I recently heard a sermon by a bright young priest at an independent catholic church. He began with a story of his Mom, in her mid 30’s huddling her 6 boys and 1 girl together in her arms, . . . at their daddy’s funeral. He said that as she held them close, she kept repeating, almost whispering “God is with us, God is with us, God is with us, God is with us . . .” What struck me is that he said that these words, normally heard and spoken in happiness this time of year, came from a place of deep fear, uncertainty and sadness within her.
When I think of the reality of what many in the world will celebrate in a few days, it is far from the pretty, warm cozy picture that we try to create. It was cold, dirty, smelly, bloody and fearful. Joseph was perplexed by his pregnant wife to be. Instead of a warm, cozy home, they had to leave home and when they arrived in Bethlehem there was no room for them. The child was sought after and almost killed.
“God is with us, God is with us, God is with us, God is with us . . .”
Sometimes our lives can be messy, dark and cold; but the reality that we shout these days is “God is with us!” To some in difficulty, such words might ring hollow. But as sweet and sappy as some of this season can be, perhaps we need this time of year when we are reminded of what is good in the world, what is good in the human spirit and when our thoughts turn to “peace and goodwill toward all.” I can’t help but think that since a lot of us are thinking such thoughts, a little bit of it might actually manifest itself in our reality.
Luke 1: 5-25
You have given sterility its pregnancy! We are, once again, beckoned to believe in the impossible. We have in our readings two stories of women who were sterile, but become pregnant. It’s interesting to note that these stories are fairly common in the Scriptures and always the child to be born is destined to make a great difference for the good of the people. Great things happen from seemingly impossible situations! Can you believe it?? I have difficulty believing it, like Zechariah, and so I remain unable to speak, paralyzed in my journey. We all experience “sterility” in our lives, in one way or another. What is sterile in your life these days? What’s sterile in the life of our world? Can I believe that this sterility can be overcome and new life can emerge? It’s just a matter of believing! AND taking action. What’s some small thing that I can do today to give pregnancy to a part of my life, or that of our world, that is lifeless and sterile? If I am honest, most of the time I am like Zechariah who basically looks at the angel and says “yeah, . . . Right! You have GOT to be kidding!” Most of the time I am like Zechariah and don’t believe that incredible things can happen in my life and the life of the world. And in my lack of belief, I remain like Zechariah, lifeless, speechless and a bit listless and lethargic. We are knocked over the head again today by God who says, “Wake up! Believe it!” We are again beckoned to walk through our days believing that life CAN be different, that the world CAN be different! The past couple of weeks I have felt listless. This morning when I read these readings and pondered them, I felt deep within me “Yeah right, . . . You have GOT to be kidding!” And then I started to change my thinking and believe that maybe, just maybe the impossible can happen. I’m not sure if it will. But you know what? . . . I’m not listless anymore. A little pregnancy has been given to my listless sterility.
I can understand now where in the Gospels Jesus says, “But when the Son of Man comes will he find any faith on the earth?” We are beckoned in this season to believe in the seemingly impossible! The readings that we have at this time of year from Isaiah bring tears to my eyes. They are so blasted beautiful! For me it’s like watching one of those sweet syrupy Christmas movies where the guy always gets the right girl (or guy as the case may be!). I’ll admit it, when I watch one of those movies I cry. And when I read these absolutely beautiful readings from Isaiah, I sometimes cry. I cry because I am sad because this vision that Isaiah describes isn’t a reality. But I also cry because it beckons me to hope, to believe again. The movie “Polar Express” is a wonderful expression of the belief to which we’re called. When we believe, magical things begin to happen! We begin to hear and see things that we previously did not! “Remember, the magic of Christmas lays in your heart!” (From the movie “Polar Express”)
We’re called in this Advent season to be absolute fools and believe in the seemingly impossible! We’re called to believe that the blind can see, the deaf can hear, that the tyrant will be no more, the arrogant are gone and that the shame of any wrongdoing on our part is removed.
We are called, invited and cajoled in this season to believe in the seemingly impossible! What’s your dream? What’s your dream for our world? Can we believe that it CAN become a reality? “Yes Virginia there IS a Santa Claus! . . . The most real things in this world are those that neither children nor (people) can see.” (From Francis B. Church’s editorial in The New York Sun from 1897, which was later made into the famous movie “Miracle on 34th Street”). “Faith is believing when common sense tells us not to.” (From the movie “Miracle on 34th Street) Can we look beyond the hum drum of our everyday lives and the violence of our world to the Magic underneath it all and to the One who IS there and who so desires to make dreams a reality, . . . if we only believe!
Yes Virginia there IS a Santa Claus! Even good can come from your screwed up family! 🙂
Good things can emerge from seemingly bad or shady experiences. The genealogy of Jesus that we have in Matthew is not an accurate historical record. The purpose of Matthew is to place Jesus in the line of David setting him up as King. As you read the record though, there are some interesting people that emerge like Rahab, the mother of Boaz who was a prostitute, and his wife Ruth who was born of incestuous origins. Of course we also have King David – one of the greats of the Old Testament – who was also an adulterer and murderer. Matthew places Jesus within the lineage of some pretty interesting people! The point is that all is “redeemed.” Our shortcomings, or the shortcomings of our families are not the end of the road. Good things can emerge from seemingly less than perfect people! What one of us is perfect? What one of us does not carry with us some shame of past or present transgressions? Perhaps a lesson today could be to let go of the shame, to let go of the past and to live well in our present, knowing that we are loved, despite our imperfections, and that we can do good, despite our flaws. We need to do what we can to overcome our character defects, . . . yes! But to live in the shame placed on us by ourselves or others only serves to keep us down. It does nothing for us or others. Despite our imperfections, we can still do great good in the world and bring light and life to others!
It’s SO easy to dwell on what is wrong with our lives, our partner, our job, the church, this or that person and certainly what’s wrong with the world! Why does that seem to come so naturally, yet thinking positively does not.? It’s like we have to train our minds to work and think in different ways. When we do so, then we will come to see life in a new way.
I often ask myself this question: Do I want to be a person that sees and talks about what is good in this world, or what is wrong with it? Whenever I am around someone who consistently has a negative edge to their conversation, I quickly receive an answer to what kind of person I want to be! It’s a drag being around a consistently negative person. Yet I have to admit that I am sometimes negative in what I say and how I perceive myself, others and the world – and I don’t even realize it!
John the Baptist was called to “testify to the light.” I want to be a person that testifies to the light, to what is good. Ironically enough, as the darkness descends, this season is about testifying to what is good in human nature and the world. In the midst of all of our problems, in this season we CONSCIOUSLY take an opportunity to look at what is good, true and beautiful in ourselves and others and celebrate that! The key is in CONSCIOUSLY deciding to look at the good in another.
Today perhaps it’s good to ask ourselves this: Am I person who testify’s to the Light?
The animated Christmas movie “Martin the Cobbler” (originally a story by Leo Tolstoy) tells the story of Martin, a shoe repairman. Martin’s workshop and living space is in a basement with one window that looks out onto the street where he sees people passing by. Life has left Martin a sad, withdrawn man. His wife died at an early age, leaving him a son to raise. When the son was of age to begin helping him, he took ill and also died. Life had been difficult for Martin and he basically gives up on any belief in a good God.
One night, while reading he hears someone call his name and the voice says: “Martin look out into the street tomorrow for I will come to visit you.” The next day, Martin remembers the voice and begins to look out the window, expecting something to happen. As the day wore on, nothing much happened. But he did see a man he knew who’s shoes were worn and who was cold and hungry. Because the man was blocking the view out his window he invited him in. Noticing he was hungry, Martin gave him something to eat and noticing he was cold, he gave him an extra coat he had. The day passed and nothing extraordinary happened. At the end of the day, he noticed his Bible and he took it out, opened it and noticed the passage where it said “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, thirsty and you gave me something to eat.” He then realized that God had indeed visited him and from then on he kept looking out the window noticing people and his sad, withdrawn life began to blossom again!
God often comes and visits us, but we don’t recognize God. Jesus in the Gospel today says that the people didn’t recognize the prophet Elijah nor do they recognize him. As a matter of fact, people oftentimes get rid of prophets! God visits us every day. Prophets are sent to us everyday. Do we see them? Perhaps we, like Martin, should look out the window of our sadness or pain today and see the One who comes to visit us in many disguises that we might be lead to newness of life!
“I, the Lord your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go. If you would harken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river.” (See Isaiah 48: 17-19)
Certainly in Isaiah’s time the common belief was that if you were following God’s ways, you would be blessed. If you were ill, or poor, that meant you were a sinner. Jesus of course turned this belief upside down with such teachings as “blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn,” etc. For Jesus happiness had little if anything to do with material or physical goods – and herein lay the discovery of true joy! When we realize that happiness doesn’t come from any person, place or thing, but from within, then we are the happiest of people. In this sense, less might indeed be more!
It’s ironic to reflect on this when culturally and within many, if not most of our homes, there are growing expectations of this or that “gift.” Perhaps it might be good for us to reflect on what might truly give someone “happiness.” Is it this or that gift, this or that thing? Or is it an experience, presence, self giving that might engender a sense of deeper joy.