Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas, Cycle A - December 25, 2014

Cycle B
December 25, 2014 Midnight
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air



Tonight I am picturing in my mind one of those jarred Yankee Candles.

I can almost smell the scent of Balsam and Cedar, or, at this time of year, Christmas Cookie Dough.  Many of us use lighted candles like these in our homes to create a warm, cozy feeling. 

Restaurants often use them to create an atmosphere for fine dining.  On news reports, we sometimes see crowds of people holding them as they remember a loved one who has died or been killed. 

Advent Wreath Candles

Here in church we also use candles and we use them for a purpose.  For example, during the four weeks of Advent that just ended, we had a wreath here with four candles.

Three of these candles were purple and one was rose or pink.  And those Advent candles – I believe, at least for me – they spoke to something rather deep in our human spirit.

They expressed my sense that things can be better and especially I need to keep growing spiritually.  They also expressed my trust that this can happen if I allow God to come and permeate more and more who I am as a person.

Christmas Wreath Candles

Those Advent candles have now been replaced by these white candles with a gold banding.

I believe that these candles express, above all else, our faith in Emmanuel – a name which means God-is-with-us.  They express our faith that through the birth of Jesus, God is with us throughout our entire journey on this earth. 

The light of these candles expresses our faith in the light of Jesus – that he shows us the way to relate to one another and to God.  And the warmth that they give expresses our hope in the One who teaches us that warm, thoughtful words and actions are the way to dispel darkness. 

In the long run, I see these candles saying that Emmanuel will fulfill our absolutely deepest hope.  He will lead us to that heavenly light and warmth that, deep down, we all seek.

We as Candles

Now there is one more important thing about the candles.

Eventually, these, like any candles, will burn out.  The wax and wick will be fully consumed and exhausted.

Spiritually, this means that we who are here tonight need to catch this fire.  Because of this special, holy night, we are to accept the light and warmth of Christ into our lives and then bring it to those around us, especially those who are experiencing darkness and cold.

So, for example, we make sure to invite for dinner a family member who is grieving the death of a spouse.  We phone or text a friend who is suffering from a painful divorce.

We affirm a young adult who just feels that she or he does not belong.  Maybe we bought a set of towels for a family or a video game for a kid whose name was hanging on the parish Giving Tree.

Maybe we take the first step in reaching out to someone after years of not speaking.  These are human, in a sense, everyday ways of sharing the light and warmth of Christ.


So in a way, the idea is so simple. 

We are to be like candles.  We are to be and give light and warmth. 

That’s how our deepest desires and hopes really get fulfilled.  And for this to happen, we just have to get the fire and keep getting the fire from the One who came into this world on that holy night in Bethlehem.

Tuesday of the 4th Week of Advent, Cycle A - December 23, 2014

Tuesday of Late Advent
December 23, 2014       6:30am

In the passage that is the background to today’s gospel, the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to a child, a son.
Zechariah questions and does not at first believe.
And because of Zechariah’s response, Gabriel says that he will be mute, unable to speak until the child is born.
One commentator says that rendering Zechariah temporarily mute was not a punishment, but rather an opportunity for him to reflect.
He needed to reflect on his faith and his relationship with God.
He needed to come to place more trust in God and God’s word.

Then, in today’s passage, Elizabeth gives birth to the child and the issue of naming the child arises.
Elizabeth says that the child’s name will be John.
This is the name that Gabriel had told Zechariah to give the child, but there is no indication that Zechariah ever communicated this to Elizabeth.
So Elizabeth’s naming the child John is another indication of the hand of God at work.
In some way, God also communicated this name to Elizabeth.
Then, Zechariah confirms this name and immediately, he is able to speak.
The idea is that in the months of being mute, he has reflected and grown in faith.
His confirming the name John is in effect an act of faith.
And now with faith, he is able to speak.

Perhaps we could also add that without faith, what we have to say is quite limited.
We are all in effect mute if we lack faith and trust in God.
With faith and trust in God, we have much to say and much to offer one another for the journey of human life.

They are my reflections on this morning’s beautiful gospel story.

Monday of the 4th Week of Advent, Cycle A - December 22, 2014

Monday of Late Advent
December 22, 2014       8:30am

Magnificat – that is the name we normally give to the prayer of praise that Mary offers in today’s gospel.
This word Magnificat is the first word in the Latin version of this prayer.
It means magnify, so Mary is saying that her “soul magnifies the greatness of the Lord.”

The word magnify means to make something larger.

Obviously, Mary does not make God larger, but she recognizes that God is larger than herself.
She humbly looks to God as the almighty One.
She listens and accepts God’s message as the direction her life is to take.
She sees herself as a servant of God on this earth.

Mary also magnifies the Lord by making other people larger.
Specifically, she is sensitive to the last and the least among us.
In her prayer, she discerns that God is turning things upside down.
Mary says, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Mary magnifies or makes larger the little ones of this world and recognizes in God’s treatment of herself that this is how God treats all peoples.
She implicitly foresees how her son will treat the little, the last, the least, and the lost.
She implicitly foresees the parable on the Last Judgment about the separation of the sheep and goats and that our treatment of these persons, whether or not we magnify them, will determine whether we are sheep or goats.

So, there is a beauty and a depth to the prayer that Mary offers here today – the Magnificat.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle A - December 21, 2014

4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle B
December 21, 2014      4pm and 9am
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


The Annunciation

Today’s gospel story is one of the most depicted scenes in the entire Bible.

It is called the Annunciation.  It is the event that sets in motion God taking on our humanity in the birth of Jesus. 

Because of this, I want to reflect with you on some of the details in this beautiful story.  To do this, I invite you to take the hymnbooks and open to page 889 – page 889 – we are not going to sing a hymn! 

There we can see the full text of this gospel on the lower left page.  Maybe we would call this a kind of Bible-study approach to today’s homily.   

1. Mary as Disciple

The number one thing to notice is that Saint Luke presents Mary as the first and model disciple.

Just look at what happens.  Gabriel greets Mary and explains what is about to take place.

What is Mary’s response?  We see it at the very end of the passage.

“I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

So, Mary 1) listens and then 2) accepts God’s message.  In doing this, she shows herself to be the first and model disciple.

It is helpful to look at this in the context of a later story in Luke’s gospel.  Jesus is teaching inside a house and someone says, “Your mother and family are outside wanting to talk with you.”

And Jesus responds, “My mother and family are those who hear the Word of God and live it.”  So Jesus defines what it means to be a member of his spiritual family or a disciple – 1) hearing and 2) living his word.

That definition has already been fulfilled in Mary before Jesus was even born.  In fact, she becomes Jesus’ physical mother and forms his human family because she is the first member of his spiritual family. 

2. Jesus from David

Now, notice, toward the beginning of this passage, Luke says that Mary is betrothed to “Joseph, of the house of David.”

And then, a few verses down, the angel says of Jesus: “the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.”  From the time of King David, 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, there were many prophecies of a savior.

These prophecies began with what we heard in the first reading.  King David wants to build a house for God – a brick and mortar temple.

God responds that he will build a house for David – a house of descendents.  All the prophets who follow foresee a savior coming from this house or family of David.

So, in these verses, the gospel shows Jesus as the fulfillment of these prophecies.  And in doing this, it shows the human side of Jesus – his humanity. 

He is identified with these ancestors, beginning with David and ending with Joseph.  The humanity of Jesus is carefully established.

3. Jesus from God

That takes us to the last point that I want to note.

The passage also tells us that Jesus is not just an ordinary human being.  The angel Gabriel says to Mary: “He will be called Son of the Most High.”

And then, a verse or two later, Gabriel is even clearer to Mary: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you.”  The Book of Genesis uses the same word “overshadow” to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the act of creation. 

Then, at the end of the passage, Mary says: “May it be done to me according to your word.”  Again the Book of Genesis uses the same word that Mary uses here – “Fiat” – “May it be done,” “Let it happen”—to describe God’s action in creating the world.   

So the idea is that God is doing a new creation – something radically new with Mary.  The angel Gabriel gets very clear on this: “The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

So this child is both human and divine.  Jesus is also the Son of God, the very presence of God with us.


I think we can say that this Annunciation story is like a gospel in miniature.

It calls us to believe in the full identity of Jesus – human and divine.  And with this belief, it calls us to live the words and follow the way of the Savior. 

By doing that, we will follow the example of Mary and also be members of Jesus’ spiritual family, his disciples.  That is how this last Sunday of Advent prepares us for the celebration of Christmas.