Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Word became flesh!

Fr. John was known for his homilies. They were known to be very long and very boring. The parishioners would struggle just to keep their eyes open during one. But then, one Sunday, at the end of a particularly long homily, Fr. John announced that he had been transferred to another parish and that, in prayer, Jesus’ Himself told him that he should be move that very week. After he sat down, the cantor announced to the congregation, “And now let us all sing, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus.’”

My friends, “Stay awake!” This isn’t a warning that anyone wants to hear at the beginning of a homily, and yet, we hear this theme repeated in our Scripture today. Our second reading told us that “it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Jesus was more direct in the Gospel passage saying simply, “Stay awake!” They say that a good homily should have a good beginning, a good ending, and they should be as close together as possible! I’ll do my best today to keep you from dozing.

Today, of course, we begin a new Church year with the first Sunday of Advent. The word “advent” of course, means literally “coming.” Ask the average person “What’s coming during Advent?” and you’ll get the response, “Christmas is coming!” And of course, that is true enough, Christmas is coming and Advent is the run-up to the celebration of Christmas.

But, there is so much more to Advent than that. Advent is a very deep season and a very strange season. Deep because there are many layers to it; and strange because it is a celebration that can’t make up its mind; Advent is constantly facing two ways. Imagine a head with two faces. It looks both backwards and forwards. It contains the past and the future. Advent looks backwards to Christ’s first coming on earth 2,000 years ago; and it looks forward to His return; His second coming at the end of time. And that is the side that is emphasized in today’s Gospel, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

As our Scriptures look forward commanding us to be awake and vigilant so that the Day of the Lord doesn’t pass right by us, I want to take a moment on the other side of that coin and look back at the first Christmas. Theologically, we refer to Christmas as the Incarnation – a word that means literally “to be made flesh.” In the first Christmas, God is made incarnate; God becomes man; the Word becomes flesh. Or as John puts it in his Gospel, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

What does this mean for us? Overwhelmingly, I think that the Incarnation is an incredible comfort to us. Just a few months ago, I was visiting my last assignment back in Connecticut and had an opportunity to visit and anoint a dear friend who was dying in the hospital. Fran was coming to the end of a long and difficult struggle with cancer and she had, literally, hours to live before returning to the glory of her Heavenly home. She was an incredible example to anyone who met her of both how to live; and more importantly, how to die. She was a woman who surrounded herself with the love of family and friends; and most importantly, the love of Jesus in and through prayer. As we went to the hospital that night, her room was full beyond capacity. She was, as she had been, surrounded by her family and her friends, and continually surrounded by prayer. There was, of course, sadness in that room; but there was also joy and love and fellowship and thanksgiving for the life of this beautiful woman. As we anointed her and prayed over her, there was a sense of comfort that came over the room. We weren’t filled with the anxiety that often comes at the loss of a loved one; but rather, somehow, we all knew that Fran would be alright – and we would too. Jesus was there – in His priest, in His sacrament; in His people – right there in that room the Word was made flesh to comfort us and love us and to let us know that everything would be alright.

My friends, here we are, all of us, often living in apprehension and anxiety; trying to make sense of our world, coping with our struggles as best we can – sickness, death, disappointment, loneliness and fear. And in the eternal now that is our God, our Lord comes in from outside to join us too. Perhaps not in a hospital room but from eternity, to comfort us as only God can comfort us and make us feel loved. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” For, my friends, this is how God loved the world: he gave His only Son. And, that is the point of Advent – Christ’s coming; the Word made flesh; is and continues to be a great comfort and hope to us. So, let Jesus wrap you – your struggles, your anxieties, your fears and disappointments – in His loving and cradling arms. He wants to be made flesh for you; to comfort you and share His profound love.

Ironically, or perhaps on purpose, Advent comes to us during what is for many, the busiest time of the year. Jesus wants to penetrate the busyness of our lives and be made flesh for us once again; to be made flesh on this altar as the bread and the wine become His very Body and Blood for us; to be made flesh in our hearts and in our lives, so that we can become the comfort and love that He wants to extend to everyone we meet.

In our Opening Prayer today we said, “Father in Heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.” My friends, let us stay awake so that we may see the Word made flesh in our world, in our hearts, in our lives and let that presence of God comfort us, love us, and prepare us to welcome Him with renewed joy at Christmas.

May the Lord give you peace.

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