My heart changed.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

Thank you for joining as we continue in the celebration of the Christmas Season and in our expectation of the Lord’s return in glory.

This unique Solemnity in our Holy Church dedicates a Sunday in the early Christmas season to the remembrance of those shepherds who first heard of the Lord’s birth from the angels. This Solemnity is so important that it displaces all other Solemnities of the Christmas season excepting the Circumcision, Holy Name of Jesus, and Epiphany should they occur on a Sunday. In most years, this Solemnity occurs on the Sunday after the Nativity. In years like this one with Christmas on a Sunday, this Solemnity is celebrated on the 8th of January.

This Solemnity is wonderful on so many levels for it shows how God interacts with humanity. God sent His angels to the poor workers of the region to announce His salvation, the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament. In fact, He chose the lowest of the low to receive this news.

We can assess their humility from the fact they were not people of pretense. They could not fool anyone about who they were – they even smelled like their work – the sheep, the pastures and woodland.

A lack of pretense is one sign of humility. Oxford notes that humility is: ‘Having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance. Of low social, administrative, or political rank.’

Another sign of humility / humbleness is what the Shepherd’s did with the news. They trusted and went, then having seen told people about it directly and honestly. The Shepherds experienced God and didn’t have to think about it, philosophize, theologize, or seek the local descendent of Aaron, a Levite, or religious leader to interpret for them.

In the Letter of St. James (James 4:10) we hear: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. Good advice! The more like these Shepherds we are the better off we will be because God will be holding us up.

If we are hanging on to any pretense, let’s wash ourselves of it in confession. If we are grasping after the straws the world offers, know they will snap and break, and we will be alone. So, if we are grasping, let us stop and grasp onto Jesus. If we are holding off in talking about Jesus or waiting for the advice of philosophers, theologians, priests, or best sellers, let us stop waiting and get to work. Speak of Him.

Last week we spoke of being changed, having changed hearts and lives. Here we see the practical model of people who are transparent, honest, and humble about what God has done. God sent His Son Jesus to save us. Let us live as saved and humble as those Shepherds who declared the Lord.

Pray too for all present and these future humble shepherds of our Church: Alfonsito, Nick, Sean, David, Jason, Todd, Adam, Zach, Kevin, Zach, James, Nick, Rodryg, and all Deacon candidates.

Made whole.

He will not break off a bent reed, nor put out a flickering lamp. He will persist until he causes justice to triumph.

Jesus came to fulfill what Isaiah had written about centuries before. Isaiah writes about a ‘bruised reed.’ and a ‘smoldering wick.’ Jesus came, not to destroy the reed or put out the wick, but to take brokenness and smoldering away. Jesus has healed and re-ignited us, has brought us into the Kingdom, into lives vastly differently.

As we journey through this Lenten season, we reflect and act on our call to be vastly different. We look at our inward selves and our outward actions and reform them through more ardent prayer, sacrifice, study, worship, and giving. We come to really connect with the fact that those in the Kingdom live like this year-round, not just during Lent.

Today, Jesus presents us with a perfect example of someone who is bruised and smoldering, the youngest son of a very generous father. How is he made vastly different?

There are two key elements in Jesus’ parable, the first being the self-imposed bruising of the son. This is the way sin works for us too. 

The son, not content in the father’s house and service wants ‘what is his,’ and takes off with every intent of harming himself. 

The son did not outwardly say: I am going to go hurt myself. Certainly, he thought he was getting his way with what was his – and that very self-centeredness was at the root of his many sins. The rejection of the father’s house, the partying and the prostitutes were the expression of his self-centered life. It was the way he pulled himself out of the kingdom and put himself in the world. He bruised himself and he did it hard, full speed.

The second key is how the son was changed, healed, and reconciled.

Many have stated that the moment of turn around by the son, repentance, a change in direction back to the kingdom and away from himself and the world was his getting up amid the swine – as Jesus says: he came to his senses.  But not so fast – he was still self-centered, thinking about his father’s servants and food.  Something greater had to change within him, his life had to be made vastly different by something more powerful than just return and food.

The great change in the son was the moment of forgiveness, of full welcome back. This really spoke to his selfish heart and taught him – there is another way to live. There is a vastly different way – that of the father who gives his all not for his own pleasure – but for the sake of me. That is the way the kingdom started, by God giving His all for us, and that is the way it works today where we give our all for the purpose of reconciliation as Jesus asked, one for another who are in the kingdom. 

Lent is about return certainly, but more so about true understanding of our life in and encounter with the One whose great love and self-giving greatly changes us. Changed, we then are the vastly different of the Kingdom who self-give as the Father does to draw many to Jesus and into His Kingdom.

Called to live anew!

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

Anew – it is a word we will focus on for years to come. Now is the time for our next great step together, to call people anew to knowing, loving, and serving the Lord and His Holy Church right here at this parish.

How do you recollect time? Most people see time as a linear progression, past, present, and future. We could draw an arrow from one moment in our lives to the next, event to event. Did you know that God sees time differently, that Jesus came to change our conception of time and even place?

That is true. Jesus’ birth marked the start of a new age – the age of the Kingdom. In His Baptism, which we celebrated last week, Jesus marked out our change – how we are to enter His place and time, the Kingdom of God.

For many Christians, the Kingdom is something afar off. We have time. If we are sinning, we can go to confession tomorrow, or next Sunday. If we need to repent and live changed lives, walking the gospel path much more closely and realistically – radically, well we can work on that. That is a false notion. We have our facts wrong. The Kingdom will not come someday but is here now. We are in it, and we are called to live changed now, immediately.

What St. Paul tells us in his writing on baptism is true. We died with Christ in our baptism and so we have been raised with Him to life anew. We are no longer living according to the world’s time and priorities, stumbling from moment to moment, place to place like the lost. Rather, we are living a changed reality in which we have great work to do, Kingdom work. We must set to it now.

Kingdom work comes down to what Jesus showed us at Cana in Galilee. It is about changed perspectives and lives anew.

The changing of water into wine isn’t just a one-off miracle. It is not just a moment along a timeline. It is rather a foreshadowing of the eternal change that comes when the wine is made His blood. It is a foretelling of the way we are changed in Jesus. 

When we share in the Eucharistic moment in a short time, the changing of bread and wine into His body and blood, we literally join with Jesus in His timeless reality. the ever-present Kingdom where we also reside. We receive abundant grace for our work.

Our Kingdom reality is where the Spirit’s gifts, given to each of us in different form and measure, are to be implemented. We are residing in God’s time and place and our mission is an imperative command to declare the Kingdom and invite others into it; to live changed.