Homily for December 16

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent
Scriptures for today's Mass


It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Well, that’s what the song says - but for many,
the truth is something very different - and not so wonderful…

• When you tear off the bright ribbons and wrappings of Christmas,
you’ll often uncover, underneath, some sadness...
• If you look closely behind all the quick and easy holiday smiles,
you may find tears, moistening many faces…
• As you listen to Christmas music,
you might hear your own heart echo strains of loneliness and loss…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

But if you douse the candles and pull the plug on the lights on the tree,
if you take down the wreaths and the mistletoe…
You see, it’s not all that difficult to look a lot like Christmas -
for many, the really hard part is to feel a lot like Christmas.

Happy holidays!  Happy holidays!

But “the holidays” just aren’t a happy time for many people.
And even for those who do find the holidays to be uplifting
their happiness is often marked by some degree of sadness,
moistened with tears, laced with melancholy,
edged with a certain measure of sorrow.

So, a bittersweet experience - as it is for me this year.
This year I celebrate my 25th Christmas as a pastor in Concord:
my 25th and last Christmas in Concord.

Much of what this season purports and pretends to be
is, for many, just that: a posture, based on a presumption
that we’re all supposed to feel and act in a particular way,
-- in a particularly joyful way - every time December rolls around.
For many folks, that’s very difficult;
and for some it’s nearly impossible.

And yet, here’s St. Paul urging us in the scriptures today: 
Rejoice in the Lord always!  I shall say it again: rejoice!
Paul’s words might be hard for some of us to swallow,
especially if we find the holidays to be a difficult time.

But there’s also a truth, a wisdom, in Paul’s words
that can serve all of us well.
The joy St. Paul writes about is something quite different
than being “merry” in each year’s twelfth month.
The joy of faith is of far greater strength and substance
than “yuletide glee.”

Rather, the joy of faith is rather like a river
coursing through the depths of our hearts
even in those times when life, all around us,

may be desert-thirsty and  bone-dry:
times when we need, so desperately,
just one cool drop of water
to slake a thirsty sadness threatening to consume us.

The joy of faith is like a light, glowing,
somewhere deep within our souls
when everything around us is dark and cloudy,

that light does not go out.
When everything is over-shadowed by loss and disappointment,
that light still burns.
This is a joy within, waiting for the soul’s long, dark night to pass
and for a new day to dawn with light to shine on the path we walk
and lead us safely home to peace.

The joy of faith comes in that moment when,
somewhere deep within,  in a place we may have long forgotten,
we find a hint, a trace, a gift, a grace from God,
reminding us that there is another way,

there is another day;
that we’re not alone but that we walk with God,
who walks with us, who’s been with us,

every step along the way, all along our dark and rocky path…

The joy of faith isn't about being “merry.”
It’s about the peace that comes from trust in God,
in God’s abiding love for us,

even and especially in difficult and hard times:
in the hope that peace is waiting for us:
a peace that knows no sorrow, knows no pain:
a peace that has no end,

a peace that can reawaken joy in us.

And as if St. Paul encouraging us to rejoice always isn’t enough
he writes this, too:  Have no anxiety!    (Right!  “Have no anxiety!)
He says: In everything, make your requests known to God!

I know some people who are tired of praying.
They’re tired of praying because they’ve already prayed for so long
for someone, or for some thing or for themselves
and it seems that God’s not answering.
Sometimes it may seem that God’s not even listening.

But no prayer ever leaves our lips without God’s hearing it
and even our unspoken prayers, hiding in our hearts' silence -
are heard by God.

God’s doesn’t always answer quickly  - or in the way we want,
but prayer always draws us closer to the Lord,
who knew, himself, what it was to cry out
when it seemed no answer would come,
when it seemed that no one was listening to him.
We may not readily receive what we pray for
but every prayer can draw us closer to the love of God.
The presence, the companionship of God with us
is the first answer to every prayer.

And, St. Paul goes on to say:
If you rejoice always, and pray at all times,
then God’s peace will be yours.

What’s this peace Paul speaks of?
It’s more than the end of conflict. 
It’s more than a solution to my problems.
It’s the peace that comes of knowing that God is with me,
in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.
It’s the peace that comes of knowing that whatever I’ve done,
what ever my troubles may be, whatever tomorrow may bring:
God loves me as I am
and there’s nothing’s greater than God’s love.

This peace, then, isn’t a peace
I hope is somewhere “down the road”
at the end of all my difficulties and troubles.
The peace Paul writes about is the peace of God
accompanying me, on my rocky path, every step of the way,
through all my troubles.

Can we stop for a moment, then,
and maybe close our eyes and pray…
Can we put our problems in the Lord’s hands for a few minutes…

Can we remember something joyful in our lives:?
Can we remember a person, a relationship,
a place, a time, an event that brought us joy
– even something long ago?
Can we remember that joy and savor it, delight in it again,
for just a moment -  and thank God for it?
Can we hold that joy in a grateful heart,
and take in, drink in, the peace it seeks to offer us?

Let’s pray…

Lord, the jolly jingle's all around us but not in every heart...
Red and green are everywhere but some folks just feel blue...
The rushing 'round to buy and wrap disheartens lonely souls...

Plans for Christmas eve leave out those who'll be alone...
This “merry month” will be, for some - the hardest time of all...

So, help us, Lord, we pray...

Help us hear the tears that fall as Christmas bells are ringing...
Help us see the shades of blue that cloud a neighbor's joy...

Help us wrap our love to share with those who'll be alone...
And let your gentle touch rest upon hearts that know the ache

this season often brings,
let your blessing come, Lord, with grace,
to heal our hearts with peace,
on Christmas day...                         



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