CHRISTMAS MASS: Mass for the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (SIGN-UP IS REQUIRED AND STARTS DECEMBER 10TH AT NOON; click the “Mass Sign Up” button on the home page of this website to sign up): [UPDATE: there will now be two Christmas Eve Masses at 4 pm, with one in the church and the other in the gymnasium.]
- Thursday, December 24th @ 4 pm, @ 5:30 pm (this 5:30 pm Mass is in Spanish), and @ 7 pm; and
- Friday, December 25th @ midnight and @ 10:30 am.
DEACON GARY’S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT:
Today we encounter two voices crying out from the wilderness on this Second Sunday of Advent. Both the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist shout, ”Prepare the Way of the Lord.” But their calls are separated by more than 500 years. The gospel reading for today was the opening eight verses of the Gospel of Mark. After a brief preamble, in which the evangelist writes, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” letting us know what sort of story we are going to hear, we get a quote from the prophet Isaiah, who foretold of one who would come to make straight the paths before the coming of the Lord.
The perennial challenge during Advent and Christmastime is to hear anew the familiar story we all know. We’ve all seen the Christmas pageants. We’ve set up the Nativity crèche with the holy family, cows, donkeys, and shepherds. It’s become almost too familiar. In part, that’s why we have the season of Advent. These four weeks serve to prepare the way to Christmas via a bit of liturgical wilderness. The penitential season provides a time of reflection and contemplation so that we can hear the good news of Jesus’ incarnation afresh and let the gospel sink more deeply into our lives.
But this year is a bit different, to put it mildly. For many, this does not feel like the usual joyous march toward Christmas. Hundreds of thousands around the globe will be spending their first Christmas without a loved one who has passed on due to the pandemic. Millions more will be attempting a celebration without their usual large and festive gatherings, due to travel restrictions. For almost the entirety of the year, we have all been a people anxious and waiting in a lockdown situation and we’re still waiting this Advent!
But more than 25 centuries ago and more than 5 centuries before John the Baptist and Jesus appear on the scene, Isaiah wrote encouraging words to God’s exiled people in Babylon, who were also waiting and longing to return home after 70 years in exile. It makes our corona virus pandemic look pretty paltry in comparison.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people says your God! … Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain made low.” The prophet Isaiah, it seems, envisions a massive public works project, as workers “make straight in the desert a highway for God.” Mountains will be leveled, valleys raised up: all for the purpose of clearing the way before the God of Israel, who will lead the exiled people back home again.
We might turn to our neighbors to the north, in Pikeville Kentucky in the southeastern part of the state for a great example of such a public works project— with mountains leveled and valleys raised up. Because of its location on the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River, the citizens of Pikeville were often plagued by spring floodwaters that caused millions of dollars in damage. In 1987, Pikeville completed an ambitious engineering effort — using the resources of over 20 federal, state and local agencies to move the Levisa Fork by cutting through Peach Orchard Mountain and rerouting the river’s flow away from downtown. After 14 years and over 18 million cubic yards of material were removed, only the Panama Canal moved more material for a civil engineering project in the western hemisphere– the former river channel was filled in with dirt and rock and the end result gave the city nearly 400 acres of new level land for commercial and institutional development. Making the mountains low and the rough places smooth can be very hard work! While leveling mountains and raising up valleys may be hard work for us, it is NOT for God!
What heart-lifting words we hear from our God shouted across the millennia into our very own day. Isaiah offers us images in just 11 verses that have become the focus of artists and musicians who have turned the words into pictures and music that channel our thoughts deep into the heart of God. We are grasped by God’s arms and held tightly – our fears and concerns known by this immanent God who wants us to share those worries, and trust they are as important to God as they are to us. This is our God calling out to us in our world – this world torn by evil, war and debilitating poverty. Can there be any comfort for us? Maybe, for those of us who live in a relatively safe country, for those of us who have more than we need – a roof over our heads, food, clothing, safety.
We can become comfortable, which is different from finding comfort. And we might feel that being comfortable is enough, perhaps, until life takes a disastrous turn. We can take God’s presence in our hearts for granted. But the comfort Isaiah is talking about is an overwhelming truth that surpasses the feeling of having “enough.” Isaiah’s comfort is the comfort of our God, who lives deep in our lives, even when we don’t think about it, even if we may not believe it, even if our fear blinds us to that presence.
The prophet goes on to explain what the truth of God will do for us. Valleys will be raised up, mountains will be laid low! No, Isaiah is not talking about a disastrous environmental exercise, he’s, using an image to explain how the coming of the Lord will level the way for all people to see God’s glory and share in God’s goodness.
What a wonderful image! Instead of struggling over the rocky wilderness paths up into the mountains and down across arid deserts, the people will have a safe highway, broad and smooth. Even in life’s most difficult moments, God leads the soul along that safe, broad highway. “But,” we may want to argue, “look at our world. See the things happening to people that would make a rocky path and an arid desert walk look like a picnic in the park. This image doesn’t work.” And that’s true. Life does seem to throw ever more obstacles into our paths. Where is this highway?
And so, we continue reading the prophet’s words (which were not included into today’s reading) and find that, yes, we are all grass, and grass withers and fades; we are mortal, and life is often difficult. So, to make this highway image work at all in our world, we are told we must work together. We must want this world to change, we must also see beyond this mortal life and trust in God’s promise of eternal life.
“All people shall see it together,” says Isaiah. One way to think about this image is that we won’t see it if we harbor exclusion in our hearts. When we choose to separate ourselves from any of our neighbors, we begin to see only ourselves. We may not be aware of it, but doing that makes us stumble along the rocky path of injustice and sadness – a path that causes us to circle only inward, blindly into the darkness of self.
But all is certainly not lost. If we keep reading, we come to the final image in this passage from Isaiah and we can’t help but hear again George Fredrick Handel’s “Messiah,” oratorio when the soprano’s beautiful voice sings, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd and he shall gather the lambs in His arms …in His arms.”
On our worst days, the Shepherd is with us. We need only to turn back and allow him to offer comfort and forgiveness. The sheep of his flock are a community – a community like us. Together, a community can offer healing and love to those who have been excluded. A community can begin dealing with their issues of poverty and helplessness.
We don’t have to build that level highway; God does that for us if we open our eyes and hearts to the gifts God has placed in our midst. We can begin demolishing the lure of evil, the temptation of ill-gotten power and greed if we work together– if we ourselves are unafraid to trust that God is our shepherd, that God is our comfort.
But now we have to ask, who will prepare the way today? Isaiah and John have become the stuff of legends. The disciples are history. But we are gathered today as a community of believers. We believe that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that we might have eternal life. We believe that all who choose to truly repent will be forgiven. We believe that nothing on this earth can separate us from the love of God. Like John, we are not the way, but we know the way. It would seem, then, that we are today’s prophets. We are the ones who can give voice to the good news that Christ has died. Christ has risen. And Christ will come again. We know what we are getting ready for. If we do not share that, who will?