Monday, March 3, 2014

This Christmas let's be different.

Our country has experienced a tragedy this year that I am sure has affected every person.  Families in Connecticut are suffering and the country suffers with them. This kind of event causes us to ponder deeply on what life is all about.  Advent is meant to be a time to reflect on what life is all about – on the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ.
It is meant to be a time of joyful anticipation of Christmas Day and of the second coming of Christ. 

And while events like the one last week can leave us feeling profoundly sad, in a strange way, they can also help us. Help us to focus on the right things this year. Even the worst that humanity can throw at us can help us to find joy, deep joy, real joy this holiday season. I’m sure parents hugged their children a little tighter this week. 

There is a temptation at Christmas to get caught up in all the wrong things: presents, parties, food and even family tensions, family squabbles.  The tragic events last week are a reminder to us to put the emphasis on the right things this year.  To have meaningful celebrations focused on Jesus; with acts of love, forgiveness and service to family and community.

Let’s all make a commitment this year to change the focus  this Christmas holiday from presents, parties, food to what really matters faith, family, friends, giving and forgiving.
This Christmas let’s all make a commitment to prayerfully seek out ways to forgive each other for hurts of the past and remember what really matters at Christmas is loving each other.

We’ve had a wakeup call this year that should show us that the deep and profound joy of the season comes from being thankful for the people in our lives. That the deep and profound joy of the season comes from just loving each other, not taking each other for granted, because we have been reminded how fragile this life is.

We have a great example of this in Luke’s gospel today.  Mary's visit to Elizabeth is such a gentle scene. It reflects the very best of humanity – one cousin going to help an older cousin as she prepares to give birth.  It is when we serve others that we encounter Jesus Christ.  It is when we give ourselves in love that we find that we are loved. It is in the simple and ordinary kindnesses to each other that we find delight.

Christmas is really about Jesus coming into the world and what that means for us. Focusing on what the coming of Jesus means this year will help us experience HOPE and JOY. The same hope and joy John the Baptist felt in today’s gospel reading. It’s the hope and joy that made him jump inside his mother’s womb, when he experienced the coming of Jesus as Mary approached.  

What John experienced, what made him jump in his mother’s womb, was a powerful magnetic presence.  It was a presence so powerful that he could feel it with his whole being. It was a presence so magnetic that he was drawn to it with every fiber of his being. It was a presence, hopefully, have all experienced at moments in our lives. One of the most interesting things about Jesus is that it is in the challenges of life where we can often feel his presence the most. I personally met Jesus face to face in the midst of cancer treatments. 

Jesus came into the world so that we can cast off our burdens and feel His joy and embrace His promise of eternal life. Because of Jesus there is hope even in the worst of challenges. It’s fascinating how the images have transformed this week from tragedy and horror to images of prayer, candles, church services and people supporting and loving each other – praying together. Even in our darkest hours, because of Jesus, there is hope – there is love, we’ve seen that this week.

These last few days of Advent are a great time to ask yourself: 
·         What did Jesus coming into the world mean for me?
·         Where am I with Jesus right now in my life?
·         What’s my relationship with Him ?
·         I’m I ready?  If God should take me today – I’m I ready?

Have you ever wondered why the son of God left the perfection of heaven to become a part of creation? Why Jesus came to earth? Jesus told us – he said:  “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” He said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  Jesus came into the world to give his life as ransom for humanity for you and me… to save you and me. His life, death and resurrection opens the way to our own resurrection and to a new life.

That is the good news that we cling to this week.
That is the good news that can bring us joy – even in the darkest of times.

The difference between the presence of Jesus and the absence of Jesus is incredible.
It is illustrated well in a novel called The Apostle.  The story takes place in early Rome about the time the Apostle Paul was martyred. A striking scene occurs toward the end of the novel. Hundreds of Christians are condemned to death for their faith. They are lowered into a dark dungeon through a tiny trapdoor. They will not see the light of day again until they are hauled back up through the trapdoor and taken to the arena to meet their cruel fate for the amusement of Roman spectators.  Meanwhile, they wait in total darkness.  The atmosphere in the dungeon is one of profound sadness. Everyone in it is thinking of what is about to happen. Suddenly the trapdoor opens. A shaft of daylight pierces the darkness. The prisoners below grow deathly silent.  As they do, they can’t believe what they see and hear.  A new prisoner is being lowered into the dungeon to await death with them. But, unlike them, he is not sad. He is singing and praising God at the top of his voice.  “Who is this man?’’ everyone asks. Then the word spreads like wildfire. The new prisoner is the Apostle Paul. Paul’s joy and happiness are so contagious that everyone in the dungeon begins to join him in singing and praising God.
In a matter of seconds, the coming and presence of Paul transform the dungeon from a place of sadness and despair into a place of joy and hope.

This striking scene gives us a faint idea of how the coming and presence of Jesus on the first Christmas transformed our world from a place of sadness to a place of joy. It also gives us a faint idea of how Jesus’ coming and presence will transform the world … when he comes again at the end of time.

It is these two comings that we prepare for in the season of Advent. That give us hope.

We have hope and joy at Christmas because as it tells us in the Book of Revelation:
“God will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death no more grief or crying or pain.”   Revelation 21:4
We have hope and joy this Christmas because of the promise St. Paul so beautifully described saying:  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”   1 Corinthians 2:9

This is what we celebrate this Christmas

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