Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 21
“O Dayspring, brightness of eternal Light and Sun of justice: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
One of the many definitions of the word darkness in the dictionary is “lack of knowledge or enlightenment.” Shadow of death likewise has many different definitions. One of them that might well apply here is dawn as in Mt. 4: 16: “the people who sat in darkness saw a great light, those who sat in the region and shadow of death, to them a light has dawned.” A lack of knowledge or enlightenment is pretty much the same thing as our word “ignorance”and the same may be said of “the shadow of death.” In the dawn one does not see clearly; what you think you see oftentimes is not really what you are seeing. Any deer hunter who has been in the woods at the first light of dawn knows what I am talking about here. This is why the hunters dress in bright orange.
Jesus, our O Antiphon for today tells us, is the first light of the day, Dayspring, daylight, sunrise, the amount of light that allows us to see with certitude. We know we see what we are seeing. Both of the above phrases, darkness and the shadow of death can mean ignorance. The Light of Jesus dispels this ignorance. Now we can see what we see as it should be seen.
I have said before in these homilies that there is no such thing as a “bad” person. All human beings are the creation of the one God. We read in Genesis: “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen. 1: 31). But I believe that we humans are all ignorant in one way or another. No one knows everything, and everyone has their own ideas of how things should be and many times they are wrong in so thinking. The truth cannot be all relative. There are certain truths that are objectively true; true despite what individuals may think. The 10 Commandments are, I believe, examples of objective truth. For example, “Thou shalt not kill,” the fifth Commandment, is objectively true. We are not permitted to directly take the life of another human being. And then our ignorance takes this and goes to work on it with our “what ifs” and “why nots”.
Jesus tells us in John 14: 6: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” I am objective truth and my word will enlighten you and help you see things clearly as in the daylight. And so we look to the teaching power of our Church for guidance as to what Jesus is telling us in the Scriptures. His Word is the Light, the Dayspring, that will lead us from ignorance to truth and set us on the right road going in the right direction back to our Creator and to happiness and peace here on earth.
Come to us, Lord Jesus, Come!
Monday of the Last Week of Advent, Dec. 22
O King of the Nations
“O King of the nations, and their Desired, the Cornerstone who makes all one: Come and save our race, whom you formed out of clay.”
Jesus is the Cornerstone, the chief foundation on which something is built or developed. It is essential and basic to the structure. Jesus is our Desire, the Desire of the nations, of all people. All people have the desire to return to their Maker, their Creator, the one who is essential to their very being, who is basic to their existence. This would be easily attainable if we all followed the way, truth and life of Jesus. But we are dust, vessels of clay, easily blown away by the winds of ignorance and easily broken in our human haste toward our false idols.
Jesus, help us to make you and your values our foundation for life. Without you we are nothing but dust blowing in the winds of time. Come and help us return to you! Come quickly!
Tuesday of the Last Week of Advent, Dec. 23
“O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”
Today’s O Antiphon presents us with the name given to Jesus by the Lord God Himself: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and you shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7: 14). Matthew in his Gospel quotes Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”
Emmanuel means “God is with us.” That one word says it all. We should all make it our mantra for a day, repeating over and over: God is with us. Maybe if I did that, it would sink in! It would be kind of difficult to have these words on my lips and at the same time continue to do things my own way and goof it all up. The various Saints, after they went through the various mickey-mouse stages of their lives, managed to keep this truth of the presence of God in their focus, their consciousness.
St. Francis of Assisi had a beautiful and simple prayer to help him with this. It is called “The Prayer before the Crucifix.” Let us pray with Francis:
Enlighten the darkness of my heart
And give me
And perfect charity,
Sense and knowledge,
That I may carry out
Your holy and true command.
This prayer once again asks Jesus, the Light of the world, to enlighten the darkness of our hearts, a theme we have talked about before; to lead us from our ignorance of his way, truth and life. It is only through this that we will be saved.
Jesus, come and make visible your creative love for all people.
Wednesday of the Last Week of Advent, Dec. 24
The O Antiphons have now come to an end. Now the time we have been waiting for has come. We need wait no longer. The time of expectation has become a reality. I love the way this coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One, is described in the Book of Wisdom (18: 14-16): “When peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, Your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne bounded….And as he alighted, …. he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth.”
Jesus, Our Redeemer, didn’t just walk or run to come to us – he bounded. Bounded is like when you go toward something with such force and enthusiasm that you almost break your neck getting there. If we could only want him as badly as he wanted to come to us! If only we could bound toward him, If only we could go to Jesus in leaps and bounds, spring to him with all the enthusiasm within us!
O Come to us, be with us now, our Lord Emmanuel!
THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD
CHRISTMAS DAY, DECEMBER 25
“A light will shine on us this day, the Lord is born for us: He shall be called Wonderful God, Prince of Peace, Father of the world to come; and his kingship will never end.” (Entrance Antiphon for the Liturgy of Christmas).
It was in the month of December in the year 1223. The final Rule, the Rule of 1223, had just been approved by Pope Honorius III, and after having toiled for many years for this moment, St. Francis of Assisi was living perhaps the happiest days of his life. The Feast of Christmas was approaching and Francis wanted to celebrate it this year in a very special way. Let us set the scene with Arnaldo Fortini’s version of The Christmas Crib of Greccio.
“A few days before Christmas, Francis sent for a noble of Greccio, a man named Giovanni for whom Francis had a very special love because of his goodness. To him Francis disclosed the plans he had made. “It would be so good, he said, so good and edifying, to call to mind the birth of the Christ Child on the night of Christmas, to have set before our eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed.” ”
Francis asked John to get an ox, a donkey, and some hay and to arrange this in a cave in the side of the hill. What Francis wanted was a living Christmas scene, a crèche, with living animals and real hay situated in a way that the people of that time might imagine that Jesus had been born. All of the Friars as well as all the people living in the area were invited to attend this marvelous celebration.
The people made candles and torches to light up the night. Francis arrived and was overjoyed at the way things had been prepared. Greccio had become that night a new Bethlehem. As all gathered around the scene, Mass was celebrated. Francis was the Deacon at the Mass and sang the Gospel in his beautiful, rich voice and preached the homily. He referred to Jesus as the Babe of Bethlehem. All sang the praises of the Holy Infant and to the Father who had sent him to us. They returned home full of joy that night.
Such is the story of first living crèche or nativity scene brought to be by Francis of Assisi. Some may notice along the way, however, that there is something missing. And of course what is missing is the Baby Jesus. There was no baby placed in the manger scene. Or was there?
Many believe that Francis wanted the people to realize that Jesus becomes Incarnate for us every time we attend the Liturgy of the Mass. Some reports say that the people that night imagined for themselves a babe in the crib. And really there was! Jesus comes into the crib of our hearts every time we attend Mass. The Word becomes flesh millions of times every day all over the world in the hearts of millions of people. This is what Christmas is really all about. Let us welcome Him into our hearts this night.
May God bless you all and may your Christmas Day be truly a Merry one!
Feast of St. Stephen Martyr, Friday, Dec. 26
John 10: 17-22
We get all hyped up getting ready for the feast of Christmas and then the very next day the bottom kind of falls out of things with the celebration of the feast of St. Stephen Martyr, the first martyr in the Church. Why is this feast placed in this position? Maybe it is because this feast of Stephen tells us what Christmas is really all about. Christmas, I think we all realize, is not all trees with lights and tinsel and presents. That part of Christmas is nice, but there is more, much more, than that.
Christmas, as Francis of Assisi noted so well, is about our imitating the poverty of our Redeemer. Ordinarily we think of the word poverty as meaning having no money, no nothing. That is not really what poverty is. Poverty is really giving ourselves to others and not letting anything else get in the way of that. It is like the fellow in the Gospel that had observed all the commandments and Jesus told him if he wanted to really follow him he should take all his material goods, sell them, and give the money to the poor and come follow him. Poverty, then, is service given to others more than anything else.
The life of Jesus is one of poverty. He had the essentials for life: food, clothing and a place to stay, even if he didn’t own it. Jesus literally gave himself to all of us. “Greater love than this no one has than to lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus gave himself to us through his death on the cross for our sins. Stephen was a servant of the people and died for it. The message is there for us on the day after Christmas to begin to serve our families, friends and the others we meet according to the values of Christ. Jesus was a Servant. So must we be to others.
Feast of St. John the Evangelist, Saturday, Dec. 27
John 20: 1-8
Today, on the Saturday following Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. John, as we know from the Gospels, was a son of Zebedee and the brother of James the Greater and was called personally by Christ to be one of the Apostles. He went on to become the “beloved disciple” and the only one of the disciples to stay with Jesus all the way to Calvary and his death on the cross. As he stood by the cross of Jesus, Jesus made him the guardian of his own mother. Later he is reported to have gone to Jerusalem and Ephesus where he founded many churches. He is the author of the fourth Gospel and three Epistles and is also thought to be the author of the Book of Revelation. He lived to a very old age, surviving all the other Apostles, and died at Ephesus around the year 100. He is also referred to as the Apostle of Charity. It is fitting that his feast day is close to Christmas, close to the birth of the One he loved so very much and wrote about in such a special way.