Homily for December 7, 2014

 Homily for the First Sunday of Advent: 2014

Audio for Homily

I grew up in St. Richard Parish in Danvers
where my pastor, Msgr. John Cusack,
would encourage us at this time of year
to wish people a HAPPY Christmas, not a MERRY one.
He reasoned that since we always say HAPPY Easter,
Christmas deserved an adjective more substantial than “merry.”

That was in the 1960’s. 
Some 50 years later,
I’m thinking about asking you to wish one and all
- a Righteous Christmas!
Whaddaya think?            
“Have a righteous Christmas!”
“Ho! Ho! Ho!  Riiiighteous Christmas!”
 “Have yourself a righteous little Christmas…”

But I digress…

You see, in the first scripture today
Isaiah called us to “comfort and tenderness”
while in the second reading,
St. Peter called us to “righteousness.”

Isaiah might seem to make a more attractive offer here
but it could be that we can’t have one without the other,
that righteousness and tender comfort are inseparable,
that they depend on each another.

Consider how very much this world of ours
stands is in need of tenderness and comfort -
but not the comfort that comes from the stability
of position or portfolio, privilege or possessions.
Rather, the comfort that comes from knowing deep in my heart,
that I am at peace with God,
that I live in a right relationship with God and with others.
And that, of course, is nothing less than - righteousness:
to stand in a right relationship with God and my neighbor.
We find the comfort, the tenderness God offers us
when we clear the paths along which God is coming into our lives
and on which we are making our way to God.

Christmas celebrates
God’s straight-shot highway into our hearts through Jesus.
Christmas is the feast
of God’s tender intimacy with humankind.

Christmas is our opportunity, in Jesus,
to make right our relationship with God and our neighbor.

The greatest and most lasting Christmas gift of all time
is the gift of Christ and his gospel, his message, in our lives.
But how easy and confounding it can be every December
for our attention to focus so easily
on things that bring no real comfort or tenderness
but only nostalgia and sentimentality.
We focus on things that, in the end, mean very little
and are, in fact, disposable.

How easily we turn it all upside down.

Yet, our being here today is, at its core, a sign of our desire
to be in a right relationship with God.

Here, on the Lord’s Day,  
we need to open wide our selves, our hearts and our minds, to God,
and “fill up” on the word, the song, the prayer,
the grace of this moment:
fill up so much that grace spills over into the week ahead,
continually drawing us closer to the Lord
and keeping us on the path of righteousness,
the path that leads to God - who’s making his way to us.
The comfort prayer offers is not the promise of a problem-free week
- no matter how much each of us would like to have one.
The comfort the Lord offers and promises is his presence at our side
in every problem and trouble in the week ahead,
in every worry and difficulty, in every ache and pain
the week ahead might bring us.

The Word of God became flesh at Christmas
not to make of our life a bowl of cherries
but to be EMMANUEL, God-with-us
in every difficulty we encounter and experience.

To stand in a right relationship with God
is to value his faithful love and presence above all else:
certainly above any gift we might find under the tree
or in a stocking hung by the chimney with care.

No greater, no more tender comfort could be ours
than to know that our God is always with us.
To live righteously with our neighbor
is to live throughout the week the moment of Holy Communion,
the moment at Mass when we are all one, in Christ,
without distinction,
in the one Bread, the one Cup of the Eucharist.

As the Lord invites each of us to his table,
with all our faults and failings,
so he asks each of us to invite others into our hearts,
including, especially and first, the poor,
followed by those who most annoy and offend us,
and then, family and friends.

And that might well demand the righteousness of:
filling in the valleys of our envy and selfishness;
leveling the mountains of our arrogance and anger;
and filling in the potholes of the many roads
that connect us with one another – and with God.

We are about to go to the altar of the Lord’s comfort,
the table where God is always with us.

May the word and sacrament we receive here generously fill us
and overflow into the days of the week ahead of us:
that we might bring and be comfort for others;
that we might speak tenderly to all we know and meet;
that we might stand in a right relationship
with God and our neighbor.

And that’s why I really do want to wish you all
a very righteous Christmas!


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