Archive for December, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany C 2016 (Jan 3)

December 26, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany C 2016 (Jan 3)

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, not a word that occurs often in our own daily lives – unless you happen to be a teacher of James Joyce and use the word in a literary sense. The word itself means “to manifest” or “to reveal”, and what is manifested on this remembrance is that Jesus was made known to be the light of the world, the one who would save mankind, the one who would radiate God’s glory.

For this reason, the imagery of the day is all about light. Isaiah, the prophet, foretells a day when the whole world will know of the glory of God, and will come to worship the one true God. “Arise, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!” He foretells of a future when the world seems dark with sin and depression, that the Lord will suddenly appear in light and all nations will work together and come to the Lord. Young and old will come from all across the land bringing gifts of thanks and proclaiming praise for God. A beautiful utopian vision of the last days of the old covenant.

The psalm picks up this beautiful scenario and talks about every nation on earth adoring God through his Son and Savior. This Son, the King,  will judge people with righteousness and give justice tot he poor of the world, and he will not cease until peace abounds. The Psalmist then picks up on the vision of Isaiah and tells him of Kings from the ends of the known earth bringing gifts and tributes to god’s Son. And what is it about this great King? Is he a conqueror? Is he a mighty warrior and military leader? No, what the psalmist picks out as his greatest qualities are that he helps the poor and needy and the week and makes sure that their needs are fulfilled and their lives are saved. What a beautiful portrait of Jesus centuries before his coming.

In the epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, Paul extends the previous concept of a Jewish Savior to one that saves all mankind. He says, “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind as it has now been revealed to his holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit:” And what is it that has been made known by the Spirit? Paul says it is that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and share in the promise in Christ Jesus…”

That is the manifestation we celebrate today, then. That all nations see the light, and that light is the saving grace of Jesus.

Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions the wise men and doesn’t really say that there were three of them. I guess because there are three gifts mentioned, we presume that there were three of them. We also don’t know that they are kings. Nowhere is that mentioned int he Gospels, though tradition has it that they were.

Matthew’s story accomplishes a number of things, however. First of all, because of the light of the new star, the birth of a Savior is made manifest to people across the known land. The wise men seem to have come from different locations but of course, the star could be seen from everywhere on earth. In the Gospel’s story line, the wise men also add to the plot because they stop at the King’s palace as would any foreigner requesting permission to cross a foreign land, and Herod is told by his own people of the prophecy of Isaiah and the coming of a Messiah who would take the throne – at least, that was how they interpreted it. This will lead to a number of bad things happening – though Herod doesn’t indicate that to the wise men. He sends them out to find the child and report back to him so he might know where the child was located.

The wise men head out and somehow find the location of the birth though the child would probably be quite a bit older now since they had come from so great a distance. The child wasn’t in a stable, but in a house now. The gifts they brought could be Matthew’s attempt to bring Isaiah’s prophecy into his story since two of the gifts were what Isaiah foretold – gold and frankincense. One commentator mentioned that the gold might not have been actual gold, but the spice turmeric, which is golden in color. Such gifts of spices and oils would have been medicinal and helpful to a family with a young child.

So the Gentile wise men represent the branching out of God’s chosen people to the whole world. This would no longer just be for the Jewish chosen people, but God’s saving grace would be for all men and women, just as we read the angels proclaiming on Christmas morn. After having a dream or vision that Herod was up to no good, the wis men did not go back to Herod as they were asked but headed off for their own countries.

So what can we draw from these experiences today? Counties have been in turmoil lately because of the refugee immigrations from Syria and elsewhere. Darkness has once again visited our land. I think we need to get our minds around the fact that there is one God for everyone and He is a God for all peoples. Perhaps he manifests differently for different people. Who are we to say we know the mind of God of the ways of God. Surely we know we have been wrong many times before. Instead of criticism and fear, we need to do our best to accept all people as they are, to love them, to help them, to care for them, and thus show that we are really Christian by our love. I know that in a complex world this seems so simplistic and that our fears get in the way of really seeking to get to know and understand others. But if Jesus is really the Savior of all mankind, we need to be ready to do things that help him do his job, since we are his hands and his feet on earth today. Just something to think about as we try to open all the doors and let this great light shine in for all. And this is the Good News the Epiphany brings today.

 

Ronald Stephens 

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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HOMILY FOR CHRISTMAS, THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD, YEAR C (2015-6

December 20, 2015

HOMILY FOR CHRISTMAS, THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD, YEAR C (2015-6)

(Mass During the Night)

Humans have never lived in peace and harmony.  Instead of humankind making strides in this area, it seems to worsen all the time. If it isn’t homegrown with over 300 mass murders in our country, it is from nations trying to overtake other nations. What is it in the human genome that causes us to move away from peace so often and so much?

Christmas is all about bringing peace into the world. If we could follow the way of Jesus, truly follow it, we would find a way to peace. Jesus so often gave the greeting: “Peace!” My peace I leave you, my peace I give you!” In our first reading today, Isaiah calls the Messiah the Prince of Peace, and says, “His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.” The kind of peace that Isaiah expected, though, was one brought on by a conquering war hero, and I suppose that is one way of establishing peace. When the Romans had conquered everything, there was historically a relative peace for a while. God was not about to do it that way, however. Jesus was going to make it possible for us to have peace, but it would be still a free choice. We have to want peace and want to follow his way to get it.

In Luke’s lovely story of the birth of Jesus, we conclude with angels proclaiming that God is glorified in heaven and on earth there will be peace for his favored people.

Two thousand and fifteen years later we still have not discovered that peace nor acted on Jesus’ words. Some have, of course, and many of the saints were able to establish their peace on earth. But the world has not found it yet. Jesus told us that we must all be like children and the Christ child today is the model of that peace and innocence and helplessness – and that peace can be achieved by giving ourselves and our lives up completely to God’s will. “Thy will be done”, we pray each week, but how many of us really allow that happen in our lives.

It is up to each one of us in this building to begin the journey to peace. We can start in our own family and in our own church community. We know when something feels good, when we are at peace with ourselves and those around us. We need to make that peace a reality each day at home and each week at church. Once we have accomplished that, then we can spread our own Good News out into the community, and it will spread. Jesus talks about the leaven or the mustard seed to illustrate how things can grow and spread.

Luke’s birth story is worth looking at. In the chapters before Jesus birth, Luke has been making us comfortable by showing how the story comes out of the Jewish experience and by using contrasts of doubles has tried to show the difference between John who was a holy man and Jesus who was more than that. The section where Mary meets her cousin who is also pregnant joins together the two directions Christianity was to take – repentance and salvation. Mary’s Magnificat was meant to remind listeners of Hannah, the mother of Samuel’s similar speech in the Old Testament. John comes first but then there is a shift and the second one to come, Jesus, becomes first.

Luke is concerned with having Jesus be born in Bethlehem and that he be from the line of David, since that is what the prophets foresaw.  The census that gets Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem cannot be historically proven, and may have been a device to explain how Jesus could be born there. The birth itself is very simple and very complex. God, who made the world, couldn’t even find a house to be born in. How humiliating in one sense, how humbling in another. The story has no miracles, no declarations as in John’s birth, but establishes Jesus as one of the poor on earth, one of those God favors so much.

Luke, being a Gentile, knows that whenever an emperor’s son was born in Rome, all the poets and dramatists would compose poetry and odes to prosperity and peace. So Luke does the same thing by having angels  from heaven announce the coming of peace and the good news of joy, but instead of to the royal courts, they proclaim it to lowest of men – shepherds herding sheep in the pastures of the night, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. Notice that the angel summarizes all that Luke wants us to know about Jesus: he is from the house of David, he is the Savior, he is the Christ and he is the Lord. This is the same message that in the Acts of the Apostles we hear the Apostles preaching about Jesus.

The birth of Jesus glorifies God, Luke says. Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors. In my mind, “those whom he favors” is not a restrictive clause, but a descriptive one. God sent his son from heaven to save us because he favors us.

This then brings us back to the theme of peace.

We have all heard it said that “charity begins at home.” Well, I submit that peace begins at home as well. Until we have peace in ourselves first, there will not be peace in society. Christ offers us that peace and shows us how to get it. Through his death, he has brought forgiveness of sin in order that we might have peace. Spend some time creating peace in your own little worlds as a prelude to bringing that peace into the world. Only then will that peace be able to spread. All we know is the little child born today is our best example of humility and reconciliation with God. May your Christmas be filled with much inner peace, and may you begin to spread that peace around to others. That is the Good News that I wish for all of you on this wonderful feast of Christmas, when God became human.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family C 2015-6 (Dec 27)

December 20, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family C 2015-6 (Dec 27)

Today’s feast causes me to think about what family is and how the meaning of “family” has changed throughout the years. Some people will have us believe that there has always been one idea of what constitutes a family – two parents raising 2.5 children would seem to be the version I see most often. But we know this was not always so.

Early Biblical families consisted of a husband and often many wives with their children. By Jesus’ time, family constituted not just the parents and children but included grandparents, brothers and sisters of the parents and all their children. It was somewhat tribal.

In the years after Christ, at least in Christian countries, there was an immediate family of two parents and often many children, and an extended family that lived nearby or with the parents.

Today, with the advent of many divorces, we often have blended families, single parent families, same-sex parents and their children, mixed race families, and adoptive families, while the extended family is no longer is as nearby, making it difficult often to know each other as well.

Even more, sometimes we consider the people we are living near who are not related to us, but whom we treasure for their support and love, as family.

So when we think of the Holy Family today, I don’t see it so much as a model of what a family should look like, but more a model of the qualities for any family that we should value.

First of all, each family is unique. Certainly Jesus’ family was as it is presented to us: a virgin mother, a father who was really just a step-father and protector, their movements in the early years dictated by angels sent by God. Not an easily emulated model!

In the Gospel reading today we have the only incident known to us from Jesus early life, and it is not an ideal situation, at least for the parents. When families travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover, they would often travel in separated groups, the women with the women and children, the men with the men. At some point, the child was seen as a man – often around 12 years old, and so that provided the confusion that allowed Jesus to remain in Jerusalem. Mary thought he was with the men. Joseph thought he was with the women, and it wasn’t till they got together that they realized neither was the case. Any parent would worry about a 12 year-old taking off and being by himself in the big city. Mary and Joseph were no different.  They left their groups and went back to Jerusalem to look for him. That took three days of not knowing where he was. As a parent myself, I can only imagine the thoughts that go through a parents’ head in such a situation. Besides blaming themselves for not being sure of where he was when the left, they were worried about all the things that could happen to a boy in the big city.

When they found Jesus in the Temple, of all places, they were somewhat irate. Actually they do sound like typical parents today: “How could you do this to me!?” And like most twelve-year-olds who think they know just about everything, they get answered with: “What are you so upset about? I know what I am doing. I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. I am about God, my Father’s business.”

Mary and Joseph, however, did not quite get what Jesus was saying, but Mary never forgot those words. She treasured them in her heart, we are told. They apparently told Jesus that he had to go back with them, and Jesus did, without argument. Even more, we are told that he was obedient to his parents and he grew in wisdom.

The first two readings today are also about the relationships between husbands and wives, and their children, and we have to remember that the basic principles are the same, but the way of expressing it and the social context of the times may make it seem a bit harsh or out of touch with today’s realities.

What I like about the first reading is the importance of caring for elderly parents. I know that it only talks about fathers, but that is the social context of the time in a male dominated society, and we need to apply the principles today to both men and women. The concept is that we must give back to our parents for the gift of life and nurturing, being patient with them in their senility and always being kind to them. The basis for this seems to be that we would want to be treated in the same way by our own children and so we model what we want to have happen to us. A little selfish perhaps, but a very real sentiment.

In St. Pail’s reading today from Colossians, I would like to focus on all of the qualities that Paul says are brought to any good family: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and forgiveness. What a great list! If we could only always be able to do that! Paul’s monitions to husbands and wives don’t quite fit the model of equality in relationships that we have today because, once again, the society at that time was male dominated, but if we apply what Paul has said before, I think I would like to change around what Paul says for today. Instead of wives being subject to their husbands, let husbands be the subject of the wives. Let both husband and wife think about each other first in all things. I look at the 71-year marriage of my own parents and I realize that they always thought of each other first.

So, in summary, even though the context of the family has changed as the society has changed, the principle of love is always the most important and will be the things that makes successful families. If you have come from a family where love has not been the dominating force, you know the hurt that that can lead to, and I pray that you will be able to forgive or find forgiveness. That is my wish for you this day and the Good News that you need to make part of your lives as we remember the Holy Family today.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16 (Dec 20)

December 20, 2015

As we rapidly approach the end of Advent and the arrival of the incarnated God at Christmas, the readings today center on prophecy and on the woman who was to bring this incarnation into fruition – Mary.

We begin with the prophet Micah who predicts the birthplace of the Messiah as Bethlehem, a tiny city south of Jerusalem. This was also the place that King David had been from, and where he was crowned as the King of Israel. Even earlier, It was the area where it is believed that Rachel, Jacob’s wife in Genesis, was buried and there is a place today called Rachel’s Gate which is at the entrance to the city.

So, it is from this city with a varied and rich history that Micah predicts the Savior would be born, that Israel will not be saved until “she who is in labor” gives birth. Then, this Messiah, this Savior, will bring together the children of Israel. He will be their shepherd and he will give them food and he will be “peace” himself. What a beautiful description and how apt a description of Jesus who so many times tells us: “My peace I bring you.”

The image of the Savior as a shepherd is picked up in the Psalm Response today which is also Messianic in its call. “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel. Stir up your might and come to save us.” So it is this image in the Hebrew Testament of a Savior which stirs their and our imaginations today. The image of the mighty warrior that brings peace was not to be the reality of the sent Messiah, however. The Messiah sent by God was one who would perish to become the sin sacrifice which would save us – not from some military enemy but to save us from Sin and Death themselves. This is the thrust of what Paul tells us in his Letter to the Hebrews. By doing the will of God, Christ was able to abolish the kinds of sacrifices and offerings that were used in the Old Testament and to offer one sacrifice for all time to atone for our sins and to make us holy. This is all accomplished by Jesus through his incarnation as he became human to raise us up.

The Gospel today comes from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and I mentioned to you a few weeks ago that Luke liked to pair things so that there would be two witnesses instead of one. In today’s Gospel, the pairing is that of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Both are pregnant, both are miraculous pregnancies, both were told of their spending pregnancies by supernatural means, both agreed to it, and both have intuitions about what the impending childbirth will mean. Elizabeth’s witness when her child leaps in her womb upon seeing Mary has given us one of the predominate prayers of the Church – the Hail Mary. But if you look closely at what Elizabeth says to Mary when they meet, you can see prophetic signs of what was to come and important witness for Luke of the truth of his narrative.

First of all, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was God the Spirit that allowed Elizabeth to prophesy. As with all prophets – it is God speaking through the prophet, and Elizabeth is no different.

Elizabeth first greets Mary with a statement of her “blessedness.” To be blessed means that you have been made holy or have been consecrated by God to do something. So it was quite a greeting to say that Mary, among all women, was the most blessed. Secondly, was that the fruit of her womb, her unborn child was also consecrated by God to do something great. This is an example of the kind of witness that Luke is always concerned with – verification for the Gentiles by other sources that what he is presenting is true and accurate.

There is a second reason that Mary is blessed or made holy, however. Elizabeth adds: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” It is in Mary’s acceptance that we heard sung in the Gospel acclamation: “let it be done to me according to your word”, that Mary’s holiness is seen. Mary had free will. She could have said no, and certainly given the situation, most girls would see the problems that a virgin birth might give her. Fans of the popular tela-novella “Jane the Virgin” have laughingly seen all the problems it has caused her – and they weren’t at all religious in nature. But Mary did not say “no”. She surrendered her will to God’s which is not an easy thing to do. Alcoholics or addicts who follow the twelve steps often have great difficulty following the third step which is turning one’s will over to God. It takes humility, it takes understanding, it takes strength – but the rewards for doing so are peace and serenity.

As we move to the celebration of Jesus’ birth this week let us try to offer ourselves and our wills to God, to pray that his will be done, not ours, trying to develop some real humility in the process. God’s own humility which allowed him to become human as a helpless child should be the very model that we pray for. If we can do that, then we too will have a Christmas which is filled with peace, grace, and serenity. Let us work even harder at our project of doing something each day for others, filling our God box – so that we can offer that to the Christ child this Christmas – a true gift of action towards others which is what the season should be about.

And this is the Good News Mary was bringing to Elizabeth and that Micah prophesied so long ago.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16 (Dec 20)

December 13, 2015

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16  (Dec 20)

As we rapidly approach the end of Advent and the arrival of the incarnated God at Christmas, the readings today center on prophecy and on the woman who was to bring this incarnation into fruition – Mary.

We begin with the prophet Micah who predicts the birthplace of the Messiah as Bethlehem, a tiny city south of Jerusalem. This was also the place that King David had been from, and where he was crowned as the King of Israel. Even earlier, It was the area where it is believed that Rachel, Jacob’s wife in Genesis, was buried and there is a place today called Rachel’s Gate which is at the entrance to the city.

So, it is from this city with a varied and rich history that Micah predicts the Savior would be born, that Israel will not be saved until “she who is in labor” gives birth. Then, this Messiah, this Savior, will bring together the children of Israel. He will be their shepherd and he will give them food and he will be “peace” himself. What a beautiful description and how apt a description of Jesus who so many times tells us: “My peace I bring you.”

The image of the Savior as a shepherd is picked up in the Psalm Response today which is also Messianic in its call. “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel. Stir up your might and come to save us.” So it is this image in the Hebrew Testament of a Savior which stirs their and our imaginations today. The image of the mighty warrior that brings peace was not to be the reality of the sent Messiah, however. The Messiah sent by God was one who would perish to become the sin sacrifice which would save us – not from some military enemy but to save us from Sin and Death themselves. This is the thrust of what Paul tells us in his Letter to the Hebrews. By doing the will of God, Christ was able to abolish the kinds of sacrifices and offerings that were used in the Old Testament and to offer one sacrifice for all time to atone for our sins and to make us holy. This is all accomplished by Jesus through his incarnation as he became human to raise us up.

The Gospel today comes from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and I mentioned to you a few weeks ago that Luke liked to pair things so that there would be two witnesses instead of one. In today’s Gospel, the pairing is that of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Both are pregnant, both are miraculous pregnancies, both were told of their spending pregnancies by supernatural means, both agreed to it, and both have intuitions about what the impending childbirth will mean. Elizabeth’s witness when her child leaps in her womb upon seeing Mary has given us one of the predominate prayers of the Church – the Hail Mary. But if you look closely at what Elizabeth says to Mary when they meet, you can see prophetic signs of what was to come and important witness for Luke of the truth of his narrative.

First of all, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was God the Spirit that allowed Elizabeth to prophesy. As with all prophets – it is God speaking through the prophet, and Elizabeth is no different.

Elizabeth first greets Mary with a statement of her “blessedness.” To be blessed means that you have been made holy or have been consecrated by God to do something. So it was quite a greeting to say that Mary, among all women, was the most blessed. Secondly, was that the fruit of her womb, her unborn child was also consecrated by God to do something great. This is an example of the kind of witness that Luke is always concerned with – verification for the Gentiles by other sources that what he is presenting is true and accurate.

There is a second reason that Mary is blessed or made holy, however. Elizabeth adds: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” It is in Mary’s acceptance that we heard sung in the Gospel acclamation: “let it be done to me according to your word”, that Mary’s holiness is seen. Mary had free will. She could have said no, and certainly given the situation, most girls would see the problems that a virgin birth might give her. Fans of the popular tele-novella “Jane the Virgin” have laughingly seen all the problems it has caused her – and they weren’t at all religious in nature. But Mary did not say “no”. She surrendered her will to God’s which is not an easy thing to do. Alcoholics or addicts who follow the twelve steps often have great difficulty following the third step which is turning one’s will over to God. It takes humility, it takes understanding, it takes strength – but the rewards for doing so are peace and serenity.

As we move to the celebration of Jesus’ birth this week let us try to offer ourselves and our wills to God, to pray that his will be done, not ours, trying to develop some real humility in the process. God’s own humility which allowed him to become human as a helpless child should be the very model that we pray for. If we can do that, then we too will have a Christmas which is filled with peace, grace, and serenity. Let us work even harder at our project of doing something each day for others, filling our God box – so that we can offer that to the Christ child this Christmas – a true gift of action towards others which is what the season should be about.

And this is the Good News Mary was bringing to Elizabeth and that Micah prophesied so long ago.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16 (Dec. 13)

December 5, 2015

HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16  (Dec. 13)

Last week was all about Advent joy and this week is all about Advent Rejoicing. The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally rose in color to reflect the different kind of penitential feeling we have in Advent and also because the second reading today begins with the word “Rejoice”. I am not sure what the difference is between the words ‘joy’ and ‘rejoice’ except that “joy” is a kind of feeling that we have and “rejoicing” is giving voice to that feeling.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  St. Paul is pretty emphatic about it. And not only does he want us to rejoice, but he wants us to throw our worries away and leave them to God in prayer and with thanksgiving. If only we could do that each and every day! How better and how more peaceful our lives would be.

The prophet Zephaniah is on the same wavelength today as well. “Sing aloud…Rejoice and exult with all your heart!”, he begs us. And why should we do this according to the prophet? Because God is in our midst and will take care of us. The name Jesus means “God with us”, and God is truly with us in Jesus Christ who humbles himself to become one of us – “rejoic[ing] over us in gladness” and renew[ing] us in his love. This prediction of Zephaniah, when we read it backward, makes complete sense, although the warrior king he talks about is fighting not against other nations but against sin and death itself.

Our Gospel reading today continues in the realm of prophecy and continues with the life and preaching of John the Baptist. Luke spends more time on John the Baptist than the other Gospel writers, and we get a large taste of his preaching from Luke. John has been asking people to repent and telling them that he, as Isaiah predicted, is announcing someone who is to come quite soon who will save the world. In today’s excerpt, we get a glimpse of John interacting with his followers who have many questions to ask him about how they are to get ready for this event and what they must do to ready themselves. The first answer that John gives them is not what we might expect today – looking inwardly and confessing our guilt to God. No, John says; it is all about love of neighbor by sharing and taking care of those less fortunate than we are. If you have two coats, give one away to someone who needs it, he says. Have extra food? Share it with those who have very little.

Besides his immediate followers, tax collectors – not looked upon favorably by the Jewish society of the time – come to John and ask what it is that they must do to prepare. John tells them to practice honesty in their transactions. Don’t take more than you deserve, and don’t take advantage of people.

Military men, soldiers, came to him as well and asked what they should do to get ready. John tells them not to use their military positions of authority to extort money from people or take bribes to say false things about people. They are to be satisfied with their wages and not find ways to take money from the hardworking poor around them.

Notice that the preparation for the Messiah that John is preaching here is not about personal reflection as much as it is about socialism – treating others in the best way possible. I might mention here again the random acts of kindness that we are doing this Advent. Because of these readings I wanted to stress to you this Advent the social preparation for Christ’s coming – practical ways to help your neighbor, the caregivers, the people who serve you every day – those who deliver the mail, those who look after your house while you are away, those who deliver your paper, the senior citizen who lives lonely on your street. Let’s follow John’s advice and have an active repentance this Advent.

Finally, in the Gospel, John is asked what he knows about this Messiah that he is preaching about. What has God told the prophet about him? What should they be looking for? Could John himself be the one who will lead them?

The first thing John does is disavow them of the idea that he might be the Messiah himself. He says that someone so much greater is coming that he shouldn’t be allowed to even tie his shoelaces. And he makes a distinction between the two types of baptism they will encounter – his and the Messiah’s. John baptizes with water symbolic of cleansing. The water itself doesn’t cleanse people spiritually but is a metaphor that they have cleansed themselves spiritually – an outward sign to others that they have repented. The baptism of the Messiah, however, will be the real thing – the water, while remaining an outward sign, will bring about a spiritual change in the person baptized. They will receive the Spirit of God and they will be “fired up” with God-like qualities. John then uses the image of wheat and chaff and says that God will gather up the wheat and get rid of the garbage left behind. Luke ends by saying that this was the good news John was proclaiming.

Now I am not a farmer but I do know that the chaff was the shell or husk that surrounded the edible part of the wheat. I think that it was separated in Jesus’ time by throwing the wheat up into the air and the husk would fall away leaving the wheat kernel. In any case, we get the idea that the Messiah will let us know what is important and will toss the irrelevant things away. We already know that John is right and we have seen how Jesus can get right tot he point of things. We still need to learn to do that today, as I see all sorts of irrelevant things from Starbuck’s coffee cups and arguments over saying “Happy Holidays” getting in the way of the true meaning of  Christ’s coming. If we really want to put Christ back into Christmas, let us heed John today and DO SOMETHING to make this world a better place by helping those less fortunate than ourselves, and treating all people with dignity, honor and justice! Just an idea from John, but it is the Good News that John and I preach to you today! So rejoice in it! Again I say, Rejoice!

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]