Saturday, November 28, 2009

O Come, Emmanuel! Make us new!


One day, a young man received a parrot as a gift, but the parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity. The young man tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words and even prayers, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to “clean up” the bird’s vocabulary. Finally, the man was fed up and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. The man shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder. In desperation, the man threw up his hands, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Now fearing that he’d hurt the parrot, the man quickly opened the door to the freezer. The Parrot calmly stepped out onto his outstretched arms and said “Sir, I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior.” The man was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird pointed to the item next to him in the freezer and said, “May I ask what the turkey did wrong?”

A little bit of turkey humor on this Thanksgiving weekend. Even though we are celebrating one holiday, Thanksgiving, as we began Mass tonight I was tempted to reference another of our civil holidays and wish everyone a “Happy New Year.” Today is the First Sunday of Advent and for us it is the start of a new Church year. We find ourselves today once again back at the beginning of our liturgical cycle. We triumphantly celebrated Jesus Christ as our Lord and King last weekend and now we go back to the beginning of the story; back to Chapter one of the story of how Jesus came and saved us. As the line from the Sound of Music goes, “Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start.”

In our liturgical cycle, we start with the things that prepared us for the coming Savior and so today we heard from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah who began with the words, “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” That promise of course, was fulfilled in Jesus. Likewise our Gospel called us to begin to seek the signs that something momentous is on the horizon, something unprecedented, something that will forever change our lives.

Two weeks ago as we moved into the end of the last Church year, I encouraged us all to review our last year with the Lord. Where did that journey take us? Were we made any different last year through the practice of our faith? Did we grow in holiness? Today, I offer a different challenge. In January, when we have our new calendar year, many of us will engage in the cultural practice of making New Year’s Resolutions. Often those resolutions are very superficial. We will resolve to eat less chocolate, to lose 10 pounds, to watch less television. Sometimes, they are more meaningful – we resolve to be a nicer person, to swear less like our friend the parrot, to be kinder to strangers.

But today, at the beginning of this Church year, I challenge all of us, myself included, to make some spiritual resolutions. Where do you need to grow in faith this year? Is it in your prayer life? In your family life? In your workplace? Where is Jesus calling you to love more, to be more bold in proclaiming His Word? Where are you being challenged to grow in holiness this year?

Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord. We remember both His historic arrival 2,000 years ago and we look forward to His return again in glory. But, let us also resolve to be more aware of another coming which we tend to forget, namely, His daily arrival in the ordinary events and the ordinary people in our lives. Our Gospel today reminds us that we should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning everyday in the people, the places and the events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to instead look out, to look to the person on our right and our left, to see the arrival of God that is before our eyes every day, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognize the Lord who comes to us in the ways we least expect.

Let us resolve on this first day of a new Church year, to be people ever more conscious of the presence and action of Jesus in our lives in the big ways and in the small ways. Let us resolve to be people who witness to that presence of Jesus in the lives of others – especially in those places that have been difficult for us in the past. Let us make this a holy Advent, leading to a holy Christmas, an even holier year for us all.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Make us new!

May God give you peace.

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