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3rd Sunday of Advent A: Gaudate - Rejoice



 Third Sunday of Advent
advent-3
The joy of the kingdom is anticipated. The signs of the kingdom already come are given to the messengers of John the Baptist, and they are familiar with the prophecy of Isaiah. Patient waiting for the fulfilment is our Christian duty. There should be no complaining, no giving up or losing heart. Joy, prayer and thanksgiving should characterise the Christian community.
Gospel Text : Matthew 11:2-11


Michel de Verteuil
General comments
The passage is clearly in two sections:
Verses 2 to 6: The meeting between John’s disciples and Jesus.
John in jail Verses 7 to 11: Jesus speaks of John.

Scriptural prayers
“Our philosophy of history constitutes a sort of intellectual prison. We carry on as if we have been reduced to impotence and are completely incapable of any initiative on our own behalf.”     …Lloyd Best
Lord, we are in a prison.
We are all the time looking for the one who is to come and save us,
and if this one does not satisfy us, we say that we must look for someone else.
Send us leaders like Jesus who will make us hear and see
the great things you are doing among us:
people who were lame now standing up and doing things for themselves;
others finding new energy to live creatively;
the poor discovering the good news that they are not poor at all.
Leaders like this will teach us the blessedness of not losing faith in ourselves.
Lord, we often read in the Bible of your great power,
how you have laid your axe to the roots of the trees
and any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down
and thrown on the fire;
and how the winnowing fan is in your hand
and you will soon clear your threshing floor of chaff.
Yet, like John the Baptist, we find ourselves still imprisoned
by the injustice of the world.
You are teaching us the blessed way of Jesus which is to conquer evil by doing good.
Lord, we thank you that in many parts of the world
the church is not concerned with answering abstract questions
such as ‘Are you the one who is to come?’
but, like Jesus, is inviting people to hear and see how the blind are seeing again,
the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,
the dead are raised to life and Good News is proclaimed to the poor.
“It is no business whatever of the Christian churches to be keeping people passive and morally well-behaved while all the major questions of their lives are settled by others.”   Dr John Vincent, President of the Methodist Conference of the United Kingdom
Walking with Jesus
Lord, we pray that when people come to the church,
they may not find us following meekly the dictates of the powerful,
like reeds swaying in the breeze,
nor concerned with fine garments, like people who live in palaces.
May they find a prophet and more than a prophet,
an institution that will show up the false values of our society
and so prepare the way for your chosen ones to carry out your work in the world.
“One day our grandchildren will visit each other and wonder what all the pain and bloodshed were for. And perhaps they will be proud of us, that we foresaw the happy future which they will take for granted.”   ….An Israeli woman writing to an Arab friend
Lord, help us, like John the Baptist, to play our part in history,
content in knowing that what we have worked hard and suffered to achieve,
the least significant of the next generation will enjoy as a matter of course.
“Looking to the past has much to offer; living in it nothing at all.”          …John Harriot
Lord, the church today is very different from how it was some years ago:
– the various forms of lay ministry;
– collaboration with other churches and with people of other faiths;
– the contribution of every culture;
– the Bible opened to all.
Like Jesus remembering John the Baptist,
we remember with gratitude great people of the past
who could not accept these things.
None of us was as great as them,
but we must rejoice in all that even the least of us knows today.
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3. Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction to the Celebration

draw-near In these weeks before Christmas our reflection and prayer as a community focus on the various ways that the Lord is near to us: he is the One who is continually coming into our world with his good news of liberation and joy; we are the people who welcome him and become his hands, and mouth, and feet. So we can now reflect on the joyfulness that is ours because we are in Christ’s presences — he is near to us; but we must regret the times when our actions have been far from him.


Homily notes
sad-christmas1. The time of wishing ‘Happy Christmas’ is already here: the adverts are full of holly and ‘Christmas Cheer’; the diary is full of Christmas related events; and ‘getting ready’ is an urgent state of being. So what if you are one of those people who find the whole thing a drag? Find Christmas a time of stress? Just cannot wait for the spring light? Or think it is all overplayed? It probably means that you suffer in silence as it appears to be ‘not the done thing’ to be ‘down on Christmas’. Alternatively, one can just feel guilty and stressed that one is ‘not feeling as one ought to feel’. Then there is the question of the family, the in-laws, or the tensions of all the extra people in the house. Preachers can often so idealise ‘the family’, that they ignore the real pain of many of their hearers and this, in effect, alienates them from the gospel’s message.
2. The simple fact is that many people hate Christmas, wish it would pass quickly, dismiss it as only important if there are children to be entertained, or a time of loneliness. This is a significant group in any community; they are not to be likened to Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; and their feelings should find expression at some point in the liturgy. Preaching is about helping people grow in wisdom and holiness, not simply the broadcasting of ‘our message’ over and over in the manner of religion channels on television. So how does one engage with the people for whom the whole Christmas thing is painful?
3. Step 1: Acknowledge that that these attitudes exist and are worthy of being taken seriously. No one should feel that they could be dismissed as ‘party poopers’ or for ‘not getting into the spirit of the thing’. Christmas is a time of heightened emotions, complex memories, and a series of stress inducing deadlines due to the various tasks that have to be done before such and such a moment.
date of Christmas4. Step 2: Even if Christmas is a pain for you, human beings celebrate collective memories of all sorts of things and this is a basic element in every religion and culture. Such special times are as old as humanity, as the stones of Newgrange and Stonehenge bear mute witness. You may find it ‘ a pain’ but without such common memories we would not be bound to­gether as a society. Moreover, without ‘high days’ the pass­ing of time would have a grim monotony. We are creatures that need special times and ordinary time. Here is part of the genius of the gospel with its cycle of festivals rooted simultaneously in the cycles of nature (Christmas is linked to mid­winter, the original pasch was a spring-time agricultural feast) and the revelation of God’s love in the incarnation and paschal mystery. We may not be ‘in tune’ with Christmas merriment, but without an annual cycle we would be diminished as human beings and as Christians. It is worth recalling the proverb’ A change is as good as a rest’: Christmas marks a change from the ordinary – even if it is only because it annoys us so – and any change is an opportunity to take stock of our lives and ways of life. If Christmas really does ‘turn you off,’ then it can be a call to self-reflection and growth in self-knowledge.
Christms mess3. Step 3. During the 1960s, when the calendar was being reformed, there were many publications suggesting that either Christmas should be abandoned as distracting from the annual Christian feast (Easter) or arguing that since the December date had been so overlaid with cultural celebrations that the Christian feast was apparently an ‘add-on’ and these writers urged that the feast be moved to another date during the year. Neither suggestion was acted upon -luckily both suggestions were so daft that they did not stand a chance of getting through – but it does raise an interesting question for us as people who are celebrating Christmas as a feast and not simply as the time of the winter party. Let us imagine that the feast of the nativity were moved to, for ex­ample, 1 September; what would we be celebrating? This is a useful question as it can help us separate out the Christian recollection from the mistletoe-bedecked merriment; and so can help people who do not like Christmas to separate the feast which is a key part of memory as believers from the merriment and the stress. So what really would we celebrate on 1 September if in a future revision of the calendar the nativity of the Christ were so moved? You should point out, by the way, that such a change is fully within the competence of the Church – for we sometimes think that there is Christmas existing in itself quite apart from the Christmas communities that celebrate it: a classic case of confusing effect with cause.
4. That final question, if we moved Christmas Day from 25 December to 1 September, may help those who dislike Christmas to hear their experience reflected in the homily, but it is useful question to pose to every member of the gathering to help them clarify her/his mind on what we as Christians are recalling.
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John Litteton
Reflection

During Advent we are a people in waiting. Advent is a hope- filled time, a time of expectation and anticipation But, most of all, it is a time of waiting: waiting for the Messiah to arrive in our lives and in the world. His first arrival, when he was born in a stable, may be commemorated at Christmas. Or his second arrival, when he will come as King and Judge on the Last day, may be anticipated. Or his daily coming into our lives, in prayer, people and activities, may be acknowledged.
Waiting is part of all our lives. However, if the time we spend waiting is to be useful, our waiting must be purposeful. This means that we must wait properly for people, events and outcomes, always using the time effectively and efficiently to prepare for them. If we do not, the time spent waiting is wasted. And, regrettably, there is so much wasted time in our lives.
2 comingAn essential quality of purposeful or effective waiting is patience. For example, if we become impatient while waiting for retirement from work or for the school term to finish, we simply waste that time. Impatience leads to frustration, anxiety, anger, cynicism and, ultimately, unhappiness Unhappiness prevents us from doing anything constructive to sustain and prepare us while we wait. Our waiting is in vain and, inevitably, we are not ready when the time finally comes.

Similarly, if we do not use these days of Advent properly by waiting patiently for Christ to come into our lives at Christmas — especially by recognizing and welcoming him in the sacraments and in other people then we will not be ready to meet him when he comes. Frustration, anxiety, anger and cynicism are alien to the hope-filled spirit of Advent.
We need to be patient as we wait for the Lord’s arrival. When John the Baptist was in prison, having heard about Jesus’ ministry, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to Wait for somebody else?’ (Mt 11:3). John was the last in a long line of prophets who had been waiting for generations for the Messiah to come.

John th B 4ohn and his disciples were privileged but not all of them realized that the Messiah had arrived even when Jesus sent this clear message to John: ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor
’ (Mt 11:4-5).
The message of Advent, then, is that we should wait patiently for the Lord to come into our lives. Our waiting can be a time of enrichment during which some positive change occurs.
Even as we await Jesus’ arrival at Christmas, he is present to us in word and sacrament. But he is also present to us in the words and gestures of other people, if only we would become more astute in recognizing him. It is only when we are patient that we avoid the frustration prevalent in the lives of many people that, in turn, prevents them from being truly open to the presence and influence of Christ at Christmas.
For meditation
I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. ….(Mt 11:11)
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Donal Neary SJGospel Reflections
Good news of God
what-was-jesus-like
John the Baptist was a man of passionate commitment to what he believed in. He strongly believed in the coming of the Christ. This man of faith was being tested in that Jesus was a different type of Christ or Messiah from what he expected. He often wondered who the Messiah would be.
John was a man with a lot of conviction and truth. He preached what he believed. He practiced what he taught.
But he seemed to miss the point sometimes. He seemed to miss that Jesus would be found, not in preaching only but in helping others. John preached repentance for sin; Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom.
The blind would see, and the lame would walk – these were to be signs of the coming of the ‘One to come’.
jesus-in-othersPope Francis says: ‘There is no prayer in which Jesus does not inspire us to do something/ Our faith in Jesus is seen in strong action. The poor are helped at our pre-Christmas collections. We might ask not what we might get for Christmas, but how our Christmas might help others. We might ask that Christmas will be happy for others because of us – happy in body, with enough food for every family, happy in mind that we know the truth of God’s coming into the world, and happy in forgiveness, as that is one of God’s biggest gifts.
What is the good news of Jesus for you just now?
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From the Connections:

THE WORD:
The picture of John the Baptizer in today’s Gospel is quite different from last Sunday’s thundering, charismatic figure preaching to the crowds along the Jordan.  John has been imprisoned by Herod for publicly denouncing the king's incestuous marriage to Herodias.  Left to waste away in prison, John knew that his end was near.  John had staked his life on proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, and his witness will soon cost him his life.  Like any human being, John had to wonder if he had been deluding himself.  John and the people of Judaism had been expecting a much different kind of Messiah than the gentle, humble Worker of wonders from Nazareth.  And so, John sends friends to ask Jesus if he is, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah.
Jesus sends the messengers back to John to report all they have seen Jesus do, fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah and the prophets of old.  While praising John for his faithful witness to the Messiah, Jesus tells his followers that great things will come to all who become prophets of the reign of God.

HOMILY POINTS:
Advent/Christmas is the season of hope:  The birth of Christ restores our dreams for “blossoming deserts” (Reading 1) and new harvests, for renewed relationships with God and with one another.
The Christ of Christmas comes to heal the divisions among families and friends, to re-create our world in the mercy and justice of the Messiah, to renew our lives in the joy and hope of the God of unimaginably endless love.
John's question, Are you the Messiah?, confronts us with the apparent silence of God in our secular, amoral society.  We must come to recognize the Messiah in the humble, merciful, liberating person of Jesus, the healer and reconciler.
The question Jesus pose – What did you go out to the desert to see? – challenges us to take on the hard and never-ending Advent work of conversion and re-creation, of rediscovering what we want are lives to be for and about.


Walking among the reeds
You’re working 60 to 70 hours a week; you’re lucky if you get six hours of sleep a night.  Making income cover expenses is becoming a bigger challenge every month — and, in the meantime, your spouse and children — the people you live for — are becoming strangers.  What did you go out to the desert to see?
You juggle a wide network of acquaintances.  The e-mails never stop; there’s not an empty line in your calendar book; your cell phone is permanently clipped to your ear.  But you can’t seem to shake the loneliness you feel in the most crowded rooms.  While you maintain contact with a host of business associates and colleagues, precious few of them do you consider friends and no one close to being special.  What did you go out to the desert to see?
Every semester you scan the course offerings:  This course I need to graduate . . . this class meets at a good time . . . this professor is a nightmare . . . this lecturer is an easy A . . . God, look at this reading list — no way! 
What did you go out to the desert to see?

What did you go out to the desert to see?  What are you looking for? Jesus’ question takes on particular urgency in the Advent of our lives:  As we struggle to make ends meet, have the means become an end in themselves?  Has the love and support of family and friends become just another asset?  Are we satisfied merely with learning and achievement that we can list on our resumes or do we want to learn and become truly educated human beings?  John’s call to transform our lives in the things of God and Jesus’ Gospel of humble compassion certainly resonate in our broken hearts and despairing spirits — but are we willing to take on the hard work of conversion and re-creation?  May we rediscover in this holy season what we want are lives to be for and, with the Messiah’s grace, continue that work of re-creation in every season of our lives.   
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From Fr. Jude Botelho:

The Exodus was deeply engrained on the memory of Israel. The Israelites surrounded my misery and despair long for a new exodus. For Isaiah in particular, the judgement of God, the destruction of the wicked, and of joy for the afflicted, the sick and the poor ones, reveals itself as a new Exodus towards Zion. In the first reading the prophet Isaiah uses the image of a desert, made fertile by rain, to portray the confident hope that God would restore his people crushed by misfortune. The most crippling disabilities –blindness, deafness, and lameness –will be relieved when God sends salvation to his people. Isaiah appeals to the people: “Have courage! Do not be unafraid!”
Unfinished Play
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American writer. When he died in 1864 he had on his desk the outline of a play he never got a chance to finish. The play centred around a person who never appeared on stage. Everyone talked about him. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone waited for his arrival. But he never came. All kinds of minor characters described him. They told everybody what he would do. But the main character never appeared. –The Old Testament is something like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s play. It too ended without the main character putting in an appearance. Everyone talked about the Messiah, everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came. In today’s reading we hear Isaiah describe what the Messiah would do. We are called to believe that He will come and fulfill his promise of bringing salvation to us and to all mankind.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’
The second reading from James talks of the Second Coming of Jesus. He urges the kind of patience and hope farmers show in waiting for the harvest, and which the prophets of old showed as they waited for the promises to be fulfilled. It is a patience that does not lose hope, no matter how hard the situation; a patience that is strong and yet at the same time gentle. It is a patience that is not passive but active. It is a patience that manifests quiet, every day sort of strength. In the meanwhile we cry out with today’s response psalm: “Lord come and save us!”

Practicing Patience
“One moment of patience may ward off great distaste, one moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” (Chinese Proverb)
There is a story of a man who prayed earnestly for grace to overcome his besetting sin of impatience. A little later he missed the train by half a minute and spent half an hour stamping up and down the platform in furious vexation. Five minutes before the next train came in he suddenly realized that there had been an answer to his prayer. He had been given an hour to practice the virtue of patience, he had missed the opportunity and wasted the hour.
- Bernard Hodgson in ‘Quotes and Anecdotes’
In today’s reading of Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist has his doubts about the identity of Jesus and so we hear him questioning Jesus through his disciples. “Are you the Messiah, the one who is to come?” John’s situation was a grim one as he was locked up in a dark dungeon with the threat of death hanging over him. His faith was being seriously tested. He needed reassurance and comforting. John had been preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah. John’s idea of the Messiah was that of a stern, uncompromising judge. But Jesus was not living up to that image, instead he was acting like a savior. His radiant friendliness contrasted sharply with the severity of John. John was an ascetic, who lived apart from the people, Jesus on the other hand freely mixed with people and ate and drank with sinners. John prophesized judgement, while Jesus prophesized salvation. John was confused and wanted to know for sure, so he sent two of his disciples to question Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come?” Jesus might have replied with a straight forward yes, but that would have got him into trouble with the authorities. Neither could he deny that he was the Messiah, for that would be lying. Instead, he chose to point out the answer through his actions. His actions were exactly the kind Isaiah had predicted for the Messianic times. Jesus was happy to let his actions speak for themselves.

Dying in Darkness
The great astronomer, Galileo, was born near Florence, in the year 1564. He confirmed what Copernicus had said, namely, that the earth goes round the sun, and not vice versa. His discoveries greatly enlarged our knowledge of the universe. Yet he spent his last years in darkness. When summoned before the inquisition he wrote: ‘Alas, poor Galileo, your devoted servant, totally and incurably blind; so that this heaven, this earth, this universe, which by my observations and demonstrations, I have enlarged a thousand fold beyond their previous limits, are now shriveled for me into such a narrow compass as is filled by my own bodily sensations.’ –Galileo reminds us of John the Baptist. Like Galileo he ushered in a new age –the age of Jesus. And like Galileo he died in darkness.
- Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

"Today we find John the Baptist shut in a prison – full of shadows and forebodings. The Messiah whom he believed he recognized does not behave like a sovereign judge. Nor does he act as the unrelenting executor of God’s judgement against sinners. Confused and helpless, John sends to Jesus to enquire: “Are you really the Messiah whom we await – you who are non-violent, forbearing and forgiving? This question echoes down the centuries and challenges us today more than ever, faced as we are with God’s silence and passivity before our own dechristianized society. We expect answers from the gospel, but instead the gospel seems to pose us further questions! Where we expected to find ready-made solutions, we find instead an invitation to formulate our own. We expect to find miracles only to find the gospel following nature’s process of slow germination. We find it difficult to admit that Christianity is a matter of liberty and love –hence a matter of faith and risk. Like John, we need to enter into our spirit and recognize the real face of God in the countenance of Jesus Christ –the humble and merciful deliverer.” - Glenstal Sunday Missal

In the second part of the gospel Jesus speaks about John the Baptist praising him as the greatest of the prophets. Jesus paid handsome tributes to John calling him a strong personality and an unbending man of principles. John did not go in for showmanship and did not live a life of comfort and ease. He was single minded in his purpose and devoted his life totally to his mission, which was to prepare the way for Jesus. When his task was done, he moved aside to make way for Jesus. That took greatness. John’s lifestyle as well as his personal integrity, lent credence to his words. He was a living example of what he preached. We can draw inspiration from John’s life. Despite extolling John to the heavens Jesus said that the least in the kingdom of God was greater than John. Why? Because John, great though he was, did not fully comprehend Jesus. John preached a God of divine retribution; Jesus preached a God of divine love. John had his doubts and was confused as to the identity of Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, the Messiah?” was the question troubling him as he lay in the darkness of his dungeon.

Faithful Witness To The Truth
Henry David Thoreau was an American who authored the renowned essay ‘Civil Disobedience’. He championed the freedom of the individual over the law of the land. He distinguished between ‘law’ and ‘right’. He wrote: “What the majority passes is the ‘law’ and what the individual conscience sees is the ‘right’, and what matters most is the ‘right’ not the ‘law’.” Once Thoreau was imprisoned for a night for his refusal to pay poll-tax as a protest against the government’s support of slavery and its unjust war against Mexico presumably in support of slave trade intentions. When he was arrested, he hoped that some of his friends would follow his example and fill the jails, and in this way persuade the government to change its stance on the issue of slavery. In this he was disappointed. Not only did his friends not join him, one friend paid the tax on his behalf and got him released the very next day. When he was in the prison Emerson, another American writer came to visit him. He said to Thoreau: “Thoreau, why are you inside?” And Thoreau replied, “Emerson, Emerson, why are you outside?” Thoreau was a great lover of the truth. He suffered because he spoke the truth and stood for the truth. Emerson said in his obituary of Thoreau, “He was a great speaker and actor of truth.” –John the Baptist too spoke and stood for the truth against the king and paid for it by sacrificing his life.
- John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

Key Question
Some critics acclaim Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the greatest play of the modern world. In this tragedy Hamlet is the prince of Denmark who learns from his father’s ghost that he was murdered by his own brother Claudius, so that Claudius could take his place as king and marry Hamlet’s mother. Intent on avenging his father’s assassination, Hamlet ponders what he should do in a soliloquy: ‘To be or not to be: that’s the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?’ Hamlet’s perplexing question has become a Shakespearean classic. Scripture too poses some key questions about the mysteries of life, and today’s gospel gives us a good example. John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus to ask the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?” This is by no means a casual question of identity, but a critical question whose answer affects our entire destiny. As such it is a timeless question, a contemporary question, an ultimate question.
- Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1.     In his book Horns and Halos 


Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton tells about one of the weirdest auction sales in history; and it was held in Washington, D.C., in 1926, where 150,000 patented models of old inventions were declared obsolete and placed on the auction block for public auction. Prospective buyers and on-lookers chuckled as item after item was put up for bid; such as a "bed-bug buster" or an "illuminated cat" that was designed to scare away mice. Then there was a device to prevent snoring. It consisted of a trumpet that reached from the mouth to the ear; and was designed to awaken the snorer and not the neighbors. And then there was the adjustable pulpit that could be raised or lowered according to the height of the preacher.

Needless to say, this auction of old patent models was worth at least 150,000 laughs; but if we would look into this situation a little deeper, we would discover that these 150,000 old patent models also represent 150,000 broken dreams. They represented a mountain of disappointments.

It may seem inappropriate to talk about broken dreams and disappointments this close to Christmas. After all, this is the season to be jolly. But it's not jolly for everybody, is it? For those who have lost loved ones this is the loneliest time of the year. And in a world that glorifies materialism, those who are struggling financially may find it to be most disappointing.

Our friend John the Baptist knew about disappointment. John is in prison now and he's looking for a sign - a sign that the long-awaited Messiah has really arrived. That's ironic, don't you think? John the Baptist is the one who first proclaimed his coming. But much has happened to John since we last saw him preaching and baptizing people in the wilderness, and now his heart is cast down.

You'll remember John's message was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This message burned in John's soul...
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It is one of those moments parents hope for, even dream about. But it is one of those moments parents are never quite sure will ever come about. It is the moment when you pick up your child from a play date, or birthday party, or sleep-over, and the parent hosting the event declares how well behaved and polite your child has been.


Suddenly all those countless drills and dramas about saying "please" and "thank you" or "take turns" or "share" or "be kind to others" are rewarded. It is good to know that even when you are NOT looking, even when you are NOT "hand's on," that the long arm of loving influence and life-lessons continue to bear good fruit in the world.


Children are not born with good manners. Children are not characterized by congenital civility. One of the most common injuries in toddler day-care centers is of children being bitten by other children. Reinhold Niebuhr, the great 20th century theologian, confessed that an infant, no matter how cute, was infallible proof of the doctrine of original sin.  


It takes years of patience and endurance and constant care to teach toddlers that instead of snarling and snapping over their crackers and crayons, they should willingly share them with others. It is a hard lesson to learn. But it is the first crucial step necessary to create compassionate human beings out of competitive creatures. And it is a lesson we never can stop learning, throughout the length of our lives.  


As the world both mourned the death and celebrated the life of Nelson Mandela last week, there were the musings of those who wondered what more might have been accomplished had he not been imprisoned for those twenty seven years by his government...
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2.     Knee Deep In Alligators


Did you ever hear the expression, "When you're knee-deep in alligators and copperheads, it's hard to remember that your primary objective was to clean out the swamp?" That's how I imagine John the Baptist must have felt as he stared at those damp, cold walls of Herod's dungeon, day after day, knowing in his heart that only a miracle would allow him to leave this place alive. Wouldn't you be scared in that predicament? Wouldn't you begin to question your "core beliefs" if you knew that those very beliefs were responsible for your impending doom?

Johnny Dean
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3.     Timing Is Everything


I was reading about steamships. It was a wonderful article in which the author said that the dream of a self-propelled ship had been a dream of humankind for hundreds of years. Then one day the time came when it was theoretically possible, but it was still not practically possible. The dream was kept alive for another hundred years or so by inventors and experimenters, some of whom were considered to be eccentric. Later on people looked back and said of them, they were just ahead of their time.


Then the times changed. The next person to come along wasRobert Fulton. It was not so much that Fulton invented the steamboat, but that he just happened to be there when the time was right. As the author wrote, "The inventor's eminence may be more a trick of chronology than anything else, due to being active at the very moment when fruition was possible." It's a wonderful statement. It tells you that timing is everything.


That's what we learn from the Bible. Look at our lesson for this morning. The disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus, and ask, "Are you the one, or do we look for another?" It is a critical question for John. John has preached that the time has come. The Messiah, he said, is about to appear, so repent, get ready, put your lives in order. He has devoted his whole life to the belief that the time has come. But he is in prison now. He is about to lose his head. So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one that we have been waiting for, or do we still look for somebody else?"


Mark Trotter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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4.     Who Jesus Really Is

I don't know where life may be defeating you this Advent. I don't know how Jesus may be disappointing you this Advent. But I would suggest to you this Advent that any disillusionment you feel may not necessarily be a bad thing. For what is disillusionment if not, literally, the loss of an illusion? And, in the long run, it is never a bad thing to lose the lies we have mistaken for the truth.

Did Jesus fail to come when you rubbed the lantern?
Then perhaps Jesus is not a genie.

Did Jesus fail to punish your enemies?
Then perhaps Jesus is not a cop.

Did Jesus fail to make everything run smoothly?
Then perhaps Jesus is not a mechanic.

Over and over again, our disappointments draw us deeper and deeper into
who Jesus really is ... and what Jesus really does.

William A. Ritter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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5.     The Controlling Emotion of Fear


H. A. Williams, one of the leading preachers and theologians of the Church of England, titled his autobiography, Someday I'll Find You. That may seem like an unusual title for an autobiography, but if you read the book, as I did when I was a seminary student, it begins to make sense.


You see, there was a period in Dr. Williams' life when he was almost totally incapacitated by phobic anxieties. He was afraid to into the streets and marketplaces, afraid of elevators and escalators, afraid to ride on trains or buses or subways, afraid of flying - you name it, he was afraid of it! Eventually he became so overcome with fear that he was partially paralyzed, and it was only after years of psychoanalysis and treatment that he was able to conquer his fear and go on with his life.


Fear is one of the most controlling emotions of life. Most of us don't like to think of ourselves as fearful people. We prefer to think of ourselves as strong and independent, as though we had the world by the tail and are just waiting for it to say "uncle," as if we were capable of taking on all comers. "I am strong, I am invincible," to borrow a line from one of my all-time least favorite songs. It just ain't so, folks! None of us are "invincible," male or female. Every one of us, at one time or another has felt the cold grip of fear and felt helpless to do anything about it.


Johnny Dean, www.Sermons.com
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6.     We Can't See What Is Before Us, We Are Never Content


In a Peanuts comic strip Lucy is speaking with Linus at the base of a hill. She says, "Someday I'm going over that hill and find the answer to my dreams.... Someday I'm going over that hill and find hope and fulfillment. I think, for me, all the answers to life lie beyond these clouds and over the grassy slopes of that hill!"


Linus removes his thumb from his mouth, points toward the hill, and responds: "Perhaps there's another little kid on the other side of that hill who is looking this way and thinking that all the answers to life lie on this side of the hill." Lucy looks at Linus, then turns toward the hill and yells, "Forget it, kid!"


Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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7.     Where Is the Fire?


We get this comforting idea that if we follow the Messiah life will somehow be smoother, or at least all fit together in some "good" way. Then we run smack into the reality that the only guarantee Jesus made to us had to do with the activities that come after this life. In fact, Jesus very clearly expected that his followers would have a harder time getting through this life than those who walked away. But we still have these expectations of a "Savior" and when Jesus doesn't meet them we begin to wonder if he is really who we thought he was. There are thousands of empty church pews that used to be full of people who believed in Jesus Christ. But then he didn't live up to their expectations and they went home. Their families still fought, they still had some frightening decisions to make, and they still couldn't make ends meet on a budget. They began to wonder if they had made a mistake with Jesus.

Maybe that's what happened to John. He said that he had come to baptize with water, and that the one following him would baptize with "fire from heaven." So where was the fire? So far there wasn't even smoke. So far, the Pharisees and Sadducees were still in charge of the faith, and Rome was still in charge of the government. In fact, instead of bringing in the kingdom, Jesus had kept pretty quiet up north while John got himself arrested and thrown into one of Herod's dungeons on a mountaintop down by the Dead Sea. That might make a person ask some questions. Is this any way for a Messiah to behave?

At least I hope that's what happened with John. If John the Baptist, as high up as he ranked, still had some questions, maybe there is room for me and mine.


John B. Jamison, Time's Up!, CSS Publishing Company
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8.     Only Jesus


An anonymous author made this striking comparison: "Socrates taught for 40 years, Plato for 50, Aristotle for 40, and Jesus for only 3. Yet the influence of Christ's 3-year ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined 130 years of teaching from these men, who were among the greatest philosophers of all antiquity.


Jesus painted no pictures yet some of the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from him. Jesus wrote no poetry but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world's greatest poets were inspired by him. Jesus composed no music still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the hymns, symphonies, and oratorios they composed in his praise. Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble Carpenter of Nazareth.

His unique contribution to humanity is the salvation of the soul! Philosophy could not accomplish that. Nor art. Nor literature. Nor music. Only Jesus Christ can break the enslaving chains of sin. He alone can speak peace to the human heart, strengthen the weak, and give life to those who are spiritually dead."

David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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9.     Doubt


This is a good sermon opener:


In the semantics of the church, doubt has been a negative word. It is rarely used in a favorable way. Faith, not doubt, is the great word of the church. As I stand here every Sunday morning and look into your up-lifted faces, you look so proper, so content, so believing. You seem to be so certain, so full of faith, and so free of doubt.


But, I have a suspicion that the way you look is not the way you are. Beneath the skins of many of you there is planted the seed of honest doubt. Perhaps you do not share these feelings with anyone; but your doubts are there, and they are real. Your worship does not express your doubts, uncertainties, and skepticism. In facing this situation, all of us at times cry out with the man in the Gospel, "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief." This capacity to doubt can often lead to some of life's most profound questions.


Such was the case with John the Baptizer. His question -"Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"- grew not out of his uncertainty, but out of his doubt. John the Baptizer had heard about the words and deeds of Jesus, but what he had heard did not square with his expectation of the Messiah.


After all, Jesus was born not to royalty, but to a peasant woman. He functioned not as a military ruler, but as a servant. He came not as a judge, but as a forgiving redeemer. He did not bring heavenly condemnation; he brought divine love. He did not associate with the religious establishment, but he went from village to village associating with the rubbish heap of humanity. He spent his time and energy with the least and the lost. He was most concerned with the powerless: the blind and the lame, the lepers and the deaf, and the poor and the out-cast. And Jesus dared to teach that the weak occupied the most important place in the Kingdom of God.


John the Baptizer became confused about the way in which Jesus acted out his messiahship. He had doubts about the validity of his contemporary, Jesus of Nazareth. His skepticism caused him to send one of his buddies to Jesus with the question: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" Like others in the New Testament, John the Baptizer was not positive. Oh, to be sure, there were fleeting moments of recognition. Mary thought Jesus was a gardener. Those on the road to Emmaus never did recognize him. Even his closest disciples were not certain if he was or was not the true Messiah.


That John the Baptizer had doubts about the messiahship of Jesus is revealed in his question: "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" His question is not clear, either in what is being asked or why. But like all good questions, it shoves the reader into deeper regions of thought.


Joe E. Pennell Jr., From Anticipation to Transfiguration, CSS Publishing Company, 23-24.
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10.  It Doesn't Get Any Better


In 1964 my boyhood home burned. We were on our way to spend Christmas with my mother and father, and the word reached us that the flames had engulfed most of the home, although the structure was standing. When we arrived at Texarkana, it was late in the afternoon, and the December sun was already toward the horizon. I entered the house with a cousin to inspect the damage and became aware of the fact that it was difficult to see. I said to her, "I think I shall wait and come back in the morning, when the light will be better." I shall never forget her reply: "Bill," she said, "it doesn't get any better!" At first I did not know what she meant; only later I realized that the fire had brought to the inside panes of the windows a kind of smoke and resin film which very effectively shut out most of the light, even when the sun was shining brightly.


Those words have been burned into my consciousness ever since...
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From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:


1: Unfinished Play: Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American novelist and short story writer. When he died in 1864, he had on his desk the outline of a play he never got a chance to finish. The play centered around a person who never appeared on stage. Everyone talked about him. Everyone dreamed about him. Everyone waited for his arrival. But he never came. All kinds of minor characters described him. They told everybody what he would do. But the main character never appeared. –The Old Testament is something like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s play. It too ended without the main character’s appearing on the stage. Everyone talked about the Messiah, everyone awaited his arrival. But he never came in the Old Testament period. In today’s reading, we hear Isaiah describing what the Messiah would do by bringing salvation to all mankind. Today’s Gospel tells us that when the real Messiah came, even the last prophet and the Messiah’s herald, John the Baptist, could not believe that he was the expected Messiah. (Mark Link S. J. in Sunday Homilies)

2: Gaudete Sunday smile: A number of years ago, a young college student was working as an intern at his college’s Museum of Natural History. One day while working at the cash register in the gift shop, he saw an elderly couple come in with a little girl in a wheelchair. As he looked more closely at this girl, he saw that she was kind of perched on her chair. The student realized that she had no arms or legs, just a head, neck and torso. She was wearing a little white dress with red polka dots. As the couple wheeled her up to the checkout counter, he turned his head toward the girl and gave her a wink. Meanwhile, he took the money from her grandparents and looked back at the girl, who was giving him the cutest and the largest smile he had ever seen. All of a sudden, her handicap was gone, and all that the college student saw was this beautiful girl, whose smile just melted him and almost instantly gave him a completely new sense of what life is all about. She took him from being an unhappy college student and brought him into her world – a world of smiles, love and warmth. With the lighting of the rose candle, the third of the Advent Wreath, among the purple candles, and the priest’s wearing the rose vestments, we are reminded that we are called to live with joy in our world of sorrows and pain. (Fr. James Farfaglia)

3: “Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu!” Under a cultural exchange program, a rabbi from Russia was visiting a Christian family in Texas. Since it was Christmas, the family wanted to take him to some of the finest places in Houston, so they all went to a favorite Chinese restaurant. Throughout the meal the rabbi extolled the wonders of America in comparison to the bleak conditions of his homeland. When they had finished eating, the waiter brought the check, a fortune cookie, and a small brass Christmas tree ornament as a present for the rabbi. They all laughed when the rabbi pointed out that the ornaments were stamped “made in India.” But the laughter soon subsided when they saw that the rabbi was quietly crying. They all thought that the rabbi must have been offended by receiving a Christmas tree as a gift. But no, he smiled and shook his head and said, “Nyet, I was shedding tears of joy to be in a wonderful country, in a Chinese restaurant in which a Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu!”

4. “I am John the Baptist! A man who thought he was John the Baptist was disturbing the neighborhood, so for public safety, he was committed.   He was put in a room with another crazy one. The new inmate immediately began his routine, “I am John the Baptist! Jesus Christ has sent me!”   The other guy looked at him and declared, “I did not!”

5. A Politically Correct Christmas Greeting? Best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral, winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most joyous traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, but with respect for the religious persuasions of others who choose to practice their own religion as well as for those who choose not to practice a religion at all. (Disclaimer: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It implies no responsibility for any unintended emotional stress these greetings may bring to those not caught up in the holiday spirit.)

6. What happens when pastor’s mom lives in the rectory as his housekeeper? On a Sunday morning he couldn’t get out of bed. His mother tried to get him out of bed, but to little avail. She shouted up the stairs, “Get up!” and he shouted down the stairs, “No!” Then she shouted again, “Get up!” and he shouted down, “Why should I?” She said, “Well, first of all your breakfast is ready, secondly this is the third Sunday of Advent, and thirdly you’re the Pastor and you have to say two Masses today!”

27 Additional anecdotes:

1) “Joy to the World!” Consider the story of one young man. He was often sick as a baby. He was always small, puny some would say. As a youth he was always frail and delicate. He was not able to play sports with the other boys his age. Eventually he entered the ministry. But his health was so fragile, he was unable to serve his growing congregation. Amazingly, he did not dwell on his troubles. In fact, his spirit soared. His only real complaint was the poor quality of the hymns of his day. He felt they did not convey hope and joy. Someone challenged him to write better ones. He did. He wrote over 600 hymns, most of them hymns of praise. When his health collapsed completely in 1748, he left one of the most remarkable collections of hymns the world has ever known. His name was Isaac Watts. In a few weeks we will be singing one of his most famous hymns, “Joy to the World!” Isaac Watts discovered joy in his life because he knew that God would never desert him. He was able to live his life with all sorts of health problems, feeling close to God and Jesus. He had joy deep in his heart. (Timothy J. Smith; quoted by Fr. T. Kayala).

2) Encouraging others with facial paralysis: The Reader’s Digest once reported the story of an attractive and successful business woman who noticed a small lump behind her ear as she was brushing her hair one morning. As the days went on, she noticed that the lump was getting larger. So, she decided to see her doctor.  Her worst fears were confirmed.  The doctor told her that the lump was a large tumor that would require immediate surgery.  When she awoke following the surgery, she found her entire head wrapped like that of a mummy. She could see herself in a mirror only through two tiny holes cut into the wrapping. When the bandages were removed after a week she was shocked to see that her once attractive features had become disfigured by a facial paralysis caused perhaps by damage to facial nerves during the removal of the tumor. Standing before the mirror, she told herself that she had to make a choice whether to laugh or to cry. She decided to laugh. Although the various therapies tried were unsuccessful in alleviating the facial paralysis, the decision to laugh in the face of adversity allowed this woman to carry on with her life with joy, giving encouragement to those with similar paralysis.  Today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus encouraged the imprisoned John the Baptist by dispelling his doubts about the role of the Messiah and making him strong enough to face martyrdom.

2) “Sweetheart, you’re the answer to my prayers.” A few years ago in Reader’s Digest, a lady named Barbara Bartocci reported searching for the perfect birthday card for her husband. She came across a promising one. On the outside it read: “Sweetheart, you’re the answer to my prayers.” Then she turned to the inside, which was inscribed, “You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you are the answer.” In a strange way, something like that was running through John’s mind as he sat there in that prison. He and his people had hoped and prayed for years for a Messiah, one anointed by God to lead the nation, a deliverer who would vanquish occupying forces, conquer all enemies, establish a great Kingdom, and usher in an era of peace and prosperity. In time past, and not that long ago, John had come to believe that the prayers had been answered. The Messiah was none other than his own cousin, Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus’ mission was spiritual.

3) “Down with Khrushchev!” There was a joke that came out of the Soviet Union many years ago about a Russian who stood on the street corner in Moscow, and shouted, “Down with Khrushchev!” He was arrested and sent to prison camp for ten years. While he was in prison, he had a change of heart, and came to see that Khrushchev was a great leader after all. The only problem was, while he was in prison the times changed, and Khrushchev was deposed from office and publicly denounced. When the man was released, he went back to that same street corner in Moscow. He wanted to give a public testimony to his rehabilitation. This time he shouted, “Hooray for Khrushchev!” and got ten more years. Timing is everything! Look at our lesson for this morning. The disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus, and ask, “Are you the one, or do we look for another?” It is a critical question for John. John has preached that the time has come. The Messiah, he said, is about to appear, so repent, get ready, put your lives in order. He has devoted his whole life to the belief that the time has come. But he is in prison now. Though he is unaware of it, John is about to lose his head. So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one that we have been waiting for, or do we still look for somebody else?”

4) Broken dreams of a warrior Messiah: In his book Horns and Halos, Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton tells about one of the weirdest auction sales in history, held in Washington, D.C., in 1926. At the auction, 150,000 patented models of old inventions were declared obsolete and placed on the block for public auction. Prospective buyers and on-lookers chuckled as item after item was put up for bid; such as a “bed-bug buster” or an “illuminated cat” that was designed to scare away mice. Then there was a device to prevent snoring. It consisted of a trumpet that reached from the mouth to the ear; and was designed to awaken the snorer and not the neighbors. And then there was the adjustable pulpit that could be raised or lowered according to the height of the preacher. Needless to say, this auction of old patent models was worth at least 150,000 laughs; but if we would look into this situation a little more deeply, we would discover that these 150,000 old patent models also represent 150,000 broken dreams. Today’s Gospel shows us John the Baptist’s broken dreams of a warrior Messiah.

5) John expected better treatment from a Messiah: Glen was nearly 90 years old and had not been sick more than a few hours of those 90 years. Then the doctor mentioned cancer. At first Glen nodded and said that for 90 good years he had no complaints. But as days passed he grew quiet, the smile left his face, and the love left his eyes. He worried constantly, and complained just a bit more than that. “I’ve tried to do good,” Glen said one morning, “but I just don’t see why God would do this to me. This isn’t what I expected at all. Maybe I’ve been wasting my time.” In the same way, John the Baptist expected better treatment from a Messiah.

6) Greek, and Jewish civilization: The first great civilization in the West was the Greek civilization. It provided a universal language. Three hundred years before Jesus, Alexander the Great conquered the world. The Greeks followed him with a kind of missionary zeal to spread Greek language and culture. By Jesus’ time, Greek was the universal language of the Mediterranean world, which made it possible for a new kind of communication in the world that did not exist before that time. People could speak the same language. Thus, three hundred years before Jesus, the Old Testament was translated into Greek because more Jews could speak Greek than could speak Hebrew. For the first time, Jew and Greek, Egyptian and Roman, all spoke the same language, shared the same culture, and they all became familiar with one another’s traditional cultures. The second great civilization was the Jewish civilization. Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, also wrote The Gifts of the Jews, a wonderful book, with the subtitle, “How A Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels.” The great contribution of the Jews, claims Cahill, was to see history as moving toward a goal that they called the Kingdom of God. That meant that, for the first time, history had a purpose. We owe that to the Jews, as well as the conviction that someday the world will be renewed. Each week in Advent we read these beautiful visions of what the world will be in the future. “The wilderness shall be glad…the desert shall rejoice and blossom. …Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come…and save you. The ears of the deaf unstopped…the lame shall leap like a deer…the tongue of the speechless shall sing.”

7) “The only Christ I ever knew” Myra had worked for many years in a large, downtown business office. Many different things were said about Myra, but on one point all her colleagues agreed: Myra was a hateful person. She had a way of quickly turning off anyone who tried to befriend her. She was a loner, a disagreeable one at that. Consequently, whenever a new employee was hired, the warning went out, “Stay away from Myra.” This situation lasted for years until a new employee, whom we shall call Margaret, arrived on the scene. Disregarding all the friendly warnings, Margaret made a special effort to let Myra know that now there was someone in that office who really cared about her. Amazingly, this initial expression of kindness eventually began to bear fruit. Myra was breaking out of her shell. She was communicating more easily. She even was developing a friendship or two. Then, early one morning, the entire office staff was shocked to learn that Margaret had died suddenly the night before. When Myra heard the news she cried and cried and said over and over again, “Margaret was the only Christ I ever knew, she was the only Christ I ever knew.”

8) Dreams for sale: There is a wonderful parable that tells us what “prophecy actualized” might look like in our lives. There was once a woman who was disappointed, who was disillusioned and depressed. She wanted a good world, a peaceful world, and she wanted to be a good person. But the newspaper and television showed her how far we were from such a reality. So she decided to go shopping. She went to the mall and wandered into a new store – where the person behind the counter looked strangely like Jesus. Gathering up her courage she went up to the counter and asked, “Are you Jesus?” “Well, yes, I am,” the man answered. “Do you work here?” “Actually,” Jesus responded, “I own the store. You are free to wander up and down the aisles, see what it is I sell, and then make a list of what you want. When you are finished, come back here, and we’ll see what we can do for you.” So, the woman did just that. And what she saw thrilled her. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air. She wrote furiously and finally approached the counter, handing a long list to Jesus. He skimmed the paper, and then smiling at her said, “No problem.” Reaching under the counter, he grabbed some packets and laid them out on the counter. Confused, she asked, “What are these?” Jesus replied: “These are seed packets. Surprised the woman blurted out, “You mean I don’t get the finished product?” “No,” Jesus gently responded. “This is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. Then you plant the seeds. You go home and nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.” “Oh,” she said, deeply disappointed in Jesus. Then she turned around and left the store without buying anything. [F. and M. Brussat, editors, Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life (New York: Scribner, 1996), p. 359.] Our Gospel passage for today speaks to us about our calling as Christians in a world of violence, increasing poverty, terrorism and intolerance. As disciples of Jesus, our text for today is calling us to actualize Jesus’ passionate dream of a whole and healed world. So, my friends, let’s pick up those packets of seeds. And let’s plant them – for the sake of our children and all the children of the world.

9) “Look, this was Elijah’s face that night.” One Hasidic story tells of a pious Jew who asked his rabbi, “For about forty years I have opened the door for Elijah every Seder night, waiting for him to come, but he never does. What is the reason?” The rabbi answered, “In your neighborhood, there lives a very poor family with many children. Call on the man and propose to him that you and your family celebrate the next Passover at his house, and for this purpose provide him and his whole family with everything necessary for the eight days of Passover. Then on the Seder night Elijah will certainly come.” The man did as the rabbi told him, but after Passover he came back and claimed that again he had waited in vain to see Elijah. The rabbi answered, “I know very well that Elijah came on the Seder night to the house of your poor neighbor. But, of course, you could not see him.” And the rabbi held a mirror before the face of the man and said, “Look, this was Elijah’s face that night.” This leads me to the question John asked: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?

10) No Sea Gull came: During World War II, there was an event which occurred in the Pacific which still is vivid in my memory. Eddie Rickenbacker and some colleagues on an aircraft were shot down and managed to inflate a raft. The food and water were soon expended, and all hope for their rescue seemed to fade. As they related the story later, they described how together they had formed a prayer band and had prayed earnestly for deliverance. It was just at that time that a seemingly miraculous circumstance occurred. A seagull, clearly far off course, began to circle the raft, came lower and lower until at last they were able to capture it. They drank its blood and ate its flesh and were strengthened and sustained. The next day they were found and brought safely to shore. They told the story, and there was spread across the pages of the newspapers of the United States this answer to prayer. But there were hundreds of other young fliers during World War II who had gone off to the Pacific, had been shot down, and were never seen again. While the seagull episode is certainly a token that deliverance is always possible, there is no indication in the New Testament that such deliverance on its own terms is promised. John was beheaded in the prison without being freed by Jesus, the Messiah, as he may have hoped. In the same way, there were many sick people in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria in the time of Jesus who were not healed by Jesus. Today’s Gospel tells us that God has His own plans for us, and our duty is to accept them and do His will as John did.

11) “She can’t sing while she plays.” One woman was talking about her parents who had recently retired. Her mom had always wanted to learn to play the piano, so her dad bought her mom a piano for her birthday. A few weeks later, the woman asked how her mom was doing with it. “Oh, we returned the piano,” said her dad, “I persuaded her to switch to a clarinet instead.” “How come?” the woman asked. “Well,” he answered, “because with a clarinet, she can’t sing while she plays.” We’re not all great singers. That’s all right. We can still make a joyful noise. (Robert Allred, Th.D., http://www.bobssermons.com/sermons/archive/041212.htm.)

12) “I wasn’t sure which song God would like better.” I’m reminded of the story of a Catholic Church in which the choir director had gone to a great deal of trouble preparing an excellent soprano for a solo for Sunday Mass. As the soloist’s beautiful voice soared through the church, she was suddenly joined by a bedraggled “street person” who had wandered in and taken a seat near the choir. The newcomer’s voice had seen better days, and it quavered along, slightly off-key, through the entire song. The choir members kept looking frantically at the director, who made no move to interrupt the intruder. Afterward, some of the members of the choir asked the director why he hadn’t stopped her. “Because,” he replied, “I wasn’t sure which song God would like better.” (Kate Kellogg, The Catholic Digest, September 1992, p. 65.)

13) Michael Jordan playing with country kids? One evening at the country park, a group of teenage boys was playing basketball. A tall, bald, African-American man strolled up. The man watched for a few minutes, then asked if he might play with them. He made three point jump shots and lay-ups and hooks with the ease of a pro. The stranger played for about fifteen minutes with the teenagers, gave them some pointers, thanked them for letting him play, and disappeared. The stranger didn’t tell the teenagers his name. They’d seen Michael Jordan on TV, and he looked like him. But could this stranger who came to a remote village actually be Michael Jordan? In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist asks the same kind of question about Jesus. Could this gentle Jesus with a band of fishermen as his disciples be the real Messiah, the long awaited Anointed One of God, while the Messiah he had heralded was a firebrand?

14) Tom Sawyer Finds Light in the Darkness: You may remember the famous final chapters of Mark Twain’s classic novel, Tom Sawyer. Tom and his friend Becky have been exploring a cave, just for adventure’s sake. But the cave is full of dark caverns and twisting passages, and as they explore, they end up getting lost. Fear sets in. They start to panic. Their candles – the only light they have – are running low. An entire day goes by. Their candles are spent. They lose track of time. They are becoming desperate. They keep wandering through the darkness, looking for the smallest glimpse of daylight. But they don’t even know if it’s night or day any longer, so they are afraid that they may pass right by a passageway that leads out of the cave, because if it’s nighttime outside, they won’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, they spot a pinprick of light far in the distance, and they follow it to freedom. The fallen human race is like Tom and Becky, lost in the dark caverns of a fallen world. We light little candles – like money, pleasure, power, fame, philosophy, comfort, but they all waver and burn out. But Christ, the eternal Son of God, is the everlasting light that has conquered the darkness. He has given us a glimpse of everlasting life. His revelation is the pinprick of light that is the source of true, lasting joy, not the anemic joy that is inspired by the passing flicker of a fragile candle. (E-Priest).

15) “Why are you outside?” – Not involved: Henry David Thoreau was an American writer who authored the renowned essay “Civil Disobedience.” He championed the freedom of the individual over the law of the land. He distinguished between ”law” and “right.” He wrote: ”What the majority passes is the ‘law’ and what the individual conscience sees is the ‘right’, and what matters most is the ‘right’ and not the ‘law.’” Once Thoreau was imprisoned for a night for his refusal to pay the poll-tax as a protest against the government’s support of slavery and its unjust war against Mexico presumably in support of slave trade intentions. When he was arrested, he hoped that some of his friends would follow his example and fill the jails, and in this way persuade the government to change its stance on the issue of slavery. In this he was disappointed. Not only did his friends not join him, one friend paid the tax on his behalf and got him released the very next day. When he was in the prison, Emerson, another American writer, came to visit him. He said to Thoreau: “Thoreau, Thoreau, why are you inside (jail)?” And Thoreau replied, “Emerson, Emerson, why are you outside?” Thoreau was a great lover of truth. He suffered because he spoke and stood for truth. Emerson said in his obituary of Thoreau, “He was a great speaker and actor of truth.” (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

16) Disillusioned or determined: In her book, Return to Love, Marianne Williamson points out that a friend said to her, “Marianne, I’m so depressed by world hunger!” Marianne replied: “Do you give five dollars a week to one of the organizations that feed the hungry?” She goes on to say she asks this question because she has noticed how people who participate in solving problems don’t seem to be as depressed as those standing on the sidelines doing nothing. Application: Have we recently gone out of our way to help someone? (Gerard Fuller in Stories for all Seasons; quoted by Fr. Botelho)

17) “Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu!” Under a cultural exchange program, a rabbi from Russia was visiting with a Christian family in Texas. Since it was Christmas, the family wanted to take him to some of the finest places in Houston, so they all went to a favorite Chinese restaurant. Throughout the meal the rabbi extolled the wonders of America in comparison to the bleak conditions of his homeland. When they had finished eating the waiter brought the check, a fortune cookie, and a small brass Christmas tree ornament as a present for the rabbi. They all laughed when the rabbi pointed out that the ornaments were stamped “made in India.” But the laughter soon subsided when they saw that the rabbi was quietly crying. They all thought that the rabbi must have been offended by receiving a Christmas tree as a gift. But no, he smiled and shook his head and said, “Nyet, I was shedding tears of joy to be in a wonderful country, in a Chinese restaurant in which a Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu!”

18) Walking among the reeds: You’re working 60 to 70 hours a week; you’re lucky if you get six hours of sleep a night.  Making income cover expenses is becoming a bigger challenge every month — and, in the meantime, your spouse and children — the people you live for — are becoming strangers.  What did you go out to the desert to see? You juggle a wide network of acquaintances.  The e-mails never stop; there’s not an empty line in your calendar book; your cell phone is permanently clipped to your ear.  But you can’t seem to shake the loneliness you feel in the most crowded rooms.  While you maintain contact with a host of business associates and colleagues, precious few of them do you consider friends and no one close to being special.  What did you go out to the desert to see? Every semester you scan the course offerings:  This course I need to graduate . . . this class meets at a good time . . . this professor is a nightmare . . . this lecturer is an easy A . . . God, look at this reading list — no way!  What did you go out to the desert to see? What did you go out to the desert to see?  What are you looking for? Jesus’ question takes on particular urgency in the Advent of our lives:  As we struggle to make ends meet, have the means become an end in themselves? (Connections).

19) Facilitating God’s Coming – Will you hold me? A soldier was on duty one Christmas morning during World War II. It had been his custom to go to Church each Christmas with his family, but now stationed in an outlying district of London, that was impossible. So, with some of his soldier buddies he walked down the road as dawn was breaking. Along the way they came upon an old grey stone building over the main door were carved the words, “Queen Ann’s Orphanage.” They decided to enter to find out what kind of Christmas might be taking place. After knocking the soldiers went in just as the orphan children were tumbling out of bed. There was no Christmas tree in the corner. There were no presents. The soldiers went around the room wishing the children ‘Merry Christmas,’ and giving them whatever they had in their pockets: a stick of gum, a piece of candy, a nickel, a dime, a pencil, a pocketknife, a good luck charm. Then the soldier who had gotten his buddies together noticed a little fellow alone in the corner. The little fellow looked an awful lot like his nephew back home, so he approached him and said, “And you, little guy, what do you want for Christmas?” The child replied, “Will you hold me?” The soldier, with tears in his eyes, picked up the little boy and held him in his arms, very close. The soldier experienced the joy that love and Jesus brings into our life, no matter what the situation is around us! (William Bausch in The Word –In and Out of Season; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

20) Be a lamplighter: Several parents were sitting on a neighbor’s porch discussing their children. They were talking about the negative environment in which their kids had to grow up and were wondering how they could bring any light into their children’s world since it seemed so dark and hopeless. Could they be enough of a positive influence to change the world around them? One of the parents, a science teacher remarked, “I think we can make a difference in our children’s lives if we become lamplighters.” “Lamplighters? What do you mean?” the others asked. She explained. “Around the turn of the century a lamplighter went around the streets lighting the street lamps. He carried a long pole that had a small candle on top with which he would reach up to light the kerosene-fed lamps, “she said. “But from a distance you could not see the lamplighter very well. The light from one small candle was not very bright in the surrounding darkness of night.” “However,” she continued, “you could follow the progress of the lamplighter as he went along a street. The presence of his candle was barely visible until it joined with the flame of the street lamp being newly lit. A radiant glow erased a portion of the darkness and looking down the street, you could see the light from the glowing lamps made the entire street bright as day. The darkness was held at bay.” “That’s it” exclaimed the parents. “We’ll be lamplighters for our children. We’ll share from our own flame in order to light each child’s individual lamp of wisdom. (Brian Cavanaugh in The Sower’s Seeds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

21) Waiting for God in joyful hope. Ingrid was a South American woman who was admitted to a Catholic Hospice in the U.S. She had full-blown aids and steroid-induced diabetes. One day she, not a Catholic at the time, asked the nun why she went to church every day. “Because God loves me, and I want to return his love.” replied the nun. Ingrid replied, “I don’t think I like God.” Naturally, she wouldn’t. Sister reassured her that while this was understandable, God really liked her. As she grew weaker with each passing day, with the love and care of those around her, she experienced a quiet hope and then illumination. As the moment of her death she whispered: “I’m so tired; I want to go home.” Asked what she meant by that she replied: “I want to go to God.” She had learned to wait in joyful hope for the coming of her Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Quoted by Fr. Botelho).

22) Are You Swapping Heaven? The evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, used to tell a legend about a beautiful swan that alighted one day by the banks of the water in which a crane was wading about seeking snails. For a few moments, the crane viewed the swan in stupid wonder and then inquired: “Where do you come from?” I come from heaven!” replied the swan. “And where is heaven?” asked the crane. “Heaven!” said the swan, “Heaven! have you never heard of heaven?” And the beautiful bird went on to describe the grandeur of the Eternal City. She told of streets of gold, and the gates and walls made of precious stones; of the river of life, pure as crystal, upon whose banks is the tree whose leaves shall be for the healing of the nations. In eloquent terms the swan sought to describe the hosts who live in the other world, but without arousing the slightest interest on the part of the crane. Finally, the crane asked: “Are there any snails there?” “Snails!” repeated the swan, “No! Of course, there are not.” “Then,” said the crane, as it continued its search along the slimy banks of the pool, “you can have your heaven. I want snails!” “This fable,” said Moody, “has a deep truth underlying it. How many a young person to whom God has granted the advantages of a Christian home, has turned his back upon it and searched for snails! How many a man will sacrifice his wife, his family, his all, for the snails of sin! How many a girl has deliberately turned from the love of parents and home to learn too late that heaven has been forfeited for snails!” Moody spoke those words a century ago, but people are still swapping heaven for snails. How about you? John the Baptist’s words are for each of us: Are there some changes that need to be made in your life? (Moody’s Anecdotes, Page 125-126, adapted by King Duncan. Quoted by Fr. Kayala.)

23) It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: Snoopy of Charlie Brown comic strip fame is typing a novel. He begins his story, “It was a dark and stormy night …” Snoopy always starts his stories in this manner. Lucy looks at what Snoopy has written. She goes into a tirade, putting down Snoopy for such a silly beginning. Doesn’t Snoopy know that any good story starts with the words, “Once upon a time …” The last frame of the comic strip has Snoopy starting his story again. Now he is ready. He types, “Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night.” Do you feel like Snoopy sometimes? No matter how you begin your story you somehow revert to “a dark and stormy night.” If you feel that way today you are not alone. Most of us are struggling in one way or another to overcome the dark side of our existence. The Advent season leading to Christmas should be a time of joy, anticipation and hope. But the very fact that it is supposed to be such an upbeat time only compounds the problem.(Richard A. Hasler, Empowered by the Light, CSS Publishing Company. Quoted by Fr. Kayala).

24) I Will Be There: In her wonderful children’s picture book, We Were There: A Nativity Story, (Illustrator: Wendell Minor), Eve Bunting turns Christmas upside down for us in ways that are revealing. The simple story shows us first a slithering snake, then a warty toad, a scary scorpion, a shiny cockroach, a swooping bat, a hairy spider, and a furry rat all on a journey. Each creature introduces itself and then concludes with the words “I will be there.” As the book ends, we are shown more common nativity creatures: fuzzy lambs, doe-eyed donkeys, gentle cows. But as those traditional figures in the stable stand around the manger in which the Babe has been laid by his mother Mary, we see in the corner, unnoticed, that small gathering of the snake, toad, scorpion, cockroach, bat, spider, and rat. Bunting has found a lyric way to remind us that the coming of the Christ is not all about the traditional and cozy trappings in which we have for too long ensconced the Christmas story but that this is a story for all creatures and that Jesus came to embrace and renew the good, the bad, the ugly; the expected and the unexpected. A simple children’s story like this reminds us of the paradoxes and unexpected twists of the season, rather the way John the Baptist can shake things up for us if only we take time to listen to his message. (Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations; quoted by Fr. Kayala).

25) “When a child finds such joy in learning, then it is my joy to help her learn! “When Einstein fled Nazi Germany, he came to America and bought an old two-story house within walking distance of Princeton University. There he entertained some of the most distinguished people of his day and discussed with them issues as far ranging as physics to human rights. But Einstein had another frequent visitor. She was not, in the world’s eyes, an important person like his other guests. She was a ten-year-old girl named Emmy. Emmy heard that a very kind man who knew a lot about mathematics had moved into her neighborhood. Since she was having trouble with her fifth-grade arithmetic, she decided to visit the man down the block and see if he would help her with her problems. Einstein was very willing and explained everything to her so that she could understand it. He also told her she was welcome to come anytime she needed help. A few weeks later, one of the neighbors told Emmy’s mother that Emmy was often seen entering the house of the world-famous physicist. Horrified, she told her daughter that Einstein was a very important man, whose time was very valuable, and he couldn’t be bothered with the problems of a little schoolgirl. And then she rushed over to Einstein’s house, and when Einstein answered the door, she started trying to blurt out an apology for her daughter’s intrusion – for being such a bother. But Einstein cut her off. He said, “She has not been bothering me! When a child finds such joy in learning, then it is my joy to help her learn! Please don’t stop Emmy from coming to me with her school problems. She is welcome in this house anytime.” Yes, if it is joy for us to welcome Jesus into our hearts today, then it is Jesus’ joy to welcome us into his Father’s house at the end of times. (Fr. Lakra).

26) What are the ten major Faith and Church struggles of our time?
Several years ago in an interview, John Allen (journalist who travels the world as the Vatican analyst for both CNN television and the National Catholic Reporter) asked me to draw up a list of what I considered to be the ten major Faith and Church struggles of our time. I took this as a healthy challenge and the list that follows, no doubt less global in perspective than Allen’s ten trends (My vision, I fear, speaks more for Western and secularized cultures than for the world at large), is my own attempt to name the key Faith and Ecclesial struggles we deal with today. What are the ten major Faith and Church struggles of our time, at least as manifest within the more highly secularized parts of our world?

a) The struggle with the atheism of our everyday consciousness, that is, the struggle to have a vital sense of God within a secular culture which, for good and for bad, is the most powerful narcotic ever perpetrated on this planet … the struggle to be conscious of God outside of Church and explicit religious activity.

b) The struggle to live in torn, divided, and highly-polarized communities, as wounded persons ourselves, and carry that tension without resentment and without giving it back in kind … the struggle inside of our own wounded selves to be healers and peace-makers rather than ourselves contributing to the tension. 

c) The struggle to live, love, and forgive beyond the infectious ideologies that we daily inhale, that is, the struggle for true sincerity, to genuinely know and follow our own hearts and minds beyond what is prescribed to us by the right and the left … the struggle to be neither liberal or conservative but rather men and women of true compassionThe struggle to carry our sexuality without undue frigidity and without irresponsibility, the struggle for a healthy sexuality that can both properly revere and properly delight in this great power … the struggle to carry our sexuality in such a way so as to radiate both chastity and passion.

d) The struggle for interiority and prayer inside of a culture that in its thirst for information and distraction constitutes a virtual conspiracy against depth and solitude, the eclipse of silence in our world … the struggle to move our eyes beyond our digital screens towards a deeper horizon.

e) The struggle to deal healthily with “the dragon” of personal grandiosity, ambition, and pathological restlessness, inside of a culture that daily over-stimulates them, the struggle to healthily cope with both affirmation and rejection … the struggle inside of a restless and over-stimulated environment to habitually find the delicate balance between depression and inflation. 

g)    The struggle to not be motivated by paranoia, fear, narrowness, and over-protectionism in the face of terrorism and overpowering complexity … the struggle to not let our need for clarity and security trump compassion and truth. 

h)    The struggle with moral loneliness inside a religious, cultural, political, and moral Diaspora … the struggle to find soul mate who will meet us and sleep with us inside our moral center. 

i)      The struggle to link Faith to Justice … the struggle to get a letter of reference from the poor, to institutionally connect the gospel to the streets, to remain on the side of the poor. 

j)      The struggle for community and Church, the struggle inside a culture of excessive individuality to find the healthy line between individuality and community, spirituality and ecclesiology … the struggle as adult children of the Enlightenment to be both mature and committed, spiritual and ecclesial. 

k)    What’s the value in a list of this sort? It’s important to name things and to name them properly; although, admittedly, simply naming a disease doesn’t of itself bring about a cure. However, as James Hillman used to quip, a symptom suffers most when it doesn’t know where it belongs. Fr. Ron Rolheiser.

27)  Marian pilgrimage center at Velankanni, India: Sometime during the sixteenth century, in Velankanni, India, our Lady with her infant son appeared to a Hindu boy carrying milk to a customer’s home. Our Lady asked for milk for her Son and the boy gave her some. On reaching the customer’s home, the boy related the incident that occurred on his way and apologized for his being late, and the reduced amount of milk. But the man found the milk pot to be full and realized that something miraculous had happened. That man wanted to see the place where the apparition occurred. When they reached the tank, Our Lady appeared once again. On learning that Our Lady appeared to the boy, the residents of the local Catholic community became ecstatic. Hearing about the miracle thousands of people visited to see the place, and the boy. About two thousand years ago a message spread in Galilee that a man among them, Jesus of Nazareth, was performing miracles. The news became a sensation in and around Galilee. Thousands of people flocked around him, probably out of curiosity, to see him giving sight to the blind, making the deaf hear, helping the lame walk and curing the lepers. This has already been announced by Prophet Isaiah about 740 before the birth of Jesus. “Look your God is coming. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.” There is a story about St Thomas Aquinas. After he had finished Summa Theologica, being pleased with his meritorious work Jesus asked him what he desired. St Thomas replied, “Only you Lord. Only you”. When the word of God reaches our very essence, we will be able to give up everything and declare with St Thomas, I want nothing but you Lord! (Fr. Bobby Jose). /19