Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God (January 1st, 2016)

January 1st is celebrated as not only the first date of the calendar’s new year, but also by the Church as the Solemnity of the Mother of God.

The Solemnity of the Mother of God refers to one of the great dogmas of the Church’s formal profession of Faith- the child of the Blessed Virgin Mary is God.

Not only is January 1st considered to be New Year’s Day AND the Solemnity of the Mother of God, but it is also acclaimed by the Church to be the World Day of Peace, when prayers for peace are to be offered by the Christian faithful.

As if this all wasn’t enough, January 1st was formally the day on which the Church commemorated the Circumcision of the Lord Jesus. In fact, the Gospel for today mentions that the Lord Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth, thus the Church’s commemoration of this event on the eighth day after the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Both the Old and New Testament testify that it is circumcision that sets one apart as a true Israelite. All Israelite males from time immemorial have been circumcised as a sign, cut into their own flesh, of the covenant that God makes with his people. Thus the practice has divine sanction and bears the weight of divine law.

It is clear from the testimony of the Gospel, that God did not exempt himself from conformity to his own law, and submitted himself to the experience. Testimony that God does not ask us to undergo things that he himself is not willing to experience for himself.

The significance of Christ’s circumcision is actually of great importance.

 

Remember, the central claim of the Church’s profession of Faith is that God in Christ accepts a human nature and lives a real, human life.

Born into our world, God accepts a particular family and culture as his own and God binds himself to this family and culture in his body and with his blood. God’s identification with Israel is literally cut into the body of his human nature and it goes deeper than the wound of his circumcision and penetrate to the cellular level of his body.

The glorified Body of Christ that we will one see revealed in heaven is the body of an Israelite. Thus, Israel is not rejected or refused by God, but brought to its fulfillment and we see the fulfillment of Israel in the body of the Lord Jesus. God chooses Israel in a way that exceeds all expectations.

Further, resisting our tendencies to reduce Christ to an idea or feeling or story, the circumcision of Christ indicates that the Body of Christ’s human nature is very real indeed. The baby bleeds real human blood. The man would bleed real blood too. The humanity of God in Christ is not a simulation.

And, also, while we might prefer to keep both the Holy Child and the adult Jesus covered up and free of sexuality, Christ, inasmuch as he is fully human, is also fully a man.

Some insist that all this body and blood stuff is a scandal, impossible for God to do and beneath his dignity. The Church insists that this is all in fact what God has done.

The once renowned commentator on the Church’s worship, a man by the name of Pius Parsch, noted that the Circumcision of the Lord is the first sacrifice of our redemption. This is an illuminating way to consider the mystery of Christ, and our relationship to his mysterious revelation.

There is no love in this world without a sacrifice, and it is through sacrifice that our love is proven to be true or false.

We live in a culture that pretends that we can have love without sacrifice, but in this distortion of reality, the risk and reward of true love is extinguished, as well as its power to redeem.

The Incarnation is essentially an act of love, ratifying in that act of love the necessity of sacrifice for love to be true.

We may therefore struggle to live in the illusion of love without sacrifice, but the reality of love will by divine sanction and necessity shatter that illusion.

The Circumcision of Christ is a foreshadowing of a greater act of love, a greater sacrifice that is to come. The greater the love, the greater the sacrifice- and the love of God in Christ is the greatest love of all.

It is wise for us to recall and invoke this love, and its power to redeem and save, on this, the first day of the New Year.

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Homily for January 2nd, 2016

The Church continues her presentation of excerpts from the First Letter of John.

As it was several days ago, the First Letter of John continues to warn us about antichrists, deceivers who will infiltrate the Church and undermine the Church’s profession and practice of the faith. One of the particular intentions of antichrists is to cast doubts on Christ’s revelation “in the flesh” and by this is meant a denial of the Incarnation of God in Christ.

The Incarnation is the startling revelation that God in Christ accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. In our own time this denial often manifests itself in a reduction of Christ to being merely a religious symbol of God, rather than God himself or in the reduction of Christ to being merely a prophet or social activist or spiritual guru. These kinds of reductions are lies and these lies are usually told in service of some ideological purpose or agenda.

Antichrists lurk in all our refusals of Christ. Our “no” to Christ will always have a negative consequence. If our “no” to Christ is expressed in a stubborn refusal to accept who he reveals himself to be, a person will either leave the Church that he established or a person will remain within the Church and foment division and subvert the Church’s mission.

Thus does the Church insist that at our great Sunday liturgies that the Profession of Faith be publically professed. The profession of faith as expressed in the Creed might be likened as a solemn oath that we take by which we testify to the truth of Christ’s revelation and commit ourselves to resist those refusals of Christ that will divide and undermine the Church.

Our profession of faith as expressed in the public recitation of the creed at Mass reminds us that we are disciples of the Lord Jesus, not religious dilettantes. Faith in Christ’s revelation compels a decision- are we for or against him, we will gather with him or scatter? Our qualifications of the truth of his revelation manifest our refusal.

The Gospel for today presents the testimony of John the Baptist.

John is not himself the revelation of God. He makes this absolutely clear. Instead, he is a mere man with a mission from God, and this mission is to direct people to God’s revelation. God’s revelation is Christ the Lord.

All disciples of the Lord Jesus should pay careful attention to John the Baptist’s testimony, as it illuminates our own mission.

The mission of a disciple, of a follower of the Lord Jesus, is give testimony to Christ and to invite people to know Christ and become his friends. Like John’s mission, this is public work.

The great twentieth century spiritual master, Hans Urs von Balthasar once remarked that the Christian is placed by Christ out on the streets of the world. St. John Paul II did not travel the world so as to provide faith- based entertainment, but to give public testimony to Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict echoed this when he testified that faith in Christ is always public. Pope Francis’ emphasis on a Church that is willing to go out to what he terms “the existential peripheries” is also expressing the truth about what it means to be a disciple- being a disciple is a public, not private act.

If the Church is always public, then the parish can never be just a private club that is closed in on itself and attentive only to those concerns and causes that preoccupy its members. Instead, the parish, like the Church (of which the parish is only a part) looks outwards and towards the world, seeking to invite people to know Christ and share the gifts he wants them to enjoy.

Inward looking parishes may get some strength from their narrowness for a time, but will ultimately falter and fail. Christians who reduce their profession and practice of the faith to a private matter will ultimately undermine the faith they seek to profess and practice privately.

Like John the Baptist, our testimony to Christ must be boldly public.

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The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas (December 31st, 2015)

The Church’s scripture for today, an excerpt from the New Testament’s First Letter of John, warns us of the coming of antichrists.

The popular culture, through the mediums of movies and television, has presented the antichrist as a satanic political figure who is hell bent on taking over the world. This terrifying construct of the human imagination is not what the First Letter of John has in mind.

The antichrist that John warns us of is plural, not singular, meaning that there is more than one, and is someone or something that is really what amounts to be a counterfeit version of Christ. These counterfeit versions of Christ are as active, if not more so, in the Church, as they would be in the world.

A counterfeit version of Christ is a lie, a deception, and lies about the Lord Jesus have been told throughout the long history of the Church. The most pernicious of lies told about Christ are variations of refusals of his revelation that he is God come to us in our flesh. These lies about the Lord Jesus have the effect of dividing the Church, even forming sectarian groups that compliment their faith in the antichrist with the formation an antichurch.   Worldly powers are pleased when the Church is divided against itself as it disables the Church, and prevents Christians from accomplishing the mission that Christ has given to us.

Antichrists originate for the most part in our own pride and egoism and grow as a result of our own refusals of Christ and the Church. Rather than accepting Christ for who he reveals himself to be and the Church for what he wills the Church to be, we construct a counterfeit Christ out of our own ideas, feelings or opinions and a Church out of our own causes that serves our own ideological pre-occupations.   These idols of our own making are given the appearance of Christ and the Church, but beneath the surface of these glittering idols are lies.

Whenever Christ is reduced to being whatever it is that we want him to be and the Church is used simply as a means to sanction of worldly causes, then this should be taken as evidence of antichrists.

 

Today’s Gospel repeats the proclamation of Christmas day- the magnificent prologue of the Gospel of John.

The prologue to the Gospel of John is testimony to the revelation of God in Christ who reveals himself in the flesh, that is, in a real, human body. Remember, we believe that God in Christ has accepted a human nature and has through that human nature lived a real, human life.

It is God’s willingness to immerse himself into the totality of human experience, particularly the experiences of suffering and death that transforms and changes us, effecting what the great saints and ages of the Church call “a marvelous exchange”. This means that God accepts from us the experience of a human nature so that we can experience his divine nature.

The experience of Christ’s divine nature happens for us through the Church’s Sacraments, which are not just merely experiences of fellowship in the community or artifacts of ethnicity, but are real encounters with the Lord Jesus.

Thus we do not cherish the Sacraments simply because they are important customs, but because they are occasions through which we meet Christ and learn from him the meaning and purpose of our lives.

God in Christ who revealed himself in the flesh and blood of the body of his human nature also reveals himself in the flesh and blood of the body of his Church. Just as the body (the flesh) of Christ’s human nature served as the privileged means by which he revealed that he loves us and abides with us as God and also as our friend, so now Christ continues to reveal that he loves and abides with us as God and also our friend in the Church.

The revelation of God in Christ who comes in the flesh is the central truth of the Church’s profession (and practice) of the Faith and the Church is the means that Christ uses to introduce his revelation in the flesh to the world.

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Feast of the Holy Family (December 27th, 2015)

It was just days ago that the Church commemorated in solemn worship the Nativity of Jesus Christ, that is, the birth of God in our flesh. God in Christ accepted a human nature and lived a real human life. This is the central and most important revelation of the Church’s faith. Everything that the Church is and does is directly related to, and only really makes sense because of, the revelation of God in Christ in the flesh.

God’s acceptance of a human nature meant that he also accepted the experience of gestating for nine months in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It also meant that he accepted the experience of being born into the world as we are all born into the world. It meant he accepted the experience of having to learn things and the experience of a body that needed food and water to flourish and survive. It also meant that God in Christ experienced a body that would grow and develop from infancy, childhood, through puberty to being an adult.

And it meant that God in Christ experienced for himself what it meant to be part of a family, indeed a particular kind of family, an Israelite family that likely meant a big, loud assortment of aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, with little if any of what we call privacy, and having responsibilities, from an early age, for caring for the sick and elderly and those younger than himself. There would have been little time for leisure or the fulfillment of personal goals, as life for Christ and his family would have meant laboring day to day to acquire the necessary resources to sustain the immediate needs and care for a large, extended family. The survival of one person was related to the survival of the whole family and everyone would have had no choice but to take this insight very seriously.

The family of Christ was not just that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but would have included all the relatives of Mary and Joseph- like I said, a large family and very likely, in relation to our own experience, a poor and demanding family.

Christ would not have understood himself as an isolated individual, in the manner that we pretend to understand ourselves today. Instead, he would have understood himself in relation to the family that surrounded him and in terms of all those related to him that went back generation after generation.

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke gesture towards all this by including at the beginning of their testimony, a long list of Christ’s relatives going back generations and generations. This is not just meant to provide interesting biographical details, but to signal to us how the Lord Jesus understood himself and his place in the world.

The idea our culture has, that family can be whatever it is we want it to be, would have been absurd to world into which Christ was born. Family, in all its structures and expectations, were a gift from God, a reality that we accepted from him as essential to our understanding of what he wanted for us to be and to do.

The reality that Christ accepted a family as his own family is a great truth of our Christian faith that the Church wants us to remember and understand today. Today, the first Sunday after the celebration of the Christ-Mass, is the Feast of the Holy Family.

That’s Christ’s family is referred to as “holy” means that accomplishing God’s will was the focus of his family’s concerns. Many families have as their primary focus the acquisition of wealth, the attainment of power and honors, or the pursuit of pleasurable experiences as the goals of family life. The purpose of family life is to be prosperous or successful in a worldly sense, and therefore all the vital energies of a family tend in the direction of wealth, pleasure, power and honors.

This was not what the Christ’s family was all about and since our priorities as Christians should be in sync with his, the manner in which Christians set priorities for family life should imitate the priority of the Holy Family, which was, first and foremost, accomplishing God’s will.

God’s will is most often fulfilled as we seek to respond to the demand of love as it presents itself in the immediacy of our life’s circumstances. In other words, one doesn’t usually have to travel very far to discover what God’s will is for one’s life, one will find that opportunity very close, and it will manifest itself in demand that loving another person who is close places upon us.

Fulfillment of this demand of love will inevitably involve sacrifice, for there is no love in this world without sacrifice, but it is through our sacrifices that we can become holy as Christ’s family is holy.

If there are moral lessons for us in relation to today’s commemoration of the Holy Family it is likely that the demand of love is most immediate to our circumstances and that the demand of love will require that we make a sacrifice. In both love and in sacrifice we accomplish God’s will and become holy- which are the very things that impart meaning and purpose to our lives as disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Today’s Gospel, an excerpt of testimony from the evangelist, Luke, presents the family of the Lord Jesus in the midst of a crisis, as it seems that Christ has become separated from his family and his parents cannot find him. In their fear at losing the one who is most precious to them in all the world, Christ’s parents cannot reckon that the place he would most likely be- the great temple of Jerusalem. It is precisely in the temple that they find Christ, and with their discovery, are confronted with the truth that Christ was not lost at all, but he was were he is supposed to be.

We might think of temples as civic monuments or museums, but what the temple of Jerusalem really and truly was supposed to be was God’s literal house on earth. Christ is God and therefore the temple is his house on earth.

I know preachers usually make much, in their interpretation of this story, of a emotional drama of losing a child in a crowded place, but that’s not really what this testimony from the Gospel of Luke is about- it is about our coming to terms with who the Lord Jesus really and truly is- that he is God.

In terms of the story, Mary and Joseph, in their searching for Jesus everywhere only to eventually find him where he is supposed to be, are stand ins for ourselves- how often do we go off searching for God as if he is the one who is lost, not ourselves, and spend our time looking for him in every place, except the one place he always insists he will be.

And what is the one place that God in Christ always insists he will be? He will always be in his temple, and the temple of God in Christ is not in Jerusalem. No! Remember the words of Christ himself that we would not worship him in Jerusalem. Where then is his temple?

Christ’s temple is the Church and the worship of his temple is what we experience as the Mass. The Mass the worship God in Christ reveals that he wants and it the Mass is the place where he will always be. If we are looking for God, the Mass is where God is.

The specificity of this truth about the Mass is a challenge to our cultural assumptions about finding God in our ideas or feelings or in things that we feel comfortable associating with God. Ideas or feeling and experiences might signify what we believe about God or even lead us to God, but they can also represent false beliefs or while seeming to lead us to God, actually lead us from him.

The Mass is different than our ideas and feelings and experiences because Christ makes himself living and present in the Mass and doesn’t need our ideas or feelings or experiences to do so. All we have to do is seek him at Mass, and he will find us, because he is, in the Mass, always there.

 

It is very important for us to remember (and appreciate) what the Mass really and truly is, and why the Church insists that the Mass, and not something else is “the source and summit of the Christian life”. The Mass is the worship God wants. We might want to give him worship of our own making, but that’s not what he wants from us. The Mass is also where God will always be, for he gives himself to us, shares his divine life and presence with us, in the Blessed Sacrament.

The Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ or an expression of ethnicity or culture. The Blessed Sacrament is the divine life and presence of Jesus Christ given to us to adore and to receive.

What is given to us in the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Christ and it is Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament who gives himself to us

We live in a culture where a lot of people are looking for God, who are looking for the Lord Jesus, and don’t know where they can find him. Bereft of God in Christ many people become prisoners of false gods who wreak havoc in their lives.

God in Christ is not lost, but many people are.

You know that he is here.

You also know people who are searching for him, many of whom are in your own families- and there is your demand of love today!

If you know where God in Christ is, you have a responsibility, indeed a mission, to tell people who are searching where God in Christ is waiting for them.

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The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

Today the Church here and throughout the world commemorates the Nativity of God in Christ, which means, that today Christians remember the astounding revelation that God was born into this world as child. The eternal God, the one, true God, did something that seemed not just unseemly, but impossible for him to do- God, in Christ, accepted a human nature and lived, like all of us, a real, human life.

God’s acceptance of a human nature was not a mere ruse, but like us, God allowed himself to gestate for nine months in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   God was born into the world in the same manner we are all born into this world. God was born into a particular family, in a particular place, on a particular day and at a particular time. As Christians, we testify that the birth of God in the world as a child is not a myth or a legend, but a fact of history, indeed this revelation reveals the meaning and purpose of history itself.

Jesus Christ is not a symbol or metaphor signifying whom Christians think God is. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God. With the birth of God in Christ into the world, eternity enters into time and infinity dwindles into infancy.

The scriptures proclaimed for Mass this morning all gesture towards the revelation of God born into this world.

From the Prophet Isaiah, perhaps the most eloquent of all the Biblical prophets, he speaks of the purpose for which God has come into the world- to be our king, and to be a king who will set right a world that so often goes so terribly wrong.

The world will see, the prophet Isaiah predicts, that the Lord will reveal to us his holy arm, indicating to us that his revelation will take the form of flesh that can be seen and grasped. The Lord’s Holy Arm is revealed to the world for the first time as the tiny arm of the Christ-Child lying in the manger.

Today’s second scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, testifies to the identity of Jesus Christ as God. Attempts to reduce Christ merely to a prophet or teacher or social activist or spiritual guru, all fail to express the truth about who Jesus Christ really and truly is. The reductions of Christ’s identity to a prophet or teacher or social activist or spiritual guru are all really forms of aggression against him, attempts by us to control him by positioning him within categories that we can manipulate for our own ideological and political purposes.

The Letter to the Hebrews insists that it is through the revelation of Christ’s humanity that we encounter the revelation of his divinity and this revelation of Christ as God, reveals who God really and truly is.

In our encounter with Christ’s revelation as God we are compelled to abandon the categories that we impose on him. These are exposed as attempts to make God into someone or something that we prefer, rather than accepting God for who he really and truly is. God in Christ demonstrates that God cannot simply be the idea or feeling that we would prefer him to be. Nor can we accept that God is merely some kind of cosmic force that can be manipulated for our own purposes.

God in Christ is boldly himself, and we either accept him for who he reveals himself to be, or not. The revelation of God in Christ demands of us a stark decision- do I believe in him and pledge my life in service to God in Christ, or to some other god, a false god of my own making.

This decision for or against Christ is particularly urgent in our own culture, which tends to relativise all claims about God as mere opinions (or feelings), with God becoming nothing more than whatever it is that we prefer God to be.

The revelation of God in Christ resists all this, for his revelation is so particular, so concrete, so specific, that he thwarts our attempts to make him into anything or anyone we want.

For the Christian, our decision for or against God is always a decision for or against Jesus Christ. There is no equivocating in this regard. Not to decide is to make your decision and the decision is no. Not to decide reduces us to spectators, rather than participants in the life the Church.

Perhaps there are social benefits for being merely a spectator, rather than a disciple, but there is also little, if any, blessing or grace as well.

We either believe in Christ or we don’t. We either serve Christ or some other gods.

If our decision is for him, then our lives are at his service and we have to change- for Christ. He doesn’t change for us. He is always serenely and boldly himself. We don’t make him who he is- he makes us and invites you to be the person you are supposed to be.   The meaning of life that we all seek and the purpose of life that we all aspire to possess are given to us when we make our decision for Christ and accept him for who he reveals himself to be.

Christians are those people who have made their decision for Christ.

The Gospel for the Christ-Mass of Christmas Day is the beautiful prologue of the Gospel of John.

This Gospel is off putting for many, who coming for the Christ-Mass of Christmas Day, expect the story of Christ’s birth with its imagery of Christ’s Mother, her spouse Joseph, the stable, the manger, the angels, the shepherds and the star. None of this is mentioned by John.

Instead, John directs our attention, not to the traditional elements of the story of Christ’s Birth, but his emphasis pertains to two essential truths- that Christ is God and that God has come into this world in Christ “in the flesh”.

We might think of the birth of God in Christ as a baby to be something sentimental and sweet, and we think this way because the story has become all too familiar and sanitized of its genuine reality.

The real story, the raw story of the birth of God into our world is not neat and clean, and proves to be as bitter as it is sweet. God in Christ immerses himself into the raw facts of the human condition. He is not born into flesh softened by luxury or modern conveniences. He takes on flesh hardened and calloused by poverty and labor, spends his early childhood as a refugee and learns to earn his daily bread with the work of his own strong hands. His love for us went unrequited and the flesh, the body, he accepted so as to meet us and become our friends, would suffer the torture of our refusal and the agony of death on the cross.

This flesh, this body, would rise transformed and transfigured in the Resurrection and it will be his flesh, his body that will one day greet us all when he meets each and every one of us face to face.

In other words, the story of Christmas is not just a story, that we can reduce to a pleasant mid-winter’s tale. Christmas is about a real event, a fact of history. It is a matter of flesh and bone, of muscle and sinew of body and blood.

And thus do Christians come each year to the Christ-Mass on Christmas Day, because it is here that the same divine life and presence that was born into this world in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus can be adored and received in the Body and Blood of his Blessed Sacrament.

The proclamation of God come in the flesh in today’s Gospel directs our attention to the birth of God into the world over two thousand years ago in the little town of Bethlehem. God is born into our world and comes into our lives, not as merely ideas or feelings or opinions. God does not present himself to us as a book or as a building, but he comes to meet us in the flesh, in a body. But today’s Gospel also insists that we accept that same Body of God in Christ that presented himself to the world centuries ago continues to offer himself to us, and extends his Body to us, as a gift, across space and time, and that Body of Christ meets us here and in this Eucharist, “makes his dwelling among us”.

The dwelling of Christ here, among us, in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood is as significant for our salvation now as the Body and Blood of God in Christ that was born into our world in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago.

We are not here simply to recount the tale of Christ’s birth, sing songs to his praises, or share with one another feelings of holiday cheer. We come to the Christ-Mass to adore and receive him.

For it is here, at the Christ-Mass (indeed in every Mass!) that we see and receive in the Blessed Sacrament “his glory”- “the Word become flesh”- Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity- the glory of God given to us now and full of grace and truth!

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Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 24th, 2015)

The Church’s first scripture for Mass today is an excerpt from the Book of Samuel. The story you heard from the Book of Samuel recounts David’s plans to build a monumental temple to the Lord God, plans which God refuses to accept or bless. David will not build a temple for the Lord God. Instead, the Lord will, in accord with his own plans, build a temple for himself.

The temple the Lord God plans to build will not be a temple of wood and stone, but of flesh and blood. The Lord God’s temple will be the body of Christ’s human nature, and through the temple of Christ’s body, the Lord God will place his divine life and presence among his people and within his creation.

The great solemnity of Christmas is about the revelation of the temple the Lord God planned to build for himself from even before the creation of the world. The earthly temple, which would be built by the son of David, Solomon, would only be a foreshadowing of the heavenly temple that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, builds and reveals in his own body.

The temple of Christ’s Body that is revealed at his birth has not disappeared from reality, but endures in the Church, which is really and truly Christ’s body living and present in the world. Christ invites us to enter into the sanctuary of his body through the Mass. The Mass is the temple worship of Jesus Christ. It is in the Mass that we not only enter into Christ’s divine presence, but he invites us to share communion with his divine presence by adoring and receiving the mystical sacrament of his Body and Blood- the Eucharist.

Thus, also, we can better understand why the worship of Christmas day cannot just be a holiday pageant or some customary things that we accomplish privately at home. Instead, in order to celebrate the revelation of God’s temple in the Body of the Lord Jesus, we make our way to Mass, where the temple of the Body of the Lord Jesus really and truly is. Christmas can only be what Christ intends for the day to be if we participate in the Christ-Mass- the temple worship of Jesus Christ.

 

Today’s testimony from the Gospel of Luke presents the song of Zechariah, a song that celebrates the birth of his son, John, who we know as John the Baptist.

The Gospel of Luke begins with the great drama of the strange circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, a drama that begins in the sanctuary of the temple. Zechariah was a priest of the Israelites, as would be his son, John.

Yet John would abandon his service as priest of the earthly temple so as to be the servant of the heavenly temple- Christ the Lord.

In Christ, John saw the plan of God fulfilled- God dwelled with humanity and humanity dwelled with God. The earthly temple gestured towards with revelation, while the Body of Jesus Christ brought the revelation to its fulfillment.

And all this, is of course, the mystery of Christmas revealed! The holy birth at Bethlehem is not merely the birth of a prophet or teacher, social activist or spiritual guru. The revelation of the Christ Child is the revelation of God, who in Christ has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.

It is this revelation that we are given, in the words of Zechariah, “knowledge of salvation for the forgiveness of our sins”. And it is in the Holy Child of Bethlehem that we receive “the tender compassion of our God”, whose divine light breaks upon a world darkened by sin and death- a light that guides our paths into the ways of peace.

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Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 22nd, 2015)

The story of the circumstances that led to the birth of the great prophet and priest Samuel is one of the most memorable and profound in the Old Testament.

Hannah, who for years was childless, and though beloved by her husband, she suffered scorn and derision because a childless woman was in the culture of her time, considered to be nearly worthless and at best pitiful.

Finally, she conceives a child, a son, whom she names Samuel, and understanding that her only beloved son is a gift from God, out of thanksgiving for the gift, she offers back to God what is most precious to herself- Samuel, the very son that God had given to her!

She offers her son in service to the Lord, leaving him in the care of the priests who served the Lord God at his sanctuary in Shiloh.

This extraordinary gesture should shock us and if it doesn’t, you did not listen attentively to today’s Scripture.

Samuel would become one of the greatest of all the Israelite prophets. Hannah foresaw this and knew that he could not be limited to the narrow space of domestic and worldly concerns. If her son was to accomplish the mission for which he was born, the mission that God had given him that would fulfill the purpose of his life, she would have to set aside her own feelings of attachment and let him go. Her willingness to place God’s will above her own, her son’s purpose above her own needs, would be the sacrifice through which God would begin to work wonders that would save his chosen people from their sins and set them on a path of goodness and truth.

This incredible story is presented to us by the Church today as a foreshadowing of Christ’s relationship with his own Holy Mother. The Christ-child would be given to his Mother as a gift, a gift that she would in turn offer to God in thanksgiving to what she had received.

For those who are familiar with the story of Hannah in the Old Testament Book of Samuel, you will remember that she celebrates the birth of her son with a song, a canticle of praise to God for what he has for her and will accomplish through her son.

The Mother of God echoes Hannah’s song in her own song of praise that we heard today from the Gospel of Luke. Evidently, the song of Hannah would have been familiar to a faithful daughter of Israel like the Blessed Virgin Mary as the words of her own canticle of praise resonant with Hannah’s song.

The words of the Mother of God’s song of praise are frequently set to music and most of these musical expressions employ pleasant sounding notes and can be quite lovely, they might have the unfortunate tendency to distract us from the revolutionary power of the words.

The words of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s “Magnificat” are essentially a battle cry, the expression of a warrior, and they praise a God who comes into the world to fight on behalf of a people long help captive by the dark powers of sin, death and the devil. Christ’s Mother testifies that God is coming to set a world gone wrong back right, and those who have conspired with dark powers for their own gain will have much to lose when God in Christ comes.

Christ does not come into the world simply to affirm us as we are or the world as it is, but to transform a world that has resisted God’s purposes, and that transformation begins with each one of us. The great song of the Blessed Virgin Mary praises God, who comes into the world, and into our lives, to deal with all the dark powers within us and within the world that oppose him- God in Christ comes to us, and to the world, to set things right!

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