they need to use. Where will it all end?

Ezekiel tells us that God says “the fat and the strong be destroyed.” To give you an idea of why we should have faith and hope, I'll relate a bit of a conversation that I had with Jun, whom some of you know. During the conversation, I was wondering how corporations could think they would survive and make profits when most of them seem to be downsizing and working to impoverish the majority of the people. These fat cats are against a living wage; engage in union busting; export jobs to bolster profits, and buy up or take over smaller less avaricious companies. I asked who do they think is going to be able to afford to buy their whatever they're selling. Jun said something quite profound and speaks to what God is saying about the destruction of “the fat and strong.” He said, they are like male Siamese fighting fish. They are going to feed on or fight each other to the death, thereby destroying themselves.

But Ezekiel reassures the exiles --and us-- that God intends to uphold the covenant with his people and will restore a remnant of the people to the land and with a new Temple at its center. For us, 21st century people, let us consider the land as our hearts and the temple as the presence of God at the center of our hearts and lives. Yes, there will be cloudy and dark days, windy and stormy ones, which scatter us like sheep. The dark times may have sent some of us to various distant places—figuratively and in reality-- for sustenance and/or safety. God will gather together the sheep that were scattered, and bring back those who have wandered from the fold. God promises not only to gather and restore the outcasts but to nourish them, and to soothe and heal those that are hurt.

God's promises are accomplished through us: first, in communities of good-hearted people; and, second in the teachings of communities of faith. All communities of faith have teachings on aligning ourselves with the heart and will of God. The presence in the different faiths of “golden rule” variants is an example. As Christians, the Gospel is our guidebook. The beatitudes two weeks ago are an example, as is today's Gospel from Matthew 25, which is the basis of the first six of the Corporal Works of Mercy. The 7th, burying the dead, comes from the Book of Tobit. The first six are:

  • To feed the hungry.
  • To give drink to the thirsty.
  • To clothe the naked.
  • To shelter the homeless
  • To visit the sick.
  • To visit the imprisoned.

The original wording for the last one was "To ransom the captive.” The conditions of many in the world today, make it appropriate to reclaim this understanding. It calls us to compassionate acts of kindness and comfort to victims of imprisonment, captivity and any other form of just and unjust confinement, such as people in sanctuary, prison or jail, and refugee camps.

The works of mercy may seem like a tall order but we help bring about the Reign of Christ, the Good Shepherd, with each act of kindness and love, each act of creativity, each act of speaking truth. God is Love, Creativity and Truth beyond our comprehension. Small compassionate acts performed in our daily lives nourish these attributes of God within us. Each prayer for more peace, love and justice in our world is the Spirit of God working in us. So I will close with this prayer, adapted from Becoming Neighbours' World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees.

Holy God, You are a God on the move. You move in the world and in our lives. You shape and direct Creation, and us. Your people have always been on the move. Moses led your people out of slavery in Egypt. The Holy Family fled to Egypt as refugees. Today, people continue to move. War, poverty, oppression and violence drive people from home and country. We pray that today's refugees, forced migrants, internally displaced people, and victims of modern slavery and trafficking may know you are always with them in and through us. May they find their journey’s end as we open ourselves to their stories, their needs and, their hopes. Together may we experience filial solidarity and friendship, and recognize that as Your children, we are all relatives. Amen.1

Question: Take a moment and recall a time when you felt lost or like a “in a strange land” and share who or what helped you find your way?