Homily for December 22, 2013

 Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

Joseph was fully aware that Mary, his betrothed,
was expecting a child he knew was not his.
He was worried, troubled, upset, afraid,
embarrassed, unsure, anxious and confused.

Suppose the angel who appeared in Joseph’s dream had said, 

“Joseph…  Joseph…
'Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
let your heart be light,
from now on your troubles will be out of sight.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
make the Yuletide gay,
from now on your troubles will be miles away.
So, have yourself a merry little Christmas day…'”

Nah!  I don’t think that would have worked for Joseph!
And I don’t think it works for us, either.

You see, the thing is, many of us are just as
worried, troubled, upset, afraid,
embarrassed, unsure, anxious and confused
by what’s going on in our lives as was Joseph.

And it’s certainly not uncommon,
that these weeks and days before Christmas can make things worse.
Messages like the one in that song can easily feed the fantasy
that all our troubles will or should be out of sight, miles away,
by the time Christmas gets here.
(If you believe that,
you’ve been watching too many movies on the Hallmark Channel!)

Then too, songs like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
can easily disturb what healing our wounds have known
and make even heavier to bear the losses our hearts have sustained.

Songs like this tend to minimalize, trivialized
and domesticate Christmas.

The birth of Christ doesn’t promise merriment
but it does invite us to find some deep peace – even some joy –
in our most difficult times.

The angel in Joseph’s dream
didn’t promise to take away all his problems
nor is anything like that promised to us in our difficulties.
Rather, Christmas provides a path
for us to make our way through our troubles
by walking with Christ who came, who was born,  to walk with us.
It’s even there in his name, Emmanuel:

No one would better understand better than Mary and Joseph
if we’re not feeling merry by Tuesday night or Wednesday moring.
They understand our problems and troubles, our worries and fears,
our embarrassment, our anxiety and confusion.

Mary, nearing her delivery date, had to make the journey
from Galilee to Bethlehem maybe on a camel, maybe on a donkey
or maybe on foot.
The scriptures don’t tell us her mode of transportation
but we do know that distance from Galilee to Bethlehem is 80 miles.
It was not a “merry little Christmas” for Mary.

The message in Joseph’s dream is key here:
“Don’t be afraid, Joseph.
As difficult as it is to understand and to believe, Joseph,
God is working in your lives, Mary’s and yours,
and God will not abandon you, but will be with you:
he will be Emmanuel.” 

If the first Christmas wasn’t all that merry - it was very messy:
giving birth – in a barn!
And you know, even the best of our Christmases, yours and mine,
even the happiest, are always at least a little bit messy
with our troubles, our losses and our grief
and whatever might be the next 80 miles of our journeys.

No promises, then, for a “merry little Christmas.”
But do look for a peaceful, even a joyful Christmas
- and not a little one but one bigger than the hurt your heart holds –
one big enough to wrap around you and enfold you in a place
where joy can be found.

For that peace, for that joy,
you need to listen again to the angel’s message:
“Don’t be afraid.
As difficult as it may be to understand and to believe
God is working in your life and will not abandon you:
God will be with you: Emmanuel…” 

Whether the next leg of our journey is 80 miles, or 8, or 800,
we’re all heading towards Bethlehem.
The name of the town of Bethlehem means “House of Bread.”
How perfect that Jesus, our Bread of Life,
should be born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.

So stop by here as you make your way.
Bring with you in your travels
the luggage of your burdens and troubles
and whatever your soul holds at Christmas time this year.

Don’t be afraid if things a bit messy
and don’t hold out for the merry.
Be not afraid to open your hearts
to the child of Bethlehem who waits to be born within you
and to bring you gifts of peace and joy.



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