Where are my Harry Potter fans?? I know there has to be a few of you out here. . .
What’s the name of Professor Dumbledor’s pet bird? [Fawkes]
And does anybody know what kind of bird Fawkes is?? [Phoenix]
And does anyone know anything about a Phoenix??
The Egyptians, Greeks, and not surprisingly – the Phoenicians – all had a legend about the Phoenix. It was a bird who – once every 100 years or so, would set itself on fire by the light of the rising sun. And out of the ashes of the old bird – a new one would be born.
So the legend or the myth of the Phoenix – is about death and rebirth --- about putting to death the old – so that the new can spring forth. . .
Does that sound familiar??
Because this is the process or the methodology or the spirituality the Church gives us every year in this season of Lent.
Lent is a time to put to death the old – the old sins, the old ways of doing things, the old ways of selfishness, self-centeredness, avoidance and old ways of being --- so that the new can spring forth.
A new life centered on Christ, a new life centered on the values of the kingdom and not the ways of the world. A new way of acting, being and doing.
Lent is the time when we examine our lives and our motives to see how we are walking in darkness and need to step out into the bright light of Jesus Christ.
Now I am sure the death and rebirth of the Phoenix was not without its pain and suffering –and neither will our process of rebirth during Lent be without those things – because CHANGE is hard – and that’s why we avoid it and put it off. . .
But as disciples of Jesus Christ – we are called during Lent to change – through our prayer, our fasting and our almsgiving – to change more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.
So today – as the ashes are placed on our foreheads – let’s think about all the ways we need to change – to think about all those bad habits, all those old ways of thinking and doing, the darkness of sin – that all need to end --- so that new, life-giving ways of thinking, acting, and doing can take place. So that we can come out of the dark tunnels of our lives – into the radiant light of Jesus Christ.
Are we willing to do this?? Are we willing to die with Christ in order to rise anew with him??
And that will be the question asked as the ashes in the form of a cross are placed on your forehead:
Are you willing to die with Christ in order to rise anew with him?
And hopefully, your answer will be yes. . .
Yes -- we are willing – to rise again from ashes, from the good we’ve failed to do?
We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves a new.
If all our world is ashes, then must our lives be true.
An offering of ashes – an offering to you.
It is said that in response to this Scriptural quote: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” – Mahatma Gandhi responded: “that only makes the whole world blind.”
This great promoter of non-violence was only saying that if we keep punishing those we deem cruel-- and worthy of our scorn and disdain --- then we’re no better off than they are. . .
“But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.”
See if any of this sounds familiar:
I will be NICE to him---- when he is nice to me.
I will TRUST her---- IF she proves she can be trusted.
I will GIVE money to him --- IF I know he won’t go off and waste it.
I will FORGIVE her--- only IF she promises to NEVER to do it again.
I’ll do WHAT HE WANTS-- IF he does what I want.
I’ll STOP CALLING HER NAMES --- when she stops calling me names.
I’ll LOVE him when he starts loving me.
Now -- I would like to say that NONE of that sounds familiar to me – but I would be lying! Many of these statements sound a lot like me.
Oh – I would never say them out loud – and most of the time I would deny even thinking them --- but if I am being totally honest – if I am taking a sincere look at my actions and motives --- then I have to say this list certainly reflects my thinking, and more times than I care to admit --- reflects my actions.
I wish I could say that I NEVER act out of self-interest, never act a certain way based on how others treat me, or think of me – but I can’t. And my gut tells me that not many of us CAN.
A couple of weeks ago, we dealt with the question of what was the worst thing that has ever happened to you in your life???
Let’s change that up a bit this week and ask -- what is the worst thing you have ever done – or continue to do – to other people??
I think most of us would immediately start reflecting on some of the really big stuff – lying, cheating, stealing, slander, broken promises and broken vows ---- but how many of us would consider such things as: I will be nice to him if he is nice to me. I will forgive her only if she promises to NEVER do that again. . .
Most of us probably think all of those things belong in the category of “NO BIG DEAL.”
“But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.”
I often wonder if nearly all of us think the greatest harm we do to others – are through those big, dramatic sorts of things ---- and in avoiding the big things, we think we are basically living a pretty good life. . .
But what if it is not ONLY the big things – but also the little things that we continue to do over and over and over again – that also determines whether or not we are living a pretty good life??? Because little things – and the accumulated effect of those little things on us and those around us – do matter.
All those little things we do and say every day, every little minor decision we make to say something or to do something because it works for us –
with no thought about how those words or actions affect others – I think are a big part of what we call morality – but most times we don’t even think about them, much less feel sorry for them, much less confess them as sins.
Put simply – what would happen if each and every person only acted out of love & compassion & understanding & mercy & generosity?? Would not the world be a better place? What if people never felt the need to “get back” at someone or punish someone or “use” someone for their own benefit? Could we not change the world?
And maybe that’s too broad of a question – after all – we can’t control what other people say and do. So instead maybe the question needs to be: what would happen if I acted this way all the time – if I acted with compassion and understanding and mercy and generosity – in both big and small matters. . . we could, I think make a bigger difference in our little part of the world -- than we could ever imagine.
Jesus did not tell his disciples, which includes all of us: to offer no resistance to evil – or to love our enemies – or to turn the other cheek – or to go the extra mile --- BECAUSE ANY OF THESE THINGS ARE EASY!!
No, Jesus knew making these choices are hard. In fact, choosing a life of love – with no retribution – refusing to return evil for evil: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth --- cost Jesus his life.
And he asks us, his disciples, to choose the same path – Jesus asks us to follow his example, challenges us to make choices based – only --- on love.
What Jesus knew, and what we often fail to grasp – is the power in that way of living. Love is not a weakness – but a strength – and it is the surest sign of God at work in us and through us.
Jesus embraced a life of love – and he saved the world. And if we choose the same – we can change the world – one person at a time.
I was on vacation February 8 & 9.
Deacon Mike Lewis and Jim Koger preached on February 15 & 16.
So no homilies to post for these two weekends
They met in the temple: Mary and Joseph, Anna, Simeon – and Jesus. What brought them to that place of meeting? What brings us to our temple – this place where God resides?
Mary and Joseph came in obedience to the Jewish law, to present Jesus to God and offer a sacrifice according to what was written in the law.
Behind the legalities, however, there was longing: a search and need for light in their lives.
Anna never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. Her intent, however, was not about a rule of life or asceticism – it is about longing: a search and need for light in her life.
Simeon was guided by the Spirit. He was righteous, devout, and looking for the consolation of Israel. But it was more than piety that took him to the temple. . . You guessed it: it was longing: a search a need for light in his life.
And Jesus is brought to the temple, not as a passive baby – and not just to fulfill a rule or regulation – but as the embodiment of God’s longing for humanity: Jesus came as a light to the nations so those who walked in darkness would not have to stay stuck there – but could walk in light – and so we sing: Christ our light!
As a mother tenderly gathers her children God, you embraced a people as your own and filled them with longing: for a peace that would last and for a justice that would never fail. . .
Today’s feast of the Presentation is a sign that the longing has been fulfilled. This feast reveals the fulfillment of the longing between humanity and divinity.
Our deepest longings are to know and to be known. And those longings can only fully be fulfilled in our relationship with God. And with God’s Son, Jesus Christ – who is light from light, true God from true God.
This deep kind of knowing and being known – are matters of the heart – not the intellect. It is about the union between humanity and divinity that sets us free, the oneness that allows us to depart this place, our Temple, in peace --- walking in the light of Christ --- and it’s about the relationship that brings us salvation.
For this type of relationship to happen we must live with and offer the fragileness, vulnerability, and joy of an open and longing heart. A heart which is free from sin and safe from all distress. A heart that is free from all those things we stuff down in them and don’t want to name, much less deal with.
Our hearts are the temples of meeting --- the place where today we find Mary and Joseph, Anna, Simeon, and Jesus. Longing for that peace that would last and for that justice that would never fail. Longing for the light of Jesus Christ.
Longing is not an absence or an emptiness waiting to be filled. Longing is a presence and fullness waiting to be expressed – waiting to be manifested – waiting to be shown, shared, and experienced.
Two people don’t long for each other just because they apart. They long for each other because they are in love.
We are all too quick sometimes to quench our deepest longings and satisfy our deepest desires by anything that comes along. That type of satisfaction never takes us to the Temple – to our heart -- the place of meeting. But keeps life superficial and us moving from one fix to another.
Real longing and its fulfillment – if trusted and followed --- always takes us to the temple, and there we discover that Christ is already in our presence – we just have to open our eyes and our hearts in faith to realize it.
Through countless generations your people, God, hungered for the bread of freedom. From them you raised up Jesus, the living bread, in whom ancient hungers were and are satisfied. Who comes to us today, in this Temple, in this place of meeting – to fill our hearts and lives with his light and love.
May we open our hearts and find him. As we sing: Christ our light!
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.
My name is Simon –and I grew up in Bethlehem. You know who I am – but you won’t realize this until after I finish telling you my story.
Life was hard for me as a boy – you see, I was disfigured from birth – I had a crooked back and could not stand up straight and tall – and so many in Bethlehem, especially other boys my own age – shunned me because of my repulsive looks- you know how cruel people can be. . .
More often than not –when I asked for alms or help --- I received blows and curses instead.
I never knew my father – and when my mother died two years ago – I lost my one and only friend.
So I was all alone – no home, no friends, no means of support – I just wandered the streets of this little town of Bethlehem – hoping to find my next meal in the piles of trash left in the back alleys.
Once or twice a week, when evening rolled around, I would make my way out to a little inn at the outskirts of town. The cook there would often let me sit by the fire pit as he prepared the meals for the guests in the inn.
Oh -- To sit in the glow of the heat from the charcoal cooking fire, to smell the delicious odors of the roasting meat, these were the finest experiences I knew --- and when I was given the scraps of bones and fat discarded by the guests at the inn –
I felt like I was at a great banquet as this was the most nourishing food I had all week.
Later, I would slip into the stable built into the hillside behind the inn. There were found a cow and donkey belonging to the innkeeper, as well as the horses of the more affluent travelers.
Also, in a little stall at one end, were kept a few sheep – where I slept. The sheep were gentle beasts, and their soft, wooly sides were a fine protection against the chill of the night, allowing me to fall fast asleep.
Late one night, I was awakened by a commotion the likes of which I had never heard before. I lay there for the longest time –
terrified that the sounds might be made by robbers attempting to steal a horse or a cow – or maybe even a sheep!
But at last within the very stable walls, I heard the joyful cry of a small baby! At hearing this, I could not contain myself any longer: I rose to my knees, and peered between the boards which separated the sheep pen from the rest of the stable. I gazed in amazement on the scene – and had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. . .
Seated upon a robe atop a pile of hay -- a mother held an obviously newborn baby in her lap.
Gathered before her in attitudes of worship were a small group of shepherds --- seeing all of this --- I just had to get a better look!!
Almost without willing it, I climbed over the boards of the stall – thoroughly expecting to be driven from the stable with blows and curses – because that’s what I was used to getting. . .
But instead, a roughly dressed man – he must have been the baby’s father – took my hand and led me toward the child. The shepherds moved aside to let me pass – as though I was a prince or person of great importance.
So, I found myself kneeling before this newborn child. And then his mother turned the child in her arms so his gaze rested squarely upon me.
I knelt there trembling in nervous fear and awe. The child’s dark eyes were looking right at me - -and without knowing why – I felt compelled to return his gaze.
I then felt like I was drowning – or falling into a bottomless pit of that fathomless gaze. There was a feeling of fiery force which seemed to flow through my body, and then I turned and twisted in a way I could not understand. There was a moment of almost unbearable pain, and then I rose to my feet.
For moment, I could not understand what had happened: things looked so different!! And then it came to me that I had never before looked upon the world from this height, or from this angle – because my back was straight and I had never felt so strong or more ------ normal.
The father of the child came suddenly to lay a hand upon my head. “My son”, he said, “tonight you have been given the gift of a strong, new back. Such miracles are not wasted. I do not know how, but someday, when this baby has become a man, he will have need of a strong back. When the times comes, though you have roamed to the very end of the earth, you will be there beside him. . . By what name are you called, and where have you come from?”
“I am Simon, Sir,” I answered. “I am an orphan. My father was the leader of a mighty caravan. But he was killed by robbers in the year I was born. He used to live in Cyrene, before he came to Bethlehem and met my mother. Now that I am whole and strong - -I think I will go there. Perhaps some of my father’s people are living there still.” So saying, I turned away, and went out into the first light of morning.
All of these memories came crashing back to me as I was caught up in a great crowd many years later on the streets of Jerusalem. It was the feast of Passover and the streets were crowded with many pilgrims – and there was an execution in process by those dreaded Romans.
One of them grabbed me and had me pick up the cross of one of those about to be executed. . .
This time a man’s dark eyes, rather than a child’s, were looking right at me. And once again I felt as if I were falling into a bottomless pit of his fathomless gaze.
He simply mouthed the words “Thank You” as I took up his cross on my strong, straight, back – and remembered how this man, as a newborn child, blessed me with it.
I am Simon of Cyrene – and this is my story. But what does it have to do with you???
Well let’s face it – each of you have been given gifts and talents by God:
strong backs, strong minds, strong hands, strong hearts – Why you even celebrate the gift you have of each other ---- by exchanging gifts on this most holy of days --- all to show your love for one another.
As someone once said: Christmas is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give – it’s Christmas. When we give any gift: our time, our talent, our treasure, our strength – or just a smile: it is Christmas.
Just know that gifts are given not to be wasted – but to be shared. In this way, it’s possible to have Christmas all year round! And someday –we don’t know when, where, how or why ---
God is going to want us to use our gifts for the good of the kingdom . . . So cherish the gifts in life you have been given – and never forget who it was who gave them to you: the same person wo gave me the gift of a strong new back!
Use your gifts to take care of those around you – and be willing to offer them in service to others.
So have a blest Christmas – and welcome, anew, the gift of Christ into your hearts and lives this day!
Live with gratitude. Live with intention. Live with joy. So please join me in singing:
O come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him --- Christ, the Lord.