My name – is Baruch: a Hebrew word which means – blessed. And I do feel blessed in being called by God to proclaim the Good News of his love to his chosen people, Israel.
Perhaps that’s one thing you can do during these days of Advent – as you journey toward Bethlehem – find out what your name means – just to see if you are living up to its meaning . . .
The guy who normally preaches to you, Matthew – his name means, “gift of God”. Is he? Well you have to be the judge of that – but his mother certainly thought he was. . .
So remember the guy who talked with you last week – Jeremiah [who’s name by the way means “Yahweh has uplifted” – see, I do think a name can really nail a person’s personality or purpose sometime – because Jeremiah was sent to uplift the people of God by his words]. Anyway – I was Jeremiah’s secretary – the one who frantically wrote his words down – because when both his pessimistic and optimistic sides got going – man, did those words fly!
Being intimately connected with Jeremiah’s words in this way, gave me a distinct edge when God also called me to prophesize to his people – I had a vast storehouse of wisdom from which to draw —
A deep well of thoughts which grounded me in the ways of the lord – as well as the misdeeds of his people!
But make no mistake – I had my own words to speak – because I had my own task to achieve – preaching at a unique time in Israel’s history. There were similar problems that both Jeremiah and I faced (remember the more things change, the more they stay the same. . .) – but there were different circumstances.
I was writing at a time in Israel’s history when the Babylonian captivity – a time of slavery and oppression and exile for the Israelites – had finally – ended. >>
This great event was the fulfillment of the promise of God Jeremiah was talking about last week – when most of the Jewish people were able to return to their homes in Israel – and thus my words just read to you:
“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery – stand upon the heights and look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and west” – all returning home!
It was a glorious time of rebuilding – not just the city of Jerusalem – but of rebuilding the covenant relationship between God and his people.
But those that made it back to Jerusalem were not my concern. . . you see, although most were able to return there – many were not.
Some Jews either stayed in Babylon, or settled elsewhere. They became known as the Jews of the Diaspora – the Jews of the dispersion or permanent exile.
And I was writing to them – the people of God who remained in foreign lands – and mostly took up the issue of how do you remain faithful to God in a hostile environment? How do you resist the idolatrous worship which surrounds you living in a pagan society. . .?
Do YOU ever feel like you are living in a foreign land? You ought to. . . for as St. Paul reminds you in one of his letters – as a Christian – your true citizenship is in heaven – not on earth. . . And that’s why he prays what he does in your second reading today:
“I pray that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ’s coming.”
Again I ask: Do You ever feel like you are living in a pagan, hostile, society? You ought to. . . because the values thrown at you by your culture –
the constant bombardment you get from all forms of the media – are almost always far from Christian values. . .
And I would think that is especially true during this time of year. . . as the frenzy of holiday preparations intensifies around you – you are called to patiently wait and watch during the days of Advent – the forgotten season of your culture.
As everyone around you is out looking for the perfect buy at the ultimate sale – you are to be looking for the free gift of your Savior – already present around you – oftentimes in the most unlikely of places.
So how do you remain faithful – to the God of the covenant who is calling you to much greater things than this world can ever offer you??
Remember the challenge of Jeremiah: realize you need the gift of God’s love –and then open yourself to receive the gift of that love. Because if you think you can remain faithful all by yourself – with no help from God or no help from a faith community – then you are doomed to failure!
The people in my day – those who were living in exile – strangers in a foreign land – remained faithful by reading the word of God – and allowing it to become part of them –
and also relied on their fellow Jews – as they became a tight-knit community which supported one another.
Perhaps you can do the same.
And most of all they remained faithful by remembering that even though they were far from home – they were certainly still loved by God each and every day of their lives.
So that’s my challenge to you this week – reflect on the blessings that God gives you – -each and every day of your life. Don’t take people for granted – your family, your friends, your community of faith. Don’t make the mistake of somehow thinking that you have earned and deserved everything you have in life – leaving God completely out of the equation as the giver of all gifts.
God has blessed – and will continue to bless – each and every one of you – each and every day. And God’s blessings are complete gift. . . No one earns them. No one deserves them. They are just like the dewfall—falling down upon all.
So this week – recall, reflect, and remember – that you are blessed!
O come, O Rod of Jesse’s stem. From every foe deliver them. That trusts your mighty power to save. And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel. Shall come to you, O Israel.
Words are powerful. . .
I am innocent.
I love you.
Someone call 911.
I will never leave you.
Yes, words are powerful. They matter. And perhaps there are no words quite as powerful as the ones we just heard Mary say:
“may it be done to me according to your word.”
Those words almost always give me a chill when I read in the Gospel – maybe it’s because a big part of me wishes I could say them – wishes that I could tell God that I will do whatever he asks of me – no matter what. God, I wish I could pray: may it be done to me according to your word. Small words that mean so much!
And yet, it’s not the words Mary spoke that really mattered. The words were simply a reflection of what was taking place in Mary’s heart.
For Mary these were not empty words – words that sounded good, but meant little. Rather the words were simply an expression of a heart filled with love and openness and humility as well as faith and trust – that is GRACE – God’s very life alive and well in the person of Mary.
This is what we celebrate today – on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – we celebrate and give thanks to God for the grace God poured into the life of Mary from the moment of her conception – a grace not “earned” by Mary – but one given as pure gift from and through God.
God had something special in store for Mary, a particular role for her in salvation history. Mary would be asked to participate in something unbelievably remarkable – and God made sure that Mary would have what it would take to say “yes” to what God was asking.
May it be done to me. Not just words to Mary – but the living reality of what was taking place within her heart and mind and soul – that is, her very being. And we give God the glory God deserves, but we also thank God for Mary – a woman of no particular importance other than her faithfulness helped change the world.
What a generous God we have – and what a mother we have in Mary!
But can we say the same? Can we say that the words we speak in prayer in this holy place and in the quiet of our hearts are more than just words?? Do they reflect what is truly taking place within us? Do they just “sound good” or do they mean more than that??
God had something wonderful in store for Mary. And God has something wonderful in store for each one of us also. But words aren’t enough. May we have the faith and courage to say “may it be done to me” every day of our lives – and mean every word we say.
God will make sure we have what it takes, have the grace to carry out whatever God is asking of us. Of that we can be assured.
And we might just change the world – or at least rock it a little. . .
Mary, the Immaculate Conception – pray for us!
Welcome to Advent!
I thought it was the perfect time to bring in some guest speakers – because each Sunday of Advent, just in this particular year – year C of the lectionary cycle — our first reading – is taken from a different prophet every week. You might remember, we usually hear from the Prophet Isaiah Sunday after Sunday during Advent – but not this time around. . . SO:
My name is Jeremiah – one of the prophets from the Old Testament. As a prophet – my role is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. You get to decide which you are!
I lived a long time ago – a good 600 years before the one you call your lord and savior – Jesus Christ –was even born.
So what might I have to say to you that is relevant in your day? Well, have you ever heard the saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same? I think it might be applicable to what I am about to say to you – but you can draw your own conclusions. . .
Scripture scholars through the years have often called me the most pessimistic AND the most optimistic of the prophets.
I am very pessimistic – that is, not filled with much hope – when I looked at the people around me. They called themselves believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
They were people of the covenant – which meant they were supposed to know how much God loved them – and then were supposed to live their lives in gratitude for that great gift of God’s love.
Well – they certainly must have been suffering from spiritual amnesia! For they were far from being the people God was calling them to be – and that’s what made me so pessimistic – so hopeless, so cynical.
The people around me, my people – God’s people – were living life the way they wanted: filled with greed, jealousy, hate, and injustice. They lied to one another, stole from each other. They were unfaithful and ungrateful – disobedient to God’s love and law.
I once told them they were like a bunch of rotten figs — they may have still looked good on the outside – but if eaten – would leave a horrid, lingering taste in one’s mouth!
AND YET THEY INSISTED ON CALLING THEMSELVES GOD’S CHOOSEN PEOPLE!
My precarious job –and that’s why I once cursed God for giving it to me – was to remind them as bad and as wretched as they were: GOD STILL LOVED THEM! And this is what got my optimistic side ‘reved’ up. . .
Because the God I believed in – the God I followed – the God who called me to be a prophet — was a God of hope, of praise, of power, and of an unstoppable will to make the people of Israel — HOLY!
Now this is when I invite you to be a bit introspective – look around at your world, at your community, at your Church, at your family – and, of course, at yourself. . .
do you see any unfaithful, ungrateful, greedy, hateful, dishonest and deceitful people around you??? Do you see anyone disobedient to God’s law and love??
And yet I bet some of them insist on calling themselves God’s chosen ones!!
You see why I said the more things change – the more they stay same??? But you be the judge of
that. . .
But recall — I was sent to remind the people of Israel that no matter how far they strayed — GOD STILL LOVED THEM! So if any of what I have said rings true for you and the people around you — remember this one thing: God still love you!
Are you, and those around you, living holy and blameless lives, conducting yourselves in a way worthy of the calling you have received – as St. Paul asks the Thessalonians??
Are you, and those around you, — responding to God’s call to justice – living in right relationship with one another??
Are you, and those around you, – allowing your hearts to become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life?
Do you need a little help with it all?? Then remember: GOD LOVES YOU!
How do you deal with the messes you make of your life and the messes life throws your way? Just remember that GOD LOVES YOU!
Because if you try to fix things on your own,
if you think you can figure it out and straighten it all out by yourself — then you are doomed to failure — you have to remember that God – and God alone – will put into your heart and the hearts of all his people – the power to change – it’s his love: THE POWER TO CHANGE ANYTHING IN OUR LIVES COMES FROM GOD’S LOVE FOR US. . .
And just to remind you – God’s love is a GIFT that just has to be accepted with open hands and open hearts. We can’t buy it. We can’t earn it. We cannot deny it to — or take it from someone else— IT’S A GIFT – FREELY GIVEN.
My challenge to you good people of St. Patrick during these first days of Advent as you take your first steps toward Bethlehem, as you allow yourself to be drawn by the light of God made human – is to do two things:
First: realize you need the gift of God’s love. Because in some way shape or form – you have messes in your life – and probably more than just a few. . .
And second – the way to deal with those messes is not to go it alone – but to open yourself to receive the gift of God’s love. Because God’s love – is the power to change.
So two things: realize you need the gift of God’s love – and open your heart to receive it.
O come, O come, Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lowly exile here. Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel. Shall come to thee of Israel. . .
Thanksgiving has long been one of my favorite holidays for many reasons.
It always falls on a Thursday, so that usually means Friday is also a free day – no one can go wrong with a little more rest following a full day of eating and extroverting. You will not find me in a shopping mall on Black Friday!
And then there is the fact that the taint of commercialism hasn’t really claimed Thanksgiving in the same way it has infected Christmas and Easter, and the rest.
Plus – pecan pie and pumpkin pies are two of my favorites – although no one says you can go wrong with a good coconut cream – yes, even on Thanksgiving!
I used to think that Thanksgiving was a great holiday, too, because it was not complicated by the giving of gifts. It’s not that I don’t appreciate both the giving and receiving of gifts – but let’s face it, true gift-giving is hard: to do a good job you’ve got to really know the person’s passions and interests – not just some superficial information about the person.>> You’ve got to take your time, hunt around, compare, contrast and inspect. . .
But several years ago, my attitude changed as I realized that Thanksgiving is actually full of gift-giving. . . It’s full of hospitality and welcome. The whole day is based on gratitude. It is fueled by the gifts of food, and drink, and time spent lingering around the table. It’s sustained by family and friends, punctuated with story-telling, and made rich by tradition and custom.
In a world that prizes monetary value, flash, relevance, and other empty criteria — the model of Thanksgiving as gift-giving might change how we think about more than just this one day. Perhaps we can all get just a little bit more caught up in this type of gift-giving throughout the rest of the year.
Deacon Jim Koger Preached: No Homily available to post.