Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 23, 2012

Today’s Readings

One nice thing about being a priest, and not being too close to your parents geographically, is that you get to talk about them in the homily. While my parents know I talk about them sometimes in my homilies, it is easier to do so when you’re thousands of miles from where they live. Today’s readings reminded me of the time that my mother, for the first time in her life, took a flight to visit her sister who lived in Florida. Not having flown in a very large plane before, my mother asked me what the experience would be like. Answering honestly, I said that I didn’t think she would like takeoffs and landings, but that once we got in the air, things wouldn’t be so bad.

Now it’s important to remember that during these days it was still possible to smoke cigarettes on an airplane. And so my parents, seated in the back of the plane, which was the smoking section wearing two different seats than my brother and I who were in the non-smoking section. Course today we realized that technically we were all in the smoking section, thanks to the airplane,s recirculated air.  True to my words, my mother did not much enjoy the takeoffs and landings. Unfortunately, the flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Jacksonville, Florida, was among the roughest I’ve ever been on. The plane was flying into 500 mile an hour headwinds, and the plane bounced around in a way that helped to provide an experience of what the ball was like a pinball machine. In fact, I don’t believe we were allowed to unfasten our seat belts at any point during the flight. Needless to say, my mother was filled with more than a little bit of anxiety.

So many experiences of the divine Scripture, begin with the angel, or the Lord, saying to the individual, “Be not afraid.”  Given that it was common Jewish understanding that to see God met one died, such a command was often needed. Furthermore, simply being in the presence of an infinite God can be unsettling. It can be easy to forget that God is infinite. Faced with such awesomeness, we can be reminded by comparison we are rather insignificant.

Despite my words to my mother, “Be not afraid”, my mother was afraid. She had good reason to be afraid. My admonition “Be not afraid”  proved to be unreliable. I could not deliver on my promise the flight would be far easier once we were in the air. I was not dependable. Yet when God says “Be not afraid”, we know he has a track record of dependability. Before the visit from the Angel, Mary could not have imagined what her life would be like. And even with the appearance of the Angel, she needed to be reassured by God that his words were trustworthy and dependable. her trust in God, even when she did not understand the implications of that trust, and the consequences of her yes to God, was unwavering. She believed God was trustworthy. She was right.

After such horrible events in Newtown, Connecticut, our trust in God can be shaken.  We too need to be reassured that everything will be okay. because we know that God is dependable, unlike the assurances we sometimes give each other, we know God is reliable. This is because time and again God has proven his reliability. We know of no event more strikingly convincing than the death of Jesus on the cross. His death frees us from death, and while there still are many events where we become afraid, it is life death and resurrection of Jesus that assures us we need not be afraid. Unlike me, God keeps his promises.  God is dependable.

As we prepare for the commemoration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, we know that once again we stand in need of God’s gentle promise that we need not be afraid because God is faithful. The coming of Jesus into our world in human form, reminds us that in the face of violence peace is possible. We need not be afraid. The coming of Jesus into our world in human form, reminds us that in the face of hunger God fills us. We need not be afraid. The coming of Jesus into our world of human form, reminds us that in sickness, suffering, and death, we stand in the healing presence of Jesus, the one who conquered death by his own death on the cross. We need not be afraid.

As we get ready to commemorate that dark cold night in Bethlehem, when God humbled himself to take on human form, to become one like us in all things but sin, we are reminded of the fidelity and love of God. We are reminded, that in spite of our sin, God never gives up on us, rather extends to us all the gift of mercy and forgiveness. The little baby born in such humble surroundings reminds us that God does everything possible to help us enter into his divine life. This Christmas, we are reminded, that even more than Hallmark, God cares enough to send the very best.

Homily for Immaculate Conception of Mary

Today’s Readings

One homily I heard about the Immaculate Conception has always stayed with me. It was given by the bishop ordained me a priest. Here’s basically how he attempted to explain one way of understanding today’s feast. All of us of heavy experience I think, or at least most of us have, of flying. And if you have, you know that there is a certain order and strategy to how people are allowed to board the plane. Usually, people needing special assistance, young children traveling alone, and others are allowed to board the plane first. Then, the rest of us are allowed to get on the plane.

However, once we are on the plane, we all experience the same flight. There is not a special section of the plane where turbulence is guaranteed not to happen. So today, we celebrate a similar reality. Mary, the mother of God, in her unique and special role of faith, is given a special privilege. In a word, she is the first one allowed to board the plane that is the Church. That is to say, she is the first recipient of baptism. She is the first recipient of her Son’s salvific grace.

But like every action of God, this too is directed to our benefit and our salvation. Because like Mary, we are given the ability to say yes in faith. Like Mary, we are given the opportunity to receive baptism to live the life to which we have been called. It is with great joy, that we celebrate this feast. And it is particularly important that we celebrate this feast in the heart of the Advent season. We are reminded that being ready for the coming of God however it occurs is an important thing for each one of us. Certainly was for the Blessed Mother.

As we consider this feast in light of the first reading, we see a special grace given to the Blessed Mother. Namely, she was able to trust that God knew best. The first reading, Adam and Eve believe they are better than God. They know better than God. They know better than God what is best for them, They know better than God what they should eat and what they should wear. Perhaps most especially, they believe they know better than God how to live.

We too can fall into this trap. We can look, in our limited experience, and believe that we know better than God knows for us. We must remind ourselves that God’s ultimate concern is our salvation, and most especially it is that we would become the person we have been called to be and made to be by God.

At the very heart of today’s feast, however, is the gospel. Even though she does not understand how all the things the angel of tells her will come to pass, she says yes. Fiat. Let it be done. Mary opens her heart and her will to God, by giving her entire self to the Lord. And so should we.