The Mess of Christmas

Christmas Vigil – Cycle A

Is 62:1-5, Ps 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29, Acts 13, 16-17, 22-25, Gospel: Mt 1:1-25

Where were you when that Baby was born?
At the Hospital
Mostly at the hospital, which is a very bright and clean place.  A place where there are tons of Doctors and Nurses who are all have a lot of experience in bringing babies into the world.  They are there to teach you what to do and how to care for your child.

At Home
The other place that babies are often born is at home.  In the old cowboy movies we often see that when it is time for the Mom to have her Baby there is a helpful midwife who has the men boil water and get lots of towels.  The men stand around and worry, and then voila!  A beautiful cuddly, smiling baby is brought out and all of the guys slap one another on the back and smile and smoke cigars.

In both places (The Hospital and the Home) – they are places that are warm, clean, secure and pleasant and nice.  Places you would want to have a baby.

Where was Jesus born?
In the Gospel today we also learn that Jesus was born.  At his time they did not have hospitals, but he wasn’t even born at home, in fact Jesus is very lucky that he wasn’t born in the middle of a field, or under a tree.  When Joseph and Mary got to Bethlehem there was no room for them at any of their families’ houses, or even at an inn, so they stayed in the barn.

But what was it like?  
Have you ever wondered – “I wonder what it was like for Jesus to be born in a manger?” – If you have, that is a saintly thought – so you can pat yourself on the back.  St. Francis of Assisi had this thought back in 1223, So, St. Francis went to his friend John and asked for his help to re-create the nativity scene in a cave near Mount La-Verna in Italy.  What did he discover?  What kind of place was Jesus born in?

Have you ever been in a barn filled with animals?  
Think of the zoo, when you go into the houses where the animals live.  One of the first things that strikes you are the differences between a nice, quiet, clean and warm house is a cold, noisy, messy and smelly barn.  Yet that is where Jesus was born, all of those years ago.

Were you Born in a Barn?
When I was a kid I loved to play outside, and there were many days when I was running back and forth inside to get a drink of water, outside to play, inside to get a toy, outside to play.  This went on all day long, and every time I ran in I would leave the door open.  Then I would hear – “Close the Door – were you born in a barn?”  I know that Mary never said this to Jesus – because, well he was born in a barn.  If I knew then what I know now I would have answered “Yes” because I am a Christian, and to be Christian means to be “like Christ”, and Christ was Born in a Barn!

Jesus was born into the mess on purpose
When we read the Gospel today we discover that Jesus was born in the Barn on purpose.  The Gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus – that is who was in His family.  What kind of family did he have?  When we think of who Jesus and Mary and St. Joseph were we would think that Jesus must have been born into a family of saints, where everyone was holy and nobody ever did anything wrong.

St. Matthew chose to start his Gospel with Jesus’ family tree on purpose.  St. Matthew wanted us to learn two things, that to understand Jesus, you need to understand the family that he was born in, and that Jesus was born into the mess of our human existence.

Jesus was born into the Old Testament
St. Matthew traces Jesus’ family from Abraham – who is the Father of our Faith (and who appears in Genesis) all the way through to Mary and Joseph.  In this way St. Matthew is saying that to understand Jesus you need to understand his family.

The Mess of Family
There are some heroic figures in his family, like Ruth and Boaz, or St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother.  But there are also some folks who committed great sins like King David and Solomon, Tamar and Judah, or Ahaz.  This is one of the ways that St. Matthew says that Jesus is born into a mess – the mess of our humanity, which has both the most virtuous, and the most banal.  Christ embraces all of our humanity, both the clean parts and the messy parts with his choice to be born in the manger.

That Jesus was born into our mess is the Reason for the Season
That Jesus chose to be born into a family with these problems, and that he chose to be born into a place that was so messy is the reason why we celebrate today as Christmas.  Today we realize how much God loves us.  He does not just love us when we are being good, but he loves us even when we sin, even when we choose to ignore him, or leave him, or close him out from some area of our lives.  It is precisely into these messes that Christ desires to be born, so that he can help us in our weakness, and shed a light into our darkness.

St. Paul says, that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.  Are we willing and ready and able to welcome Christ into the difficult areas of our lives?

The World celebrates vs. the Church Celebrates
Christmas is a feast that is so large that the whole world participates in our celebration of the Birth of Christ.  True, there are differences between how we celebrate Christmas and the world celebrates.  For example, we begin our celebration of Christmas now and we will feast and party and rejoice all the way into the middle of January when we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  On the other hand, the world begins it’s celebration of Christmas with the day after Thanksgiving and ends with the great “returning of the gifts” on the day after Christmas.  By the time the world has gotten to the middle of January, they have long forgotten the gift of Christmas and are all caught up selling chocolate candy to celebrate St. Valentine’s day.

We give gifts to imitate the gift we receive from God
The reason why we celebrate Christmas with gift giving is that we are trying to imitate the gift that Christ gave us on Christmas – that he gave us the gift of God’s love, to forgive us our sins, to purify the messes that exist in our lives and so to lead us into the joy of God’s family in heaven – in the presence of the Angels and the Saints.  Christmas is not about what gifts I get, but about the gifts that I can give.

What was the gift of Christ at Christmas?
Christ’s gift to us this Christmas is the gift of His presence and his love.  That is why we celebrate Christmas here at the Mass.  Here we have the opportunity to encounter the word made flesh in the Eucharist, when Christ enters into our bodies and shares His divinity with us.  In that way, in this Mass, Christ is born anew into our hearts – if we allow him.  He is born into the mess of our lives – filled with Sin and the effects of Sin.  When we encounter Him today in this Eucharist, how are we going to respond to His gift of self to us?

Mary is the Model for responding to the Gift.
When Mary received Jesus into her womb her response was one of action.  She went in haste to the hill country of Judea to help her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant.  Remember that Elizabeth was old and barren – that means she couldn’t have kids, which at that time was a sign that God did not love her.  Yet Elizabeth became pregnant with St. John the Baptist when everyone thought it was impossible.  Again, God enters into and impossible mess and fill it with His blessings.  Mary’s response to receiving the gift of Jesus is to help others, to show others God’s love.

Isaiah – For Jerusalem’s sake I will not be silent!
I think that the reason why we don’t often celebrate Christmas in this way is because we don’t understand the depths of God’s love for us.  My gift to you this Christmas is to invite you to ponder about the love that God has shown you in your life – and to respond to that love.  In the first reading Isaiah gives us a hint of what it means to experience the depths of God’s love – he says – “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet”.  Isaiah recognizes that God is showing His love directly into the mess that Israel is experiencing at that time – he says “No more shall people call you Forsaken, or your land Desolate,” but that God sees us through the eyes of love – he sees us “as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.

Think about it.  If we truly understood one another’s idiosyncrasies could we really ever live with one another?  In marriage it is the eyes of love that overlook our faults in favor of our gifts.  So it is with God’s love for us, and so it should be in our love for one another.

Forever I will sing the Goodness of the Lord!
The response for the Responsorial Psalm King David writes of God’s goodness to him.  King David was a man who knew how to create a messy situation, and through those messy situations he experienced God’s love and forgiveness.  This is why he writes in the psalm today “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord”.  St. Paul in the second reading tells us God found in King David “a man after my own heart”.  David was able to see God’s love, and at various times tried to imitate that love.

Who in my life needs this Gift?
When we think about our family, our friends and our neighbors – are we seeing them with God’s heart or with our human heart filled with judgment and condemnation?  My gift to you this Christmas is the invitation to consider God’s heart in light of your relationships with friends, with families, co-workers and neighbors.  When we come to that time of communion with God tonight, think about who do you know who needs to receive the gift of God’s love this Christmas – who needs this encounter with the love of God that forgives and overlooks our faults to see our gifts?  How can you show the love of God to that person?

Go and Announce the Gospel of the Lord!
Mary responded to the gift of Christ by going and helping Elizabeth, who was shunned by her neighbors for not being blessed by God.  That was how Mary first announced the Gospel.  We too are called to imitate Mary in announcing the Good News of God’s love, so go and Announce the Gospel to the ones in our lives who are in most need of experiencing God’s love through our actions.


First Things, Last Things.

2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

Is 40:1-5, 9-11, Ps 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14, 2 Pt 3:8-14, Gospel: Mk 1:1-8

What is the first thing from the readings that caught your attention today?
  • Was it that a shoot shall sprout from the Stump of Jesse?
  • Was it that chaff will be burnt in unquenchable fire?
  • Was it a brood of vipers fleeing the onrushing wrath of God?
  • Was it that the lion will lie down with the lamb, Or that the one who is coming after John is not worthy to loosen his sandal strap?
The readings today are filled with symbolism, rich in meaning and purpose.  Let’s take some time to unpack the symbols and so to become illuminated in our own lives. 

This requires some interaction on our part, it means that we need to become undistracted and really take some time to reflect on what God is trying to say to us today.

All of the symbols that scripture uses in the readings today are given to us as images or ideas to help us to live our lives so that we grow into the Kingdom of God, that we become sons and daughters of God.

Symbols to reflect on
  • The Tree and the Stump
    • The tree (from the Gospel) is the person who is confident in their relationship with God
      • See – The axe is laid to the root.  Do not be fooled and dabble in Sin – not just the trunk – but the root.  Sin is deadly – do not have even an attraction to it!
    • The Stump is the one who has given up on sin.
      • It appears dead, lifeless, useless
      • Yet even in the depths of despair, God can bring about new life.
      • This is the witness of the resurrection – The stump is the witness to hope!
      • Are you a stump or a tree? 

  • Rocks and the Children of Abraham
    • Rocks are symbols of our hearts – our minds are all made up and there is nothing that will change them, reshape them or transform them.  We are stuck
    • See, even from dead rocks God can bring up Children of Abraham – that is men and women who are filled with faith, with a relationship with the Living God!
  • John the Baptist – Penance and Mercy
    • John comes dressed in Camels Hair with a leather belt.
    • Symbols of repentance is the way out of Sin
      • Think of practical ways to counter-act the effects of sin in your life
        • Confession
        • Daily Examination
        • Have courage – be hopeful
    • John lives on Locust and Honey
      • Locust is repentance
      • Honey represents God’s Mercy.  God sees our brokenness, he see that we are trapped in our hurt and injuries.  He sees that we need his Love to free us from the trap of the rock that we have allowed our heart to become.
  • Vipers and Good Fruit
    • Woe to us if we know all of this and persist in our sin.  Then we are like snakes – beautiful and seductive, yet filled with poison and wickedness.  If we fall into this trap, (and here I preach to myself as well) then repent, and bear good fruit.  
    • Good Fruit comes only from living a life of penance and of conversion.  Even to the vipers, whose lives are filled with poison John offers hope for salvation.  All is not lost.
  • Justice and Faithfulness
    • Justice means to have right relationship with God
      • Put God first in my life and worship
    • And with my fellow man
      • Respect others for who God created them to be.
      • Strive for a life that balances individual and common goods / needs.
    • Faithfulness is the foundation of justice
      • If I don’t know God, then my justice is not set on a solid foundation.
      • In what ways am I faithful?  Where am I unfaithful?
  • The Lion and the Lamb
    • When we live lives of Justice and Faithfulness then the Church is filled with Harmony – which is the fruit of Justice.  The Images from Isaiah are when the Lion lies down with the Lamb.  
    • St Paul Praises the Church of Rome for this, when he says
  • A Community of Harmony – of Right living and right life.
    • Let us turn away from sin that this community, this parish of St. Anthony’s can become a community living in harmony, in spite of the ways  that others might divide us.  Let us see one another as God sees us and not by human standards.  To do this we need to become wheat for one another.
The Wheat and the Chaff
The chaff is a symbol of all in our life that is useless, life-taking, destructive or wasteful.  It is our sin, our habits, all of the ways that we do not treat God or others with Justice, all of the ways that we are unfaithful and false, pretentious and vain.  When we encounter the Threshing Floor in life we see those habits, practices and attitudes for what they are – worthless waste.  

On the other hand the wheat is the symbol of the parts of our life that are in alignment with God’s thought for who we are.  They are symbolic of the our ability to be faithful and just, to give God praise and glory, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to balance both the individual and the common good.  Wheat is the fruit of our ability to sacrifice self for the other – to die to our sins so as to bear fruit 30, 60 or 90 fold.  The wheat is the symbol of our ability to live a life of unconditional love  Wheat Christ will gather into his barn – into heaven.  Elsewhere in John’s Gospel Jesus speaks of us as the grain of wheat – wheat that is the symbol of unconditional love, of the sacrifice of God that becomes the Bread of Life in this Mass.  When we come to communion today in this Eucharist, let us ask Christ for the grace to honestly confront these symbols, and to open our hearts to be transformed into a community of Justice, built on a foundation of Faithfulness, so that others may see the love that we have for God and for them to lead them to give glory and praise to God.