Reflections: Dec. 20 – Jan. 3 (Epiphany Sunday)

December 20 Sunday Fourth Sunday of Advent

Readings: Micah 5:1-4a; Heb 10:5-10 and Luke 1:39-45

The moment draws near and we come to Bethlehem, small and unassuming, not an important place, known for sheep and shepherds and people. This is to be the geographical place where the one who is to be born ‘shall be peace’ for all. The one who comes is a shepherd whose strength is in God. Jacob, Moses and David were all shepherds who carried the weak, walk the world, gave pasture and water to their sheep, protected them from thieves and wild dogs and went looking after the strayed and lost. They leaned tenderness and care, compassion and service with the animals as training and disciple that they would be demanded when they became leaders of the people. 

In a sense the shepherd does the will of the sheep—all that they need in order to survive, to flourish and mature and dwell in peace. There is constant companionship and presence, knowledge and intimacy among the sheep and the shepherd. This will be the image that Jesus will use and it is closely connected to Jesus’ insistence that he has come ‘to do the will of the one who sent me.” This is the new covenant that we are all drawn into with the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus: “Yes, Lord, I have come to do your will.”

And so we hear of Mary setting out in haste for Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house—obeying the Word of God she gleaned from the angel’s words—that Elizabeth will be giving birth to a child too. The Word of God is always about connections, about just the next step and the will of God is always about life, life ever stronger and more human, more holy and more bound to others’ lives. Elizabeth and Mary meet and share the words of greeting: Peace with be you. It is also the word of the resurrection proclamation—the first words of the Risen Lord—Peace be with you. And in that moment Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit, the babe in her womb hears the word and stirs and now there are 2 prophets—yet to be born—and 2 prophetesses standing outside meeting each other.  

The Incarnation has been assented to and set in motion and immediately the power of the Word spreads. Mary speaks and the sound of the Word of God seeded in her flesh is heard. And Elizabeth’s child kicks and dances in her womb and the Spirit rushes on her. This is the nature of the Incarnation—the shared Spirit that is senses and heard in the Word of God that now takes flesh in all of us. This is the experience and meaning of Meister Eckhart, a Dominican preacher and mystic spoke: “What good is it if Mary gave birth to the son of God centuries ago if I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and culture?”

All of us baptized in water and the Spirit, confirmed in the Spirit and feed on the Word of God in the Scriptures and the Eucharist are meant to meet this way sharing the Spirit with all who hear us and learning to recognize the Spirit in the sound of others’ voices and words. Who are the Marys in your life—that when they speak of peace your own spirit stirs and begins to dance in exaltation? And who are the Elizabeths of your life—that when you stand in their presence they recognize you for who you are—a mother of God preparing to give birth to the Word in your flesh and your life?  And you—are you Mary and Elizabeth for others? When others hear the sound of your voice does the Spirit of God within you move others to life, to hope, to freedom and wild joy? When others stand in your presence do you see them—as God sees them—and do you confirm the deepest essence of who they are and what God is dreaming them to become?

December 21 Monday Advent Weekday; St Peter Canisius, priest and doctor of the Church

Readings: Song of Solomon 2:8-14 or Zeph 3:14-18a and Luke 1:39-45

What is the quality of our waiting—is it intense, passionate, on edge, concentrated? Do we wait for the coming of the Word made flesh into the world and into our own flesh like a lover waits? What are we expecting this Word of God made flesh to say to us? For Christians in the northern hemisphere it’s the heart of winter and in the southern climes it is beginning to turn cooler and the rains are coming. And we read in the Song of Solomon that when those who seek each other meet it is the fullness and harvest of spring and summer, and the lushness of blossom. Are we watching and listening for Love to appear in our midst and seize hold of us and bring the world back to life?  There is an anonymous saying: “That which you are seeking is always seeking you.” God is always seeking us—do we move with haste and the freedom of hope—or do we just learn to stop stock still and look—God is everywhere. There is no place where God is not. Now we are being taught to look for the presence of God in every human being. Are we learning to see the shining presence of holiness and love hidden and seeping out in the face of everyone?

We hear the same gospel as yesterday—did we catch the revelation? We are all blessed. We have all heard the Word of the Lord that has been proclaimed to us and we have all believed in it—to one degree or another. God’s word will be fulfilled, in us as they were in Elizabeth and Mary. Because of the moment of the Incarnation that continues through time and history we are always being met by the Spirit of God. An African writer says: “Every word and every being come knocking at your door, bringing you their mystery. If you open to them, they will flood you with their riches.” Irenee Guilane Dioh

December 22 Tuesday Advent Weekday

Readings: 1 Sam 1:24-28 and Luke 1:46-56

Anna [Hannah] brought the young boy Samuel with her to the sanctuary and presents herself and her child to Eli and declares that she prayed to the Lord and the Lord gifted her with her child. Now she returns the favor and grace and gives her child back to God as gift. This is the way it is to be with all gifts. As the Native Peoples say: “A gift is not a gift until it has been given at least twice.”  This is the mystery of the Incarnation—God gifts us with the Word made flesh, the person of Jesus in scripture and bread, wine, communities, revelation, freedom—the gifts are endless. But a gift is not a gift until it’s been given and given and given. How good are we at this passing along of the gifts that are given to pass through our hands?

Today we sing of the goodness of God and what we have been gifted with—from life itself to freedom and liberation, with a vision of generosity where the poor are not only taken care of but lifted up with dignity and hope where the arrogant learn humility and those down-trodden and victimized know the mercy of God and justice procured on their behalf; where the hungers of humankind become the shared feast of mercy, of abundance and promise for all. The first effect of the Incarnation is joy—and singing, and overwhelming gratitude that breaks forth in the praise of God. It breaks forth from our bodies and spirits. Today sing with all those who have gone before us in faith: Mary, Elizabeth, Dorothy, Thomas, Philip, Simone, Oscar, Ignacio, Maura, Ita, Dorothy, Jean, all those unnamed and known only to those who sang with them. Sing! “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit finds joy in God my savior, for he has looked upon his servant in her lowliness; all ages to come shall call me blessed.”  May it be so.

December 23 Wednesday  Advent Weekday  St John of Kanty, priest

Readings: Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24 and Luke 1:57-66

Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me… once heralds went through the streets announce the imminent presence of one with power and authority now suddenly God is that close to us. It will be a moment of great rejoicing for the people, but also a moment of transformation—as searing as silver held in the heart of a flame until it is purified and what emerges is worthy of being that close to holiness.  Traditionally this would mark the return of the prophet Elijah. Now Elijah has just been born to Elizabeth and Zechariah and it is time to name the child.

The naming does not follow the traditions at all. The mother names the child ‘John’. This child is not named after anyone in their family. Unheard of! But the father confirms, writing the name “John”. And as soon as Zechariah writes the name of the child, his voice is given back to him. The presence of the one who goes before the face of the Lord, who is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, triggers his own father’s voice to praise God. John—who is beloved of God is an intimation of the love, the mercy, the forgiveness and the justice that will be Jesus among us. Each of us is named by the power of water and the Spirit and we go before the face of the Lord—does our presence call forth the praise of God? How does the sound of our name effect those around us? Are we the prophets of God? Put the word prophet before your name—what does that demand of you?

December 24 Thursday  Mass in the morning of Christmas Eve

Readings: 2 Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a 16 and Luke 1:67-79

David settles in his palace and there is peace in his land. Then he begins to think about providing for a house where God can dwell and be worshipped. His proposition is rejected by God—it is God who has brought David to this place of peace and prosperity as God has done everything for Israel and its people—not David. David is reminded of all that God is and what God will continue to do for him, his house and all those who follow after him who believe in God. It is God who will build a house for David’s children for generations to come—and what a house it will be—more universal and holy, more beautiful and amazing that any building. It will be the body of God the Father’s own beloved child conceived by the Spirit and given birth to by a human being in the flesh of his mother, Mary.

We return to the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John. John is named and people begin to wonder who and what this child will be! He is described as having the hand of the Lord upon him. And Zechariah, his tongue loosed, is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he sings he prophecy of what this child will be and do for the people. He prays the history of what God has done and now, today he addresses the child in Elizabeth’s arms: “You, O Child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you shall go before the Lord to prepare straight paths for him, giving his people a knowledge of salvation in freedom from their sins.” This is the dream of God for John’s life as a prophet of repentance and preparation. He is to make people see the work of God, the Dayspring who will visit us in his mercy and guide our feet into the way of peace. It is a good description of all those who claim to be the followers of the child of peace to be born this night.

December 25 Friday The Nativity of the Lord  (Christmas)  solemnity

Readings:  Vigil   Is. 62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25 and Matt 1:1-25 or 1:18-25

Midnight: Is 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14 and Luke 2:1-14

Dawn: Is 62:11-12; Titus 3:4-7 and Luke 2: 15-20

Day: Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6 and John 1:1-18 or Jn 1:1-5, 9-14

The mystery of the Incarnation, the birth of the Word in the flesh of the human being Jesus—God becoming human and pitching their tent among us is the reality that changes all of history and what it means to be human—we celebrate this tonight and today and for the next 12 days of Christmas. It might be helpful to keep in mind that the words: Truth, Light and Peace are almost interchangeable in the Scripture texts. We celebrate truth, light and peace being born in our world once long ago in the child Jesus born of Mary and protected and sheltered by Joseph and we celebrate truth, light and peace being born in us this day and sheltered and protected in our world.

Years ago I spent Christmas Eve in Peru and in a small church in the Andes a picture of a Quecha woman holding her newborn baby girl had these words written underneath: There is only one beautiful child in the world and each mother has that one! Before the day was over, there were at least 60 pictures of various children on the wall and the next day, the children were growing up! There were pictures of practically every one in the village and any of the visitors who had come as well [the wonder of Polaroid in those days]. The mystery of the Incarnation is just that—a mystery and it is both easy to rhapsodize about and hard to say anything of depth about. Thomas Merton says simply: Love is our true destiny. We do find the meaning of life by ourselves alone—we find it with another.  More precise perhaps is that we find it with others, with all others! There will be much talk of children this week—that Christmas is for children—that is true, and not true.  It is for children, all the beloved children of God, from every race, nature, culture, language, religion and place upon the face of the earth, no matter their ages. And it is about children—most especially those born on the road, away from home, counted like animals, treated as slaves and possessions, immigrants and those caught between countries, on the wrong side of borders and walls. It is about children without clean water and mothers so weak they have no milk for them; about slow starvation and no protection. It is about children who are robbed even of childhood by war and economics, disease, racism and prejudice.

The dancer, Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) said: “So long as little children are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in this world.” If this is true, there is very little of love in our world—because it is children and their mothers, and then the elderly that suffer the most. Yet, tonight and in these days we celebrate and recommit ourselves to the Truth, the Light and the Peace of God who has been born as one of us, and abides with us always. THIS CHILD IS BORN TO US! All dominion and power rests on his shoulder. His names are amazing—worth thinking about in all the seasons of the this year ahead: Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Father, Prince of Peace, Justice, Savior, Christ the Lord, Jesus, Emmanuel, joy to be shared by all the people, Light that shines on us, the Word made flesh, the glory of God, enduring love, ‘love following upon love’; the revelation of God that we can see; The Truth. [all taken from the readings] When we look on the child in the manger (food for the hungry) and upon every child that comes to touch the baby Jesus and upon every child of God in the world we must look with love and see the presence of God among us, in every single human being and try loving them as we claim we would love, this child that was once born in Bethlehem.

December 27  Sunday The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, feast

Readings:Sirach 3:2-, 12-14 or 1 Sam 1:20-22, 24-28; Col 3:12-21 or 3:12-17 or 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24 and Luke 2:41-52.

It is the reading from Colossians that describe family life—those who are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved in the Spirit of God. It is those who clothe themselves with heartfelt mercy, kindness, humility, meekness (nonviolence) and patience. They bear with one another, forgive, hold no grudge and love, living in peace. They are thankful, admonish one another, learn wisdom and sing (praying twice). They are careful with each other and do not make life difficult for each other, letting the Spirit reign and peace abide among them.  It is the description of a family that is part of the larger family of believers in Jesus. We are taught to think of the holy family as having only three members: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and yet we know from the gospels that there are others, at least 4 brothers named and sisters. And they lived, as all Jews did in an extended kinship that numbered at least fifty people. Families were not and are not meant to be nuclear [what blows up eventually because of massive stress and strain from within].

The reading has Jesus going to the temple in Jerusalem, traveling with his extended family for the annual pilgrimage, most probably for his bar mitzvah, his becoming an adult at the age of 12 within the Jewish community. He finds his home in the temple and his deepest nature rises and he is immersed in the Word of God in midst of the teachers, listening and questioning and sharing his own insights and understanding. His parents are distraught and chastise him, but he responds as only one who is discovering who they are can—with words beyond their own understanding: Why did you search for me? Did you know know I had to be in my Father’s house?” As a young man he has already started to move away from his family’s relating to him as a child. And as the child of God he is in love with his God who is Father, and the source of all wisdom and life.

But he returns with them and disappears into family life, living in Nazareth, being part of a town, and an extended family, continuing with his father’s trade of carpentry and ‘progressing steadily in wisdom, age and grace before God and human beings.” This is the way of all children growing into maturity both physically and mentally but it is also the way of the children of God all our lives. And Mary must learn this also—she has lived with her child for twelve years and has no sense of him beyond his being a child, a boy growing to be a man and like many mothers, she is reluctant to let him grow up to be what he was born to be, not what she wants for him. She must learn what it means to be a believer and a follower and this is the last we see of her in the synoptic gospels: she disappears back into the family, Nazareth, the extended community and she ‘keeps all these things in memory, in her heart’ learning what it means to grow up in the Spirit.

The time of Christmas is over in 12 days and we move towards the feast of Epiphany that is the culmination of this season. It is time now to absorb and integrate the mystery of the Incarnation into our lives, families, places we live, our jobs, among our peers and neighbors and let the Word of God born in us take on more and more of our flesh, our  minds and hearts and souls so we begin to express in our singular ways the revelation of God—as Jesus did, growing to be an adult child of God. We begin in our families and it moves out to encompass all else.

December 28 Monday The Holy Innocents, martyrs

Readings: 1 John 1:5-2:2 and Matt 2:13-18

These first days after Christmas are filled with light, with truth and peace that is stronger than death, stronger than persecution and martyrdom. We begin the time between the crib and the cross when reality and history clashes with personal faith, individual choices and the desire for holiness and peace. On 12/26 the first Martyr Stephen dies, stoned to death by a mob. On 12/27 John the beloved disciple and evangelist will live and die in exile, a slow death separated from his community and the friends of God writing love letters to a church struggling with persecution and torturous deaths. And today we look at the slaughter of children. The liturgical calendar and the daily readings seek to bring reality home to us—this child is dangerous. Every child is dangerous—they may grow up to believe in the Truth, the Light and the Peace of Christ that we attest to having been born into our world and alive and growing stronger every day—as do young children when they grow at a furious rate.

Just proximity and nearness to this child is dangerous. If you live in the neighborhood, are born in the same time frame, belong to the same race or gender you’re in danger. His power spreads like wildfire, like an infection that is absorbed into the skin and into one’s very heart and soul—whether we are aware of it or not. There is an African saying: The body of a human being is very small compared with the spirit that inhabits it. The body of a child, even smaller still contains the spirit that is filled with power and promise. The story of the Incarnation—the power of God taking on the flesh of a human being now grows into the story of this child who will grow to be the Truth of God in human flesh—the power of God in opposition to all other powers.

These children ask us many questions—do we align ourselves with God? How close do we get to those who are like God, vulnerable and without power, often considered expendable, who are poor and without resources to even just grow up? Just solidarity with others, with the flesh of God in others’ flesh can get you slaughtered. Who will we be remembered for mourning and for being the friends of God with?

January 1 Friday The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God (the Octave day of Chrismas)

Readings: Num 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7 and Luke 2:16-21

We begin another year with the blessing of God upon us and the world. It is a blessing of intimacy. God’s own face shines upon us and what is bright upon us is graciousness. God’s glance is kind and God’s gift is peace upon us all. And we are exhorted to invoke God’s name so that God’s blessings will grow stronger and penetrate us ever more deeply and more pervasively. But the blessing grows and matures with time. And with the Incarnation God just doesn’t look at us—now God’s own beloved child and Word has become one with our flesh and walks the world with us. And in the gift of the Spirit of Truth, of Light and Peace the blessing seeps deep into our own bodies and into our hearts. Now we are all beloved children of God, with Jesus! We are born to give God delight! And we give God delight by acknowledging God’s utter intimacy with us and crying out: Abba as Jesus knew God and as we do now, born of the Spirit.

God spoke in the past through prophets, now God speaks more clearly in Jesus, the Word made flesh and now, God speaks to everyone. On the night of Jesus’ birth, God spoke through angels to the shepherds on a hillside—the fringe folk of the community, those who didn’t often practice the rituals of their religion, because they lived in the fields. They were poor, praised in psalms and scripture but shunned and insulted in reality. They are the first to receive the new blessing—the good news of God in the land. And they go in haste to see this child lying in a manger—poor like they are and they understand the words proclaimed to them. They pass on the words, the sense of fear and awe, of glory shining on them and being engulfed in the presence of the Holy. And they tell anyone who will listen as they return to their fields.

Inserted in the midst of the shepherds’ story is one line about Mary. She too listens to the shepherds and hears more about this child she has given birth to and ‘she treasures all these things and reflects on them in her heart.”  A better translation is that she pondered them—weighty matters that she did not understand, could not comprehend and had to grow into believing like everyone else. They preach to her and then continue on their way praising God for what they have been given in revelation and wisdom—what they had seen and heard. The Word is beginning to spread and it surges up in very unexpected places—not where religious people would thing—but now God is found in very unlikely places—especially where we still don’t think to look or to people we don’t listen to—what would they have to say to us of any import?

But we are told—his name is Jesus—the name given to him before he was conceived. Jesus—Joshua, the one who saves the people from their sin, their lack and their missing the mark of what it means to be human and beloved, born of God.  Mary is the image for all of us, of one who needs to listen to others, and search in the Scriptures, and in the words and life of her child what is the Truth, he Light and the Peace of God.  Bernard of Clairvaux, monk and mystic wrote: Now in the deep womb of the Sacred Word I will search for myself and for Spirit and Truth.  We begin the calendar year and hopefully we will begin to listen closely to others’ experience of God, other communities revelation and praise of God and take what they have known and learn to heart so that this Jesus, the fullness of God in flesh and blood and Word can continue to make us holy, save us, save the world and  bless us with peace.

January 3 Sunday  The Epiphany

Readings: Is 60:1-6; Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 and Matt 2:1-12

This is the day that we have been moving towards since the first day of Advent—to the coming of the Light into our world. This Light belongs to and shines upon everyone and opens up a way to the Truth and the Peace of God to be found everywhere in the world now. This child of God is the light and the glory of God falling over us. This light is within us now, given with the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth. The unmistakable sign of its presence among us is peace, the peace of God that abides and brings forth justice for all. We are the people of Light, the children of Light and as the family and friends of God, we are to be the presence of Light in the world—so strong and diffusive that all nations can walk by the truth of justice and dwell in the shining radiance that is the peace we share, we proclaim and we make with our lives. Because of the Incarnation we are to ‘be radiant at what we see, and our hearts throbbing and overflowing’ for God has emptied out and given us all that we have.

This day reverberates between unbounded splendor and wild freedom and how others can react to such passion, truth and spirit—with scheming, lying, fear, intimidation, violence, massive brutality—or with wonder, delight, emptying out of their hearts and lives, learning to prostrate before God among us and going home by different routes and overjoyed, seeking to give away what they have experienced and now know as the Truth and the Light of the world. They can take the gifts given—and go their way in peace.

Once God’s amazing plan was secret—today it bursts forth as revelation—for all to hear and see. Once it was told by prophets, and apostles but the presence of God is now loose everywhere in the world—everyone can see, can hear and can proclaim the goodness of God—all peoples share in the light, the truth and the peace of God. The Spirit is all over the world. The images of this day are wise outsiders, of other religions and science being the first to recognize, take to heart and follow the signs that something has happened to alter the world’s history. The star that appears and they follow its trajectory, leaving their home, and their roots, their perspectives and taking with them their most prized possessions to give as gifts to this unknown person that has been born into the world. They inquire of everyone—even unwisely—in Jerusalem, among fawning priests and scribes that serve a treacherous and violent petty king who is deeply disturbed at the thought that anyone might take his power or place in the eyes of the people.

But when they find the child, they empty out their treasures and give it all away, and prostrate themselves before this human child who is God among us and they worship. They go home empty-handed but with full hearts—with wisdom and knowledge, with understand and Spirit, with the sense of God with us in the world. And they go home a different way—the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, the way of justice and abiding peace, the way of mercy, nonviolence and forgiveness.

The Light has come; the splendor of our God shines within every human being; God is with us and nothing, no power on earth, no violent leader, no mistake we make, nothing on earth will ever overcome it. The Light is our Life and it shines on in the world. We dwell as children of the Light in the world and it is up to us to make sure that Light covers everyone. And God said: “Let there be Light!” And with the Incarnation we dance and dwell in the light of the universe of God’s own intimacy and Spirit. The Trinity of Light, Truth and Peace holds us close.

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