Needed Knowledge to Live Gracefully

Christ wants to make us fishers of men, but the problem with evangelization is that plenty of people think it’s bad…or at least optional.

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I heard this story once about this visiting priest from one of the poorer parts of Africa and he was on a float trip on the Meramec or one of the other rivers in Missouri.  Anyway they had along with them some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  So at the end of the trip there was one PBJ that had probably been sat on at one point and was kind of mangled in its little ziplock bag, and one of the floaters took that bag and twisted it up and crammed it into a pringles container and threw it away.  It was trash.  This African priest went over to the trash pulled out the pringles can, pulled out the ziplock bag and quickly ate the sandwich.  When somebody looked at him a little shocked, he explained quite simply: “Where I come from this would be a nice meal.” Image result for smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich

We just don’t always know the value of things.  Not knowing something is called ignorance and often times it is innocent enough.  Actually, we all start off ignorant of everything that we know today.  We had to learn bit by bit, sometimes at great cost to amass our knowledge.  What is the greatest ignorance?  The greatest ignorance we are born into is an ignorance of who God is and how much He loves us.  In other words, we are tempted to think of ourselves or to think of others as unimportant.  The significance of human life at some point – whether it’s our life or that of somebody else seems disposable.  As soon as it is inconvenient you could just roll it up into a ball like that PBJ sandwich and toss it…or at the very least ignore it.  Those people – not worth our time considering.  The truth is far different.  The truth is in our Psalm.  “All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O Lord.”  We are these kings and queens.  What do you call the son of a king?  King.  And we are all living Christianity to the extent that we have the life of the Great King’s Son in us.  The Psalmist wants to awaken all of the lines of this royal family and get them to praise God.  This is important knowledge that all people should know and that we should want them to know.

Ignorance by itself is not actually bad.  The danger of course is that we just get distracted and turn our attention to finding much less life-giving answers.    Strangely, the first step to spreading the good Word is to acknowledge that we could use more of the good Word ourselves and to go looking.

So, if the ignorance of Good News is the first step…knowledge of the Good News is the second step.  We are called to be a part of God’s royal family.  But that would be a really short Bible.  Isn’t there more Good News?  God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  And if we go one verse further: God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (Jn 3:16-17)  This is the most beautiful message that anyone has ever and could ever proclaim.  That Jesus Christ has come to save us and more than that – the whole believing world from the fires of condemnation and to bring us to eternal life.  We go from the worst situation imaginable to the best in two sentences. Image result for maytag repairman

In that Gospel for Jesus to be our Savior, than a lot of will find ourselves unemployed because we lose that job.  If He is our savior, then we are not our Savior.   What’s more – we are sinners in need of a savior.  Jesus Christ is not the famous Maytag repairmen.  Do you remember those commercials of the kind old Maytag repairmen who you never have to call because your appliances will magically never break down?  We are broken from the start.  So, to spread the Gospel we have to admit our ignorance to receive knowledge of God and of our own value and we have to admit we are sinners to receive a Savior.

Consider our first reading: Before God, Isaiah realizes that he himself has lips that are unclean.  He’s used them in an ungodly way.  And he’s from an entire people that has gone astray in their speech and how they speak of God.  Could we say the same thing?  Peter in the Gospel: Depart from me Jesus, I am a sinful man.  It’s not just my lips – it’s my life.  You can do better than start here.  I’m not worthy.  St. Paul: my spiritual birth was abnormal – the least of the apostles….not fit to be called an apostle….I persecuted the Church….only by His grace I am what I am.  That’s the key.  We should know that we were made good.  We should know of sin.  We should know of His grace. Image result for isaiah purged lips

We pass this on most effectively by then living in God’s grace.  Isaiah is purged of sin and he shouts out, “Send me.”  I will take the message.  Peter is not rejected by Jesus, but called to witness His glory and to have his whole life transformed and to share the power of Christ as the first pope.  Paul gets inside the very Spirit of God and shares with us how we are all connected.  Connected to this One Jesus Christ who sends us out to awaken others to grace.

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Believe in Love

Image result for thomas aquinas pigs flyingSt. Thomas Aquinas was always a quiet person.  In fact he was so quiet as a young Dominican that teachers and classmates thought that he was a dunce.  One day one of the other Dominicans decided to make a fool of St. Thomas by telling him that there was a pig flying outside the classroom window.  Thomas jumped up to see the spectacle and when the others began laughing and his fellow student chided him, “Did you really think you’d see a flying pig?”  Thomas said in reply, “I’d believe that flying pigs exist before I would believe that my own brother would lie to me.”

What do we believe?  What we believe and how we act on that belief is a choice.  Thomas chose to believe in a miracle and a rather strange miracle at that, over believing that his brother was a liar…even though he was.  While Thomas was wrong, he proved a point.  The cost was small: people laughed at him.  And he was willing to pay it rather than live in a world where he assumed people were at their worst.  Image result for jesus reading scroll

Speaking of taking people at their worst, I have often wondered about the Gospel last week and this week.  They are the two halves of the same story, but I used to get a little annoyed.  Why aren’t they just together?  People seem to get snookered when we only consider the first half.  Jesus goes to the Synagogue and everyone calmly listens in amazement to Jesus proclaiming that the words of the particular prophecy of Isaiah about freeing the captives and giving sight to the blind is now fulfilled in their hearing.  Ahh…And then we have this week where Jesus in still in the same synagogue with the same people, but the people are at their worst.  Jesus prophecies about their thoughts and actions.  They will not like him for He (just like Elijah and Elisha) is not here to work miracles for them.   In response they rush at him and take Him outside to stone Him or as they lead Him all the way to the brow of their hill…to cast Him down.  They interpret His words without any faith, hope, or love and now thinking evil about Him fulfill His prophecy in this dark way for themselves.  Nonetheless we divide this story into last week’s extremely mellow reading and this week’s reading where people attempt to kill Jesus.  I think it is out of mercy (and it’s a bit of a warning).  We at least get to recognize that last week, Jesus did receive their attention and their affection at first.  He was not hated automatically where He had grown up.  The warning is simple: we are potentially just like these people – happy with Him so long as we think He is going to do what we want, and then confused and angry if things don’t go like we expect. Image result for hebrews slaves egypt

We are prophetic.  Every one of us.  The people of Nazareth however enter into what we could call self-fulfilling prophecy.  We often get into these when we live out of fear.  For example, the Egyptians of the Old Testament when they saw that the Hebrew people were increasing in size and strength, they famously said “Come let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war befall us, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”   So, out of fear the Egyptians make the Hebrews into the lowest of slaves.  In doing this they bring about their own fears: of course the Hebrews now will have no love for the Egyptians and sure enough the very thing that the Egyptians were afraid of (the escape of the Hebrews) is exactly what the Hebrews cannot wait to do and eventually accomplish.  We develop a fear and it shades how we think things will transpire, and through forgetfulness of God – our fears often turn us to sin and the very thing that we were afraid would happen comes to place.

Image result for moses basket nile    On the other hand we can be prophetic through living out the message of love for others that Jesus teaches us.  He has already said that if we are poor in spirit – we are blessed.  If we are meek – we will inherit the world.  If we thirst for righteousness – we will be satisfied.  If we put our hope in these prophetic statements of Jesus and most significantly in His cross through which He teaches us that if we give even our lives for love of the Father, then we will rise again victorious.  We can choose to believe these prophecies and become a part of them.  In other words we live as Christians when we trust in God during our daily struggles and allow Him to fulfill His promises to us.              Consider the mother of Moses.  She believed in God’s love for her and so she put her child into a basket and she gave her child right into the same Nile River that was supposed to drown him.  Not only does her realization that she cannot take on everything by herself help her to actually save Moses by the very same river that was supposed to be his tomb, but it is Pharaoh’s daughter who lovingly draws him out so that he might be treated as royalty….and then Pharaoh’s daughter asks Miriam, the sister of Moses to find a Hebrew woman to nurse him.  Providence comes full circle when Moses’ mother is back nursing her own child that very day and even paid by Pharaoh’s daughter to do so.  No, Moses’ mother did not proclaim prophecy to a king, but her actions show that she lived believing in a conviction that love would triumph.  That’s living according to the truth of God’s love.   Image result for moses basket nile

If these Nazarenes had been a little more patient, they would have discovered Jesus’ love for them.  If they could have put aside their envy of the people that had received Christ’s miracles, they would have had hearts able to receive Jesus as their brother and their Savior.  If our hearts have any of the bitterness of Nazareth…if we look towards God simply as a means to an end…let us repent and start over.  We have the capacity to fulfill our own negative outlook by pushing always for our own designs, but thanks be to God we are beginning another week…and the next chapter in our story doesn’t have to get darker.  We can choose to see Christ as our Savior who is ultimately the answer to our deepest longing.

The Word Who Would Be Incarnate

Image result for the kid who would be kingSo in the spirit of the Great 80’s movies like Goonies and Iron Eagle….there’s a new film out, “The Kid who would be King.”  You’ve got this 12 year old British boy, Alex, who stumbles across Excalibur, and not only does he have to fight off his bullies, but he has to win them over.  Then you’ve got a witch queen with an army of devil knights on horseback.  Alex shows true leadership in convincing people that to fight evil in a dark world doesn’t require that we descend from nobility by birth, but that we live according to a code of courage and loyalty.  The most entertaining character is of course, Merlin who does actually appear from the past tying the whole story together.  My favorite scene perhaps is when the kids stumble into him working at a fast food fried chicken joint.  They go up to his apartment with all of this fried chicken and soda and start chowing down.  He explains that the old potions that gave him his energy required beaver urine, beetle blood and ground animal bones.  He was afraid that he wouldn’t find these items in the 21st century, but was ecstatic that between the chicken nuggets and the soda he had found all three with a much more invigorating taste!! In other words what was there in the past can still be found today for those who look.

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Throughout this movie, Alex the main character, constantly references a book of the Legend of King Arthur.  And throughout the story, there are parallels with his own situation.  Now, if you’ve ever tried to read Scripture you know that this actually happens.  You see in your life God’s word mirrored in your life or you see some of your own struggles mirrored in the Bible.  In our first reading we see an example of why we sometimes shy away from Scripture.  Our lives don’t always mirror the Word of the Bible like we want them to.  You see the Jews have returned from exile.  They are working to rebuild and Ezra reads the Law to them.  They had no doubt heard stories from their ancestors, but not a full reading of the Law.  They hadn’t tried to ignore it, but they had been slaves and never had the opportunity.  How many of us have missed some teaching of Scripture or the Church?  We might be nervous to read very far – afraid that we will find out that we have failed in some way.  Sure enough the Jews start to cry.  Many of them were in unlawful marriages which would have to be sorted out.  Nonetheless, Ezra knew it was good for them to hear it because there is a great goodness in knowing God expects much of us only because He loves us as His children.  The Law shows us how good God knows we can be.  Think about it….you don’t teach your dog all of the things you teach your child.  Your dog is not capable of receiving all of your wisdom, but you teach your child all of those things on your heart most important about how to live – the law that you pass on is to open them to a wider potential.  Ezra finishes by telling us to rejoice in the Lord – if we keep hoping in God – even though we fail to live the Law, it is good to know He loves us enough to share it….something good is going to happen.Image result for ezra reading

Then we get this second reading.  We stumble in living the Law, but Jesus gives us His Spirit.  We can be forgiven whenever we sin.  We can even begin to see the meaning of the whole thing.  Everything in the Old is still with us in the New, but like chicken nuggets and soda – it goes down a lot easier!  We find out that those people who used to be our enemies like the Greeks and the Romans and the Idumeans – while they are still around, they can become not only allies – but brothers and sisters in Christ.  But now we have not only a new relationship to each other, we are found to all have unique relationships to God joining us together as various parts of the Body.  You are all so valuable to the body.  None of us can say to the other: “I don’t need you.”  If we were to  go missing – who can replace us?  If in this parish you serve as one of our feet – going out to others with the Gospel…who can replace you?  Can the eye who sees down the road?  No, both are vital.  You have an integral place here at Mass.  I am a work in progress.  If I have caused you to feel that your gifts were not needed or unnecessary, I am sorry.  Please know that I value all of you as family.    Image result for jesus in nazareth fulfilled

Today, we have Christ present with us – just like in the Gospel.  The Word of God proclaims liberty to captives and glad tidings to the poor.  We proclaim the power of God to give sight to the blind and a year that is acceptable – that is a period of time – NOW – when we can live in righteousness if we choose to ask for the Holy Spirit.  Now is the year acceptable to the Lord.  We have the great work before us of discerning what gifts we have when we are filled with God’s grace.  How are we assisted by our brothers and sisters?  What gifts do they seem to have?  We are called to collaborate in love.  The power of Christ is not to be isolated to His visible Presence.  Even during His lifetime, Christ gave His power to His apostles and now it is diffused throughout the Body of Christ throughout the ages and to every one of us.  He is coming again, but in the meantime – He has given us a mission not unlike the Kid who would be King.  We have been called to recognize that we are chosen together, but in unique ways.  If we turn away from sin and live in the Holy Spirit, we will find that rejoicing in the Lord will be our Strength.

What Does the New Eve Have to do with Us?

Image result for alaskaSo this pilot and his fisherman passenger fly up into backwoods Alaska to do some fishing.  They took some of their bait and were away for a good part of the day.  In other words, they didn’t think about all of the bait that they had left in the plane.  Meanwhile, a bear had smelled the treats that had been left behind just for him and lo and behold when they returned to the little Cessna, they found it torn up in the horizontal stabilizer, all along the top of the tail end of the fuselage – there were just gaping holes…..But, the propeller, the struts and the wings looked intact.  The pilot gets on the radio and asked another pilot to bring him two new tires, a supply of sheet plastic and three cases of duct tape.  He patched it up and flew home.  That is the power of duct tape.
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I mention this because of our first reading.  It sounds so nice with statements like: You shall be called by a new name…..You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord.  The Lord delights in you and makes you land His spouse….and your builder shall marry you.  But not so fast!  Not right away.  Not before the spiritual duct tape of our Gospel, because the chosen people had been ripped open by sin.  She had giant gashes and could no longer fly on her own.  The Mother of all the living, Eve before she even conceived helped tempt Adam and they both fell.  But rather than throw us all out, God called in the duct tape.

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He started with Mary as our new mother and before she was even conceived protected her and gave her the grace that Eve had thrown out.  Rather than tempt the New Adam, we hear her prompt Jesus to serve others that we all might have new life – not only in heaven – but here on earth.

How do we know that Mary is another Eve?  One of the main ways is this Gospel.  Mary brings up this problem – this lack of wine and because this couple isn’t named – they basically stand for every couple.  Eventually within the context of any marriage, the couple is going to run out of what is naturally providing them with happiness.  And this wine situation is not getting bad – they have no more wine now – whether they realize it or not.  The kicker is in Christ’s response: “Woman, how does your concern affect me?  My hour has not yet come.”  In John’s Gospel, Mary is never called by her name.  She is always called woman – just as the book of Genesis describes Eve for she was taken out of man.  Mary is the New Eve.

This next part may seem even stranger: “How does your concern affect me?”  It is exactly the kind of talk between two individuals where something unforeseen is about to take place.  It lets everybody know that there was a plan and this new concern is not automatically part of the original plan ….Actually there are similar questions throughout the Old Testament.  For example, in 2 Kings, King Jehoshaphat is looking for a divine favor to fight off enemies and comes to Elisha for help.  Elisha asks King Jehoshaphat, “What have I to do with you?” But like Jesus, Elisha acquiesces and despite there being a great drought, he calls on God to provide pools of water on the ground that look like blood to their enemies.  Image result for king jehoshaphatThe confused enemies think they are dead and come in to plunder and caught off guard are roundly defeated.  So, the question “How does your concern affect me?” is followed by this great prophet changing his mind and providing water when the water had run dry.  The parallel here is that Christ will provide not water, but wine – which just when the enemies of family life seem ready to plunder are routed by a second wind – the grace of God who gives new life and energy.  Christ does far better than tape together some old parts to make things work.  He quietly transforms their wedding party into a feast with new wine of the Holy Spirit.  Asking this question reveals that it is at request of the New Eve that Christ is now going to intervene.

My hour has not yet come?  Jesus was here on a mission to save us for eternal life, for the divine wedding at the end of time, but Mary has asked Him and pointed out how He is capable of saving even life here on earth with His grace.  And you know how Mary is called woman – well this term woman shows up again and again.  It is always pointing us towards the Bride of Christ, this Church – but the just who is in this Church?  Well, Mary is at the beginning and she is there at the Cross.  She is holy, spotless, virgin, perfect….but the next “Woman” is the Samaritan woman at the well.  “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father….The Hour is coming and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” Image result for woman at the well There’s that hour again which can now – even now be entered into for worship by sinners.  Next is the woman caught in adultery.  “Woman, has no one condemned you?  Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  Christ will give His life to free us from sin so that we might receive this freedom from sin – that we might carry grace.  The Virgin Mary is the woman at the Cross when Christ says, “Woman behold your son.”  Finally, Mary Magdalene in the Garden of the Tomb is looking for the Body of Jesus.  “Woman why are you weeping?  Whom do you seek?”  She is an example of the Church composed of those forgiven and redeemed for Christ has called sinners to be conformed to the New Eve, to the holiness of Mary and to be built up into His bride.  He has done such a job of exalting the lowly that there is no need to weep.  Even in this life we can already worship Him in Spirit and Truth.

The First Reading does ring true.  We are no longer a people Forsaken.  Our land is not desolate.  God has revealed that we are His delight.  We are espoused and this teaches so much about God.  He does have the strength of the young man full of joy to be married.  He seeks to fill us with the New Life of His grace.  Let us do whatever He tells us.

The Universe Comes Alive

Image result for star trek ivSo, my birthday was yesterday and it may come as no surprise, but I have always been a pretty big nerd.  It wasn’t all my fault!  I was thinking of this because one of my first memories is getting taken to the movies on my birthday in 1986…and my first movie was Star Trek IV.  You can blame my dad.  Well, fastforward to college and think I was a nerd even for an engineer.  You see back when I first had my own computer I downloaded a special screensaver from an organization called “SETI” or the Search for Extra Terrestrial Life.  Basically, there are these massive radio telescopes sending out and receiving data from space in the hope that one day they will find some radio transmissions from another life form.  The problem however is they have way too much data to sift through on their own.  It would take their computers years and years.  So, this organization rigged up a network of computers (which I decided to join) where my computer would access the internet and download a chunk of data from these radio signals, and so when my computer would go to sleep – the program would switch on and analyze the data and periodically send its results back to the SETI central hub.  At the end of day, my computer never found any radio transmissions from aliens….that they told me about.  The universe has remained cold and indifferent to man by all scientific analysis….despite my attempt to help hold up our end of the conversation. Image result for seti

What got me thinking about this were these Magi.  The Magi are such odd people to show up at the manger.  They weren’t aliens from outerspace….but they were aliens from another country – perhaps Persia.  The Magi were likely leftover astrologers from the Babylonian Empire where they had been the right-hand men of King Nebuchadnezzar.  They were looking at the stars every night for hundreds of years.  The name Magi comes from the Persian word “to meditate” and meditate they did….They were shrewd, they were thoughtful, they had seen kings rise and fall and they had seen power overthrowing power overthrowing power giving way to power, blood washing into the sand in a terrible, dull, predictable way…..to the point that it simply mirrored those stars that never missed a movement – always going so predictably and horribly in the same patterns….until one star didn’t.  And they caught it.  This one star that they had seen as it rose was a shock – and it brought the possibility of something new in this world to their minds, because there was finally something new in the stars.  A king must have been born who was so different that they sought Him out in the effort to serve Him. Related image

Happy Feast of the Epiphany.  The word epiphany means manifestation.  In other words, some mystery is now revealed.  Now, when I hear the word mystery I was always think of Sherlock Holmes and when a mystery is only revealed when the story is done.  Mystery revealed means no more mystery.  Don’t worry: when supernatural mysteries are made manifest…when their meanings are made visible – the story is just getting interesting.  In the case of the Epiphany of Jesus Christ, first we have the mystery of a star that will connect us to the deeper mystery of Christ.  It moves in a strange way and stops periodically.  These wise men take this sign as an invitation to follow the star.  In other words the gulf between the vast reaches of the heavens and us is now bridged, because it seems we are no longer alone in the universe.

An epiphany takes a reality that seems separate from us and the light that goes on shows that we are caught up ourselves in that reality — we are a part of that story.  In this case, it’s like that teenage excitement when you find out that someone has a crush on you.

Image result for king herod the great    Here’s my advice: imitate King Herod.  Now, hold on….perhaps you’re thinking, “Didn’t King Herod kill a lot of innocent people – innocent children?” Yes, as a matter of fact he killed one of his wives and three of his own sons.  He was so famously power-hungry and paranoid that Augustus Caesar heard of it and knowing that those in Judah refused to eat pork, he famously remarked that it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son.  Do not imitate Herod’s fear and deceit.  But, Herod is one of the only people who understands that this star and this newborn king are a big deal.  He convenes a council and takes action.  He reacts in completely the wrong way, but at least Herod takes Jesus seriously.

Image result for king herod and scribes       On the other hand, consider those priests that Herod consulted.  They knew the prophecies of the Messiah.  They knew that Bethlehem is where they should be focused when it comes to God’s plan for their future king.  Not one of them go down to check things out.  The world tempts us constantly to treat Jesus with the same indifference.  Christianity is the elephant in the living room.  The media tries its best to cover other things rather than Christ.  We not only let the media do this, we support them.  Here’s a way around the media.  Don’t wait for the secular news to report about Catholic matters…go to ewtnnews.com. Don’t wait for Hollywood to make a good Catholic movie, find a good catholic book.  How many epiphanies about your faith in Christ can you have in 2019?  Seek the truth in the writings of the saints.

Image result for the three wise menThe Magi are the ones to imitate.  They follow this cosmically glorious star for perhaps hundreds of miles and yet when it stops over this backwater hole in the ground stable with the infant looking so poor amid cattle, Mary and Joseph having used the feed-bin for a crib…that they still recognize this child as the King of Kings and they adore Him.  Do we seek to see Christ in the lowly appearance of the Eucharist – and seek Him in the faces of those we have so often taken for granted or written off?  The magi continue to listen to God and go back another way.  Let us leave each encounter from Mass and from each other knowing that we are no longer isolated.  The epiphany is about God’s love for you and for all of our human brothers and sisters – Jew and Gentile alike.  God seeks to love you more than you seek to be loved.  Many others are living in the darkness waiting for the Epiphany that they matter.  Let us be filled with the light that God has for us and for them and help wake them up to Christ.  We are not alone in the universe, and the reality is that God has been searching for us.  Rejoice, for God has invited us into the mystery of His love.

The Bonds of Love

Related imageThe hearts of men have always desired some great cause to follow.  We want to be caught up in the chain of human history and events.  I remember finding this old book on our family shelves.  It was the first book my dad ever bought: an 1890’s copy of “Marion and His Men” from a school library used booksale.  I read it cover to cover as it chronicled the adventures of an American hero, Francis Marion who fought in the French-Indian War, and eventually became a one-star general in the American Revolution.  He was the thorn in the side of the British army down in South Carolina.  Although he never commanded more than about 300 men and sometimes his half-starved unit would be down to about thirty guys – they were constantly putting pressure on British supply lines and harassing the Lobsterbacks.  In other words without a whole lot of links in their own chain, they were able to influence the overall lines of the British.  Once they were sent to capture Fort Watson, but the walls were seemingly unassailable.  For two or three days Marion had his guys off in the woods chopping down trees and building and building.  Then one night they assembled their “siege tower” that loomed above the walls of Fort Watson and enabled just a few enough of Marion’s sharpshooters up high to pin down the British…until they surrendered.  Marion followed the flag and the men followed Marion.Related image

Happy Feast of the Holy Family.  You know the Incarnation and the birth of Christ came to the rescue of a world that had been under siege, and a kingdom that was divided Image result for paratrooper parachutingand He dropped in so far behind enemy lines into ground zero: the human family.  He comes to lead a great rebellion against disorder, a rebellion against pride, a rebellion against rebellion!!   For His revolution is waged by obedience.  Yes, Jesus chose to enter our world, but He does not start out as a general – He starts out on the front lines as a baby.  Obeying not only His mother Mary, but even His adopted father Joseph.

Joseph is an interesting figure and a very valuable recruit in God’s service.  I will spend a bit of time on him because we could say that Joseph in most analysis is the weak link in the Holy Family’s chain.  We honestly don’t know for sure how old he was.  Some suspect that he never talked, as he is always silent in the Bible.  But we do know that he had an intense courage and love.  Before the Fall Adam and Eve reveal God’s design for the family.  The man would fall in love with the woman and in giving of himself, he would get something even better in exchange.  So Adam having fallen asleep gives up a rib, and he gets Eve – something far better in return for his sacrifice.  Notice God doesn’t ask permission to take a rib.  Adam might not have been ready to willingly participate.   Image result for adam asleep God ribToday we celebrate a different family and a different husband.  Joseph loves Mary so much that he loves what is the most profound inner depth of Mary.  But of course, within Mary’s innermost secret of her heart she belongs to God.  Joseph has an interesting choice.  Discovering Mary’s heart united in this way to God, he could have moved on and found someone new.  She is after all consecrated to God and the two of them will never become one flesh.  Joseph was probably aware of the consecration, but it was still news to him that she would become pregnant.  He could have thrown off the angel’s message in disbelief – and been frustrated with both his faith which seemed to deceive him and with Mary who nearly everyone would have certainly doubted.  Instead, Joseph seeing with the eyes of faith that God is still the center of Mary’s heart, and in choosing to love Mary for herself – so completely – and not for what he could have rightfully expected in human love, he consecrates himself to God for in choosing to love and protect her child and the temple of God that she had become, Joseph chooses God.  His faith keeps anyone from knowing that the Christ has entered into the battle and through Joseph, man gives God a childhood.

Image result for joseph receives a dream mary jesusHow can a man do this?  Perhaps because God sustained him through Mary’s admiration.  It is said that a man wants the admiration of his wife even before he wants her love.  And Mary herself is sustained by the love of this man whom she admires.  In contradiction to today’s sense of political correctness, Mary follows Joseph’s lead.  His authority exists for one purpose only: to serve.  Mary obeys.  We see that when God wants the family to move, He gives Joseph a dream.  This happens when God warns Joseph to take the family and flee to Eqypt, so that King Herod does not kill the child.  It happens again when Joseph is told that Herod is dead and it is safe to return to Israel.  Joseph gets up and the family follows – and Joseph uses his authority to protect them all.

Image result for chain      So in this Holy Family, we have Joseph inspired to love and protect Mary and Jesus…Mary, who is inspired by God to love both Jesus and Joseph….and Jesus who is God.  But the unity of the family (and by extension, the unity of the Church family) is not only something external.  Our second reading speaks of the bond of perfection.  In this chain, every link reflects a conscience choice to love.  In other words, Paul talks of this love (that is the Holy Spirit) as a kind of spiritual chain that binds us, but in tying our hearts and souls together we experience a great poverty.  Think of the links of a chain – hopefully they are strong in themselves, but they are always going wherever the link before or after them is going.  Yet, this commitment to the others in the family – this poverty of doing whatever we want to do – makes our love noble.  For if love is not poor, that is if our will wants the other – but also seeks its own self-determination – love becomes possessive. Image result for holy family caravan passover

Today’s Gospel brings home the point.  Joseph is not only a family man, he is a patriot.  It was the patriotic duty of every man in Israel to offer sacrifice as a member of the nation.  Here he goes up to Jerusalem again – even though he has access to God 24/7 with in his own house.  Yet, Mary and Joseph and Jesus go up and they find themselves probably lifted up so high in the company of their friends and extended family that they assume Jesus is with the kids of his own age….the first day.  But as they don’t find him and finally after another two days of searching, find Christ in the Temple.  Mary asks the natural question: “Did you not know that your father and I would be looking for you?”  She calls Joseph so naturally Jesus’ father.  How does Christ respond?  Did you not know I would be in My Father’s house?  God is my true Father.  Any lesser man could have become angry after all of the sacrifice or could have retreated into a bruised ego.  Joseph took it in stride and Jesus continued to obey him in reverence.

God is our true Father and the origin of every Christian family.  Today, many people heroically make things work without a human father, but we need St. Joseph as a model protector and life-giving head of the family.  We need men to follow Christ.  We need Christ to lead us home as follow Him in the bonds of His love to Our Father.

Christ the Poet King is Born

Image result for visions of sugarplums‘Twas the night before Christmas when all through the House not a creature was stirring not even a mouse…then we have that bit about the visions of sugar plums, etc…and the poem concludes famously: Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

This may be the most famous poems in the English language.  And it finishes much like it begins – at night, but at first no one is stirring – beautiful silence – world waiting in expectation….at the end, the house has been visited by St. Nick himself and it will wake up to the glorious gifts he has left beneath the tree. Image result for catholic church decorated christmas

Christmas is popular because it is filled with poetry.  Chesterton once wrote that “Christmas reminds us of those earlier times whether Pagan or Christian, when the many acted poetry instead of the few writing it.”  Heck, every ribbon and wreath decking our Church is itself a verse of this kind of living poetry that has been acted out upon it!

Image result for jingle bells batman smellsYou could make the case that Christmas is poetic, because humanity is poetic.  Think about it.  What do we do when we hear poetry enough times?  Well, we take it and make it our own.  Now I wasn’t thinking forward to my homily, but last week I was in our preschool and I happened to quietly sing: “Jingle Bells, Batman smells…” and sure enough these 4 year-olds sang out “Robin laid an egg!!!”  This little ditty was around I’m thinking well before Weird Al and there are a million other less popular and often far less reverent parodies of Christmas songs.  We hear it enough times, that we start making poetry of our own joining different ideas together.  Jingle Bells and Batman will be joined together for as long as they both shall live.

Well, the human poetry was flat due to sin.  If you look at the Gospel (for the vigil) and we go through it: “Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.”  Things kept going on, and God loved the human race – but the melody was that of a funeral march…all of them born to go to the grave.  Christ is the everlasting Word: the beginning to all poetry and He allows Himself to become grafted into the family tree and here He was about to alter the melody to the song that He Himself started – but not to mock it, rather to lift it up.

Image result for grafted onto a treeNow when it gets to Christ, the family tree reads…”Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.”  Jesus is in the tree, but He is not the son of Joseph – so He is adopted into this line of human kings.  But, perhaps you know – that didn’t matter to the Jews.  He was still every bit as much the heir of Joseph.  Despite our broken poetry this wisdom of the Jews is a bit of the song that works, and so when Christ reveals He has come to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven He keeps this same promise for us.  He gives us the ability to be grafted into His life: adopted into the family tree of God, and while we are not His beloved brothers and sisters by nature, that doesn’t seem to matter either a whole lot.  He is thirsting for the chance to make us the heirs to His Spirit.  He takes the song of human love and sacrifice and rescues it from the funeral march to make it a stirring ballad of action and love, of redemption and triumph.  Image result for christ manger ox sheep

Did Christ have to be born in a stable amidst the kinds of animals (sheep and oxen) that were sacrificed every day in the Temple?  No, but they will be spared by the same cross of our salvation.    Did He need to inform some poor and lowly shepherds of His arrival?  No, but for the Good Shepherd it all makes artistic sense.  God puts these fitting touches in which show us how God sees and recognizes the human patterns of life in so many ways and rather than eliminate them, He fits into them and lifts them up.

Image result for passenger jetThe poetic life that Christ calls us to a life lived with the understanding of the whole picture – with the purpose of loving and serving God.  It is a life that calls us out of ourselves and our anxiety about the future and connects us to ages past and helps us look to the future of others knowing that Christ is coming for us all in the end.  The poet knows that even the animals often live poetically.  Passenger jets fly.  Birds do not only fly, but they whirl and dance in the air.  This is the kind of life above the normal routine that we are called to exhibit – and when we go out of our way because it is right, we are lifted above what just – to what is beautiful. Image result for birds flying whirling

So, Jesus comes in the middle of the story as a baby.  Why?  Perhaps He wants to show us what children of God look like when they are born.  They look like us.  And perhaps He wants us to love Him for His own sake.  We have hearts full of requests for God, but before we ask them of Baby Jesus – we have to look upon Him as a baby.  We have to know that He wants something from us.  That He comes to us not only to enter into our melody, but so that we can enter into His.  He has adored us – as a Father adores His children.  Now, it is our turn to adore Him as a God who has made Himself so vulnerable.  He is the humblest of kings. Image result for baby jesus

The more we kneel and pray this Christmas in homage to our Infant Savior the more we will love Him.  The more we love Him, the more we will grow in adoration.  The more we grow in adoration, the more we will grow in imitation.  The more we see how He lives in reckless abandon of love – in marrying His Divinity to our humanity – the more we know our own ability to live life poetically.  The Christian message is strongest perhaps at Christmas.  The push-back is there because the Christian message still matters and will always matter.  But, all of the year deserves our efforts to give the extra energy to life that reflects the very spirit of God. Related image

Every human story is valuable to Him.  From the very beginning to the night before Christmas every one of us has started off in the same way that Jesus comes…as a babe…and if we respond to His love – the spirit of the Great Christmas feast will live far into the year and our souls will learn not only to fly, but to dance and to be merry.

 

 

A Communion of Stories

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I was out at another parish the other night to help carry on a new fledgling tradition.  You see the ladies have this very festive and classy evening called “Advent by Candlelight”.  So, several years ago the guys decided to get around the fire pit in the cold night with some adult beverages and chili and prepare for Our Lord with their own version of “Advent by Taillight”.  Now there were four or five priests around this fire and one of the guys asked us what is the funniest thing(s) that students have asked us in the classroom.  I was stumped and couldn’t think of a thing, but one priest thought for a moment and said he was in a second grade classroom…and it wasn’t that these were the funniest questions, but that it was just fitting that these two 7 year olds asked these questions back to back.  The first asked something like, “How are we able to have free will in heaven if there is no ability to sin?”  Wow.  That’s a great question for anybody to ask, but at 7 years old – he’s thinking.  The next one raises his hand and asked, “Do you know the pope’s normal name?”  The priest says, “Jorge Bergoglio.”  The kid then asks, “Do you know his mom’s name?”  The priest admitted that he did not.  The kid fires back: “A mystery of the faith!” Image result for pope francis regina maria

Now, the pope’s mom’s name is not properly speaking a mystery of the faith.  But it hits on the question of who we are as persons.  Does the pope, this figure for the whole Catholic church who is the earthly representative for Christ and therefore leads the whole Body of Christ….does he himself have a personal history and a personal family.  The answer is yes.  His father’s name was Mario and his mother was named Regina Maria.  The pope gets his start from a marriage – the basic building block of the personal communion we call a family.

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Abraham, Sarah, and Pharaoh – Genesis 12

During Advent we prepare to see the Marriage of Heaven and Earth.  This Communion begins in heaven.  God is a communion of three divine Persons.  He made us, the human race, in His image – to be one great family.  But ever since we sinned, we struggle at the natural level just to stay together.  Look at the family dynamics in Genesis where in the first generation of children, Cain kills his own brother Abel.  Abraham pretends on a couple of occasions that his wife Sarah is only his sister and narrowly gets her back without other men claiming her for their own.  Joseph’s brothers throw him into a well and sell him into slavery.  The human race splinters off into various clans pitted against each other and then great nations always at war. Related image

Think of each person’s life story as a book, and each family as a series of books (some closer together, some spread further apart).  The whole human race would be one great library of thousands of floors with billions of volumes – from our perspective, much of it would be very disconnected.  Each of us when born – a new book – hopefully finding itself able to relate to a series of our families and able to understand our place in the greater family, state, and nation – but still very much disconnected from most of humanity. Image result for mary gabriel

In reality, we are so much more interesting and valuable then a cosmic library, but think now about Mary.  What happens just before today’s Gospel is that Mary is informed that she who has been a part of this very select tribe in this one moment in time – where we don’t even know that her parents (Joachim and Ann) are a part of the picture….she is quite small in her story and has made a promise to remain a virgin for life – never to start a new series of her own.  Perhaps she chose this life that she might follow God’s will more perfectly, for we know that in response to Gabriel’s message she embraces God’s with such beauty.  And she discovers that she will be the mother of a King who would unite all of the life stories – all of the volumes in that library who wanted to love God – all of them would be housed spiritually within His divine Heart.  All organized.  All united to Him as His members.  All one family.  Her love for God will therefore lead to her embracing all people.  For she begins to love a child with a heart for all souls. Image result for mary visitation

Mary’s response then is so perfect.  She moves with whatever thunder was in her feet following the direction of the lightning in her heart towards Elizabeth.  She doesn’t sit and think of her new great role in awe of herself.  Rather she goes out to her cousin – and shares the good news of what God will do for all of us.  Sure enough, Elizabeth already knows.  She finds communion with Elizabeth who not only recognizes this mission of Mary, but that it gives Mary a new status.  She is the “mother of my Lord.”   Image result for catholic baptism infant

Each one of us is born into a world without a natural connection to the Church – like a random book on a shelf – if we are lucky.  We are at a part of a series, but there is nothing to unite us to others in a permanent way.  In baptism, we are brought into that communion of persons.  If you have not been baptized or know someone who has not been baptized (which would be most of us) – we should pray and invite these people to consider being a part of our family.  But every one of our stories takes a departure from communion with its baptismal unity with Christ whenever we sin.  Hence, we have the gift of confession in which we admit that our story has veered off in another direction and communion is restored, as the priest hears the details of the old chapter and the desire to be grafted back in again at this new point in the tale of your life…and he reveals that Christ has died for this chapter of our life as well.  Related image

Every family starts out a new story of its own, with all of the characters influencing each other.  Today though, there are a good number of marriages where the spouses have not yet had this new union of the life stories blessed in the Church.  They have a great potential like Mary to see how their love can be united through God to all of the rest of the Body of Christ.  If your marriage (or the marriage of someone you know) has not yet been blessed in the church, well many of these marriages can be blessed in the Church – enabling the entire family then to be united not only on the natural level, but in the heart of Jesus Christ – This is a great act of love and humility that ties all of us tighter together and enables to be in full communion.

Image result for christ child manger           God when He came to us, because He did not sin, taught us what the human person at the very heights of sacrificial love is capable of – how we can imitate more and more this savior who is with us.  But He also chose to relate to us the value of Communion, by giving His Son a mother in Mary and a foster father in Joseph and He has shared them with us by inviting all of the life stories that we have to be joined together in His open Heart.

The Unadulterated Advent Rose

Image result for advent wreath rose candle litHappy Feast of Gaudete Sunday!  Rejoice!  We have been blessed with having another candle lit – and it’s rose.  In fact, I think it’s pink – but it is supposed to be this actual color which looks a bit more salmon colored in hue.  Now I was doing some research on Gaudete Sunday and the rose color and I came across this quote: “Odds are likely if the priest chooses that color [because he could wear violet], he will come out of the sacristy and offer some sort of comment prior to starting Mass about how what he is wearing is rose, not pink.”  I was cut to the quick, as I have certainly done that before…like every time.

The color rose is an ancient symbol (the high priest would sometimes wear vestments that were dyed from murex seashells to make them rose)…and rose tells us that the time of our waiting is near over.  We rejoice even while still anticipate a much greater perfection.

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Perhaps you’ve heard of centaurs: a centaur is a mythical creature that is half horse and half man….or think of how we depict the devil – oftentimes he is shown as a blending between a goat and a man.  The problem with pink for this role is that it too often symbolizes the blending of things.  Pink is often simply thought of as red and white watered down and blended together.  Our color today whatever you call it should be its own strong color for in a significant way the color rose symbolizes how the Church does not simply throw everything into a blender.  Throughout the centuries it maintains as distinct ideas and things longed for – both mercy and justice, both humility and dignity, both marriage and celibacy, both the value of losing one’s life for Christ’s sake and saving one’s life.  But she holds these seemingly opposite ideas together in full strength without watering either of them down or compromising them.  She gets this unity from Jesus Christ Himself who is both God and man.   He is not half of one and half of the other like a centaur. Image result for christ child in manger

So we have these violet candles for penance shot through with a rose candle – telling us to begin celebrating even amidst our penance for He is near.  We are not done preparing…but we are already celebrating with full confidence in Christ.  He will be here soon.

Think back to why Jesus is coming to us.  In the beginning, humankind was with God.  But we wanted to mix it up, and thought that by taking the forbidden fruit we humans could have divine power.  That is not how God wants our weakness to be perfected and so we fell and ever since then humankind had been locked out of Eden – we were not with God, but beneath Him and without the capacity for supernatural life.  That is why Christ comes.  But notice, He does not replace earth and He doesn’t come trying to blend anything.  Rather He brings the grace of His Presence to our world.  He is in the fallen world, but not of it.  God is no longer away on High.  He is Emmanuel, God with us.  He is a new beginning: a supernatural marriage between heaven and earth within Mary’s womb.  God has chosen to be with us, so that now we can choose again to be with Him. Image result for marriage

Okay, well here we are in our readings and John is doing something amazing.  He is inviting everyone to the party.  Today we get our invitation and it is an invitation to which everyone can respond.  But, the crowds ask a very good question: how do we rsvp for this wedding banquet?  Should we call, email, send a text?  Actually, our very responding to God is already to come to the banquet.  The answer John gives is that they should bring to the banquet themselves and the fruits of repentance.  This feast does not emphasize fasting, as if the coming of the Jesus as a baby in any way diminishes our earthly life.  Rather the focus is on sharing with others and in helping provide and on the light that we too can shed on others.

We are not going to be completely different people.  We won’t be watered down versions of ourselves.  No, but we are to perform works of mercy.  How fitting that the weekend when we collect for the Jesse Tree and all of these gifts go out from us to other families we are reminded that it is in this giving that we enter into joy.

That’s the command of the second reading.  You are still you.  You and I, we still face obstacles.  We have a need to ask for help and assistance.  That doesn’t just melt away.  And in the midst of all of it, St. Paul tells us to enter into this rejoicing – knowing that God will not let us down.  He has already won for us salvation if we continue to walk and live in hope.

Image result for merry christmasThe trouble with Christmas is we have too often blended everything.  Many people are uncomfortable of having solid religious symbols in secular places and so we take Merry Christmas and we take Happy Hanukkah and we take Kwanzaa and anything else out there and we simply blend it into Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings.  I don’t think many Americans would be offended if they were wished a Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa.  Even Santa Claus seems to be going out of fashion, having been a man and a saint….we just replace him with Frosty – a celebration of one more thing we make in our own image…not bad, but bland.

Rejoice!  Christ is coming and we have not made Him.  You ever hear of Christianity sometimes takes things that are not Catholic and refashions them….baptizes it?  Well, Jesus is going to show up and not only be baptized by John, but then take this pouring of water and have His disciples do it.  He will baptize Baptism – and because He is God He will unleash the Holy Spirit.  We will remain men and women, but now we will receive divine grace.  It is not simply repentance, but new Life – and the Fire which John describes is so intense that it is born in the water and not extinguished. Image result for soldiers christmas

John inviting us to respond to God even during the middle of this life, even while we continue to fight wars as soldiers must, or collect taxes as the world’s business continues – even while this evening is not blended with heaven, it is joined by God in our Eucharist.  There’s one more meaning I’ve come across regarding the rose colored theme.  Rose is reportedly the last or one of the very last colors you see on the horizon before a sunrise.  In the same way, John precedes Christ with brilliance.  And because he does not seek to replace the Messiah, he is given the honor of offering Christ the total gift of himself – not watered down, but accepted in love.  Rejoice, for God wants us too.

Landmarks of Hope

Image result for GodzillaThey say that absence makes the heart grow fonder – well, at one point the Psalmist is thinking of the ruined walls of Jerusalem and longing for the far off days of glory to the point that he writes, “that your people love every stone in her walls and cherish even the dust in her streets.”  Sometimes we don’t even have to reach the land itself – even the landmarks fire our imaginations.  There’s a tree on Lindbergh Boulevard as you head south to my house – it’s at the top of a big hill and it leans out over the pavement.  My brother and I began to call it the Godzilla Tree, because it just sort of has this big Massive part that would be its head and a couple of branches that would be its skinny little arms trying to get at your car.  The moment that you see the Godzilla tree you know you are virtually home.  You have one stop-light to go….then you’re at the front door…and then you’re around the dinner table eating with family.  We’ve entered Advent, we are already well into it now and yes – we have come up upon our landmark, our Godzilla tree….the character in the story who reveals to us that the presence of God is imminent…good ol’ John the Baptist!  We should be jumping when we hear of John who jumped in his own mother’s womb when he heard of Christ: when we hear of John, Christ is close.

But why is John in the desert?  Why does John go into the desert where nobody lives to proclaim to the world his message?  To answer that let’s go back to the first reading from little known figure in the Bible, Baruch.  Baruch was basically a secretary for the Prophet Jeremiah – the same Jeremiah who tried to rouse the Jewish people to Related imagerepentance and when they did not yield to God, they were taken over by Babylon.  Imagine for a second all of the various attacks on our country (little and big) all put together and multiplied to the point that our country was taken over.  Our government was toppled and all of the professionals were sent to another country to be slaves – and all of the buildings and monuments around Capitol Hill in Washington were razed to the ground.  That is like what happened to Jerusalem, and it was the lowest point in ancient Jewish history.  Baruch’s message then speaks to the people of Jerusalem and says that the people scattered will return home united from East and West – in glory as if they were upon thrones – and that even the trees (every nice fragrant tree that is) will overshadow them to make even their journey home full of a sweet, refreshing coolness.

Image result for king cyrus of persia            Now, part of this at least is fulfilled when King Cyrus and the Persians take Babylon and incredibly he decides to send the refugees home.  This is a really massive stroke of divine Providence – just think of it – all of the sudden an invading king decides he wants to send a conquered people’s slaves back home and even open his purse strings to rebuild their temple!  But even so, the people of Jerusalem do not become totally faithful to God.  By the time of the Gospel, they have been taken over again.  St. Luke is writing this Gospel so that it will be proclaimed to the whole world and in it he starts off by mentioning Tiberius Caesar who seemed to be the Lord of the whole world.  Reality was Tiberius was in charge of everything and in po-dunk Judea he had a tough-as-nails commander in Pontius Pilate and he watched over Herod who was the boss of Galilee with his brother.  You didn’t want to mess with either of them.  Oh and Annas and Caiaphas, a couple of the more politically minded high priests were in charge of the Temple.  They all had control of things.  John goes out from all of that power-structure – away from all of what people thought dictated the course of the world to call a people to prepare.             Related imageOne quick look at the language in our Gospel may seem to us like poetry – every mountain made low, every valley filled.  But a lot is possible when nobody tells you that it is impossible.  King Cyrus of Persia (whom the Jews would have heard all about) had done some remarkable earth moving.  While he was marching on Babylon, his army got to the River Gyndes, and one of his sacred white horses tried to cross the river on its own, but was seized by the current and drowned.  Cyrus became angry with the river itself, so angry that he threatened to break its strength that in the future women should cross it without getting their knees wet.  He then put off his attack on Babylon for the whole summer while he had his army mark out 180 trenches on each side of the Gyndes leading it off in all directions until his threat was carried out and the Gyndes.  Cyrus humbled a mighty river because of his love of white horses. Image result for mountains made low

In other words – to think of an army of people toppling mountains is not impossible, but it is also not significant enough.  John wants to reveal God’s power is totally different than earthly power and he goes out to the desert, because that’s where the first landmark was – the Jordan River.  This boundary was how you get into the physical Promised Land and John wants to show that getting immersed in it is the way towards the far greater Spiritual Promised Land.  The earth and clay that John goes into the desert to prepare is that of our hearts.  He knows that the mountains of pride that separate us from each other need to be made low.  The valleys in which we pretend to hide from God need to be filled in.Image result for jerusalem exile broken walls

In a very real sense we are like those in Jerusalem hunkered down.  The ideologies of the age have taken many of our brothers and sisters away from us in spirit.  So many of our buildings have been abandoned and sold off.  We’re Jerusalem, but we need to long for the return of our brothers and sisters.  The Christmas party with the in-laws you haven’t talked to in three years is calling.  The confessional in which God wants you to receive His forgiveness is calling.  The power structure of our world has Christians divided and distracted, but Baruch’s message is clear: we are meant for more.  What if we came out of the chaos of the digital dungeon and made this Advent a time of being united on the same plain.  All of us looking up from our screens and thinking of each other as brothers and sisters and so many who are distant we should long to see returning in glory – even to the point of being carried in thrones on the Day of Christ Jesus.  He who died on a Tree certainly deserves every branch to bow over Him in love and offer the sweetest fragrance.  Let us move the earth of our hearts, so that He can give us another Promised Land.