Sunday, December 25, 2016

Liberated by a Child

“You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as people make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed…” (Is 9:2-3)

We gather in darkness for this Midnight Mass, and the darkness that envelopes this night is symbolic of the darkness that looms over the world that the light of Christ comes to conquer.  All this month as went through Advent, I kept hearing from people: “I can’t wait for this year to be over.”  It’s as if the same dark cloud that constantly follows poor Charlie Brown has been following us all year.  People calling that loved ones or they themselves are sick, in hospitals.  As Christmas was approaching, people were not, well, rejoicing.  So when I sat down with these readings this morning to pray over them, the second and third verse of the first reading from the prophet Isaiah jumped out at me.  We have been wandering around burdened by sin, by the darkness of the world, by the news on television, by turmoil in our own families, and we just haven’t had the chance to let in even a sliver of light from up above. 

Well that ends tonight, for we gather to behold a Virgin and her husband adoring a newborn baby.  In the silence of that holy night, the light of the manger overpowers any darkness and brings us hope.  We don’t have to wait for the New Year to start anew, for this child calls us to something new tonight.  All our cares have vanished, all our burdens seem lighter, and darkness is overcome by the light from Bethlehem.  Notice the shepherds in the fields that first Christmas night.  They were afraid when the angels appeared.  They were out in the fields with the flocks to protect them and probably thought any noise was a threat to the sheep entrusted to their care.  Yet the first thing the angel says to them is “do not be afraid.”  No need to worry or be anxious, for something extraordinary has happened: our God has come to save us.  He has become a little child.  And as the angel told Joseph: “he will save his people from their sins.”

So tonight we gather to embrace hope.  We gather to embrace this child who has come into our lives to save us.  We gather to rejoice because light has conquered darkness.  The Lord has “smashed” whatever burden we may be carrying.  And when we leave those burdens and that darkness behind, what are we left with?  We are left in silence contemplating this transcendental scene: “an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.”  As Pope Francis said in Midnight Mass last year: "So when we hear the story of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak." In becoming a baby, our God becomes helpless to free us from our helplessness.  This is the wonder of Christmas.  So many times I’ve been in a hospital when family and friends have babies and I see how those babies change lives.  Now this baby, this divine child, comes to change all lives.  Darkness is no more.  Our Light has come! We are filled with abundant joy for “today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

And a Little Child Will Guide Them

“Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

Nothing much makes sense in today’s readings.  As I was meditating on them this week, I was reminded of the Netflix TV show “Stranger Things” and the whole concept of “The Upside Down.”  I don’t want to explain the concept any further to not spoil this really cool show, but in the readings today things appear to be upside down.  We have wolves and lambs and calves and lions coexisting peacefully.  This morning I was preaching to the children and I was reading this passage to them of these animals together, and after each pairing of animals I would ask if they could coexists.  Some little ones kept repeating that they would “fight”.  They used the word fight about three times to describe the relationship between predators and prey, which saddened me that our children were so accustomed to violence in our world.  Our Lord comes as the Prince of Peace (a messianic title also used by Isaiah) to usher in an era of peace, to restore creation to what God had intended it to be in the book of Genesis. 

So how do we get there? John the Baptist, the great figure of Advent, appears in the desert in today’s gospel and the first word he utters is “repent!”  I asked the children if they knew what “repent” means and one little boy told me: “it’s turning away from sin…it’s turning away from the dark side to the light.”  (The Dark Side!  Imagine my delight with a Star Wars reference.  This inevitably led to about three minutes of discussion with the children about the redemption of Darth Vader which was totally unplanned and awesome, but that’s what you do in children’s homilies: you let little children guide you!)  So John asks us to repent and to make straight the path of the Lord.  Why make straight?  The problem with the path from our hearts to God’s divine will is that this path is much like Red Road here in Hialeah: too much construction and too many obstacles.  Red Road just three blocks from here is a headache to traverse.  Imagine those obstacles impeding our Lord from entering our hearts.  The thing is that Jesus won’t force his way into our lives.  We have to make straight his path, we have to remove the obstacles, and we are the ones that need to repent.  Remember that in the nativity, people sought out Jesus, and this is where we are this Advent.

Jesus comes to make all things new and it begins with our hearts.  We see all these animals peacefully coexisting in this beautiful passage from Isaiah.  The commentary from this passage says: “The peace and harmony even among carnivores and their natural prey in this description suggest a paradisiac aspect of the reign of the new king. (NAB)”  We long for that kingdom.  It is the kingdom that John announces in the gospel.  Now it is up to us to follow through on our prayer in the Our Father when we say “thy kingdom come.”  And the beauty of Christmas as we seek out Jesus is that we’re not looking for strong and mighty kings.  All we’re looking for is a Little Child to guide us.