Saturday, December 16, 2017

I have a secret for you!

HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 17, 2017:

There is a story about a monastery that was going through a time of crisis. Some of the monks had left the monastery; no new candidates joined them in years; and people were no longer coming for prayer and spiritual direction. The few monks that remained became old, depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a holy hermit living alone in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how bad things had become and that only seven old monks remained. Praying on this, the hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him: one of the monks currently living in his monastery was actually the Messiah, but He was living in such a way that no one could recognize Him.




With this revelation the abbot returned to his monastery, and recounted what the hermit told him. The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who, among them, could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has a holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and could never fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits to disguise His true identity. This only made them more confused and they could not figure out who was Christ among them. At the end of the meeting what each one knew for sure was that any of them could be Christ.

From that day on they began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could, in fact, be Christ. They began to show more love, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and spiritual direction. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again in number as the monks grew in zeal and holiness. All this because a man of God drew their attention to a simple truth: that Christ was living in their midst as one of them.

My brothers and sisters, Advent is for us a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord: we recall His birth 2,000 years ago; we look forward to His return at the end of time. But, now, suppose that we were told, like the monks in our story, that the Christ for whom we are waiting is already here in our midst as one of us, what difference would that make?

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist tries to announce the same powerful message to the people of his time who were anxiously awaiting the coming of the Messiah. John tells them: “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

The reason the people of Jesus’ time could not recognize Him as the Messiah is that they had their own ideas about how the Messiah was going to come. The Messiah would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His reign by physically destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where He came from because He came from God. So when Jesus finally arrived, born of a woman like every other person, they did not recognize Him. He was too ordinary, too unimpressive, and so, far too many people missed the very presence of God in front of them.

We face the same challenge today. We too have our own expectations of what the presence of God in our midst should look like. It is different for each of us. And, it is good for us to anticipate God in our midst as long as our expectations aren’t more important than God’s actual presence. God is right in front of us in Word, in Sacrament, and perhaps where we miss Him most often – God is present within us, and in every single person we meet. After all, this is what we mean when we respond, “And with your spirit” – words that recognize God’s presence in those around us.

And so, my friends, listen carefully today. I have a secret for you. One of the members of our community is actually the Messiah, but they are living in such a way that they aren’t quickly recognized. “There is one among you whom you do not recognize.” So, how will we recognize this Godly presence in our midst? Because God is right here before us, waiting for us to invite Him in. My friends, let us pray that God will continue to open our eyes, our minds, our hearts, our very lives to see His presence in us, and to see His presence around us today. Do you see what I see?

May the Lord give you peace.

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