Sunday, December 28, 2014

Feast of the Holy Family

Merry Christmas! Right now we are in the Octave of Christmas. The joy of Christmas is too much to be contained to a single day, so we celebrate Christmas Day as an Octave, as eight days. And on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. So this is a day to honor Jesus, Mary, and Joseph together as a family, and in honoring them, we can learn a bit about what family should look like for us.

It's good for us to have a feast to honor the Holy Family, because family is precisely how Jesus came into the world. Jesus didn't come riding in on the clouds surrounded by triumphant angels to live among us. Rather than anything normally considered worthy of a king, he was born into an ordinary family, with a working dad and a stay at home mom. And from when he was twelve to when he was thirty, we know nothing about his life. The most important man that ever lived, and for eighteen very formative years we have no idea what he was doing. But the human virtue he clearly had during his public ministry, he learned that from his family, from a faithful mom and dad who taught him from the very beginning of his time on earth.

So when we turn to our gospel reading, what do we find this holy family doing? We find them in the temple, practicing their religion. After every birth, Jews were to go to the temple to offer sacrifice for purification and thanksgiving to God, so that's what Mary and Joseph did. But while they were at the temple, something a little strange happens. An old man named Simeon comes forward and after seeing Jesus he gives thanks to God and says, "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word." Basically he's saying, "I've seen the Savior, now I can die happy," because God had told him he wouldn't die until he'd seen the Savior.

So Simeon speaks this beautiful prayer to God where he is thanking God for his goodness and saying he can now die happy because of the things he has seen. But then he addresses Mary and the tone changes. "This child is destined for the fall and rise of many" and "you yourself a sword shall pierce." What is this about? We know that Mary didn't die like this, so this is understood as a sword of sorrow at seeing her Son be rejected and then killed.

But if we're looking at this reading and trying to learn something about family, it's the first part of that prophecy we need to examine, "This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted." Simeon is making it clear that Jesus will be a controversial person, that some will reject him and some will accept him, that some will rise and some will fall. Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets were regularly rejected, and killed, for the message of love they carried from God. Prophets are always divisive people, and Jesus, being more than a prophet, will no different, Simeon is telling us. But Luke doesn't want to leave it entirely negative, because Simeon and Anna represent something new and different here. Simeon and Anna represent that small portion of Israel that accepts Jesus. Many will reject him, but a few will accept him, and Simeon and Anna represent those few.

So if we want to strengthen our families amidst all the struggles and challenges of the world, we have to accept Jesus, as individuals and as families. We have to welcome into our own hearts and into the heart of each of our families. This is not an easy or a trite thing, but this is a very serious business. The family is called the domestic church. Jesus came into the world through a family because the family is the fundamental unit of human society. Therefore, in order to destroy the foundation of our society and our Church, the devil himself is very interested in destroying our families. The devil himself wants to work his way into the heart of your family and destroy the peace of Jesus present there. This is happening on a global level, but it also happens on an individual level. There's not much we can do about the global level, but we can each make sure that our own family is strong, that our own family is a single light in the dark, showing Jesus to the world.

To make sure that your own family is a light in the dark, to make your family a welcome home for Jesus, takes the work of each member of the family. It requires constant practice in the selfless love of Jesus. In the daily work of being a family, in managing the thousand affairs of a home, the devil wants to sneak in and complicate things. The devil wants to whisper in your ear after a long day, "You deserve this drink, this lazy time in front of the TV, or this shopping trip, you deserve this selfish pleasure, whatever it is, and it's ok because the rest of the family doesn't really understand" and that sounds really nice so you start to go along with this and say, "Yeah, I do deserve this." But I look through the Gospels and I can't find any place where Jesus says, "I deserve this," that's not the attitude of Jesus, but rather he is constantly looking to give to those around him. In the exact same way, in order for your family to be a beacon of light in this world, each member of the family has to say, "How can I give, how can I sacrifice myself in love for those around me." Sacrificial love is the true mark of the Christian, and it is never selfish.

Now, I can picture the car ride home after a message like this. You can see where everyone else in the family needs to change, so you want to say to your spouse or your child or your parent, "See, Father said you should be more generous." Don't do that. If you walk away from Mass today ready to see how everyone else needs to change, you missed the point. This is a call to you, not your spouse, not your child, not your parent, to find new ways to pour yourself out in love for your family.

If we each welcome Jesus into every aspect of family life, if we each practice that sacrificial love of Jesus, making the good of the other our paramount concern, then we would see a revolution in our families, in our parish, and even in our world. With Jesus at the center of your family, the world can experience the love of Jesus through your family. So welcome Jesus into your family, practice his sacrificial love, and let Jesus mold and teach you and your family.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Et Verbum caro factum est

Merry Christmas! Before we begin, I want to give you the context for why we have this readings on Christmas Day. Our Church provides four different masses for Christmas: that is, four sets of readings and prayers, depending on when you go to mass. In other masses, yesterday on Christmas Eve and last night at midnight, we heard the stories of Jesus' birth from the different gospel authors. Here at this mass, we are invited to meditate on the meaning of Jesus' birth. We are invited to take all the elements we know and love: the angels, the wise men, the shepherds, the manger, and place them in a larger context. Because on one level, the story of Jesus' birth is so similar to the story of the birth of every other baby. There is human drama, there's a sense of mystery and wonder over the future and what this child represents, and overshadowing it all is a profound sense of gratitude for God's blessings. Any parent has experienced all this, this combination of mystery and wonder and blessing, and Mary and Joseph were no different. There's a certain familiarity with the Nativity story we know and love, that's why the story has nourished us for two thousand years.

But our readings today invite us to go further. These readings invite us to take the familiar story about the birth of a child, albeit a unique child, and see its place in the larger context of heaven and hell and sin and redemption. Because this child was born for a very specific purpose. His birth had been prepared for thousands of years, and the event of his birth made angels shout for joy and it made demons tremble. We want to see how it could be that this single birth is the event from which all time before and after is measured, and we still want to make it home for a Christmas feast, so let's get started.

Our first reading returns us to Isaiah, who has perhaps more to say about Jesus than anyone else in the Old Testament. The first line sets the mood for his message today: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings." Isaiah is addressing Israel here, and Israel has suffered a lot under bondage to foreign nations. In their physical suffering and bondage, they represent our spiritual position before Jesus came. Before Jesus, we were captive to sin and death, with no way out. There was no way we could save ourselves. We needed someone to come to us, to come bringing glad tidings, to come and say to us "Your God is King." And if God is King, king of the here and now and not just a god in a far off heaven, then he cares about my spiritual enslavement, and if he cares he's going to save me from it. God refused to let death have the last word, and so, as our reading tells us, he "bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God." Isaiah announces of years before Jesus that not only does God care about your physical suffering, he cares about your spiritual predicament as well, just as real and just as important, and he's going to save you.

Now we turn to the letter to the Hebrews. What we now call a letter seems to have been something between a letter and a homily in its original form. It has a lot of thought and prayer behind it, and that comes through in the writing. This section right here is talking to us about how God speaks to us throughout history. To understand what God wants to speak to us, we have to understand what God is. That could be answered a lot of different ways, but the easiest and fullest answer is quite simply "God is Love." God is Love, and love communicates itself. Love, the person who loves, doesn't keep that love bottled up inside, love has to be shared with others. So if God is Love, what he has been saying all throughout history is "I love you." Through all the prophets, through the partial and various ways God has spoken to us, he has been communicating all along that he loves us. But now, "in these last days", as Hebrews phrases it, "he has spoken to us through the Son." Jesus is the Word of God, Jesus is the most perfect expression of "I love you" that God could have ever spoken. God is basically saying "I love you so much that I am sending my only beloved Son to live among you, to die for you, and to bring you back to me."

This idea that Jesus is the Word of God brings us to our Gospel reading. This reading is from the beginning of the Gospel of John. Now John's gospel is different from the other three. The other three gospels were written early, and they kind of say "Jesus did this, this, and this, and it was awesome." John's gospel was written later, so there had been a lot of prayer and reflection on who Jesus was and what he meant. John's gospel is like a fine wine of the gospels: it's matured, it's aged to perfection, and to read it, it's clear that the author knows what he's doing.

The first line, for example, when we studied it in my gospel of John class in seminary, this single line took almost three weeks. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." That's it, pack up your bags and go home, that everything you need to know! Words are spoken, words are meant to communicate something. So this Word spoken by God has been present from the beginning, always with God, and is in fact also God. That's your Jesus 101: He comes from the God the Father, he has always existed with the God the Father, and he himself is God the Son. But in case you had any doubts, the next line, "He was in the beginning with God," makes it clear that his Word is in fact a person.

As we follow this reading through, it continues to teach us about what this Word is like. It is a light shining in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it, John the Baptist testified to this light. This Word, this light, this person, has been in the world and the world, "the world came to be through him," and yet the world has not recognized this Word. Through the partial and various ways of the past, the world failed to recognize God's love message to us.

And so this Word, this message of love, became flesh. "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."  Et Verbum caro factum est. This is the most perfect expression of love God could have given us. There is no better way for God to say "I love you" than for his only Son to be born as a man, and not just born, but to be born essentially in secret, in a small town outside of Jerusalem, far from the eyes of the kings and rulers of the world. To be born into such ordinary circumstances like so many babies, to be born into a family and community, to be affected by the winds of world politics and yet still be loved, like so many ordinary babies. This ordinariness of this extraordinary baby helps to remind us that no baby is really ordinary. Every baby, every person is extraordinary. God thought so, that's why he thought every person was worth saving through the incarnation of his Son.

Having reflected on the eternal implications of this birth, we realize that it really is all about God's love for us. Today we experience that love of God while surrounded by family and friends. We realize that distant concepts like light and darkness, prophecies and eternal Word, are made tangible and real in the love we experience each and every day. The love of our families, like the love of family that Jesus experienced, is where we experience the eternal God. Today we try to make some small return on that magnificent love that God has shown us by loving those around us. The birth of Jesus is the greatest communication ever of God's love to us. We respond by loving him back, present in our brothers and sisters. A blessed Christmas to you.

The Proclamation of the Birth of Christ

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time
when God created the heavens and the earth and then
formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood,
when God made the rainbow shine forth
as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation
of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
the whole world being at peace,
Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
according to the flesh.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A God of the Unexpected

Our God is a God of the unexpected. Whatever you think God is going to do, he's got something better in mind. This is evident throughout our Christmas mysteries, so it's something we should focus on in our last couple days of Advent preparation. God does the unexpected, and it's always far better than what we had in mind.

That's present in our gospel reading today. So after hearing gospel stories for the last three weeks that helped prepare us for the Nativity, finally today with our story of the Annunciation we're getting down to the beautiful stories we know and love, we're getting to the heart of the matter. This is the final preparation for the plan God has had to rescue us since the Garden of Eden.

We saw a small piece of that plan in our first reading, so that's where we need to first turn our attention. This reading shows us a small episode from the life of King David, Jesus' ancestor. David is king early in Israel's history, so at this point there was no temple, so the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of God, still rested in a tent from the desert wanderings. So David thinks, "This is no good, I need to build a temple for God." The problem with this is that David told God his own plans on what he was going to do for God, rather than receiving God's plan. As he's preparing to do this, God sends his prophet to tell David, "Not so fast. You want to build me a house? No, I've done so much for you already, and to prove my love I am going to do still more. I'm going to build you a house a kingdom, a dynasty that will last forever." Partially, God is referring to David's son Solomon who was allowed to build a temple. But primarily, God is referring to David's descendant, Jesus, whose throne does indeed last forever.

Then, in our Annunciation story, this throne is referred to again when the angel tells Mary "the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." This idea of kingdom is very important to Jesus' birth, his ministry, and even his death. It was mentioned generations before his birth, then here at the Annunciation the angel says that this baby will rule over an everlasting kingdom, throughout his ministry Jesus teaches us about the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God, and then at his trial Jesus explains to Pilate this his kingdom doesn't belong to this world.

So what is this kingdom? Like God so often does, he does the unexpected, and the unexpected plan is far greater than what we, in our limited vision, thought he was going to do. We had thought the kingdom would be a kingdom like David's kingdom: a place you could point to in the world with a king like other kings. But God had something bigger in mind: he envisioned a Church. This Church isn't bound to a single place; it can exist in all places so that all people, no matter where they're at, can be a part of it.

And, because God does the unexpected big thing as opposed to our planned mediocre thing, he didn't send just a normal king to rule over this kingdom. Rather than a normal king, he sent his only Son. Despite all the prophecies of the Old Testament, this one was difficult to predict. We knew God was good, but this good, good enough to send his only Son to save us? That was totally unexpected. God continually works through the unexpected.

But a huge unexpected thing we need to deal with is Mary, the one through whom we received Jesus. In Mary, God used the most unexpected vehicle of all to fulfill his plan, so let's examine Mary in the context of where she lived for a minute. Mary is a woman in a patriarchal society, she's young in a society that values age, and poor in a society that valued wealth. And she was unmarried, so she had access to none of the things that would have validated her existence. She's part of a tribe whose royal lineage has about played itself out, and she's part of a nation that currently finds itself under foreign occupation. Her circumstances put her among the lowest and most humble people in the world.

And yet, despite her being among the lowest in the world, the whole world, all of humanity, from Adam down to you and I, depended on her saying yes. One time in a homily, St. Bernard of Clairvaux addressed Mary and said, "The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent...Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death.  This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race" (quoted from the Office of Readings for December 20). The most unexpected thing of all God could do was to put his whole plan for salvation, the plan he has been working at since Eden, and put into the hands of a young virgin named Mary, and just wait for her yes.

God won our entire salvation by constantly doing the unexpected. God wants to do great unexpected things in your life too, things better than you expect. But for God to work in your life, for God to work in my life, I need to be more like Mary, and less like King David. David had his plans for what he wanted to do for God, instead of relying on the Lord for protection. Mary on the other hand, when she found out God's plan, her response was simply "Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord." If we learn from Mary to have this humble response to God's plan for each of us, then his power will do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. As we pray with Jesus and Mary the next several days, ask for the humility of Mary to surrender to whatever God wants to do in your life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rose Vestments

As promised, here's a picture of Gaudete Sunday's rose vestments. Or, as one classmate put it, a #sacristyselfie.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudete in Domino Semper

Let's talk about the vestments first. (at Mass I wore rose vestments, pictures are forthcoming) We call the third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means rejoice, and we're rejoicing that Christmas is so close. As a result of this joy, a bit of our Christmas joy enters into this Advent Sunday, and so a bit of white, the liturgical color of Christmas, enters into purple, the liturgical color of Advent, to get rose. Now, a woman has informed me that when white and purple are combined, they actually form lavender. But as a man, I'm still not sure what color lavender is. The way my mind works, and I imagine also for the men who decided our liturgical colors long ago, white and purple make pink, or rose, so on  Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice that Christmas is so near, rose became the color of the day.

Conversion of St. Paul
 In our second reading, did you notice the three tough commands that Paul gave to us? At the beginning of the reading he said, "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks." These are tough commands because he's not calling us to ignore the world, so we need to get to a Christian understanding of joy. Paul is not calling us to cover our ears, close our eyes and just sing "Everything is Awesome." Rather, we Christians are called to engage the world, engage this life in all of its messiness, and still give thanks in all circumstances. We need to talk about how we do that, because joy is crucial to the Christian life and vocation.

The second reading was the first letter from Paul to the Thessalonians, and this letter is interesting because it's the very first piece of the New Testament to be written. Paul's two letter to the Thessalonians were written in about 50 or 51 a.d., and that predates any other piece of our New Testament. So we can imagine at that point there was still a whole lot about Jesus' life and actions the early Christians were still trying to digest, but this much was sure: his followers had to be people of joy and hope.

When we consider our own lives and all the difficulties involved in them, we might be tempted to tell Paul, "I'll be thankful when there's something to be thankful for, but I can't do it all the time. It's a bit unrealistic to expect me to be joyful always because my life is different than yours, you don't understand the things I have to deal with." Yes, Paul's life was indeed different than yours. In another letter he writes, "Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches" (2 Cor 11:24-28). Despite everything he experienced, Paul's command is still to rejoice always! How does he say this?!

Paul knew that ultimately, the victory wasn't his to win. The battle and the victory ultimately belong to Jesus, and he's already won. Paul can be joyful because he knows that his sufferings do not mean he has failed in his work. He knows that his sufferings do not mean that Jesus doesn't love him. We rejoice in the fact that Jesus is the Savior of all, because that fact is not diminished by any suffering we experience in this life.

John the Baptist points to Christ
This is where we meet our gospel today. Like so many times throughout Advent, our gospel presents us with John the Baptist as the model of how to prepare ourselves for the Messiah. One line in particular continued to stick out to me in this gospel: "When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, 'Who are you?' He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, 'I am not the Christ.'" It's an interesting statement because in saying "I am not the Christ," John is in fact making a denial, he's denying that he is the Christ. But the gospel writer says "he admitted and did not deny, but admitted." So it looks like a denial, but the gospel says it's not. Now, using the word "admitted" here is one way to translate it, but it misses some of the force of the statement. Other translations use the word "confessed" in the sense of a declaration, like confessing God's glory. So the gospel author is at pains to tell us that this phrase "I am not the Christ" is in fact a proclamation, and it's a proclamation because it's good news for John and for everybody else. John is happy to proclaim that he is not the Christ, because that means there's someone else coming who can in fact save him from the sin from which he cannot save himself.

This recognition that "I am not the Christ" gets to the heart of Paul's command to be joyful. Paul can be joyful because he knows that ultimately, it doesn't depend on him. Whatever was going wrong in Paul's life, and there was a lot that we heard about, Paul was confident that Jesus was in control.

We too can be joyful that no matter what is going wrong in our life, Jesus is ultimately in control. We are commanded to be joyful. And yet, this joy isn't always easy to come by. Paul's command to rejoice always actually sounds kind of stupid if we hear it the wrong way. We need to differentiate between joy and happiness, because he certainly wasn't telling us to be happy all the time. Happiness or sorrow exist in response to the circumstances of our lives. I'm sure Paul wasn't smiling when he was shipwrecked or getting whipped, yet his joy was unshakeable. Joy exists at the level of our soul. Joy comes from knowing you are a beloved son or a beloved daughter of God our Father. Joy comes from rejoicing in that relationship. Rejoicing can exist right alongside sorrow, we see that even in our liturgy. At the beginning of Mass the first thing we do is recall our sins, and this remembrance of our sins, of our wretchedness, is then laced right into this deep and profound encounter with the God who loves us. Here at Mass we experience the deepest joy possible this side of heaven, and the sorrow of our sins exists right alongside it, it even amplifies our joy.

As we celebrate Guadete Sunday, check your heart to make sure that in the craziness of this season, you haven't lost the essential joy of Christmas. The Lord is near, as John the Baptist wants to tell us, so before he arrives, rekindle the joy of Christmas in your heart.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Mark, Discipleship, and John the Baptist

We just heard from the beginning of Mark's gospel. On most Sunday's throughout this coming year, we're going to be hearing from Mark, so we need to understand who Mark was and who he was writing for. This will help us to understand what he was trying to accomplish in his gospel. So we have four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus, Mark and Luke were not, they learned about Jesus from other sources. Mark was a disciple of Peter after Peter had moved to Rome, so he learned about Jesus from the man who had followed him closest during Jesus' ministry. As a result, Mark's gospel often feels like an eyewitness testimony to the event's Jesus' life.

And Mark was writing for the church in Rome, which was being persecuted and had to operate underground, so Mark's reason for writing this gospel was to strengthen this community in the midst of persecution. To do so, throughout his gospel he would highlight the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. He would emphasize that being a disciple is not easy, that it comes at a price. And that is where Mark's gospel meets us today. Being a disciple is still not easy. If anything, the  cost of authentic discipleship has gotten higher for us.

What we have here is the very beginning of Mark's gospel. Mark needs to highlight how difficult it is to follow Jesus, people are dying and he wants to strengthen them in their trials so they understand that they are perfectly following Jesus. So he doesn't have time for Nativity stories, mangers and wise men. Rather, he sets the stage with a few lines from the prophet Isaiah, then he drops us right into the heart of the story with John the Baptist, who was the first man to pay the ultimate price for following Jesus. He started by quoting from the prophet Isaiah in order to explain John the Baptist, so that Christians can be reassured that everything they are about springs directly from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Caravaggio's Saint John the Baptist in the Wildeness
My favorite painting of John by my favorite painter
The Church often directs our attention to John the Baptist during Advent. Advent is about preparing for the coming of Christ, John the Baptist announced the coming of Christ. This isn't hard to figure out. So what was John the Baptist's message? "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths." Basically, repent. The Savior is coming, and therefore you need to change you ways, repent of your sins, and get ready. The implication of this way of preaching is that you are a sinner, your former ways are bad, and you do need to change. John the Baptist was no Joel Osteen. But John wanted you to be ready for the Savior when he came. So Advent is a time of preparing for Jesus when he comes again, not just at Christmas, but more importantly at the end of time.

Like John the Baptist, our readings throughout Advent, especially when we're in Mark's gospel, seem to offer up equal parts hope and warning. Our first reading was full of hope as it prophesies about John the Baptist. "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated." That first reading is also where the coming of John the Baptist is prophesied with those lines about the voice crying out to prepare the way of the Lord. John's message is primarily one of hope: Jesus is coming. But the announcement that Jesus is coming can also be a warning. It might even be a threat if you're not ready for Jesus to come. But Advent is about preparing, so we need to heed John the Baptist's words as both a promise and a warning that Jesus is coming.

During Advent, we focus a lot on the coming of Christ, both at Christmas and again at the end of time, and yet for two thousand years we haven't seen it happen. Saint Peter deals with this in our second reading. "With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard "delay." Peter is trying to explain that God's time does not work like our time. But Peter goes further than just saying "You don't get it," he even offers an explanation as to why the Lord's second coming is so long delayed. He says that the Lord "is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." The Lord wants to give every person on earth every chance possible to turn to him, so that when he comes no one will be lost.

So what do we do with this, what do we do as we await this new heaven and new earth that Peter talks about? Peter continues to explain that our job is to conduct ourselves in perfect holiness and devotion as we await the coming of the Lord. We are to be found without spot or blemish. Our job is to wait, but not wait passively. We shouldn't sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for Jesus to come. No, it should be an active, joyful, hopeful waiting. We should go out looking for him, in the sacraments he gave us and in the people whom he loves. We should announce his coming just like John the Baptist did. Make your Advent a time of joyful, peaceful hope.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent Tension

Look with favour, Lord God, on our petitions,
and in our trials grant us your compassionate help,
that, consoled by the presence of your Son,
whose coming we now await,
we may be tainted no longer
by the corruption of former ways.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

St. John the Baptist, who pointed to Christ
This is today's collect, or opening prayer, for mass. The special seasons of the year (Lent, Advent, Christmas, Easter) have special collects for each specific day, so there's always something new for us to discover in them. I like this one because of the dichotomy it draws between the presence of Jesus and his coming we still await. It helps to highlight for us the beautiful tension of Advent. Tension is not a terrible thing, I remember a priest once remarking that a corpse has achieved balance, but the human condition, and even more so that of the Christian, is one of tension. So in Advent we have a tension. We celebrate Christ who came and never left, and we anticipate his coming again. We like to say he comes in history, mystery, and majesty. Jesus came in history, he was born long ago. He comes in mystery: he dwells in us through the reception of Sacraments and he wants to meet you anew each and every day. And he will come in majesty: Jesus will come again at the end of time to judge the world and take his own to himself. So this prayer reminds us that Jesus is here among us, we are "consoled by his presence," and yet it is this same Jesus "whose coming we now await." We don't await just a memorial or anniversary of his coming on December 25th, but more importantly, we await his coming at the end of time. Advent is for us to prepare for that second coming, for us to be "tainted no longer by the corruption of former ways." What is the former way? Sin. The new way? Grace. Advent is for going to Confession (heck, all seasons are for going to Confession). Advent is for looking ahead, not back.