Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lessons and Carols Reflection

I had the honor of offering a reflection at The Festival of Lessons and Carols at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Akron. There are nine Scripture Lessons in the festival. It was consoling to reflect on each one of them. I have posted the reflection below. I apologize that the formatting is all messed up. I haven't posted to this blog in almost two years, and blogger has changed. I don't have the time to figure it out. I have to clean our house, Christmas shop, host a party for my son, and take care of a few other things. The reflection still works. I think you can figure out where the natural breaks occur. In the beginning* was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.a 2He was in the beginning with God. 3* All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.b What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; What does God’s word reveal to us through this Lessons and Carols service? Let us ponder each of the readings. Genesis 3 tells the story of humanity’s fall from grace. To understand it we need some context. We need to take a look at the chapter that precedes it. At the end of Genesis 2, the man and the woman are naked and feel no shame. This symbolizes a relationship of intimacy and equality. There are no barriers to love. This is what God wants, open and healthy relationship. How then do the man and woman end up ashamed of their nakedness, ashamed of their intimacy? They are misled by their desires. They selfishly want God's power. They anxiously and selfishly grasp for the forbidden fruit. They try to make themselves into gods. Sin is like this—it is born from disordered desire. And sin snowballs. No sooner have Adam and Eve sinned then Cain kills Abel, and humanity’s wickedness gets so out of hand that only a flood can wash the earth clean. Humanity needs a savior . . . . This need for a savior is further seen in the Book of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived during the reign of evil kings. The good King Josiah had sought to reform Judah, but the kings that followed him plunged Judah back into pagan practices, including the abhorrent practice of human sacrifice. The people of Judah also began to neglect the legal program of caring for the poor and marginal. It is in this context that God speaks through Jeremiah: he will raise up a messianic king who will do what is right and just in the land. He will give justice to the poor. Isaiah also was a prophet of the southern kingdom of Judah. He lived during a time of conflict and injustice. In his lifetime, the northern kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Syria waged war against the kingdom of Judah. Judah then turned to the brutal, pagan kingdom of Assyria for assistance. Judah survived that war, but then became a vassal of Assyria. Years later when Judah fought a war of independence against Assyria, Assyria destroyed every Judean city except Jerusalem. It is in this context that Isaiah prophesies. He passionately cries out for justice for the poor. In Isaiah 3:15, he asks "What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding down the faces of the poor? says The Lord God of Hosts." Isaiah also prophesies the coming of a messianic ruler who will bring peace and justice—the “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” We next move to the Gospel of Luke Chapter 1: In this passage, the angel promises Mary that Jesus will be a king different from other kings. He will have the spirit of wisdom that Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke about. His kingdom will be a kingdom of peace. Let us ask ourselves, "What is it about the way that Jesus guides us that gives us peace? In what ways is Jesus calling us to peace now? Whom do we need to forgive? What resentments do we need to let go of? In Luke Chapter 2 we witness the birth of Jesus, the messianic king. I am now going to ask you to do something different. I am going to ask you to contemplate the Gospel scene with your imagination. Just pause for a moment and free up your imagination. Listen to yourself breathe. Relax. There is no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn. They come to a barn. There Mary gives birth to her child and she lays him in a manger. Look upon that child. What do you see? Pick up the Christ child. Hold the Christ child. Breathe in the new baby smell. Feel the soft skin. What does that do to your heart? Feel the baby breathe. Can you feel how fragile and how vulnerable this baby is? Our messianic king comes to us as a fragile child. What does this tell us about God's will? St. Ignatius tells us that we find God's will in our deepest desires. What does the infant Jesus tell us about our deepest desires? Do we really crave power over others or do we really want communities that allow us to be vulnerable to each other? In our heart of hearts, do we value success above all else or do we value family and friendship? Come before the Christ child and ask "show me my heart. What do I really want?" In the Gospel of John, we are told that Jesus is God’s word made flesh. The Greek word for word that John uses is logos, but the Hebrew word that Jesus knew is Dabar. Dabar is the Hebrew word for word. Dabar is active and living, it acts in history. Dabar does not mean “idea” or “concept.” In Isaiah, Dabar is like the rain fertilizing the ground making plants grow Jesus is God's all-powerful dabar, acting in history and society, bringing about growth. And what does Jesus grow? A society of inclusion, not exclusion. And this inclusion is found in Matthew 2. The Gentile nations, represented by the three magi are included in the saving mission of the Christ child. The final scripture passage that we have heard tonight is Matthew 28. Interestingly, it is a story about the risen Christ, not the infant Christ, but it has much to teach us. The most interesting part of Matthew 28 is the verse "They worshipped but they doubted". Even seeing the risen Christ, they doubt. These are the apostles, the heroes of the early Church, and they are filled with doubt. Why? I think it is because the risen Christ is so far beyond what they can imagine humanity to be. The risen life, full of grace and forgiveness, absent anxiety and aggressiveness, free from resentment and fearlessly open to the future. Try to imagine a society based on the reality of the risen life. A society that provides justice for the poor. A society of inclusion. At times, we have our doubts about this society, but the Christ child has no doubts about us. He entrusts himself to us over and over again. And he commissions us to go forth and proclaim his good news. In the beginning* was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.a What is amazing is that God’s all-powerful word, active in history, bringing about a society in which desires are not disordered, but flow from our heart of hearts. God’s all-powerful word, transforming societies, reversing the cycles of sin and decline, overcoming collective violence, healing divisions between nations, and sowing justice for the poor, God’s all-powerful word was a fragile, little baby. May the peace of the Christ child be with you.