Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 24, 2016
Mass at Midnight
Christmas Eve is one of the darkest days of the year. As many of you probably know, three days ago, the 21stwas the first day of winter, but it is also the shortest “day” of the year, because it is the day in the northern hemisphere in which we have the shortest amount of daylight in a 24 hour period.

Today, so the experts say, we have experienced only nine hours and 26 minutes of daylight, which leaves us with more than 14 hours of darkness.

There are plenty of reasons to feel as though we are a "people sitting in darkness." Climate change. A nuclear North Korea.Cyber-attacks. Global terrorism. Personal insecurity about relationships, jobs, health, retirement and so on. But there are rays of light. People and children are lighting candles. We turn then to a Child who is the "Light of the World."

Deep, deep darkness. Some say that when you're experiencing darkness in your life, you should pray for God to free you from it. And iafter that you are still in darkness, pay the electric bill.That might help.

But we're not the first people to face dark days. In the time of the prophet Isaiah, about 700 years before the birth of Christ, the people of Israel were walking in darkness -- they "lived in a land of deep darkness." God seemed silent to them, and they were "greatly distressed and hungry." In an earlier passage, Isaiah tells us that they saw "only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they were thrust into thick darkness" (8:21-22).

We know what this feels like, don't we?

Global terrorism distresses us. Economic insecurity leaves us feeling empty. Climate change and cyber-attacks cause anxiety and anguish, and our fears about the future make us feel as though we are being "thrust into thick darkness."

Darkness. Thick darkness. We need some illumination.

The people of Israel saw a ray of light in the birth of a king, a new descendent of David. "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us," says the prophet Isaiah; "authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." His kingdom shall be established "with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore."

This king was the hope of the people of Israel -- the one who would rule them with justice and righteousness. He was their hope for the future.

We have reason for hope today as well. A writer named Baratunde Thurston recently listened to a number of TED Talks (, "Ideas Worth Spreading: Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world") and learned about an 22-year-old named Taylor Wilson who at 14 years old said to himself, "I'm going to design a new, safer, more efficient nuclear reactor." And then he did it. 

A Kenyan teenager named Richard Turere at 9 years old feared that lions would devour his family's livestock. So he built an automated security system.

Jack Andrakaat just 16 years old, became angry about pancreatic cancer after it killed a family friend. But instead of cursing the darkness, he lit a candle. Bucking conventional wisdom about cancer testing, he developed a protein-based blood test that is much faster, more effective, and cheaper than the current option.

And he did this, says Thurston, "all while dealing with homework, parents and puberty."

"A child has been born for us, a son given to us," says the prophet Isaiah. Children are still being born who are succeeding in making the world a safer, more secure and healthier place. God's kingdom of justice and righteousness is being advanced one innovation at a time.

It's enough to give you hope for the future.

Of course, the most impressive of God's innovators was born in Bethlehem about seven centuries after the prophet Isaiah. Think about that: The people of Israel did not get to see the greatest of David's descendants immediately, but had to wait more than 700 years. And we complain about Christmas advertising starting merely a 100 days before; imagine 700 years!

Would be like us patiently waiting until the 28th century.

No doubt they hoped that their hope for the future would come a little faster.

But come he did. Jesus Christ was born, to show us God's love and to be our Savior. In the middle of a dark, dark night, he came to bring us light and be our hope. And he is our future hope, not because he is a child, but because he is Jesus! 

Isaiah was right to say that "his authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom." The authority of Jesus has only increased, with the world now containing more than 2.2 billion Christians out of 6.9 billion earthly inhabitants -- about a third of the global population. 

Jesus continues to offer us his peace in a challenging and contentious world, saying to us, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid" (John 14:27).

Notice that Jesus does not offer us an escape from life's challenges, but instead he gives us peace in the middle of these challenges.

Jesus also establishes his kingdom "with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore." Like the prophets before him, he is anointed by God "to bring good news to the poor ... release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind" (Luke 4:18, based on Isaiah 61:1). 

He wants justice for all of God's children, rich and poor, black and white, conservative and liberal, immigrant and native-born. He is focused on people being in right relationship with God and with each other. The core meaning of righteousness is "right-relationship" -- not so much following certain rules and regulations as being in loving, giving, just and committed relationships with each of our fellow human beings. This is the kind of relationship that Jesus has with each of us, and it is the kind that he wants us to have with him, with God and with each other.

Our hope for the future is found in Jesus Christ, and in anyone who follows him in justice and righteousness. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light," says the prophet Isaiah, "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us."

Christmas is the season of hope for the future, where the light of Christ enters the darkness of the world. The birth of Jesus reminds us that children can change things for the better, whether they are designing safer nuclear reactors, developing better cancer blood tests, or being the one and only Savior of the World.

In every generation, there's the possibility that people will act as counselors and peacemakers, following in the footsteps of the Savior who is a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Since the time of Isaiah, people have dreamed that "the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6).

That little child is Jesus. As well as the children of God who follow him.

So, on this Christmas Eve, receive the light that is coming into the world! To those who are living in a land of deep darkness, the light of Christ is shining. He enters the lives of each of us today -- to show us God's love, to save us from our sins and to lead us in the paths of justice and righteousness. As we continue to struggle with the dangers and difficulties of life, he gives us his guidance and his peace.

Receive the light. Accept it, embrace it and then share it -- in whatever way you can. Resolve to reflect the light of Christ into the dark places that you see around you. Do whatever you can to make the world a safer, more secure and healthier place. Take actions that establish justice and righteousness in the world -- actions that help to build right relationships between people and God and between people one to another.

Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.

You don't have to build a security system for livestock or develop a new blood test for cancer. You don't have to broker peace between rival gangs or warring nations. But you can visit a lonely relative, invite a neighbor to church, tutor a troubled teenager or plant a community garden. You can be sure that they know that no matter who they are; what they are; who they share a home or life with; Christ is their hope.

Accepting and sharing the light of Christ is the best hope for our future. It's our hope for the futureJesus is our hope for the future!
Let us pray.
Father God, we thank you for bringing Your Light into the world in the Christ Child. From the time of Eden, we have experienced darkness in the world. You have attempted to get us out of that darkness ever since. 
Tonight we have seen a great light. How this Light should increase our joy, yet we sometimes do not allow it. How this Light should inspire us each to work to bring light to those who are most in need or feeling “outside”, yet we often do not
Lord, help us to know that we do not need to be nuclear physicists, electrical engineers or biological scientists to help others; we merely need to be a small instrument in bringing peace, hope, and love to others we meet each and every day. Small acts are big miracles to others. We live in the world that You created, and You saw that everything was good. Help us to see this also, especially in anyone and everyone we meet every day.
When we are down or facing troubles, bring the Light of Christ to our hearts, Lord, that we may find comfort and hope in our needs. 
Help each of us in this chapel this night/day to bring Your Light to one person this coming week, who may be in darkness and in need of Your love. May we, like the shepherds, follow that great light - For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.
Father God, thank you for sending us Your Son.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.
December 25, 2016
Christmas Day
Each year we arrive at this time of year. It cannot be skipped. I suppose one could (and so do) choose to ignore the day and its significance. However, either way, there is no way to go thru the year without somehow acknowledging it. In amongst this is the fact, most especially those of us who observe the holiday, that we have come to take the day for granted. Yes, it's Christmas and all that, but aside from maybe attending Midnight or Christmas morning Mass, when do we really pause and think about the day and its meaning to us as Christians?
We go about the day rather nonchalantly opening presents, visiting with friends and family, feasting on the best food offered and even party it up. Yet, we do this almost instinctively and not truly with nearly the reverence that the day is owed. We spend days and weeks preparing for the day, but only in a secular point of view and expression.
We should be excited, but not because we just got the latest and greatest present the world has to offer, but because the Christ child – the incarnation of God – was born this day in the city of David a little over two thousand years ago.
Joseph and Mary must have been beside themselves. Arriving in Bethlehem to discover that there was absolutely not room for them in the inn. Imagine if you came here last night to the pot-luck and I said I had no rum balls! You would all suddenly sit there with your jaws drooping to the floor. Well, Mary and Joseph went through something far more drastic, if we take the time to meditate on their dilemma.
They accept a kind offer to stay in a stable. Imagine if you will, our Lord and Savior – the King of the world – would have to be born in a stable! In that little light of a barn, the Light of the world would be incarnated as man and the glory of the Lord shines forth. Light and glory shine forth in the very humble birth of the Son of God, who is Christ the Lord.
Christmas tends to bring the best out in people usually, at least with few exceptions anyway. It may have been the light of this first Christmas that may have influenced the innkeeper to give all that he had left to a family to use; to a family in who the mother was very obvious to the point of giving birth. We hear God's revelation of salvation and respond to the light when we perform actions of kindness, no matter how small. Christmas brings out generosity and many try to make room for someone else in their respective inns.
Christmas is so much more. Christmas should be a time when we are in awe and wonder. We should be looking at our world, most especially as Catholic Christians, and seeing God in it all. We are miserable people, truthfully. No amount of proof would do; especially in an ever increasing atheistic and agnostic world. We need this light of Christ ever so much more than before.
How do we love? How do we hate? How do we smell? Without that sense of smell, how do we completely taste, much less taste at all? How do we see? How do we hear? How do we feel? Just how do we do all these things? Science can explain the mechanics, but I have yet to be convinced they can explain the origin of these senses and emotions any more than the rest of us here.
We marvel at our planet earth and the mysteries of its origin perfection at sustaining itself and those inhabiting it. We have telescopes that see the universe and galaxies yet to be fully explained. Scientists say they have found planets or stars like the very one we live on. How did they get there? Why are they there? How did they manage to be so seemingly perfectly round? How is it we have not found more life? How/why? How/why? How/why?
One large bang did this, they say. If that is the case, then let me light a firecracker and see if a dog materializes before us. How about another firecracker that will produce a lung for someone waiting for a transplant? Am I making a mockery of science? I suppose it depends on the point of view. Surely the non-believing scientists do the same of those of us that believe in a divine being who we say created it all. My eyes work in this way or that; my ears, my mouth, etc. because of that firecracker that just made all organisms and life in such great and technical detail. Simplistic argument I admit, but still very truthful to those of us with faith.
No, most of us who come here today believe in something far more powerful than that. We can't explain it, we simply have faith. We look around us and see miracles, not big bangs. We see an intelligent agent behind it all, beckoning us to walk toward Him; toward the light.  In our perfectly designed bodies that our souls imperfectly inhabit.
And so we come to this day. We come to this day because God is trying to catch our attention. He put a star in the sky that was said to be brighter than all others combined. Some historical records exist that do give some validation to an astronomical phenomenon that can be traced to approximately the time that most historians believe Christ was born in correlation to our Scriptural time frames. Whether it was a “shooting star” as some may say or some other astronomical event, something certainly took place. Too much time has passed to prove or disprove, I suppose, to a scientific satisfaction. But those of us of faith need little more. And so, God put this star to lead the shepherds to the light, on through to our modern time. God put Angels in the path of these shepherds to convince to go see what wonderful event was taking place.
We need this light. We need another chance. Christ is the light. Christ is a second chance. God doesn't want to force anything on us. We have the gift of free will. He wants us to freely choose him. He wants us to cooperate with him. He wants us to work as a team.
As an example there are some people who have been married many years. Sometimes, so very long many years. This does not come by chance. It does not come with some big bang. It takes work. It takes cooperation. And it sometimes takes second chances. Sometimes trouble comes into relationships and marriages. Sometimes something pulls them apart. Sometimes for a short while. And sometimes forever.
In some cases, one or both parties of the couple seek second chances. Doesn't matter if they were wrong, right or neither. Love knows no end. Love knows no boundaries or even any ego. When true love exists, couples still seek each other out. Sometimes one or both parties have hurt each other; sometimes it is only one who did most of the hurting. Yet, when love exists, one or both will seek the other out – all for that second chance.
Sometimes one of the two parties may mourn the loss and pray each day for a chance for the other to come back. And when that chance is given, many will jump at that chance. It no longer matters who was wrong, if either really ever were. It only matters that the love that once was aflame has been rekindled and vows are retaken and given. They will try all the more than before to make it work, even the one who may not have been the one in wrong when and if a wrong existed. Second chances are what we live for in marriages built on love. Second chances are the prodigal sons of modern day relationships.
Christmas is our second chance. Our second chance with God. Christmas is God coming to us under the disguise of a human child. The incarnation of God as man. All to give us a light to behold. All to give us a second chance. God loves us without end or limit. No wrong or sin can ever make God stop loving us. He is always begging us to take Him back. He knocks on the doors of our souls continuously trying to get us to rejoin ourselves to our divine spouse and creator.
We are imperfect beings created by a perfect God. We decided to test God in the Garden of Eden and we have done so ever sense in some fashion. Original sin or simple imperfect humanity. Regardless of the theological explanation, we are all a bit disconnected from God. We are all in some way contributing to a separation or divorce that should not be. We demanded freedom and free will and God gave it to us. We wanted a divorce; and in a simplistic way, God gave us a separation, but refuses to give the divorce. He doesn't believe in it.
God wants us to come to Him and ask for that second chance. He gives us that opportunity every Christmas. So here we are, some of us mere “Chresters”, trying to make a go of finding God again; finding that light that was in all of us from the beginning of time. A second chance for yourself; a second chance for someone else; or even a second chance for someone who is merely an acquaintance. Probably most of all is the second chance for yourself. God sometimes simply wants you to give yourself a second chance, by giving God that second chance in your life. God will light the way.
Lastly, always remember that each time we respond to God and conform our own will to the divine will, Christmas happens. Each time we reach out to those in need, Christmas happens. Each time we take time to be present to another, Christmas happens. In all these and in countless other simple acts of putting others ahead of ourselves, we lift ourselves to join in the song of the heavenly host, that unceasing chorus of praise and glory. Glory to God in the highest. In all these ways of acting in the light of this Light, we extend the glory of Christmas into every day. We could all use a Christmas miracle. Maybe if we let in a little of His light, we just all might get one!
Let us pray.
Father God, you sent your Son into the world, born of a woman, into a perfect world gone sour my human touch. You sent your Son to reach out to the many people you call your own. You sent your Son to be a light and beacon for second chances and even for faith in a Christmas miracle or two.
Help us all to see the light of the Christ child this Christmas, and most importantly, that we give ourselves a second chance by giving you a chance in our lives by allowing the Christ child to illuminate our lives in such a ways as to help bring us closer to You and thus closer to who we are all meant to be in Your image. We may be surprised to learn that Your will has been something similar to what we wanted all along, but simply failed to put You in the center of  the need or desire.
Finally, Lord God, fill us in a profound way with Your light this Christmas, in a way that not even your worst skeptic can refute. That could be the first of many more Christmas miracles to come. We ask all this through Christ our Lord. Amen
God Love You +++
+The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.