Friday, December 24, 2010

Not what you expect (Christmas Vigil homily)

What we heard just now in that long Gospel,
in that long list of names, is a family tree.

It is Jesus’s family tree--at least the part of it
that goes back to Abraham.

I am sure you wonder why we read that.
It’s long and seems to go on forever.

Well, maybe one reason we read it
is because it reminds us of what it was like
for God’s People, waiting for the Messiah:
the years went by, turning into centuries.
When will the Savior come?

Maybe you’ve waited a long time
for God to answer a prayer.

Maybe you are still waiting. When will he come?

Remember also that when the King came,
it wasn’t what folks expected.

The answer you look for to a prayer
may not be what you expect.

As you can imagine, so many times
I am visiting people in the hospital.
Or else people come to me and they are sick.
They are afraid.
They are begging God to answer their prayers.

Now--here’s something you may not know.
I didn’t know it until I became a priest.

When someone is sick, and he or she is praying,
do you know what they are often praying for?

For their own healing, of course; and for strength.

But a lot of times, they are praying for others:
that their family will be OK.

And I can tell you, that prayer gets answered!

In those times, there is a lot of healing that happens--
but not always what folks expect.

And what I have witnessed very often
is that folks facing such troubles
show me a peace I cannot imagine;
they shine with a light
that does not come from this earth!

Where does that come from?
It is the Lord--coming in silence and surprise,
when things seem so dark.

Let me mention something else about that Gospel--
that Family Tree. It involves some of the names.

We don’t know those names--maybe we recognize a few.
But for God’s People in Jesus’ time,
they would have known more of them.

And if the younger members of the family didn’t know,
the older ones would tell them:

“Abraham…he was called from a foreign country.
He had a child--God gave him that child.”
“Perez and Zerah…well, that was a scandal…”
“Rahab--she was a prostitute! Who let her in?”
“Ruth--she was a stranger--but God welcomed her…”
“David was the great king--we had such high hopes for Solomon…
but then it all went south…”

“The Exile--we thought we were finished then--no hope…”

And then, when that long list of names
maybe was about to put us to sleep, we heard…
“Jacob…Joseph…Joseph?…Mary! JESUS!”

He’s here! He’s come at last! God is with us!
It was a long wait, but God came.
God became part of our family;
he was born into our Family Tree, with all its bad apples!

Notice where God was born: in a barn, where animals lived.
Joseph and Mary would have made it
as clean as they could--but it was such a poor place.

God did not complain.
God never complains when we invite him into our hearts.

The moment God arrived in that stable,
it became the Throne of Heaven.
The moment Jesus is given a place in our hearts
that’s what happens there, too.

One more detail from our Christmas scene:
the shepherds.

They were told by the angels, go see!
They just happened
to be in the right place at the right time.

But you have to wonder, what became of them?
Did they just go back to their lives before?
Did they say, “well, that was something?” and that was it?
Or did that night change them? Here you are--
how did you happen to be here tonight?

Whatever the reason,
you, too are in the right place at the right time.

Oh, sure, it’s crowded. It’s noisy.

When those shepherds came around,
they were probably tired, hungry, maybe cynical.
Maybe they expected something a lot more impressive.

It’s just possible some of those shepherds went away,
Thinking of the cold, of their obligations--
and they missed it.

How about you?

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