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.

Let’s hurry
up!

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah

If there is one thing God really likes, it is journeys. Think of all the journeys in scripture.

Noah took a great boat trip. Abraham journeyed from Ur of the Chaldeans to the Promised Land. Joseph was sold off into slavery and went to Egypt. His brothers journeyed there for food and Jacob eventually moves to settle there. Once enslaved, the Lord frees His people and they journey back to the Promised Land – a journey taking forty years. Ruth journeyed and God accompanied His people in the Ark of the Covenant wherever they went. Israel journeyed into and out of captivity.

All these journeys set the stage for the coming of the promised Messiah – our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We might think that once the stage was set the journeying would cease. Not so! Today we see Mary journey to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary acts as a sign. She shows us how to accept God’s will and how we are to put His will into action through journeying to serve each other. Mary would then journey back home, to her espoused Joseph, and together they would journey to Bethlehem to bear Him who was to shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD.

The journeying did not end there. Having come to fulfill His Father’s will, Jesus would journey throughout the territories of Judea and Samaria to preach the gospel. He journeyed to call all to repentance – to a change of heart. Finally, He would journey to Jerusalem to His death.

Those without faith see the journey ending there – at the cross, at death. But, thanks to God that death is no longer the end of our journey. Jesus opened the door to the only destination that matters – heaven in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

In keeping with the Lord’s teaching and direction His followers have journeyed ever since. The Apostles went far and wide as heralds of the message of the risen Christ. Greece, India, Constantinople, Carthage in North Africa, Persia and Ethiopia, Armenia, Syria, Ephesus, Patmos, and Rome heard the Word preached. The Apostles’ journeys and that of their disciples, and their disciple’s disciples spread the gospel across the whole world.

As we near the end of our Advent journey and head to the forty days of the Christmas season, let us journey in haste. Like Mary, let us journey to show forth both our acceptance of God’s will and the great joy that comes from His service. Like the Apostles, let us journey to every end of our community to tell of the Great Shepherd. Let us help people see and realize His greatness, kindness, and peace. Let the urgency of our journey cause us to hurry up for the time is at hand.

Rejoice, and share
rejoicing!

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has removed the judgment against you he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.

Today we read a message of hope and rejoicing from the Prophet Zephaniah.

This message is found near the end of the third chapter of this very short book of prophecy. More than two-thirds of Zephaniah’s prophesy deals with judgment and can be considered, more than any other prophecy, as one of devastation, death, and Divine judgment. The Day of Judgment is pictured as a time of darkness, anguish, distress, destruction, plunder, and threat to all life, human and animal alike.

Israel had turned from God to false gods, fake gods of wood and stone. Israel’s leadership was unjust and abusive. Zephaniah’s prophecy occurred just before the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

Today’s world is much like Zephaniah’s. Political leadership in our country and throughout the world is unjust and abusive. Most of the people in our country and across the world have turned from God or have turned to false gods who promise that through some set of works and deeds a person might be saved. Our world is filled with terror. In the not to distant future we will likely know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone affected by terrorism. We are only a few degrees of separation away.

Here we sit amidst all this turmoil and tendency to fear. We ourselves fear for our families, children, grandchildren, friends, and coworkers. In less than two weeks we will gather with them to celebrate Christ’s coming among us. Today we are reminded to rejoice! To rejoice!!!

If we, like ancient Israel, only lived for today, like politicians and believers in false gods, then we have reason to fear. We, rather, live forever. We have been delivered, not by works and deeds, but by faith in the One who has saved us. As Zephaniah foretold: The LORD has removed the judgment against you he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior. We need not be afraid for even if terror comes to our door, we have already been delivered to eternal joy.

We have reason to rejoice. More than that, we have reason to share our joy with the world. We must offer a share of our rejoicing to all people of good will. Those who follow false idols will be saved by our gift of joyful faith and perhaps even a politician or two might reject evil and also rejoice.

Who paved this
road?

For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.

The Prophet Baruch proclaims words similar to those proclaimed by Isaiah and Sirach: prepare, make straight the path for the Lord. We hear those same words re-proclaimed by John the Baptist:

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth…”

These prophetic words are heard in church each Advent. They easily define for us the things we are to do as part of both our Advent journey and throughout the rest of the year. We are to prepare ourselves and make ourselves ready for the coming of the Lord.

How should we prepare? The Church helps to guide us – and the guidance certainly isn’t to be busy, busy, busy all the time with decorating and shopping. The Lord is expecting a different kind of present from us – a prepared, humble, and penitent heart – a heart filled with love for Him and for our neighbor.

A far more difficult question is, even with the Church’s help, whether we are able to prepare enough. How can we fully turn our lives around so that we are perfectly ready for the Lord?

Thankfully, Baruch tells us how those high mountains will be made low, how deep valleys and gorges will be filled in, how the road will be made ready – how we will be made ready: God will do it. The high mountains in our lives – those things too difficult to overcome on our own and the deep valleys of failure will be overcome and filled in by God.

Baruch tells us that God has commanded these things. Having commanded it, that is, having made it a requirement, He had to bring His command to fulfillment.

God brought all things to fulfillment by sending His Son, Jesus, to accomplish His command. Jesus was and is the only One who can level the mountains and valleys of sin, despair, and death for us. He took all those things away and paved the road of life for us. He took away our sins – all of them. In a similar way, God stated multiple times (see Deuteronomy, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) that He would make our hearts ready.

All of this mountain leveling, valley filling, and road paving are impossible for us on our own. We cannot earn God’s favor. Rather, we make ready by accepting Him fully in faith. That is the preparation that is most important. Accepting Him and traveling His way we shall see the salvation of God. He paved the road and we just have to take it.

The on-time/early newsletter record goes on… Well sort of, posted here a few days later but delivered in church on the 29th.

December – that time for going to church for Christmas. St. Paul told us that through the Church something amazing will happen in our lives. Going to church is great,but becoming through Church is so much more. Check it out.

December continues our Advent journey of preparation and expectation. Tons of news on so many great events (2 dinners, Christmas preparation, St. Nicholas, Parish Committee nominations – get your name in. Get clued in by reading through the newsletter.

You may view and download a copy of our December 2015 Newsletter right here.

It’s all
over?

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The Thanksgiving leftovers are (almost) gone. If we were well prepared, the shopping is done. If not, perhaps we completed it (or at least started it) at the end of this past week.

We live in a time of “getting it done,” completing things, finishing. Perhaps getting things done relieves some of our worries. If we don’t get things out of the way, how could we possible deal with the stresses we have in daily life – our jobs, grades, children and grandchildren, our Social Security and retirement savings, health…

It is easy to say – I’m so glad that’s over. On to the next… Jesus asks for a different reaction in His faithful.

Jesus warns us against worry, against getting caught up in the day-to-day and worldly worries. Those are for a time only – but life in Him is eternal. Jesus also asks His followers to: Be vigilant at all times and pray. That is a warning against the: I’m glad it’s all over attitude. Advent helps us in readjusting and correcting our attitude.

If we are happy that Thanksgiving is finally over what does that say about the attitude of thankfulness that should be lived every moment of every day? If we are stressed about our shopping and cooking and traveling for Christmas – getting the decorations up so we can get them down – what does that say about our allowing Jesus to be born anew in us each day? If getting Easter done next is our goal, then do we see the power of Jesus’ suffering, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension? If we stress over work and money, what does that say about where our treasure is located? If each moment is lived with the stress of getting things done, are we truly preparing for the tribulations that are imminent? If we cannot wait for the next thing to be over, checking stuff off our list, are we ready to stand before the Son of Man at the end of time?

Advent reminds us that we are to be in constant preparation and longing – not for the next thing to be all over, but for Jesus to come again. We are to feed on Him in the sacramental life of the Church – gifts he left us to strengthen us for a journey to the only completion that matters – eternal life in Him. We are to: Be vigilant at all times and pray not just to get it done and over, but so that we may overcome every trial and test and obtain true victory.