A Time to Refocus

12-01-2019From the Pastor's DeskMsgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

Our national day of Thanksgiving is over and now the big push we hear about through the media is shopping. Black Friday began the big push. But so many retailers were anxious that they began their Black Friday “sales” a week or two ahead of time. Christmas is a wonderful time and we look forward to preparing to celebrating it with family and friends. It is good to give and receive gifts and to send and receive cards and other greetings. The key of course is to recognize why there is so much time, energy, and money being spent: we are getting ready to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ. The real Black Friday was not a day to shop but the day we crucified the one whose birth has now been celebrated for 2,000 years. We can, do, and ultimately must celebrate because Jesus is the gift. He is God who humbled Himself and came to live among us and to bring us into His life, the life He shares with the Father and Holy Spirit, along with His Mother Mary and the throng of angels, saints, and loved ones who are now rejoicing forever in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Advent is a wonderful time to refocus on who Jesus is in our lives. How much of a difference does He make in all we say, think, and choose to do every day? This year all the first readings for the Sundays of Advent are from the prophet Isaiah. This week Isaiah presents the beautiful vision and hope for all humanity: “He shall judge between the nations, and set terms for many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (Isaiah 2:4) In the twenty-first century we have weapons that if unleashed in war can totally destroy our planet. But these weapons can only be used if human beings in positions of leadership choose to do so. Fighting with weapons is the result of injustice, anger, misunderstandings, greed, and a total lack of respect for one another. You and I are not going to push any buttons to set such powerful weapons off, but we are responsible for the violence and pain caused through our personal words, actions, and attitudes. As we pray the Our Father we conclude with these words: “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. The Gospel for that day was from Luke 23:35-43. As Jesus was hanging on the cross the crowds mocked and laughed at Him: The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”

For most of us the response to this would be to lash out in angry words. But Jesus remained faithful to who He was and what He came to do, that is, to love us no matter what we said, did, or thought in response to Him. Jesus even took the time and energy in the terrible pain of His own crucifixion to assure the “good thief” of God’s love: Then the criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” It is the presence in our midst of this Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. It is the presence of this Jesus in our minds and hearts that does far more than help us rise above temptation. His all powerful loving and forgiving presence fills us with the desire to love, forgive, seek reconciliation, and find true peace through, with, and in Him.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the first reading will come from Isaiah 7:10-14 where King Ahaz of Israel is told ask for a sign from God: “Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as Sheol, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” Then he said: Listen, house of David! Is it not enough that you weary human beings? Must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the virgin, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.” Ahaz did not want to change his plans or let God interfere with the way he was living his life as king. But again we see God’s refusal to stop loving us. God promises to send the Savior in a most unusual way, through a virgin. At times we leave our faith in God home or put it someplace where we do not to refer to it. Once we put God aside, we not only jeopardize our ability and willingness to live in His peace with one another, we build walls between us that are constructed of distrust, anger, vengeful thoughts, harsh words, pride, and a host of others negative thoughts and feelings.

Preparing for Christmas as people of faith is about recognizing the gift of faith in our lives. Jesus is the gift of God and His love. It is good to take time to look at the blessings we have in our lives and give thanks to God for them. The more we are grateful, the more we are filled with true joy. For more than two thousand years the gift of Jesus has been in our midst. Now is our time to receive this gift almost beyond belief into all we are every day of our lives. When that happens we start to begin our prayers not with petitions but with words of gratitude. Some gifts we receive we put away or look to give away. Jesus gives us the gift of who He is because He wants us to know we are that gift to Him. How good it is to take these words of Jesus at the Last Supper to heart: “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24) How awesome!! That is what will lead us to a Merry Christmas on December 25th and every day of our lives.