Monthly Archives: December 2018

Christmas: God With Us

 

“I wonder as I wander out under the sky,

why Jesus, our Savior, was born for to die,

for poor, orn’ry people like you and like I

I wonder as I wander out under the sky.”

I seem to go back to that familiar carol every Christmas. Maybe it’s because wonder is a Christmas word. Wonder is a reaction to something beyond what we expect, beyond our experience, so big it leaves us lost for words. And so we wonder.

The gospel story from St. Luke says that: the

‘In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.” Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the world orders a census.. “Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Quirinius , Caesar’s enforcer for Palestine, orders his jurisdiction to be counted. The big people have spoken.

But the big people, the important people don’t impress Luke. Rather, his eyes are drawn to a couple in the crowd being enrolled, from a little town in Galilee called Nazareth– Joseph and his betrothed wife Mary, who was with child. On their way to Bethlehem.

“While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”o

Luke gospel goes on to tell about this child born in Bethlehem. He grows up in Nazareth,and begins to preach and work marvels in Galilee, and draws followers and goes up to Jerusalem where he’s arrested, sentenced to death, crucified, then raised from the dead. Luke goes on further to describe the followers of Jesus who take his message to the ends of the earth, until finally his message  comes down us today.

The word “wonder” describes the way to look on this story, because wonder seems to be a cautious word, it’s cautious before something great and unknown. Wonder is a word that questions. Why would God come among us like this? So small and powerless and helpless? Why not come in a more powerful way and make the world a new paradise. In the Advent season, prophets like Isaiah promised the nations would beat their swords into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks: no one will train for war again. Yet, we seem to be building bigger armies and bigger weapons of mass destruction. The Messiah will make the deserts flower and the created world a feast. Yet, now our creation’s not flowering; it’s endangered; life itself threatened.

All peoples will come to God, the prophets say. Yet, so many turn away from him instead.

I wonder, as I wander out under the sky, why Jesus our Savior was born for to die, for poor, ornery people like you and like I…

God is with us. Immanuel. God reveals himself as God wills, not as we will or think it should be done. Faith doesn’t give us all the answers, but it gives us enough answers to trust in God who is with us. God with us, a humble God, born of Mary, born in a stable. God who lives among us, who knows our hopes and sorrows, who died on a Cross and rose again, and promises a new creation and that we will rise again.

We believe in God  Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

December 24: The Dawn from On High

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The birth of John the Baptist. Luke’s gospel says, is closed connected to the birth of Jesus. today. We celebrate the two births as we draw near to Christmas.  Struck dumb by doubt,  John’s father Zechariah speaks again as he agrees to the child’s name. “John is his name.”

John Baptist birth

Artists often portray the birth of John in a room with midwives attending Elizabeth at his birth, but Luke’s gospel portrays Zechariah his father singing a song at his birth.. “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us. For you, my child,  shall go before the Lord to prepare his way, by the forgiveness of sins”  He sees the birth of John in a larger perspective.

“The dawn from on high shall break upon us.” A new day can dawn in a spectacular way at times. I saw daybreak over New York City a few years ago from our house in Union City. Shortly before, the city was dark, then the day broke to bathe it in gold.  What promise daybreak holds!

These days, darkened by political unrest worldwide, poverty,  terrorism, racial problems and homelessness, we need grace from on high. Christmas comes at a good time.

Readings here.

O King of all nations and keystone of the church,  come and save us whom you formed from the dust.

Readings of the 4th Week of Advent


DECEMBER 23 SUNDAY FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Mi 5:1-4a/Heb 10:5-10/Lk 1:39-45 (12)

24 Monday Advent
Morning: 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16/Lk 1:67-79 (200)

25 Tuesday THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (Christmas)
Solemnity [Holyday of Obligation]
Vigil: Is 62:1-5/Acts 13:16-17, 22-25/Mt 1:1-25 or 1:18-25 (13) Night: Is 9:1-6/Ti 2:11-14/Lk 2:1-14 (14) Dawn: Is 62:11-12/Ti 3:4-7/Lk 2:15-20 (15) Day: Is 52:7-10/Heb 1:1-6/Jn 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14 (16)

26 Wednesday Saint Stephen, The First Martyr
Feast
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59/Mt 10:17-22 (696)

27 Thursday Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist
Feast
1 Jn 1:1-4/Jn 20:1a, 2-8 (697)

28 Friday The Holy Innocents, Martyrs
Feast
1 Jn 1:5—2:2/Mt 2:13-18 (698)

29 Saturday Fifth Day within the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord
[Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr]
1 Jn 2:3-11/Lk 2:22-35 (202)

Friday Thoughts: Pure Extra Virgin

by Howard Hain
william-dyce-the-garden-of-gethsemane-1860

William Dyce, “The Garden of Gethsemane”, 1860*


To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night.

—Psalm 90:4


.One good olive.

There are so many factors.

The altitude. The light. The soil. The temperature. The rainfall. The wind. The dew point and humidity. The age of the tree.

Then there are those factors that we can control: pruning, watering, fertilizing, fanning, netting, and wrapping chilly trees with burlap or fleece.

And of course there are those other factors, those that fall somewhere in-between, between our control and our complete lack thereof: most of these relate to the sneaky work of numerous little thieves—animals, birds, insects, and perhaps even fellow farmers or other hungry travelers who just happen to pass by.

But when all is said and done—when all the factors are poured into the olive equation, mixed-up well, and left to unify or settle out—the fruit that’s produced by the world’s most nostalgic, symbolic, and romantic of trees means very little (at least in digestive terms) if it’s simply left to shrivel up and fall to the ground.

———

Picking an olive is perhaps the highest part of the art.

———

When to do so? And toward what end?

If too early, great potential is squandered.

If too late, great taste is lost.

If indecisive, we might as well let nature enjoy it for the time being—for one way or another—God’s process will eventually return it to the earth.

———

And yet, we’re still not done, for even if the olive is picked at just the right time, from just the right tree—the one that has grown in all the right circumstances—when it comes to the culmination of olive production, all is moot if the precious fruit of the womb is never squeezed.

For no matter how good the olive, without applied pressure, there’s nothing left to be labeled “pure extra virgin”.


.But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a women…

—Galatians 4:4


 

* Gethsemane is the name of a garden on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It appears in the Greek of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark as Γεθσημανή (Gethsēmanē). The name is derived from the Aramaic ܓܕܣܡܢ (Gaḏ-Šmānê), meaning “oil press”.

 

(Dec/23/2016)

 

Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

broken-baby-christ-2-1


We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel, and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

———

St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

———

For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

———

It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com