So last week I asked you to begin thinking about the pains, sorrows, and hurts – that have broken your heart. I have invited you to generically write them on the hearts in the gathering space and leave them in the box – so we can begin to invite Christ healing power into them through our prayer.
So what is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?
I think that’s a tough question --NOT because we can’t remember –because unfortunately it is the bad things in our lives that we tend to hold onto – they are hard to forget.
No, I think it’s a tough question because in calling that person or event or situation to mind – it can just be painful to think about – we can be re-victimized in rehashing it – it can bring back feelings of embarrassment or fear or dread or despair ---- so we usually choose not to think about it --- so we stuff it down deep within our hearts and minds.
But we have to name it – in order to heal it. Otherwise it just sits there and festers. We must first diagnose before we treat. . .
So, what’s the worst thing that has ever happened in your life??
For ancient people, those who lived in Old Testament times -- their WORST experience was sometimes a famine or some kind of natural disaster.
Sometimes it was a plague or disease that struck their cities and killed their loved ones.
But more often than not, the WORST thing to happen to people was at the hands of others, through some sort of aggression – which is still the case for many of us today.
The Jewish people were no exception. In the time of Jesus the aggression was by the Romans occupying their homeland.
Very early in their history there was their bondage of the Jews in Egypt.
Later, there was their two-generation exile in Babylonia.
And sandwiched right in-between these last two was a terrible event in the life of the Jewish people – an event hinted at in both the First reading and the Gospel – it was the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC.
As you probably know, if by no other way than Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream coat ---- the Jewish people were organized into twelve tribes – named for each of the 12 children of Jacob.
Each tribe had its own territory – and when the Assyrians stormed into Palestine – they essentially wiped out the ten tribes in the northern kingdom – which we often times refer to as the “lost” tribes of Israel.
It’s easy to see how this would have impacted those two tribes who remained in the south, in what was called the kingdom of Judah – just imagine how we would feel if over forty of the United States no longer existed – except as the possessions of a foreign country. . .
And so when the prophet Isaiah mentions two of the conquered tribes in his writing today: Zebulun and Naphtali --- it would have immediately struck a painful chord in the hearts of his listeners.
It would have resurfaced all those pains and hurts that had been stuffed down deep within the consciousness of the Jews.
Put simply, this was a really bad time for Israel as a nation. Their very survival was in question.
And so what does the Prophet Isaiah say to them? Did he ask them just to stew in their gloom and doom? Did he talk about the horror of it all and what a terrible, unforgettable experience it was??
NO – Isaiah says:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. . . You, God, have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing.”
The people Isaiah was speaking to would probably have thought “what the heck is he talking about??” Because for them it was all darkness, it was all sadness, grief and fear. . . and there was no light on any horizon for them.
Their world seemed to be coming completely undone.
So what did Isaiah see that they did not see?
What exactly was this “great light” they were supposed to place their hope in? And why this call to optimism?
Again – think about what is the worst thing that’s ever happened in your life? In the life of this parish? Within the Church? Was there, or is there still – no light on the horizon??
Of course, we look back with a certain kind of focused hindsight, and we see in the words of Isaiah a prediction of the birth of Jesus Christ – a distant glimmer of hope being placed in the hearts of the Jewish people that one day things would get better.
One day they would thrive again.
One day someone would come who would make everything right, someone who would save them from all who wanted to do them harm,
someone who would come and restore them as a people called by God to be holy. Someone to heal their broken hearts. . .
And of course we have confirmation of this through the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel in which he invokes this very passage of Isaiah to refer to himself: “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death – light has arisen.”
And although we like to think about this prophecy in a strictly historical context – it’s important to remember that this “great light” –
the person of Jesus – does NOT only dispel the darkness of this world in a general sense,
or only brought light into the world at the time he lived ---- but also Christ has the power to dispel the darkness in every human heart and every human life: Christ has the power to dispel the sorrow, the pain, the disappointments, the fears, the despair ---- of all people, at all times, and in all circumstances: the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light!!!
“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark – you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off the train. You sit still – and trust the engineer.”
And so what is the worst thing that has ever happened in your life – in the life of this parish – within the Church??
Whatever it is or was – it isn’t the end of the story – no matter how painful it may be or may have been – God can always bring something new out of our toughest times.
Even the deepest darkness will ultimately disappear in the face of the love of God, the saving acts of the Son, and the transforming power of the Spirit. God’s love is just that strong.
And so let’s be determined to come out of the other side of the dark tunnel – and let the light of Christ shine upon us – shine upon our parish – upon our Church – and upon our world: so we can be the evangelists God is calling us to be!
From the very moment John the Baptist met Jesus – when a pregnant Mary came to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, John leapt in his mother’s womb with joy – because he knew who Jesus was.
And probably much like our own families – these two cousins, only 6 months a part in age – most likely spent some time together as they both grew in wisdom, age and favor before God.
John the Baptist was of course present at Jesus’ Baptism – as we heard last weekend. So no doubt, John heard the voice which came down from heaven: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”
All these experiences gave John the Baptist the confidence he needed to boldly proclaim today: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”
John the Baptist’s whole life – was spent recognizing who Jesus was – and long before any of the Gospels were written – John was the perfect evangelist: pointing others to Jesus Christ.
Now my mother always told me, as I am sure many of your mother’s told you – it is impolite to point at other people in public.
The only exception to that maternal wisdom, I think -- is if we are pointing at Jesus – as did John the Baptist. By our words and by our actions – we should always be good evangelists: pointing others to Jesus.
Certainly not an easy thing to do. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. And sometimes, many times really – it is hard for us to be the evangelists we are called to be – because of the pain and hurt we have suffered in our lives – sometimes at the hand of the very ones we are called to trust – and who should love us the most – family members, clergy, and friends – who abused us by their words and actions --- and did not set a very good example for us to follow.
God knows – that the Church and its leaders have done some terrible things over the years – that have let us down, and who have darn near extinguished the light of Christ we carry within us – and so haven’t made us enthusiastic to do what we are called to do --- which is carrying the Good News of the Gospel to others. . .
You know how I love to read and I enjoy collecting quotes from things I read – because you never know when you’re going to have to say something profound. I recently came across this quote from the Dutch author, Corrie ten Boom:
“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark – you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off. You sit still -- and trust the engineer.”
This coming from a woman who saw the darkest days in the Netherlands during WWII – who saved many Jews from the Holocaust – and then paid the price by spending several years in Ravensbruck concentration camp.
“When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark – you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off. You sit still – and trust the engineer.”
Within the Church in general – and at St. Patrick in particular – and perhaps because of circumstances in our own lives --- we have been in a dark tunnel – but as we continue to trust the engineer --- Christ --- whose Church this is after all – it’s time to make our plans for the other side of the tunnel ---
to place ourselves back into the bright light of Christ – to be proud of who we are as Catholics and as the faith community of St. Patrick.
In his vision for the Diocese, Bishop Johnston, described us as One family, who must be restored in Christ – so that we can be equipped for mission.
To be equipped for mission – to be the John the Baptists –the evangelizers we are called to be – pointing to Jesus by our words and actions – we must first be healed and restored in Jesus Christ.
This fall, on October 24 – Bishop Johnston will be here to celebrate a Mass marking our 25th anniversary of being in this Church building.
For some of you – that might be hard to believe – 25 years being in this Church – I was here for the dedication all those years ago . . .
I want that celebration in October to mark for all of us – the time that we come out of our dark tunnel --- it doesn’t mean that we forget the past and all we have been through – and some wounds may never be healed – I will always cringe at the name of Bishop Finn ---- but it can mean that we will no longer let the past determine who we are. From that point on, let’s claim that we are fully in the light of Christ –
and we only look forward to a future full of hope: so that we can be a light to the nations so that Christ’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
Between now and then – and in particular during the season of Lent – as individuals and as one family of faith of St. Patrick – we must first be healed and restored in Jesus Christ.
I think the most effective way to deal with pain, and hurt, and wounds --- is to name them. We must first diagnose before we treat. By naming our wounds, our hurts, our pain, those things which have broken our hearts -- we claim them – and then we have power over them to call Christ’s healing upon them.
Over the next few weeks – between now and the beginning of Lent actually, there will be tables in the gathering space with these broken hearts on them –
Take some time to write on them what has broken your heart – your wounds, your hurts, your pains. And leave them in the box. Don’t get to specific with names – keep them generis enough – so that we can use some of them for the prayers of the faithful – inviting Christ’s healing power upon them.
Also, the ever capable Fr. Joe Nassal – will be here on March 25 & 26 for a parish mission – and I want to provide him with the list of things that our laying heavy on our hearts – so he can fine-tune his mission toward some of them –
helping us to come out of the darkness into the wonderful light of Christ.
And now just a short memo from our Advent friend: Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God – to the Church of St. Patrick: to you who have been sanctified in Christ – called to be holy – grace to you and peace.
Those who have walked in darkness, have seen a great light. . . And so I challenge you to deal with your pain, and hurt, and wounds – by naming them. And then inviting Christ’s healing power upon them.
You have been in the darkness of a tunnel – and I am sorry you have had to deal with so many things that have hurt you ---
but don’t throw away your ticket and jump off the train or out of the Church – sit still – and trust the engineer – Jesus Christ – whose Church it is after all. . AMEN!
Deacons Jim Koger and Mike Lewis preached: No homily to post.
Billions of them dance across the night sky – like diamonds in the darkness, little points of light against a sea of endless black.
Stars have shone for ages and ages and ages – lending their glow to the night sky for millions of years.
Venture outside the city sometime, way far away from the street lights and neon signs shining in strip malls, parking lots, and in front of box stores.
Get away from all that can pollute the urban or suburban sky – and look up. Gaze in wonder.
Those stars will be there shimmering and glimmering whether you look at them or not – as if they have been freshly hurled across the dark expanse by the hand of God Himself – which of course they were.
Stars, billions of them, dance across the night sky. Most of them are nameless, few of them ever noteworthy on their own.
In the history of the universe, one star outshines the rest. That star made a statement. That was the star that heralded hope for all who would ever gaze heavenward again.
Perhaps it began as an ordinary star and grew brighter and brighter until all others seemed dim.
Or perhaps it burst against an ebony backdrop like a singular bottle rocket on a 4th of July night.
Whatever the case, it hung like God’s favorite ornament in the sky that night and it commanded the attention of the mere mortals below.
I could write the story myself, in my own words, but I could never express it as dignified and grandly as St. Matthew did in the Gospel that bears his name:
“…. And behold, the star which they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.”
This star called the wise men, the kings, the magi – whatever we choose to call them – to worship and caused them to rejoice. But it was nothing more than a light for their pilgrim path. It was not the object of their worship: it simply pointed the way. And when it stopped, when at last it stood still in the sky, they knew they had arrived at their destination and their journey had ended.
But it had really just begun.
There in the stable under the star, those wise men: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar as they are traditionally called – first laid eyes on holy flesh. They encountered God on earth. They must have known in their hearts the magnitude of the moment.
When they entered the place where the little Boy lay, they fell down and worshipped Him.
I wonder how long it took for them to compose themselves in the presence of such greatness, even though His majesty was small enough to hold in their hands?
The radiant star they had followed as they traveled to see Him must have vanished from their memories when they looked into the tiny face in the manager. In fact, in this story of the Savior’s birth, there really is only one STAR: and his name is Jesus: God from God and light from light.
I believe He is the Star of the great drama called history.
I believe that, without Him, life is missing its focal point – and our lives would be missing a center.
Without Him, the paths we travel on during our years here on earth would be rocky and slippery, our days dark and empty.
He is not only the One we worship: He is the One we follow. He is the only One we can trust to lead us, the only One worth walking behind.
Many of us have walked behind this Star for years, following Him day by day on the most adventurous and amazing journey.
Hopefully during the Advent and Christmas season, you have re-experience His presence – and re-ignited the flame He has placed within your heart.
And hopefully in the midst of the hustle and bustle that we call life – when nothing seems to be going right and you have lost your way --- you won’t forget to look up from time to time –
and re-center yourself--- by following --- the Star: Jesus Christ who is God from God, and light from light.