Saturday, December 25, 2021

Truly home (Christmas homily)

 This time of year, there is a strong emphasis on “home.”

It’s great to have our college students and many others back again.

Welcome home!

Many years ago, a singer named Perry Como sang a song, 

“Home for the Holidays.” 

Like so many Christmas songs, it was catchy and made you feel good, 

but otherwise, it doesn’t seem to say much.

Yet the more I thought about it, 

I realized there is a lot more to that idea of “home” and Christmas.

It isn’t just some of us who are away from home.

Every single one of us is.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

And he created a place for humanity – to be home with him. 

The Book of Genesis calls that the “garden.”

That’s a good name; that sounds like someplace we want to be.

As we know, our first parents were not content to stay there.

Their lack of trust led them to sin and they chose a path away;

They left the Garden; they left home.

And all the rest of the story is God longing to bring us home!

He called to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses.

God made covenants with them, to give them – and us –

what the cold world of time cannot give us:

Forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and eternal life.

In the Gospel of John, while Jesus is talking to his fellow Jews,

He says something odd: 

“Your Father Abraham saw my day and rejoiced in it.”

What could that mean?

It means this:

That when God called out to Abraham, saying, “I’m here, I’m here!”

In that call was a promise that God would one day really be here – 

for Abraham and everyone else – not just in a prophecy or a ritual, 

but in flesh and blood. 

In other words, it’s always been about the Incarnation: 

God becoming one of us.

And it’s always been about the Cross, 

because what does it mean to say God is with us,

if it doesn’t include the full measure of suffering and death?

Even so: dying with us is cold consolation, if that’s the end.

I’m dying, you’re dying? We’re all dead.

So it was always about Resurrection, which means,

not Jesus rising and escaping our humanity,

but Jesus rising and living, forever, in our humanity!

That gives his name, Emmanuel, God-with-us, even more meaning.


God came and made his home with us in our exile;

always with us, often hidden, often ignored.

Or else, despised and rejected: on the Cross, and down to the present.

This is his birthday. How many will have a great party, but ignore him?

How sad that so many people know the word, “Christmas,” 

but not what it refers to?

What good is a “season of lights” 

that is about no more than electricity or candles?

God came to make his home with us, for one more purpose:

To bring you and me home: home to him.

Remember what I’ve been saying all Advent: this is about the Kingdom.

This is about our forever-after.

That is “joy to the world”;

Only God’s life filling our lives can mean “peace on earth.” 

And what you and I see before our eyes – 

what the prophets and patriarchs

could only glimpse darkly, as in a mirror – 

that is what makes us fall silent on this (Christmas) night.

This church, this place, 

this circle of familiar faces, is our home – for now.

Yet we are not yet home, and God is not content to leave us here.

With baptism, you and I became citizens, not of this place,

But of that Place – of heaven.

In the incarnation, God became man;

By faith in Jesus, following him, you and I will become God!

Sharers in everything God has to share, even his own infinite life!

All the sacraments serve to restore us and to prepare us, 

to make us long all the more for our true home,

the home of which this home is a shadow and a promise.

I am so glad you are here. We are all glad to be together.

We all try so hard to make Christmas special,

to make everything sparkle and glow.

As hard as we try, it is never enough. It never can be.

Christmas isn’t about satisfying our longing,

but rather making us hunger and thirst all the more:

We want to go home! 

To be with Jesus, not just for a few golden hours, but forever.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Grace is the hidden power of the Kingdom (Sunday homily)

 As you have heard me say at least once in recent weeks, 

Advent is fundamentally about the Kingdom of Christ, 

not merely about Christmas. 

I say that because Christmas itself is only important 

because it’s about the Kingdom.

That’s why Jesus was born: his Kingdom is sill being formed.

So, it may sound strange, 

but even with Christmas so close, keep your gaze on the far horizon!

A great day of justice and fulfillment still lies ahead.

Every time you and I get angry about suffering 

Or dispirited by injustice,

that is yet another reminder to look, not back, but forward.

And what I want to highlight today is the hidden power of the Kingdom: that power is grace.

What is grace? 

Grace is God’s own life and love, 

at work in the world, and in us, to change us and make us like God.

This is my Android tablet. I don’t use it as much as I used to,

and I haven’t plugged it in lately. As a result, it has no juice. It’s dead.

What electricity does for this device 

is a lot like what grace does for you and me. 

Without God’s grace, you and I would not merely be dead; 

in fact, without grace, we would not “be,” at all! 

It is God’s grace that causes you to exist, me to exist,

this world to exist, for this world to reveal him to us,

and ultimately, for him to come into this world to save you and me.

The same grace that filled Mary from her first moment 

is what sent Gabriel to her at the appointed time.

And then in Elizabeth, and in the unborn child, John, all grace at work!

You may not think you are important, 

just as people didn’t think that little town of Bethlehem was important.

But God’s grace decided differently.

It is grace that stirs up your heart to long for God, 

to know you need him and to turn to him in repentance.

It is God’s grace that lifts your heart when you hear his word.

It was grace that led your parents to bring you to be baptized,

and through that baptism, grace entered your life 

and made you a child of God.

The great struggle of this world is between sin and grace.

Sin corrupts and destroys, but grace brings us back to life and, 

more than that, leads us to eternal life, life beyond life.

Grace is the hidden power at work in the world.

It is the greatest power in the world;

And that power is given to you, day by day – 

in every possible way, but above all in the sacraments – 

to bring you safely home.

To be a Christian is not only to believe in that hidden mystery, 

but to know that with certainty that grace is real, 

to see what otherwise remains unseen, 

and because of that, to find courage, hope, and joy, no matter what.

That’s why it’s important to celebrate Christmas as a down-payment: 

a foretaste of all that lies ahead.

It’s so fitting that we decorate everything with lights.

And it’s not too late to add more! 


Because every added light is a small step toward the brilliance 

of the Kingdom in which each of us is a citizen. 

Although we haven’t been there yet, that kingdom is our home.

It is where we belong. It is where we are heading.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

John the Baptist and Kingdom Joy (Sunday homily)

When John was stomping around on the banks of the Jordan, 

he was a spectacle. 

He wore strange clothes – camel hair – and he ate locusts. 

Just to be clear: that’s not just weird today, 

that was strange back then.

And John knew that. 

He was like the people you meet who are in religious life. 

They wear funny clothes, just like I wear a cassock: 

it makes you stand out. That’s part of the point.

John was trying to make clear that he stood apart. 

When you make the Sign of the Cross in a restaurant, 

you’re doing the same, 

which is why some people don’t want to be seen saying grace.

John was willing to be a spectacle. 

And you can just imagine some number of the people who came out, 

came for that reason, to see a show.

I can just picture some teenage boys, standing off to one side, 

whispering and snickering, can’t you?

And then John would pick somebody out in the crowd.

He’d fix his eyes right on you, pinning you to the wall!

“You soldier! You farmer! You student! You parent! 

You came to see me dump water on people 

but one is coming after me who's going to pour fire!

Are you ready for Him?”

And notice when John was challenging people, 

the Gospel said it was “good news”: why? 

The keynote of this Sunday, 

in the readings and in the prayers, is joy, rejoicing. 

That's what the rose-colored vestments signify. 

Let me just explain that joy isn't the same as feeling up,

being in a good mood, being all sparkly and bubbly.

If you've lost someone you love, if you have work problems, 

family problems, health problems, or other issues, 

it can be really hard to be chirpy and cheerful, 

especially at this time of year. 

So, just to be clear, that’s OK.

You have permission not to be all Suzy Sunshine. 

Because joy isn’t about a mood or your personality.

It’s down deep, like bedrock, and it doesn’t change from day to day.

This is where what John the Baptist was saying ties in.

What John was offering is the path to true joy:

getting right with God; getting right with your parents, your family, 

your friends, and the people you work with.

So now, this is my John the Baptist-spectacle moment.

I want to do whatever it takes to grab you.

What do you think?

Should I march up and down the aisle like a TV preacher, 

hooting and hollering? That could be fun!

Oh, what a scandal! People would talk!

The point is, I want you to hear that invitation.

This sermon isn’t for someone else, it’s for YOU. 

I may not be able to look everyone in the eye, 

but the Holy Spirit can speak to you in a way I cannot.

You want that true joy, that deep-down joy?

Go to confession. 

John would have said, get baptized.

And if you’ve never been baptized, 

then talk to me about becoming a Christian. 

But most of us are already baptized, 

so, for us, it’s renewing that new birth.

That’s what confession is.

Knowing you are at peace with God, at peace with others?

That is joy!

And don’t wait till the last minute. 

It’s the same every year, right in the last few days, 

it’s like check-out at Wal-Mart!

It’s OK, But I’m saying, if you come THIS week,

you can get a jump on last-minute rush. 

Don’t worry that you can’t remember how. I’ll help you!

You know what my best Christmas gift is?

Someone comes to confession, it’s been a long time,

he or she is really burdened, overwhelmed, 

and then gets to be quit of it all! In a few minutes! 

Every priest will tell you; we can sense that huge weight sliding off!

I’m not saying, come to confession for me.

I’m saying, you’re waiting in line, sweating, all churned up,

and you’re wondering, what will the priest think? 

I’m thinking, this is a really good day! God just made my week!

That’s joy for me; that’s joy for you!