Sunday, December 18, 2016

Joy, Mercy and Love

Joy, Mercy and Love
Homily for December 18, 2016    Fourth Sunday of Advent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the land,
People were worried, wringing their hands.
“What should I buy, what should I get?”
    Will my expectations of Christmas be met?
Mom in her apron, in a very foul mood,
    Worried about cooking, would there be enough food?
Dad, too, was cranky, showing ill-will,
    Worried about paying those after-Christmas bills.
And the children were impatient – the girls and the boys,
    As they thought only of presents: the gifts, the toys.
But then, what to my blood-shot eyes should appear,
    But a choir of angels, with good tidings to share.
“A child will be born in just a few days,
    That, if you will let him, can change all your ways.”
“The gifts He will bring are joy, mercy and love,
    Sent by the King of Kings from above.”

A week to go to Christmas.  Are you ready?  Despite some people starting their Christmas shopping as early as September and the big rush to spend money on Black Friday, it is said that this year the busiest shopping days for Christmas are still ahead for us, with next Friday expected to be the busiest of the year.  And I wonder – how will all of this last-minute shopping lead us to joy, mercy and love?

In all three readings, we hear about the great Gift that God gave to us at the first Christmas – the gift of His Son, Jesus.  It’s a gift that was planned for us from the beginning of time, prophesied by Isaiah, acknowledged by St. Paul confirmed by the angel to Joseph, and the gift does indeed lead us to joy, mercy and love – far more than any present that can be wrapped up and placed under a tree. For the Gift of Jesus not only leads us to joy, mercy and love – Jesus IS Joy, Mercy and Love Incarnate.

But like so many gifts that we receive, this gift comes with Some Assembly Required.  And, as with any gift that is of significant value, we must follow the instructions on how to get the most enjoyment out of it, and a commitment to maintain it if it is to remain of value to us. 

Commitment.  Why is it that we’re willing to commit to large payments for a house or car or other toys, but are afraid to commit where it really counts – the maintenance of the gift of our faith?  Is it that we want to keep our options open?  If we do commit, is it conditional?  What are our priorities?  Is our faith more important than any other commitment that we make?

With the beginning of a new year around the corner, now is the time we should be thinking about those New Year’s Resolutions that we hope to begin, and let us start with resolving to cherish the Gift of Jesus in our lives.  Make it the priority of your life.

Then, decide what you are going to do to maintain it.  Commit to setting aside time every day to read something to grow your faith – not less than 15 minutes, or the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.  If you haven’t already, complete a pledge card and commit to supporting your parish financially, every week. Commit to becoming involved in some sort of volunteer organization or project every month, even if it only one day each month.  And, an excellent way to jump-start your faith or give it a boost for the new year is by attending the upcoming Men’s or Women’s ACTS retreat. 

Make your commitments NOW, before the beginning of the year, so that you’re ready when the time comes.  It is the fastest, surest way to Joy, Mercy and Love – the way to Jesus.

Finally, the Gift of Jesus is a gift meant to be shared with others.  If we do – if we help others to encounter Jesus through our words and actions – then they too will be filled with the Holy Spirit and the gift of His Joy, Mercy and Love.

If the challenge seems daunting, remember what the angel said to Joseph, “Do not be afraid.”

Will you encounter Jesus at Christmas?  Will you commit to assembling and maintaining your relationship with Jesus?  Will you bring Jesus to others?  I hope so.

And so let us exclaim, as we prepare for this week,
Merry Christmas to all; Jesus comes, whom we seek
– and who indeed seeks us.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ransomed and Waiting

Ransomed and Waiting
Homily for December 13, 2016    Third Sunday of Advent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

“Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.”

These words from the prophet Isaiah are words of anticipation and hope.  In the earlier chapters from Isaiah, the prophet warned what was going to happen to Judah because of their infidelity to God; now, after they have been oppressed by the Assyrians, Isaiah offers words of hope and encouragement to remind Judah that God is with them, despite what they’ve experienced.  God will free them from Assyria’s rule and they will be able to rejoice once again. They have been ransomed; now they need only wait for their freedom.

So, this may be a good time to ask ourselves – are we still excited about the coming of Christmas?  Are we preparing ourselves joyfully for Jesus in our lives?  Or are we being worn down by the minutiae of our preparations and the false messages of depression and despair that seem to come to us from every direction? 

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing about our need to prepare ourselves, not only for Jesus’ birthday, but for the second coming of Christ and the consequences of not being ready.  Last week we heard John’s call to repentance and a warning of the impending doom for those who failed to repent; the week before that we heard Jesus’ warning about we don’t know when we will be called before God and so to be ready. 

But if all we do is focus on the impending doom that we may face if we are not ready; if we allow our worries and troubles to overshadow the hope and promises of God,  then we might lose the joy of what we should be anticipating.  We can miss the true presence of Christ already in our lives today and the joy that He can bring to us. 

After all, we are surrounded by evil in the news – so why should we rejoice?  We know of friends and family members who have died and we miss those who cannot share the holidays with us – so why should we rejoice?  We cannot afford to celebrate the holidays in a matter that is being emphasized in the commercials we see and hear – so why should we rejoice?  We have so many things that are pressing in upon us – challenges to our health, our families, our well-being – so why rejoice?

In today’s Gospel, John has been imprisoned and now he sends messengers to Jesus to ask Him if He’s the one that everyone is waiting for. 

Jesus’ response echoes what we heard in our first reading from Isaiah – look for yourselves: the blind can see; the dead are raised; the poor have good news proclaimed to them.  Good News.  Joyful news.  The wait is over.

Because God IS with us. 

Today we celebrate Gau-de-tay’ Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent.  Gaudete means “Rejoice!”, and so we should, as we have passed the half-way mark of our journey toward Christmas.  We pause in our Advent preparations to remind ourselves of the promise of joy that is to come. We light the rose-colored candle in our Advent wreath, and sometimes we don festive rose-colored vestments.  (Yes, they are ROSE, not pink. Like in that old 80’s movie, girls may be “Pretty in Pink”, but not clergy, as I’ve been told many times by priest-friends.)

This Sunday, the midway point of Advent, makes me think about one of the many funny dog-videos I saw last week.  I’m blessed with several friends on Facebook that are dog lovers, and whenever I need cheering up all I have to do is watch a couple of the videos that they post showing dog antics.  This one particular video was of a little dachshund playing in the snow.  It started with a field of snow, and the top of the snow was moving a little as something burrowed beneath it.  All of a sudden, a little black head popped up from under the snow to look around for a minute, then back down he went under the snow to madly tunneling about, popping back up a couple of minutes later to get his bearings, then back down he went.  He was obviously having a ball playing in the snow, even if he wasn’t sure where he was going.

So it is with us.  The Church gives us this Sunday in the middle of our Advent preparations to allow us to pop up and get our bearings, and to remind us that our joy shouldn’t have to wait until Christmas.  It can be in the preparations themselves that we have our encounter with Jesus.

And that’s the reason for the season – the coming of Emmanuel, God with Us.  God is coming to us to be WITH us.  He has already ransomed us through His death and resurrection. His presence in our life will bring us joy, if we let Him into our hearts. That’s His perennial Christmas gift to us – His presence in our lives.

In return, the greatest gift we can give to one another is the gift of OUR presence to others.  Not “presents” with a “T-S”, but “presence” with a “C-E”. 

As we wait for the coming of Christmas in two weeks, as we finish our last-minute preparations and gift-buying, we should ask ourselves: Do we have that most important gift ready – the gift of presence - for those we love? After all, the gift of our presence to others IS the gift of love. And God’s love is already here, ready for us. 

The wait is almost over.