Time for
hope.

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end,

Today’s message from scripture is one of hope. This hope is expressed in three different ways.

The first expression from Isaiah is taken from the second set of Chapters. Chapters 1 to 39 of Isaiah were written before the exile, Isaiah saw the cause of the wars and tragedies that led to the Babylonian exile including faithlessness and overall social injustice. Chapters 40 to 66 were written during and after the exile in Babylon. They are filled with a message of trust and confident hope that God will soon end the exile.

Today’s reading, from Chapter 40 is the start of this second set of Chapters. It involves the commissioning of prophets. God is instructing them on the message they are to bring. Literally, speak tenderly to Jerusalem means they are to speak “tenderly” to the heart, the seat of reasoning of each person. It has nothing to do with the city of Jerusalem proper because the city is a long way off and is in ruins.

This message of hope is so important to us. It provides perspective on the City and Kingdom of God. The City and Kingdom of God has absolutely nothing to do with any earthly city. It is not Jerusalem or Rome, it is not any one place. What people fight over or call their capital is of no import or consequence. How silly will believers in cities seem in the eternal kingdom.

The City of God – the new and eternal Jerusalem, will come from God – not from the earth. That City and Kingdom starts with the state of our hearts and minds, and how we point to Him in Whom our hope is focused.

Our hearts, minds, and hopes are to go to the high places – to rise up. We, like Isaiah and John, are to proclaim the Good News. We are to do so without fear, saying: Here is God. That is a powerful and hope filled message for the world. The reward for those who proclaim that message is exactly this: God will feed us. God will gather us into His arms. He will carry us and will lead us with care.

The second expression of hope is set forth by Peter. It is so helpful to us every day, but with particular import during this penitential season. The Lord does not delay His promise, as some regard “delay,” but He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

This is such an important hope – that we have assurance of God’s patience with us. Are we ready? Perhaps not; we can all do better. We can proclaim God’s kingdom better and more often. We can point to God more often in our actions and with voices that correspond to our actions. Here is God. This is what He is like. Come meet Him and find true hope. We must also bring to mind that this hope comes with a warning – Don’t wait forever.

Finally, we have the hope expressed in the Gospel. God made a promise and He was fulfilling it. The Messiah was about to appear. John pointed to immanent hope. Like John, we are to point, but to hope now present.

It is time to hope. It is not just hope because of the past; because Jesus came and spent 33 years on earth. Rather, it is time to hope because we live is the aftermath of that salvation, promises fulfilled, and eagerly approaching the great eschatological moment, when Jesus returns, when we are gathered in, where our hearts and minds will overflow with joy, and where hope is completely fulfilled.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

One of the wonders of Advent and the Christmas season is Why. Why did Jesus come to earth? Why did God allow Himself to be humbled in such a way as to take on our humanity, to be born in a stable, to proclaim eternal truth to a people who would not listen, to be mocked and persecuted for that message, and to sacrifice Himself? In the most simple terms, it is about completion. The dictionary defines completion as ‘the action or process of finishing something.’ God did all these things to complete us; to bring about the fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity. The Church does not often speak of eschatological things – the end times and Jesus’ return – but as we focus on the moment of salvation that started coming ever closer in the stable at Bethlehem, we are called to do exactly that. Advent preparation is meaningless if it is just about Christmas day, or the forty day season of Christmas. We are to be preparing ourselves and living for complete completion. What began that night 2,017 years ago was God’s offer of all we need to get there. What we are to do today, throughout Christmas, and every day is to witness and cooperate in moving toward the completion Jesus offered and offers. We stand in this intermediate time. We are the link. Together we build the bridge from the joy of Christmas, the exaltation of resurrection, to completion.

Join us in prepare through Advent and begin the celebration of the Christmas season (all 40 days of it). We have our annual pot-luck vigil dinner on the 17th, a great breakfast on the 10th, and many other special events including our traditional candlelight midnight Holy Mass (really at midnight). Take a look at some of the reflections as well – like ‘Why be a member of this Church.’ Ever wonder, ever think about the answer – check it out. We so look forward to seeing you.

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

This week’s memory verse: So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.Hebrews 9:28

Pray the week: Lord Jesus, I long for Your return. Come, Lord Jesus.

Sadness and
longing.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.

I heard ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ for the first time this past week. People of faith singing out with such longing, such desire. It made me sad.

There are a lot of things that can make us sad at this time of year.

In part, it is melancholy – a sober thoughtfulness as we prepare. Maybe we think of Christmases past, people no longer with us, some regret, distance from those we love, separation, an unresolved conflict we wish had never happened. We think about those things with longing – a wish things were different.

Perhaps we are sad as we bang our heads against the wall trying to get ready. Shopping, buying, spending – will they be happy and satisfied? Did I measure up? Decorating, dragging out the dusty trees and ornaments. Looking at it all, and comparing to the neighbors – are we good enough this year? The lights that didn’t go on quite straight. Not being Martha Stewart in the kitchen. Remembering at the end of it all we just have to put it all away. Then all the crowds and the traffic. We think about those things longing that it would be different – a wish things could be simple once again.

Listen to the words from the Prophet Isaiah: Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants. The people of Israel were crying out. They had lost their way, they lost sight of God. They wanted His promises, His consolation. They wanted His presence, the coming of Emmanuel. They knew they were missing out. Things weren’t the way they were meant to be. They were sad, melancholy.

The key to Advent is to connect to the reason for the underlying sadness in our lives. We do many things to fill our lives, including what we do to fill the Christmas season ahead, but none of that is really able to help us deal with the melancholy or longing within us. None of it can silence what is calling us.

So how do we find what will fill us, what will bring us the fullness of joy and contentment? We start by finding some common ground with what Israel was going through, to put ourselves in their place. If we take the time to reflect on their longing, their melancholy, their sadness – we begin to connect with the gift God was getting ready to give them. He definitely heard their plaintive cries – and sent His Son to them, the Messiah, Emmanuel. If we spend this Advent season in prayer, scriptural reading, and reflection, listening for the voice of the Spirit, we will find Him pointing us to Jesus. Then we will find our hearts and minds really calling out for the fullness of what will satisfy.

Unlike Israel, we have an advantage. Our hope is a post salvation hope. Yet we still long. Advent connects us to this remaining longing. Our hearts and minds call out for the fullness of what will remove all sadness, melancholy, and longing. Advent connects us to the event that will satisfy – Jesus’ return and entry into the kingdom. Let us be ready. Return, return, Emmanuel!

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.