Look!
Jesus!

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

I saw a cute little poster. Kermit the Frog is drinking tea and reflecting: ‘You slow down when you see the police but you don’t stop sinning even though God is watching.’ It makes me think of exactly how scared I was as a kid when I heard that God saw and knew everything.

Of course, now I know better. Certainly, God is all knowing, He sees everything – but He sees us through a kind of rose colored glasses – He sees us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus who gave Himself for us. If I have placed my faith in Him, all my sins have been washed away and I need no longer fear. As the hymn proclaims: ‘Grace, my fears relieved. The hour I first believed.’

The one error we fall into as people freed by grace is to maintain a two-plane view of our relationship with God. He is ‘up there.’ We are ‘down here.’ We do stuff here; He watches from there.

Having a two-plane view of our relationship with God sets Him apart from us. As Kermit surmises in the poster, we see the police and slow down. We fail to see God’s near presence in our lives, our workplaces, and our community because we do not believe He is with us, near us.

The changes we are called to make begin with our breaking down separateness from God.

Indeed, Jesus came into the world to demonstrate God’s desire to be with us. He did not leave us alone and apart, but sent His Holy Spirit to live with us, advise us, and to fill our lives with grace as we encounter Him in sacrament and community. We are called to break free of our two-plane view and live closely with God – as St. John tells us, walking with Him ‘in the Spirit and in truth.

The next step moves us from concept and thought. We must decide how we will see God – Is He apart or near? This is where the rubber-hits-the-road. If God is on another plane and apart from us, we may choose to live just as we live, disconnected from Him, not seeing Him. But if He is with us, part of every aspect of our lives, not just watching, but involved here and now, then we must take John the Baptist’s observation seriously. John pointed to Jesus saying ‘Behold!’

If we believe that He is with us, we are called to point to Him just as John did. We are called to bring clarity where there is doubt and to make Him completely real – on the same plane – as those we encounter. That happens when people recognize Jesus in their midst when they recognize His very real presence. That happens when they see the face of Jesus in our faces and feel His touch in our work – when the light goes on and they say, ‘Look! Jesus!’

Hurry
up.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste

Reflecting on this team of shepherds we see some amazing things happening.

For the shepherds, their meeting an angel and seeing the whole heavenly host would be amazing enough. Hearing that the Messiah had been born – for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah – represents a promise that had become a dream that for them had now been fulfilled. Amazing to have one’s dreams fulfilled in an instant.

We have several choices when we encounter something amazing. We might stand there with our mouth open. We might jump for joy. We might, after the initial shock, begin to question whether it was real. Would we leave everything, would we abandon our entire life, for that amazing thing?

Throughout faith history we encounter amazing things happening. An elderly barren couple becomes the progenitors of God’s chose people. The people of Israel, enslaved, are freed. Judges are chosen to lead the people against enemies that vastly outnumber them. A youngest son, a shepherd, is anointed king.

In Jesus’ coming those amazing things are magnified. The deaf will hear. The poor will have the good news preached to them. The dead will be raised.

On this Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds the amazing teaches us an important lesson.

Among the amazing things that happened that morning was the fact that the shepherds left their herds. They abandoned their herds, their means of livelihood and hurried toward Bethlehem “to see this thing that has happened, which the Lord made known to them.”

This is the same thing that was to happen thirty years later along the shores of lake of Gennes’aret. Men would leave their livelihood; abandon their families and boats to follow Jesus.

Let us reflect on our faith journey, that moment we finally recognized the power of accepting Jesus and placing our faith in Him. In that the amazing became real for us.

Following Christ goes far beyond just believing certain things about God. It is more than intellectual endeavor. It comes down to our willingness to be part of the amazing and to do the amazing because our lives have been changed by God’s agenda for us.

By God’s grace, the shepherds left their flocks; the apostles dropped their nets. What are we to do? Our call is to hurry up in leaving the old self behind and join with Jesus in living amazing grace filled lives.

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Sometimes news causes a huge change in our life. Our perspective and our work are reordered by the news and our reaction to it. Our outlook on life and habits can be changed overnight. Our scripture above, taken from 2nd Corinthians, asks us to be aware of the thing that some people discover only at the last minute. Each of our days is a favorable time to grow, to change, to become more like our Master. Each of our days is an opportunity to grasp our salvation, to order God as our first priority. In 2017, let each day be one in which faithful change brings favor to all we encounter.

Join us as we continue to celebrate Christmas right through February 2nd. We have some great events (our spaghetti dinner for one), fellowship, and mostly our taking advantage of the moment to draw closer to God.

You may view and download a copy of our January 2017 Newsletter right here.

I am
resolved.

Eight days later Jesus’ parents did for him what the Law of Moses commands.

Today we listen to the shortest Gospel reading of the year; one sentence in length. Yet this reading contains so much of what Jesus is all about.

After eight days every male child who was descended from Abraham was to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant with God and in order to be full participants in God’s community.

The milah – circumcision – was performed anytime between sunrise and sunset on the eighth day from when the child was born. Mary brought her Son to the place where the circumcision was to be performed and Joseph likely performed the ceremony. Circumcision in Jesus’ time was much the same as it had been in Abraham’s day. It was ritualistic and less formal than it is today.

Now Jesus, being God, did not need circumcision, yet He went through it. We can say that His circumcision is more than something He accepted, it is something He resolved to do. It was His purpose, God’s resolution, that the requirements the old law be observed so that the new law, the new covenant would be ushered in.

For practical purposes alone Jesus had to be circumcised. Otherwise, the community of Israel would have excluded Him from the Synagogue and Temple. He would not have been able to bring God’s new covenant to God’s chosen people if He was seen as against the Law.

Beyond the practical, Jesus took up in this act the fullness of humanity. God came, born of a woman and took up all of what we are. God would live and experience the fullness of human loss, sufferings, pain, and temptation. He would also enjoy the fullness of human joy. He, like us, would not live immune or somehow above the reality of human nature. He came to show us what we can be, what our opportunities and possibilities are.

We stand at the beginning of a new year. It is that moment when we take up opportunities and possibilities. They may be practical – lose weight, quit smoking, exercise more. They should be something more.

In reflecting on the opportunities and possibilities of the New Year let us unite ourselves with the Lord. Let us recognize the important lesson He taught – the fullness of our humanity has every chance at perfection because of Jesus and only in Jesus. Like Jesus we will spend time in joyful celebration and happiness in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Like Him we will be challenged by human loss, sufferings, pain, and temptation. God resolved to save us. Let us be resolved to do the Father’s will, and become more and more like His Son. He has freed us in the new covenant to do exactly that.

Expect the
unexpected.

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

What doesn’t change? If we took a moment, we could probably jot down a list of the things that don’t change a whole lot from year to year, Christmas to Christmas.

Those red poinsettias that always decorate the parish; they’re so beautiful. But wait; didn’t Fr. Jim add while ones a couple years ago to signify the purity of the Christ child? Hmmm.

Growing up we always went to my aunt and uncle’s house down the street for the Christmas vigil. It was a night filled with tradition. We had the same soup and food. We waited until the dishes were washed before we got around to opening presents. My one cousin was the one to hand everything out. We waited for that moment we all knew was coming when one of my cousins would open her gift only to find it was a new set of underwear – she got the same gift from her mom every year. We would all chuckle and comment. Then we would walk home and try to rest before the shepherd’s Holy Mass at midnight. Those dinners and the gift of underwear have changed.

Our memories are filled with experiences we thought would never change. Instinct, intellect, and common sense were disregarded because we were so sure they would never end. This will happen, be repeated, year after year.

In the Christmas proclamation we hear that Jesus was born 5,199 years after the foundation of the world. Consider a world caught up in the expected for thousands of years. The children of Israel hoped for the Messiah, but I am pretty sure they set most of that hope aside –nothing is going to change.

Then, suddenly, the heavenly host appears. The angel proclaims the news: “a savior has been born for you who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Savior has a particular meaning. The Messiah is to be the Rescuer. The Savior is indeed the Rescuer. He will pull us up out of trouble. He rescues us from sin, from hopelessness, and most of all from the expected.

The world stood in silence waiting and suddenly everything changed. The unexpected happened. The Messiah – not a civil ruler and army commander – but God’s only Son made flesh and blood. He is God as child, as baby, coming in the poorest of conditions. He is God Who wipes away all separation. He is God who reaches out to us. We need not plead, we need do nothing, for He did it all for us. Wherever we are, whatever we expect, the one sure unchanging things one our list is God who rescued us, God Who always delivers unexpected love. Do not be afraid – be sure of Him.

Lord, save your
servants.

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!

Ahaz was the King of Judah, a king in the line of David. He was a man without faith and he refused to follow the guidance of Isaiah. The prior king, Hezekiah, was a man of trusting faith and he followed Isaiah’s guidance.

Now Ahaz was in trouble. King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel had joined together to attack Ahaz’s capital, Jerusalem. Isaiah steps forward to assure Ahaz that they will not be successful, yet Ahaz will not believe. Rather than placing his confidence in God’s word, he takes the treasures he has stolen from the temple and sends them to the king of Assyria.

Ahaz goes even further. In sending this “gift” to the king of Assyria he says: “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me.” He effectively rejects God’s help and chooses a pagan king instead.

Through Isaiah, God speaks to the urgent need of trusting in His promises by issuing a threat: “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” Isaiah’s words speak to us too. We need to trust God, and there is inherent danger in failing to do so. Whether Ahaz stands or falls, whether we stand or fall, depends entirely on trust in God’s word.

In the face of Ahaz’s unbelief, his rejection, and his failure to trust, God tries one more time. He tells Ahaz – ask for anything, anything at all. God makes His divine power available to Ahaz in a limitless manner. Ahaz, however, refuses this opportunity. His unbelief is complete. His refusal to trust finally wears down God’s patience. So, God gives His sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.

At the start of Holy Mass we placed a special focus on examining our conscience and asking God for His forgiveness. In doing so we take seriously the prophecy of Isaiah. This is a text that points to God’s saving power and the surety of condemnation for unbelief. Where do we place ourselves, standing at the manger? Will we trust God and ask for the sky, or shrink away?

Today’s gospel reminds us – the Messiah’s coming is immanent! It is almost here!

Jesus is messianic in the fullest sense of the word – He saves, teaches, blesses, forgives, and judges. In this Advent season, we must remember that the King whose return we long for, Who we are preparing for, will return in full apocalyptic glory, as both Judge and Savior. In these last few days of Advent we are invited to hope, pray, and long for this revelation. We are invited most of all to prepare by increasing our trust in the Lord’s power to save. Trust and say: Lord, save me, Your servant!

Coming
home.

Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. 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.

John heard about Jesus as he languished in Herod’s prion. He sent his disciples to see if Jesus was the real thing. We wonder if John’s disciples were a little suspicious? Certainly they did not want to be disappointed. Here is their man, John, sitting in prison. Will this Jesus really fulfill the promise? Will He bring the promised redemption and allow them to walk free? Will this Jesus bring them home?

Isaiah foresaw a time when Israel would be released from captivity, and would undertake yet another journey through the wilderness. Unlike the exodus from Egypt, on this occasion they would not be left wandering for forty years, but would make the journey home in record time, by a route already prepared by the Lord. The returning exiles would relish the sight of their home ahead as they pass Lebanon’s snow-capped hills, and the luxuriant growth on the mountain ridges of the Mediterranean coast.

Isaiah’s prophecy was not only for the immediate future, it wasn’t just about tomorrow’s homecoming, but also foreshadowed the Messiah and the ultimate homecoming that is in Him. Seven hundred years after Isaiah, Jesus would finally free Israel once and for all and would bring them home. His promise delivered an eternal homecoming, a beautiful return that would not be for just a moment, but for all time. His homecoming is the glory of heaven for those who believe.

We all long for homecoming, for the warmth of welcome and peace. We long for the joy of family and friends, the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of those places we once knew. We seek the hugs. We want that place that is so familiar we can walk free in it, unencumbered.

At the start of this third week of Advent, about fourteen days from Christmas, we can rejoice because our homecoming is near. We can re-experience, in that moment at the manger, our welcome home. The journey is not long, the road is paved, and our room is ready. Jesus’ road brings us straight home.

As we live in expectation of our ultimate homecoming in Jesus’ return, let us rejoice. In anticipating our homecoming let us renew our strength and take courage. For all those afflicted, who have waited, who in sadness longed for deliverance: take heart and rejoice, God brings healing. God lifts us up. We are saved. The restoration of sight and hearing is at hand. We will walk with strong legs and steady step. We will return home and enter singing, crowned with everlasting joy. We will come home with joy and gladness; all sorrow banished.

What if I’m
bored?

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

Today we are one week closer to standing before that stable. One week closer to welcoming the Lord.

That is a beautiful thought. My family puts up its Christmas decorations very late, days before Christmas. In the Advent spirit we are anticipating. We know that once the decorations are up, the vigil meal will be around the corner. We know that we will trek to church and witness the Babe born anew, and feel within ourselves His warmth – happiness, joy, peace, and the promise that because of Him we will have peace.

But what happens when we feel dead inside. What happens when all the expectation is gone – when that occasion about four weeks hence is a bore. The decorations are dusty already, the food isn’t good, and church is a function rather than a joy. Some might even think they are at peace when in reality they have just become numb.

That is where Israel was. The stump of Jesse is literally the sterility of David’s line. Jesse was David’s father and David’s male line was now impotent. Two hundred and seventy years after David was born to be King of Israel Isaiah told us that the dying, impotent, sterile kingship in Israel will produce its once and final King – the true King – the Lord Jesus.

Twenty-eight generations later. Jesus would be born of the line of David. His line – all but forgotten, dusty and dead, no flavor, nothing there and life suddenly springs anew.

John sets out for the Jordan. The prophet, the forerunner, has arrived. Word spreads – there is hope around the corner. Something amazing is about to happen. As the people came forward they acknowledged their sins – primarily the sin of lost hope, of not believing in the promise. Thy came forward to say, ‘Our dead hearts are waking up.’

Paul understood this would happen to us, so he says: May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus. Paul is telling us to keep it together, to be encouraged. Seven hundred years passed between Isaiah and Jesus. That is a lot of dust, a lot of boredom, and a lot of numbness. Life and joy lost.

What if we’re bored? What do we do? Start here: Surrender our pre-conceived to-do list. Time to change things up – to build a spirit of anticipation. Then, when the moment comes, we find in it the full power of the promise that is ours.

Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Last year we dedicated ourselves to focusing on joy. In the spirit of one liturgical and calendar year ending and the next beginning, let’s look back. We began last year in Advent, a season of anticipatory joy. Fitting for us as Christians – God’s children – we awaited the best present ever. Then came that day standing at the stable, looking upon the baby Jesus and living the forty days of joyful celebration that followed. Knowing Jesus is always in our midst as well as newly with us. We walked though each season finding new joy in Christ and each other. Here we are – at the start – again reconnecting, celebrating, and knowing endless joy. Time to smile, shed a tear of joy at the stable, and look ahead.

Join us throughout December for a jam packed schedule of holy events, fellowship, and mostly joy. Escape the harangue of the world and find peace, time out from the madness in Jesus and the family of faith.

Send in your Polish Food Sale orders. Get a memory cross. Pick up those Christmas wafers / Opłatki. Join us for our annual Christmas Vigil / Wigilia pot-luck will be held on Sunday, December 18th following Holy Mass. Our SOCL students will present a short play for your reflection and enjoyment. Our brother, Derek Westcott will present two musical pieces he has been working on for months. Come see and support them. Genealogy, roots, stipends, college, read up…

You may view and download a copy of our December 2016 Newsletter right here.

Taking instruction.
Reaping benefits.

For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Here we are, entering Advent. In a little more than four weeks we will stand at the stable as thousands in this parish have done since 1922, and billions of Christians do each year. If we could just imagine ourselves there for a moment, what would we say to ourselves – the person standing here today? What advice could we give ourselves?

Isaiah pegged it right when he told us to pay attention to the word of the Lord. This isn’t just a hearing, or a mere paying attention to, or a listening. Our paying attention must be converted to the integration of God’s word into ourselves. We are to make every act, word, gesture, project, task, and study a living encounter with God’s love – within ourselves and for each other.

As with most prophetic utterances Isaiah gives us both a consequence and a promise.

The promise is that our living encounters with God’s love results in this: They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. Those very real encounters within us and in our relationships come from walking in the light of the Lord!

The consequence is judgment. God looks at us and will judge whether our lives have been an encounter with His love. No one likes the thought of that because we all fall short. As such we must measure how our life in Jesus reaches reality and hold ourselves to a much higher standard. We cannot just ignore the consequence and hope for the best. We cannot walk in darkness and expect the promise to happen in spite of us.

Let’s get back to our advice to ourselves – I would say to myself – be careful each day to walk in the light of the Lord. Don’t make those mistakes. Let His word and His way be integrated in me; make it real in my every encounter. If the Lord’s promise fills me, and all I encounter, I will see His promise come to reality. People will be lifted up. Joy will be made real.

In today’s Epistle and Gospel we hear the challenge – our salvation is nearer now; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Our advise to ourselves – we cannot afford to set the light of the Lord aside or expect that the consequence is not near. So let us take up His instruction, live His promise and make every encounter a reflection of His light.