Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent 2008

glorycloudAfter the earlyyyyyyyyy morning 7am Mass a young woman asked if she could have my homily.  I had already preached last night, and had no other Masses today, so I gave it to her.  She was very interested in the shekinah, the cloud of God’s glory, that I discussed in the homily.  It’s pasted below:

Our God is a fantastic teacher.  He teaches His children with patience.  He makes things known to us gradually; and over time, we understand more complex concepts that build upon simpler things.

I think the readings today invite us to ponder the image of a cloud.

His physical manifestation to Moses came in the form of a cloud.  When Moses went up to receive the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s presence covered the mountain for seven days.  The people understood that something important was taking place within that cloud.

And when the Israelites moved around in the desert, the glory of the Lord accompanied them in the form of a cloud.

The cloud would hover over the Ark of the Covenant, the golden box that held the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments.  If the Lord wanted to move the clan by night – the cloud appeared as a pillar of fire to light their way.

If the Lord wanted to stay in one place for a time, the cloud would simply rest on the tent that contained the Ark.  The Israelites understood well.  They were content to dwell in a given place until the Lord urged them to move elsewhere.

After King David had built a palace, he pondered the appropriateness of living in his beautiful home compared to the simple tent that the Lord’s ark was kept in.  That’s what the first reading today is all about:

David had a good heart; he wanted the Lord’s ark to be more comfortable than himself.  He wanted the Lord to dwell in a building of more magnificence, more beauty.

But God tells David not to worry – if He wants a beautiful palace, He will have one built.  Rather, he teaches David that what He really wants is to fix a kingdom for His people Israel.  He wants them forever to have a line of kings to care for the people.

He reminds David that he was the most unlikely king.  David was a simple, young shepherd – content to care for the flock.  Protecting the sheep from predators, and ensuring they had sufficient grazing pastures and fresh water to drink.  God chose David because of his humility and because of his protective, loving care of those entrusted to him.  And that’s the kind of kingdom that God fixes through David’s successors for all time.  A firm kingdom of justice and peace and care.

David’s wish of a great temple for God was eventually fulfilled through Solomon, his son.  The temple was built to house the glory of the Lord.  And God was pleased with Solomon’s work.  When the temple was dedicated, the cloud of God’s presence entered it.  The cloud was so dense and thick that the priests couldn’t even see.  They left the inner sanctuary.

It’s important for us to realize that God made the Temple glorious not through cedar or gold or incense or burnt offerings.  He made it glorious because the cloud of his presence rested inside it.  He made it sacred and important because He chose to dwell within it.

You see, the cloud of the Lord’s glory, shekinah, in Hebrew, is the same whether it rests on a mountain, or over a tent in the desert, or inside the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  It was a physical reassurance to the people of the Lord’s favor with them; and his choice to be powerfully present in their midst.

But in today’s Gospel, there is a special shift in how God interacts with his chosen ones.  When Mary asks Gabriel, “how can this be?”  The Lord’s messenger tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”    the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

The cloud that interacted with the Israelites touched mountains, the desert floor, the canvas of a tent, and even the gold and acacia wood of the Temple.  But it never touched a person.

The shekinah cloud stayed for a time in this place or that, but it never made a permanent home anywhere.

You see, the cloud that overshadowed Mary was not temporary, it changed her forever.  The cloud wasn’t merely a representation of God’s presence; it was God Himself, the Holy Spirit, who rested upon her.

After moving about for 2,000 years, the eternal and most glorious home for God was found in a gracious, humble virgin named Mary.  The shekinah cloud would never again need to lead the people or reassure them of God’s closeness.  He would take flesh through Mary and walk among us as one of our own.

He would teach us and heal us and care for us and love us.

Above all else, he would save us by laying down his life for his friends.

During these last days of Advent, these days of preparation, I urge you to spend some time meditating on the entrance of Jesus into our world.

A great way to do that would be to read the eleventh chapter of Isaiah and ponder the mystery of God-made-man, Emmanuel.

Categories: Homiletics | 1 Comment

O Antiphons – Key of David – Dec 20

Tonight’s antiphon speaks to the saving power of Christ.  The “key of David” is the key that unlocks heaven for all the rightedescentintohadesous dead awaiting the messiah.

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven:  come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

There is a beautiful icon showing Christ’s decent into Hades to bring the righteous dead into heaven.  The icon depicts our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ pulling Adam and Eve from Hades into heaven.  This is what our Lord did after dying on the cross, and before he rose on Easter morning.

Keys are important symbols today, and were even more so in ancient Israel.  The keeper of the keys held the authority of them.  This tradition carries on in our modern-day verbiage of the Successor of Peter holding the keys entrusted to the Blessed Apostle by Jesus.  These keys are shown on the flag of Vatican City State, incidentally.

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O Antiphons – Flower of Jesse – Dec 19

The kids at our parish school love to make Jesse trees.  Who can blame them?  Arts and crafts are always a fun way to learn, and for kids, a way to get away from books.  They think they’re NOT learning, although they really are.  It’s a win-win – teachers happy, kids happy, parents happy with artwork brought home.

Jesse trees are fun, because it’s a good exercise for us to contemplate the genealogy of Jesus.  To be precise, the genealogy of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

Tonight’s antiphon makes reference to the flower of Jesse’s stump:

O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

jesse-tree3Jesse is the father of King David, from whose line the messiah would spring forth.  Many Jews did not recognize Jesus as the messiah because they were awaiting a conquering military hero, as was David.  But we must remember David was the youngest, simplest of Jesse’s sons – certainly the most unlikely to become king.  He was happy to care for the flock, as a faithful shepherd.

But God calls whomever He wishes, and in ways we do not often understand.  Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, and many of the Prophets, were all from simple, unassuming backgrounds.  I think God likes it that way – the simple hearted, humble person does not get in God’s way – they become an instrument for the Holy Spirit to work through and with.

Obviously Joseph was this sort of man, and his Davidic lineage fulfilled the prophesy written in Isaiah 11:1 – “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”

And, of course, no one was more docile and obedient to the Holy Spirit than Mary.  The cooperation of a young, simple, holy Jewish teenager changed the world forever.  I pray that we might learn humility from all the docile souls in the Davidic line.  We too can change the world by becoming instruments of the Holy Spirit, letting our God animate our actions.

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It’s “Merry Christmas,” Folks

I held off as long as I could, but finally had to just blog about this.  I’m a “Merry Christmas” kind of dude.  When I’m shopping and interacting with people this time of year, that’s what I say to them.  It’s simple folks, it’s the Christmas shopping season, not the Holiday shopping season.  Political Dumbness Correctness is out of control in many areas; particularly this one.

I’d rather get a Hanukkah or Kwanzaa greeting than to receive a sterilized-so-as-to-not-offend-anyone “Happy Holidays.”  In fact, I’d prefer a simple “thank you” or “have a nice day,” in lieu of that annoying “Happy Holidays.”  And don’t give me that “it’s store policy” riff — I’m not buyin’ it.

So, to accompany this short rant, give this poll a try.

Extra credit if you can guess the response Deacon Chris chose

Categories: Commentary, Ranting | 2 Comments

O Antiphons – Sacred Lord – Dec 18

Tonight’s antiphon recalls the magnificence and mystery of YHWH.  Our God is a jealous God, one who allows no pretenders, no distractions to His people.burningbush

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:  come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

For whatever reason, the Lord chooses to reveal himself to Moses and the people with a male personality.  This is unique to Judaism – all other religions of the near Middle East had either a chief goddess or at least a pantheon of gods and goddesses.  This God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is different He is singular — no other gods or goddesses needed or allowed.

He chooses a ragamuffin clan in the desert to be his own.  He cares for them and protects them, even though they forsake Him time and time again.  He teaches them in simple ways, ways that they can understand.  And they repeat a cycle over and over:

  • The children of Israel cling to their God – things go well
  • The children of Israel are on the top of the world – they drift from their God
  • The children of Israel don’t need God – everything goes to pot
  • The children of Israel repent – God liberates them and the cycle begins again

Let us pray today that our own country realizes the continuous mistakes we make.  We cling to possessions and stuff, and not to the One who called us and apportioned us and adopted us as His precious sons and daughters.  You see, false gods aren’t just people; they’re things, too. May the Lord God of Israel liberate us from our greed and from the distractions that obscure our adoration of Him.

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O Antiphons – Wisdom – Dec 17

Tonight at Vespers the O Antiphons begin.  Tonight, the first night, features holy Wisdom.  Here is the text of the Antiphon from the Liturgy of the Hours:

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.  Come and show your people the way to salvation.

Wisdom is an oft-misunderstood notion, particularly in our modern age.  The ancient Greeks considered wisdom among the greatest virtues to strive for.  In fact, the word philosophy in Greek means “lover of wisdom.”  But what is wisdom, and why should we seek it?

Wisdom is the combination of intelligence and discretion.  It’s one thing to know facts and concepts and methods, that’s intelligence.  But it’s equally important to know when to use those bits of information, and in what circumstances they are useful.

Wisdom is learned through experience, and typically, a trait associated with life experience.  In Sacred Scripture we see the Holy Spirit associated with Wisdom, and a section of the Old Testament is called the Wisdom literature.

All the O Antiphons make reference to revealed truths of the Messiah, traits, characteristics, prefigurement, and titles of our Lord.  All those who seek the King born in the city of bread should begin with wisdom.

The Psalmist teaches us “the fear of the Lord is the first stage of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10)  May we all advance in wisdom through adoration of the one true God.

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O Antiphons Begin Tonight

During Vespers on December 17th, the O Antiphons make their annual appearance.  The antiphons usher in the final days of quickening before the coming of our Lord Jesus.

As I did last year, I will be entering a blog post each day related to the specific antiphon.

I hope you enjoy the reflections, and I pray that your preparations for the nativity of Jesus are assisted by mulling over these beautiful antiphons.

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