Advent & Christmas

 

Advent & Christmas Reflections:

Christmas

Reflection by CALGM Treasurer Emeritus

Whenever we arrive at Christmas, I always think to myself:  “What is there left to say?” And, in particular, at the end of a year like this one—with an ecclesial climate that seems chilly to the spirit of Vatican II (and even chillier to the real concerns of real LGBT Catholics), with a still-fragile economy, with a “fiscal cliff” looming ahead of us, and most especially, in the wake of the nearly unspeakable losses suffered in Newtown, Connecticut—we might be tempted to see Christmas as heralding only more pressure and unrealistic expectations of hope in a world made new. Pressure to keep believing (against all odds) that “all are welcome” in our church. Pressure to provide gifts for people we love with resources we may not have. Expectations that the joy proclaimed in this season is fundamentally incompatible with the pain and suffering of the innocent—a pain and suffering that takes flesh all over a world that remains frozen by war, oppression, ignorance, and ancient hatreds. In this kind of context, Christmas can seem like a taunt, daring us to do or hope for more than is humanly possible. And so I think to myself once more, “What is there to say?”

Listen to the prophet Isaiah in the first reading for the Vigil Mass. To a people racked by difficulty, who lived lives even more desperate and dangerous than ours, Isaiah speaks words of great consolation. “I will not be silent,” says the prophet, because this is precisely the moment when you need to hear good news. “I will not be silent,” says the prophet, because you have thought of yourselves as a “forsaken” people living in a “desolate” state of affairs. “I will not be silent,” says the prophet, because you are discouraged and the God who created you has something to say:

     “I LOVE YOU.  You are my delight.  You are my spouse.  And I rejoice in you! 
     Not in spite of all your poverty and brokenness but because of them and in them.”

Isaiah is not simply speaking these words to a people who lived a very long time ago, Isaiah is speaking these words to us—in our own day and age—especially if we are feeling particularly poor, particularly broken, particularly messed up. Christmas is not about “having it all together.” It’s about owning our humanity, in all its complexity—with its joys and its many pains, with its satisfactions and challenges. Why? Because it is THIS humanity that God so loves. It is THIS humanity that draws forth God’s passionate love. It is THIS humanity that moves God to empty Godself and become one of us. And, as we know from the story, the life of the incarnate God will be as complicated and messy and dangerous as ours; he received no special privileges. And this, indeed, is the mark of genuine, self-offering love: “I want to be like YOU—in ALL things—so that one day, you might become like ME—in ALL things.”

“Right,” I can hear you say, “God doesn’t have to spend Christmas Eve in this crazy church or with my insane family.” Well, I would say, think again! The gospel reading for the Christmas Vigil begins with something that most people find deadly boring: the genealogy of Jesus as recorded by Matthew. In the tradition of the Jewish scriptures, Matthew locates Jesus in time by telling us about his family tree, his relatives. Now there are some names that we all recognize—stars from our Jewish past: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ruth, David, Solomon, Mary. But there are names that we don’t quite recognize: Tamar and Rahab, for example, women who were not Jews but Canaanites who at points in their lives were forced into prostitution, yet whom God used to work the salvation of Israel. And there are other folks whose behavior is hardly exemplary: Solomon, for example, is the son of David and Bathsheba. And we know that David and Bathsheba got together in an adulterous relationship that resulted in the unjust and untimely death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah. I could go on. But the point, I think, is made. Jesus is not born into the perfect family. He is born into a family that is as complicated as our own families. Yet Jesus stands in solidarity with those real human beings in their struggles and failings. Jesus never distances himself from them, saying “I’m not like them.  I’m better than they.” Never. You would never hear Jesus claim such a thing. Because Jesus remains, from the first moment of his conception, the champion of human dignity. All kinds of people, in all states of life, in their sin as well as in their holiness, are related to the God-made-flesh. So, one of the things we might want to say at Christmas is this: “Remember, in the same way that Jesus stands in solidarity with us—never thinking himself better than we—you and I must stand in solidarity with the rest of the human family—never thinking ourselves better than they.”

I think we might also turn our attention to the end of the same gospel reading, where Mary shows up pregnant to her new husband’s house. How many people do you think believed her when she said that she conceived through the power of God? How many of us would have believed her? Courageously, that young woman risks the disapproval of her society—under the law (that Joseph generously skirts), Mary could have been stoned for having the child of someone not her husband. Courageously, Joseph takes a chance on God and believes what he senses in a dream. And the two of them begin a family that is far from conventional. Remember: Joseph and Mary are poor people; they are oppressed people. It is so important for us to remember this: God chooses to become one of us through the life of the poor—in a homeless shelter, a barn, NOT a home. It is so important for us to turn our eyes to the poor, to the homeless, to those who are judged wanting or who are despised, because this is the place where God chooses to show us how much he loves us.

And to whom does the good news of Christ’s birth first come? NOT to the well-dressed kings, but to the shepherds. Another thing we might remember is this:  Shepherds in the ancient near East were not to be trusted. They made their living by going from place to place; they didn’t have a stable home or community. They were, literally, migrant workers—always strangers in a strange land. AND, they were considered suspicious by the religious authorities, because they never could go to regular worship services; they were not observant Jews and were often looked down upon by people who were. Yet, the angels’ announcement goes first to them, to the shepherds. NOT to the rectory! Even now, I wonder, if we who profess faith in Christ, who are professionally religious, don’t need to be looking elsewhere to see how Christ’s birth is being announced today—to and among people on the edge of things. People who are in pain. People who are misunderstood. People whose families are disrespected. People who are persecuted.

What is there to say this Christmas? It’s all about LOVE. It’s about God’s saying—in the flesh—“I love you AS YOU ARE.  And I will become like you so that you might become like me.” Let us pray that we might feel—deep within—the love of God that is beyond all understanding. Let us pray that we might turn our eyes to the poor and stand with them in solidarity even as God stands with us. Let us pray that we might bear Christ into the world through our own acts of love, generosity, and forgiveness.

Merry Christmas! And God bless us every one.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reflection by CALGM Secretary Amity Buxton

When Mary traveled to visit her older cousin, pregnant with John the Baptist, yet-to-be-born Baby John leapt with joy in his mother’s womb when he sensed the even younger baby in Mary’s womb and recognized Christ Jesus.

Every time I hear this story, my own heart leaps with joy, knowing that Jesus is always here in my life waiting to be seen and recognized.  Yet, too often, I am laden down with human “problems” and  fail to remember this ever-present source of grace.   When I do remember to be present in the moment, it is only then that I sense that Jesus is nigh and leap with a joy that fills my being and enables me to penetrate any darkness to see the light.

As the celebration of Jesus’ birth approaches,  I  pray even harder that I may always be “ready” and alert to the signs of Jesus that surround me all of the time -- if I just keep my eyes and heart open.  I pray, too, for the gift of discernment to see and feel the presence of Jesus during the most difficult as well as the most beautiful of times.  And may I have the spiritual strength to leap with joy when this gift arrives.

Third Sunday of Advent

Reflection by CALGM Treasurer Fr Bob Pierson, OSB

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!  The Lord is near.”  -Phil 4: 4-5

The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called “Gaudete” (Rejoice) Sunday.  The lighting of the pink candle on the Advent wreath and the wearing of rose-colored vestments at Mass signal us that this Sunday is special.  We are now halfway through our period of preparation for Christmas.  And there is reason to rejoice even while we wait. 

The Lord continues to come into our lives in wonderful ways.  Every day people are opening their hearts to accept and love their gay and lesbian children.  Every day minds and hearts are being changed to recognize what the Church has taught us all along:  That every human person has dignity and value, and that we all deserve to be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2358).

Of course, our time of waiting is not over yet.  The light has not yet entirely overcome the darkness, but it will.  Give it time.  That’s the lesson of Advent.  We wait, we hope, and when the time is right, God comes into our lives in ways that we cannot even imagine.  The words of the prophet Isaiah will come true for us as well:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing,
As they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
As people make merry when dividing spoils.”  -Isaiah 9: 1-2

Second Sunday of Advent

Reflection by CALGM Secretary Emeritus John Montague

If there was ever a season in the liturgical year that is relevant for lesbian, gay, and transgendered people, and their families, it is Advent.  This pre-Christmas time is the waiting period for the family that is expecting new life. The chosen people of Israel were expecting a Messiah, someone to deliver freedom from bondage. Pregnant with expectation today, are transgendered, lesbian, and gay people, longing to be understood.

Baruch in the reading for the second Sunday of Advent says: “Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction.” During this past year we have witnessed ‘You Tube videos’ proclaiming “It Gets Better”, as a witness to young people to not despair. Awareness of ‘bullying’ and the need to educate about the value of every human person, is another sign that as Paul writes in this Sunday’s letter to the Philippians: “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best…”

During the past year, for the first time in ten years of ministry to Catholic Parents, I was criticized twice publicly, for speaking the truth. Rather than be angry, I pray for the gifts of patience and hope that Advent promises. Today’s Gospel from Luke presents John the Baptist. He was not controlled by fear. We know what happened to him. Prophetic to the end, the Baptist humbly spoke truth, and quoted Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.”

Let us each look around our local communities, and bring ‘Good News’. It might be just a smile at the person who we know does not understand us.  Maybe Advent will involve our realization that like Mary and Joseph we can live in patience, and hope. O Come Divine Messiah, the world in sorrow waits the day, when love shall have its triumph, and sadness flee away. 

First Sunday of Advent

Reflection by CALGM President Sheila Nelson

need Advent this year…  Advent has always been one of my favorite seasons—the smell of the Advent wreath, the candles and starlight, the beautiful hymns, the readings full of promise, the sense of longing and expectation for Christ to be reborn… the HOPE of a tired world renewed!   Yes, I’ve always loved this season, but for some reason this year I am vividly, almost painfully, aware of my need for Advent.  Maybe it’s that the dark coldness of our Minnesota December is magnified by the darkness in my spirit… The negativity in our political and often in our religious discourse has worn me down—I’m tired of the fighting, the lies and accusations.  I’m chilled by the knowledge of how persistent the suffering is all around me—in Hurricane Sandy victims still without electricity, in those still unemployed and not knowing how they’ll manage to get their families through another Christmas, in the grief of one who lost his wife to cancer and his father to suicide in the span of three months, in the prejudice and discrimination that drains life from my brothers and sisters because of their race or gender or sexual orientation…  It’s dark and cold and I’m tired!  I need Advent!

How good to have a God who understands my needs, the ways of the human heart—who every year gives us this season of hope and expectation!  And what a powerful message we’re given on this first Sunday of Advent…  The reading from Jeremiah is short—only 3 verses, but what joy it brings me: “The days are coming when I will fulfill the promise”…  Justice!  A safe and secure dwelling!  God’s name: “Our Justice…”  Words that warm my heart and provide light for my journey…  And then I hear Paul’s prayer for us in the second reading:  “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…”  Paul tells us it is love that strengthens our hearts and makes us blameless in holiness…  How desperately our world needs our love… Even in darkness, we can be the starlight!  And Jesus, in the midst of his disturbing talk about the end of the world—his warning that the anxieties of daily life, all those things that weigh me down and distract me from what is important—encourages us to “stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”  There will be an end to pain and suffering, to injustice and despair, to the darkness that shrouds our world and our hearts…  We are about to be redeemed!

If you, too, are feeling the need for Advent, let us together embark upon this journey toward Christmas, supporting each other in prayer as we move from darkness into light, from despair to hope, from alienation to community, from fear to the awesome love of a God who chose to become one of us…   MARANATHA!  Come, Lord Jesus!