Take a few moment this Christmas to listen again to the opening lines of Handel’s Messiah. Listen as the tenor sets the mood: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.” These words, taken from the Prophet Isaiah was good news for the Jewish people who, at this point in time, were feeling God-forsaken. God has not forsaken them at all, Isaiah says to them. God has forgiven their sins and has reclaimed them as His own people. What good news that was for them and what good news for all those who seek to be God’s people today! Our God is a God of comfort!
God so loved the world that in the fullness of time, he gave the world his only begotten son. Yet we recall that he also gave us Mary—this perfect vessel to contain his son, a woman unstained by original sin so that, from the moment of her conception, she was immaculate. A popular carol from this time of year rejoices in the “wonders of his love.” This feast underscores the extravagant love that brought joy to the world. And it places at the forefront a humble peasant girl “full of grace,” the great collaborator in God’s plan for our salvation.
Only God will never forsake us. Only God will be there for us and give us the strength to endure. This is to say that after we’ve done all we can do to prepare ourselves externally, we need to prepare ourselves internally by spending time in God’s presence. By spending time daily in God’s presence and in living as God would have us live, we develop a trust relationship that makes it possible for us to endure even the most horrible worst-case scenario. This is the only thing we need to know about the future. Regardless of what may come, a loving God is in control. There may be dark hours--there may be surprises, both positive and negative--but we will never be forsaken. God is in control. “But about that day or hour no one knows,” says the Master. Obviously that is true. But we do know how it all turns out. Those who are in Christ win!
Knowing that Jesus is on our side should surely be enough to make us winners in the game of life. We have a champion, a big brother, a friend in high places who will accompany us into any battle, help us carry any burden, even give his life for us. Don’t give in or give up. After all, you have a friend in the highest of all places. His name? Jesus the Christ--King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The words of Moses are just as apropos for you and me as they were for Israel more than 3000 years ago. Affluence doesn’t make you grateful. It is sometimes the people who have lost everything but life itself who are the most grateful. Moses sums up his message to the Hebrew people, and to us, like this: “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.” Poet Rudyard Kipling obviously had this scripture in mind when he wrote his famous poem, Recessional: “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget--lest we forget!” That’s the message we need to take with us as we go back to our nice homes and wonderful families and as we feast on the Thanksgiving turkey: “Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget--lest we forget!” May we always be a people of Gratitude! A Blessed Thanksgiving to all of you!
The question for us this Sunday morning is this: Are you prepared? Do you have oil for your lamp? Who knows what tomorrow may bring for any of us? Who knows what kind of severe test we might confront? On the other hand, who knows what door of opportunity might also open? None of us knows what tomorrow may bring. Jesus was giving us lifegiving advice when He said, “Stay awake, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Even though we may think we have everything under control, life can throw us some nasty curves. Be prepared! Of course, the most important preparation we can make concerns our relationship with God. Our Gospel is about being prepared for Christ’s return. And the only possible preparation we could make for that final day would be our spiritual readiness. Like those ominous billboards we used to see along the highways, “Are you ready to meet your Maker?” But that’s true of all of life. Our spiritual preparation will determine how we will handle the ups and downs of life, the successes and failures, the heartaches and the celebrations. Are you in training spiritually? Are you drawing closer to God each day? Don’t be foolish about life. Eternal Life comes to the man or the woman who is spritually prepared!
Pride of position was more important to the Pharisees than service to people. Appearances were more important to them than authenticity. Jesus was the very opposite of the Pharisees. Jesus was concerned with what is in the heart and not how things appear on the outside. The most effective witness we can make to our faith in Christ is simply to live out what we say we believe. Fake news? Fake Faith? Fake piety? Fake devotion? As St. Francis said, "Preach the Gospel always ... use words only when necessary!"
Why do we give back to God? We do it out of gratitude for all God’s done for us and because we love Him. We give because everything already belongs to Him and we are but stewards of His bounty. And we do it because we know that God will take what we give to Him and will bless it and cause it to go further than we can possibly imagine. Give unto Caesar? We don’t have much choice. Give unto God? That is a wonderful privilege!
What an important message: Jesus, the stone that was rejected has become the chief cornerstone. Jesus, who was rejected, now reigns at the right hand of God the Father. What we need to see today is that this same Jesus can help us when we feel rejected. Christ was rejected that we might be reconciled to God. Because He knows what it is to be rejected, He can help us with our feelings of hurt and despair. There are many of you for whom the pain of rejection is all too real. Hang in there. There is a man with nail prints in His hands and feet who says it really does matter that you keep going. And remember, there are those who need you to be their wounded healer just as Christ has ministered to you.
Jesus told a parable about two brothers. One told his father that he wouldn’t work in the vineyard, but he repented, and did do the work his father asked him to do. His brother said, “Sure, Pop,” when he was given the same assignment, but never did. Which, asked Jesus, did the will of his father? It’s important to do what we say we will do, to be a promise keeper for we live in an era of unkept promises. On this Respect Life Sunday, we must ask ourselves: are we faithful to our promise to treat all life (from conception to natural death) as a gift and and blessing and not as a burden? Yes, all gifts sometimes bring suffering ... but we are a people who have unwavering hope in the Gospel of Life and Joy!