Homily for the First Sunday of Advent Year B 2014 Fr. James DiLuzio

The Christmas songs are playing in the radio and the stores are celebrating already, beckoning our purchases to help us get in the holiday mood. Moreover, it seems our entire economy is dependent on buying Christmas gifts – an annual activity that has, in effect, become our patriotic duty. If our merchants don’t get in the black, if they are left with too much inventory at the end of the year, than the economy slumps and allegedly, everyone is in trouble. Indeed, some of theses merchants are our Church members and friends; family members are store clerks and sales people in the malls. And then, of course, there are the charities with a last appeal for their end of the year budgets. Even if we don’t have the money at hand, we feel obligated to take out the charge cards and run. Moreover, if we are honest, our feelings of self worth are often tied to gift-giving and receiving. Added to this, many of us cling to unrealistic expectations of what Christmas can accomplish in us and in others No wonder Advent and Christmas bring anxiety and frustration. While Spirituality invites us to simplify our lives, to do with less so others who have less may be brought up to our standards, we can feel discouraged, that we are letting many people down if we don’t buy enough gifts and treats to keep the economy going. We want to cultivate spiritual values, explore the values of patience and the benefits of waiting, of delayed gratification at the same time we feel obligated to follow the crowd, summon the cheer, to feel what we are supposed to feel rather than address how we truly feel. The office parties have already started. What are we to do?

To start, we trust in our biblical heritage and allow the past to inform our present. We turn to our ancestors in faith. Exiled by the Babylonians, the people of the tribes of Judah were filled with anxieties and conflicted feelings. They found themselves once again strangers in a strange land. Their beliefs and customs were so very different from that of their neighbors and the societies of Babylon and Persia (today’s Afghanistan, Iraq & Iran. The prophet Isaiah and his disciples articulate a prayer on their behalf : “Why do you let us wander, O Lord . . . for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” Did God truly abandoned them OR have they truly abandoned God? The answer is neither: God never abandons His own. Yes, the people are in exile, but didn’t God send Prophets to them? Yes! ISAIAH was there for them. And don’t forget Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Malachi and all the rest. And they had not abandoned God. They brought their questions and expressed their feelings to God- which is exactly what believers are invited to do. And along with their questions, they pondered life’s meaning and purpose, they pondered God’s plans.

Wisdom of prophets and our own human experience confirm that God’s most precious gift to us beyond life itself is free will. It’s the only gift that distinguishes humanity from all other creatures. FREE WILL is the gift that allows us, as the prophets say, “to wander as we will.” And so as Advent begins, faith invites us to make choices that bring us closer to the Spirit of the Living God. We need to set aside time to ponder and pray about what that might mean.

First we must admit that many of our problems and sufferings are of our own making. That includes our Advent anxieties and Christmas dilemmas. Humbly acknowledging our contributions to our own anxieties IS the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom also invites us to come down to earth and acknowledge our dependence upon God. That kind of humility aligns us with all living things who share with us the very air we breathe and water we drink. Never alone but always interconnected with the beauty, majesty and mystery of creation. That’s the mindset that cultivates A “Mindfulness of God in All Things.” That’s the spirit we need for Advent, Christmas and all year round. Seeing a connection between our life stories and that of Jesus will accomplish that, too. And so with these truths in focus I’ve prepared a retreat for you Sunday night to assist you in cultivating humility and awe and wonder in God’s presence, whatever your circumstances, whatever you are feeling these days. And I have tools to offer you that will empower you to see Jesus’ story as your story and your story as His because of God’s care for you and our world.

I’ll start by affirming God cares about you and your feeling — even your discomforting feelings, your sad feelings, your feelings of resentment and hurt and angers. People may not respond well to them, you may not even accept them with in yourself, but God does. Jesus does. It is why he took on the fullness of our humanity to be with us in and through all feelings and corresponding thoughts – not to judge or condemn but to transform them through his loving care, understanding and His wisdom to fortify and alter whatever kind of wisdom we may or may not have cultivated on our own. If you chose not to come to the retreat Sunday night, at least now I am leaving you with this thought: how much God cares about you and your feelings and the situations you find yourself in. And believing how much God cares about you makes all the difference in the choices you make for yourself and the care you may potentially demonstrate toward others. It will make a difference in how you experience Advent and celebrate Christmas.
We prayed with Psalm 80 today: (I’ll paraphrase in more conventional language): make us humble and contrite, O God, so we may and stand in continual awe of YOU who cares for us. Has God abandoned us? Certainly not! Has JESUS abandoned us? JESUS has given us His Word and His sacraments and one another. Jesus has bestowed the Holy Spirit. We are his Church and we are here amidst the malls, the decorated and un-decorated homes and the stacks of bills. DON’t Pass us by or takes the gift of faith for granted. The signs of the times require faith. They require a commitment to Christ and time spent cultivating that relationship to put all of our relationships in proper perspective. Commitment opens our eyes wide to see the many ways JESUS Comes to us, has come to us, will come to us in all hours of the day and night just as He comes to us now in this Word and EUCHARIST so he will come at the end of time. Psalm 80 also articulated this question: “Would that you might meet us doing right, O God! Oh, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” In what state of mind and heart do want to be this Advent, this Christmas and beyond. You have choices before you. Will you choose to participate in the parish Advent retreat and / or spend time in private prayer or other spiritual pursuits? What will they be? One thing for sure, we all need spiritual support to engage in our culture lest our culture engage us in what is beyond our control, in all that is material alone, gratification that is fleeting and disposable like the Christmas trees drying out on the curbs on or after New Year’s Day.

The choice is before you. You have chosen Word and EUCHARIST today. They are God’s gifts of comfort and joy to you in the here and now. If you would like to perpetuate these spiritual gifts and cultivate them throughout your nights and days, make choices like retreat and the many spiritual opportunities offers you here at Saint Sebastian’s in the weeks and months ahead. To use the popular marketing analogy: You contribute to the Church with time, talent and treasure. Do you want more for your money or less? And like our retreat, today’s EUCHARIST is here for the taking and all are invited to see and hear what God has in store for you now and always!

Would you like to hear a recording of excerpts from my Luke Live! Retreats? You’ll find an order form at

http://www.lukelive.com/luke-live-cd/

MP3 available in 2015

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Suggestions for a Prayerful Thanksgiving: Cultivate Gratitude Throughout the Day

First Thanksgiving Prayer: Before or during Hors D’oeuvres
Ask your guests to answer this question: What gift have I received from last Thanksgiving ‘till now that I still use and/ or treasure?
Option: Write them down without signatures and place them in a small basket (reserved For the First Course Activity.).

Second Thanksgiving Prayer: Traditional Grace
FIRST COURSE ACTIVITY: Throughout the first course (soup/salad), pass he basket around with “treasured gift” papers. Each person takes a paper and reads it aloud. Guests try to match the “owner” of the item.

Third Thanksgiving Prayer: Between first and second course:
1. What event or circumstance was most significant for me this year?
2. What have I learned or still learning from the experience?
Fourth Thanksgiving Prayer: After the Main Course or Before Dessert:
1. What am I most thankful for? And / or
2. What am I most looking forward to?

AFTER DINNER ACTIVITY: Before the football game or during clean-up:
1. Together recall the Thanksgiving Poem: Over the River and Through the Woods – Who can remember the most verses? For a copy of the complete poem:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Over_the_River_and_Through_the_Wood
2. If no one knows it, spend the clean-up time memorizing it together. Any poems about Autumn anyone?
Purpose of the Game: Poetry opens us up to the spiritual and to
appreciation of ritual: memory, context and associations.

Concluding Thanksgiving Prayer: Before Farewells or before the first person has to leave:
1. Christians: Have someone read Thanksgiving Gospel Reading: Luke 17: 11 -19 (1 Thankful Leper out of 10) Jews: ISAIAH 55;
2. Discussion:
a. Has Christ healed us in any way today?
b. For whom and for what do we still need to pray?
c. Close with extemporaneous prayer, Our Father and Glory Be.
PLEASE & THANK YOU GAME: Ask everyone to bring $1 to dinner. (Have extra bills around for those who forget.). Whenever anyone forgets to say P&TY from first grace to end of dinner (please pass the potatoes; thank you), he or she must put their dollar in a basket. Proceeds go to your parish or a charity of choice. Remaining Dollars in people’s pockets may be contributed voluntarily at the end of the day.

HOPE–How Christianity Can Play its Part on the World Stage Part 2

In September I wrote about the importance of HOPE and decided to pursue the topic further. I wrote: “In the coming weeks I will explore exactly how the Christian story, its history and daily experience of Christians today supports this HOPE. I invite Christian readers to share their insights so that together we may embrace Resurrection Hope most fully. I also invite people of other faiths and backgrounds to share HOPE perspectives in their beliefs, concepts and/or faith experiences. Together we just might be able to identify and apply common ground principles, evidencing hope through mutual respect and celebration of the best of our humanity.” So, now we begin:

HOPE as a noun is defined in a variety of ways in a number of dictionaries. Here are three citations:

New Oxford American Dictionary

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/hope

1. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. 2. A person or thing that may help or save someone. 3. Grounds for believing that something good may happen. 3. Archaic; a feeling of trust

Merriam-Webster Dictionary  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope

1.The feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen; a feeling that something good will happen or be true. 2. The chance that something good will happen. 3.Someone or something that may be able to provide help; someone or something that give you a reason for hoping.

The American Heritage Dictionary

https://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=hope

1. a. The longing or desire for something accompanied by the belief in the possibility of its occurrence: He took singing lessons in the hope of performing in the musical. b. An instance of such longing or desire: Her hopes of becoming a doctor have not changed. 2. A source of or reason for such longing or desire: Good pitching is the team’s only hope for victory. 3. often Hope. Christianity The theological virtue defined as the desire and search for a future good, difficult but not impossible to attain with God’s help. 5. Archaic. Trust; confidence. Idiom: hope against hope To hope with little reason or justification

Notice that the New Oxford definition does not specify that “hope” is necessarily for a “good” until the 3rd definition of the word. Merriam-Webster offers “wanting something “good” in its first definition; American Heritage doesn’t specify “good” until the fourth definition with the specification Christianity. The implication, of course is that,although all people have goals and dreams which undergird “Hope,” unfortunately, not all “Hopes” are oriented toward a “good.” Some hope for an adversaries untimely demise. Some have expectations of entitlement over and against fairness, justice or mercy. Some cling to desires for advancement at the expense of others. That’s the “Shadow” side of Hope and I will devote another blog to that. For now, I would like to focus on Hope for universal goods.

The Hebrew Scriptures embraced by Christians are filled with examples of Hope expressed in elegant, poetic words and images. Many echo God’s promises for future fulfillment and harmony for the human race. Here are just a few:

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” (Joel 3: 1)

“In the days to come, the mountain for the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it, many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Jacob. That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.’ For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (Isaiah 2: 2-4)

“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him; a spirit of wisdom and of understanding. A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide but he shall judge the poor with justice and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11: 1-10)

“All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk. Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” (Isaiah 55: 1-2)

Building upon the Judaism of Jesus (who quotes Isaiah 61: 1-2 and Is 58: 6-7 as he begins his public ministry) , Christian HOPE grounds itself in the Hebrew expectation for “The Day of the Lord” – the time when God will right all earthly wrongs and goodness and justice will prevail. Good will be rewarded and evil punished. This belief is a bedrock of the Jewish Faith. This WILL happen – if not “at once,” than ultimately “at last!” (See Malachi 3:19, Joel 2: 1 ff, Zephaniah 1: 14 ff). In the interim, what is promised for the future may be achieved in part in the here and now. Thus, we articulate “hope” in the popular phrase “the now and the not yet,” for while Jesus insists his followers “pray for the coming of the kingdom,” he also urges us to do our best to achieve it. (Luke 11: 28) The harmony we desire for the culmination of the world is possible the more we make our daily decisions out of love of God and neighbor. Today, Christians and Jews are bound by this same directive as are people of Islam and other world religions who embrace this tenet.

More to come in my next blog entry!