The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Homily: December 19

Readings: Jgs 13:2-7,24-25; Ps 71; Lk 1:5-25
Angel Announces the Birth of Samson
Some years ago I found myself in a long discussion about miracles with a New Testament scholar. To be blunt, he didn't believe in them. He rejected everything from Jesus changing water into wine at Cana all the way to the Resurrection. And, of course, he accepted none of the miracles described in the Old Testament. He was so caught up in the modern spirit of the age that he saw miracles as a scandal. God, he believed, can act only in ideas or thoughts, but certainly not in the material world.

Of course if God does not possess creative power over the material universe, then, quite simply He isn't God. And what is the Incarnation if not God moving in the world.

Today's readings show us how God can move and act in ways miraculous. They speak of trust – trust that God will do as He promises, even when those promises seem impossible. They speak of hope and belief in the miraculous. They speak too of our relationship with God, for God wants us to trust in Him. He wants us to accept that the world is powerless in the face of His majesty. And when we turn to the Lord, when we accept Him as our salvation, He will be our refuge from the idiocies and hatreds of the world. And they also speak of preparation, a fitting theme for the week before Christmas. 

In our first reading from Judges we encounter a foreshadowing of the birth of John the Baptist. Like Zechariah in the Gospel, Manoah's wife was visited by an angel who told her she would bear a son, a very special son, a son blessed by the Lord. He would be called Samson. We encounter a similar event elsewhere in Scripture, in 1st Book of Samuel when Hannah was promised a son, the prophet Samuel.

Each of these women, who had long despaired of being mothers, was granted the gift of a child. And their sons became great, each in his own way a herald of the Messiah who is still to come.

In today's Gospel passage Luke describes the angel's promise of a son to the elderly Zechariah. I don't know about you, but I've always felt a little sorry for Zechariah. He'd finally been chosen, in what amounted to a priestly lottery, to enter the Temple's Holy of Holies, an honor that happened only rarely.

And there he was, this faithful, aging, Jewish priest, fulfilling his duties when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Now that had to be quite a shock. After all, angelic apparitions aren't very common. But even more shocking is what Gabriel told him:

"Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John" [Lk 1:13]
Gabriel Appears to Zechariah
God had heard his prayer, the angel told him, but maybe Zechariah had long ago stopped praying that prayer, had stropped asking for the son he now believed he and Elizabeth would never have. But that's how God is sometimes. We ask and we receive, but occasionally it can take awhile; for God works in His time not ours.

Gabriel went on to relate wondrous things about this son who had yet to be conceived. But Zechariah seemed to ignore all those wondrous things, and instead focused on the conception issue. That was the problem for Zechariah; and he just couldn't help himself. He had to explain the situation to Gabriel: "For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years" [Lk 1:18], as if Gabriel and God don't already know this.

Yes, how often you and I do the same thing? How often are our prayers filled with explanations, in case God hasn't grasped the details.  How much of your prayer centers on your wants and your will, and how much is in praise and thanksgiving for the manifestation of God's will in your life? Most of us are probably a lot like Zechariah who instead of saying, "Thank you, Lord, for hearing my prayer," proclaimed his doubts by asking, "How shall I know this?" [Lk 1:18]

It was this proclamation of doubt that betrayed his weakness of faith, his unwillingness to accept that "nothing will be impossible for God" [Lk 1:37]. The irony is that later Gabriel uses these very words when he tells Mary of Elizabeth's pregnancy. Yes, with God all things are possible. It's an irony that also displays God's sense of humor.

And so, in today's encounter with the Word, we see the time for preparation drawing to a close, as the world readies for the appearance of its Savior. Can the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah help us to think about the coming of the Lord?

Now is a time to set priorities. Now is a time to decide how to spend these last hours of Advent before they are gone. What matters most to us? 

Can we ask for guidance and grace to spend these brief days in a way that recognizes the core realities of redemption and justice? 

Do we need to turn our hearts toward our family, our children and grandchildren, in some new way, offering love and forgiveness and peace?

Can we open our minds to God's Holy Word, allowing Him to teach us?

And Recall the words of our Responsorial Psalm. Can we make them our prayer today?

"For you are my hope, O LORD; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother's womb you are my strength" [Ps 71:5-6].
Can we abandon ourselves to Him and His Divine Mercy, and allow Him to refine and purify us?

Can we turn to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to fill our hearts and minds with God's truth, God's

May the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of love guide you this day – and may you have a blessed Christmas season this year!

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