Saturday, December 20, 2008

Salt and Light - Should you build me a house to dwell in? Advent

Is everybody ready for Christmas?   NO????  
Are there things that YOU still have to do?
Well God is going to give you a break today!

Listen to the first reading.  King David is all settled in his palace, the war is over, God has given him rest from his enemies.  David has some free time on his hands and he gets this grand idea that he needs to do something else -so he decides he is going to build a temple for God to dwell in!  And God says:  

"Should you build me a house to dwell in?"

God’s almost laughing at the absurdity of what David is trying to do himself.  And the prophet Samuel goes into this wonderful Litany from God:

“It was I who took you from the pastureI have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.I will fix a place for my people Israel;I will plant them so that they may dwell in their placewithout further disturbance.I will give you rest from all your enemies.I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,and I will make his kingdom firm.I will be a father to him,and he shall be a son to me."

On this 4th Sunday of Advent, God is revealing to us that it is not about what WE do for Christmas it is about what HE does for us.  

So often we think that we have to do all the work, that we have to get everything right for God to be with us.  We think that for this to be a Merry Christmas, we have to make it that way.  And the Merrier we try to make it the more miserable it seems to get.  We try to control and make it happen.  We try to please everyone, to have the most lights we’ve ever had before, all of the decorations out, or make sure that everyone is there and happy and dressed up.  We just want it to be a Merry Christmas,  but we fail to see every year that by our efforts alone nothing seems to work out.  We get disappointed, frustrated, exhausted, angry, upset, anxious, and give into despair because it seems so impossible.  But as we hear the angel speak to Mary “Nothing will be impossible for God.”  … For GOD!  

If the prophet Samuel were to speak to us today, maybe the Litany from God would sound something like this...  

It is I that has given you your families, your friends, those you hold dear.  It is I that brought you together.  It is I that have healed you when you have hurt each other or gone astray.  It is I who has helped you to grow in love and freedom.  It I who have redeemed you from the life that you used to live.  It is I who has helped you to raise your children.  It is I who has shaped you into the beautiful person that you are.  It is I who has given you the house that you live in, the money that you have, the job that you hold.

It is I who am preparing a place in your heart for Me to come and dwell this Christmas. It is I who give you the ability to work using these gifts and talents that I give you to create and build and dream.  It is I who am working providentially in your lives in the midst of the struggles that you find yourself right now.  It is I who choose not to dwell in a temple but in your heart, in the your families, and in the messiness of life.  It is I who am with you all the time in the suffering and pain and it is I who give you joy and laughter in the midst of it.  I give you this parish and this community of people to care for you.  I invite you into a deeper love with Me this Advent.  

I will redeem your families.  I will place special people into your lives to be family to you -mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children.  And better yet, I myself will be a Father to you.  It is I that will heal your hurts.  It is I that will free you from your addictions.  It is I that will protect your children.  It is I that will take care of the people that are picking on you or hurting you.  It is I that will help you out of the abusive relationships that you are in.  It is I that will make sense out of suffering and death.  It is I who will redeem what seems to be hopeless.  I know you are hurting and I will bring healing.  It is I that will touch that place of hurt that is torn so much from the loss of the one you love.  It is I who will put an end to the bickering in your families.  It is I who will bring home the prodigal child.  It is I who will heal your marriage.  It is I who will let you be at peace with being by yourself.  It is I who will be with you when you are lonely.  It is I who will give you good shepherds, people in your life to lead you and guide you.  It is I who will heal you in the Sacrament of Confession when they disappoint or you disappoint them.  It is I who you will receive today, My Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine.  It is I…  

Where do you find yourself saying I need to do this… or I have to get this done… or I should have done that… or I want to build this or complete that? I should be this… where do you find yourself trying to build or do what only God can do?  Sometimes we find ourselves like David,  we get some huge idea of something that we think we have to do and we drive ourselves nuts and everyone along with us.  Maybe we think we have to have everything right in our house, everything done so it will be a perfect Christmas.  Maybe we try to possess or manipulate people to get what we want.  To be here or there or do this or that.  Or we try to make it how we think it needs to be.  We agonize over getting the perfect gift, the shopping done, the house cleaned, the food baked, the tree decorated… but is God asking all of this of us?  Are we being like David and trying to build a temple when God is only asking us to say yes to Him as Mary did -to let Christ be born in us?  Is He asking anything more of us than to just love and be gentle with those that he has placed in our lives?

So when we find ourselves getting caught up in trying to build our own temples, may we remember the wisdom of the prophet:

Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:
Should you build me a house to dwell in

No… IT IS I.  It is I who will use this Advent to make this for you a Very Merry Christmas.  IT IS I.  

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Salt and Light Advent Comfort

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem."

As we approach the feast of Christmas, it can be a busy, tense, and sometimes heart wrenching time. Emotions are heightened -we want it to be special, we want it to be right, and often the mountains and valleys can seem even higher and deeper during this time.  

For example, decorating - decorating the house can become a mountain!  As I was decorating the rectory this year, I asked some of my friends & family to help.  I went to Nied’s farm to pick up the tree.  The owner, Greg, always gives us this huge tree that goes to the ceiling of the rectory, it’s like 15’ tall.  Driving back, the snow was falling and it was a beautiful winter day.  As I pulled up to the rectory, I saw the families arriving with hot chocolate & donuts in their hands, and smiles on their faces.  This was going to be so much fun!  

I love children, but it takes me about two hours with them to remind me once more what a wonderful gift celibacy is.. And I praise God and thank Him for the gift!  What I mean by that is that I don’t realize how parents make it 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  Don't get me wrong, children are great, but they are non-stop; "Fr. Michael, Fr. Michael, Fr. Michael… what can we do next?"  When you give them something worthwhile to do, they either don’t really want to do it, or get bored half way through -quit and walk away.  Or you give them something else to do and they totally mess it up. My brother Jim and I were putting the lights on the tree -and the kids wanted to do the lights so bad,  so we told them that when we got down lower they could help.  Excited, they began preparing the lights -and by preparing, I mean tangling them in this huge knot that would become a challenging puzzle for Jim and I to spend the next 20 minutes undoing.  I watched and laughed as they took their hot chocolates out and Jim said, "you better drink that in the kitchen", knowing that they were spill prone.  After a couple of hours, we were nearing the end; the floor had to be vacuumed and the boxes taken down. At that very moment, one of the little girls did exactly what I then wanted to do myself - she lay on the ground and threw a fit!  She had had it - and so had I!.  I wanted them all out!  Don’t get me wrong this was a blast - love, laughter, music, beauty - but you can only get so much of a good thing.

In the moment of all of this chaos, I see something beyond wonder -a moment so precious and gentle and beautiful.  As she lay there on the ground upset,  Jim humbles himself and lays down right in front of his daughter.  His face is inches away from hers.  And he begins to speak so gently to her, tenderly, playfully, tapping her nose and telling her “come on, were almost done.” It was a much different approach than I was ready for and it brought an ease and gentleness to the whole situation.  

The words that we hear today are very easy words to hear and to take in, but so often they are very difficult to carry out:

"Comfort, give comfort to my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end..." (Isaiah 40:2)

This is how we are to treat each other as we approach Christmas - comfort those who are struggling, those who are lonely, who have lost a loved one, or are frustrated by life...  and allow yourself to be comforted by God.  As we hear in the second reading, He is so patient with us, and He speaks these gentle words to us, "And to those you love, speak tenderly."  It’s that simple, but it can be so difficult at times.  So often we are the most rough, hard, and impatient with those we are closest to.  Let these words guide you this Advent as we prepare the way of the Lord,   "Make straight our paths and give comfort.  Speak tenderly to those that you love."