Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Sermon

December 11, 2011

The Third Sunday in Advent

Gaudete Sunday

So you got your kid the latest video game system for Christmas and you’re glad that you are not going to hear him (or her) say, “Dad, will you help me set this up?” In such an unlikely event, you’d be rushing to the manual, which would do you no good whatsoever because you know that you’d have a better chance of understanding it if it were written in Mandarin Chinese.

The child, flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, has no such problems. He doesn’t bother to crack the manual. He sets it up and parks himself in front of the monitor where he gradually lapses into a semi comatose state in which he’ll remain until school starts.

Your child is not unusual. Few people want to be bothered with weighty manuals. While it’s certainly true, as the apostle John says, that “In the beginning was the Word”, in this day and age at the dawn of 2012 there aren’t many people who want to take the time to read any words at all; or at least not unless it is on a IPad, Kindle or Nook.

Americans today are buying the most sophisticated computers, IPads, tablets or readers, the sharpest video game systems, the snazziest automobiles, the most versatile smart phones that do everything except cook for you and then we forget, decline or simply refuse to read the directions.

Owner’s manuals, care guides, troubleshooting Web sites, how-to directories? Too much trouble. “It’s too time-consuming and I’m impatient,” or “I’d rather watch someone else doing it, and then I can ask why”, “I’m a hands-on person; I learn by doing” and any myriad of things some of us might say.

Reading the manual. For many, it’s simply not going to happen. The implications of this trend are disturbing, in both our economic and spiritual lives. Failure to read the instructions makes products more expensive, because manufacturers have to provide toll-free help lines to provide simple answers to simple questions.

Q: Why doesn’t my washing machine start?
A: Because the lid is not closed.
Q: Why won’t my computer printer work?
A: Because it’s not plugged in ... because the ink cartridge is not properly installed ... because there is no paper in the printer.

These questions and answers may seem silly or cynical, but sad to say they are true. Ignoring instructions is turning out to be a high-priced habit. For some people, no amount of clearly written instructional material is going to make a bit of difference.

For the rest of us, however, reading the manual is essential - as consumers and as Christians. It is in the manual called the Bible that we can find answers to so many FAQs, such as:

• What should I be doing with my life?
• How can I make a fresh start?
• Where’s the guidance I need for happiness in my relationships?
• What’s the point of the day-to-day grind I’m experiencing?
• How can I make the best use of the time and money and talents that I have?
• Where’s the evidence of God in this world?
• Why do really nasty things happen to innocent people?
• Is there more to this life than I can see?

The Bible contains stories and letters and prophecies and commandments with answers to these questions, and it rewards our attempts at careful and prayerful study of its 66 books; 39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament. (Or for Catholic Bibles, there are 73 books. 46 Old Testament and 27 New Testament.) Certain lessons are much better learned through Holy Scripture than through personal trial and error. But the Bible is big, let’s face it - it’s an enormous owner’s manual, containing over a thousand pages in most translations. There’s just no way that we can master it in a single sitting.

Many desire a user-friendly version. I’ve personally read the Bible cover to cover five times. Twice like a novel, and three times in a yearlong 365 day segment version. But, few people will do anything remotely like this today. We all want the quick answer or solution. Being a Christian; being a Catholic is a way of life, and it simply doesn’t come quickly. It takes time, perseverance and a good manual.

Fortunately, John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. This pre-existent Word of God was part of the very creation of the world, and brought both life and light into our midst. Best of all, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”. The Word of God became human in Jesus Christ and lived among us, so that we could see the perfect grace and truth of God at work in human life. In Jesus, God’s Word is not only 66/73 books spread out over a thousand-plus pages; it is also a living, breathing, loving, forgiving, healing, teaching, leading, guiding, correcting, consoling, challenging and comforting human being.

Jesus is not a Word we sit down and read. Instead, he’s a Word we watch and hear and imitate and follow. No form of instruction could possibly be more user-friendly.

To follow this Word-made-flesh is to accept that Jesus is at the heart of our interpretation of Scripture. Does a particular interpretation conform to the teaching, activity, example, life, death and resurrection of Jesus? If so, then it’s a correct interpretation, and a valid form of instruction. If not, then we should scrutinize it.

Pick a difficult problem, any difficult problem: capital punishment, abortion, welfare reform, war, gay marriage and any number of topics on a seemingly endless list. Then plug in a popular Christian solution, and ask yourself, “Does this solution conform to the example of Jesus Christ? Does it support his great commandment to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind - and to love your neighbor as yourself? Does it spread the love given by God, commanded by God and shown by Jesus?” If it fits the life and teaching of Christ, you’ve got a winner.

It is certainly true that there aren’t many people today who are willing to slow down long enough to read the fine print of various owners’ manuals, care guides, troubleshooting Web sites, and how-to directories. And it’s equally true that there aren’t many among us who are going to take the time to do a careful study of the rules and regulations of the Old Testament books of the law.

That’s why we need the Word made flesh. That’s why we need someone to come down and pull us out of trouble, save us from our sins, lead us by the hand and inspire us to follow the way of God. In our word-avoiding world, we need a picture, an icon. Now we have it: Jesus Christ the Lord.

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,” says the writer of Hebrews. That was the age of instructions, the era of detailed how-to directories. But “in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word” (1:1-3).

In the coming of Christ, we have now been given a far more wonderful and user-friendly guide: the flesh-and-blood Son of God.

To find the answers to life’s questions, we can do no better than looking to God’s Son. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. Heir of all things. Creator of worlds. Sustainer of all.

• When we are searching for direction and guidance, he can lead us.
• When we are desperate for forgiveness and new life, he can fill us.
• When we are hungering for meaning and insight, he can satisfy us.
• When we are looking for holiness in the swirling chaos of current events, Jesus can reveal himself to us.

To all who receive him, according to the gospel of John, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God. Advent is the time we most especially seek God Incarnate; Jesus the Christ. The Messiah come as a child; come as a human being, in our flesh to connect with us, because we simply won’t read manuals; at least not in the traditional way.

God Love You +
+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sunday Sermon

December 4, 2011

The Second Sunday of Advent

We live between Christ's two advents in the flesh, and our life as Christians is defined by them. He has already come to us in great humility, to suffer and die for our redemption; and he shall come again is glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead. And what we shall be judged by at his second advent is whether, and how, we have lived by the grace and mercy of his first.
Advent is preeminently the season of preparation. The world both helps and hinders this task. The sending of cards, the purchase and wrapping of presents, the decorating of trees, the stringing of lights, the singing of seasonal music, the preparation of food and drink, the reunions of families and friends, the opening of doors on Advent calendars and even the expectation of Santa Claus (fore he is, after all, St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, and witness to Christ's divinity). All of this is, or can be, an authentic part of Christian life, an element in the preparation for Christ's advent.
Yet all these customs can also become a way of ignoring and forgetting the reality of his advent; a way of turning up the volume of this world's noise to drown out the Angel choirs. It is a question of attitude and outlook.
There is only one way of dealing with Christ is coming, and that is by Christ himself. Christ has three advents. His first advent is in the flesh. His second advent is in judgment. In this third intermediate advent is in the mind and heart of mankind. Here and now, in the virtue of his first coming, and in preparation for his second, he comes into our minds and hearts through his Spirit working in them through the Word and Sacrament he has entrusted to his Church.
Above all, he comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Communion. Each time is in advent of Christ. In every such celebration we are faced with a moment of judgment and mercy, an opportunity and a challenge. It is a question of being ready and able to receive what it is Christ wills to give. If we are not ready and able to receive what he wills to give, which means to say we do not desire what he desires for us, then the Sacrament is a sign of judgment, a sign of what we are not and do not want to be. But if we do desire what he desires to give us, then it is to us a sign of mercy, of what he is making us, and what we will to be made.
The Church therefore has always taught the necessity of preparation for Communion. In earlier centuries, preparation for Communion could be an elaborate, meticulous process of self-examination, repentance and gratitude. In the 17th and 18th centuries, manuals of devotion were published to guide this preparation, which assumed a process extending over several days, and thus undertaken infrequently with Communion being taken maybe two or three times a year at most.
After the 19th century, frequency of Communion gradually increased, and from the 1930s, weekly communion became more and more common, and communicants’ manuals of preparation at first kept pace. But by the 1980s, the very notion of preparation for Communion had faded away. The requirement of being baptized, let alone a general confession and absolution, is viewed in the modern time with this distaste from many quarters.
It is hard to prepare for Communion because it's hard to face the truth. In many ways it's equally as hard to prepare during Advent for Christmas. But it's really not that complicated. We have to merely accept what we know God demands of us, and to renounce what we know he forbids and thus be sorry.
There are websites out there that on Christmas Eve will track Santa's progress as he goes around the world and gives out toys to all the little boys and girls who have been good in the previous year. Many children probably run to the website every few moments or seconds, with their excitement heightening when they see the sleigh pulled by reindeer is nearing North America. Their imaginations track him to their state, to their town, and even to their own home. Some would even claim they hear the reindeer on the roof. The expectations of young boys and girls are unlimited. So many good things are about to happen. As Christians we are called to be like eager children who are waiting for Santa, but in our case, waiting for Christ's second coming.
If we expect Christ's presence, we will find it because God is always present to us, whether in the Holy Eucharist or in our hearts. From the beginning of time God has wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for. God enriched us in every way and assured us that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
In the many preparations, sights and sounds of the season, our watching and waiting would quickly become dulled. As humans we need that sight, that sound, and that smell to help heighten our expectation and eagerness for the divine presence that will come to us on Christmas Day. Our expectations must open us to recognize Jesus among us now, working for our good in so many ways. We must also recognize his presence in ourselves as we strive to do good for others.
In the Gospel we are told to prepare the way of the Lord. Just what is the way Lord? It is not only a life of holiness and devotion, but also a life of repentance and forgiveness, a life of hearing the glad tidings of God’s salvation and announcing this good news to the world. This is the way John the Baptist lived; this is the way of life into which Christ baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. Left to our own design, we cannot hope to prepare for or bring ourselves to this kind of living. It is God who shepherds us, feeds us, gathers us, is faithful to divine promises, and baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. The work of salvation is God's. But ours is the preparation and being open to divine initiative.
Like John the Baptist, we must be voices crying out to prepare the way of the Lord. Salvation has already come. What we do now with this salvation is critical. It is what John the Baptist was doing when he announced Christ's first coming. The way we live our lives makes a difference, not only for our salvation, but because we are to announce God's kingdom to others.
The job of John the Baptist is transferred to us. The most important announcement in preparation for Christ’s coming, is living our lives in such a way that we are without spot or blemish before him. The fullness of this way of the Lord will only come when this world will pass away.
By living in this life we announce the Christ has come and brought us salvation. All we need to do is respond with faithfulness, for by our holiness and devotion, we are not just waiting for but actually hastening the coming of the day of the Lord. It is up to us to manage those activities and sights and smells that come with this season, and allow them to work for us in our advantage. To allow them to lead us to the true reason of the season. All those lights, all those gifts, all those sights and sounds are not what's bad; what's bad is how we allow them to distract us from the true meaning of what takes place on Christmas Day. Alternately, if we allow them to heighten our expectation of the Christ child, then in our miserably human way, we are calling out to Christ. Let us prepare the way of the Lord!
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.