Archive for the ‘Stay awake’ Category

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”]

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Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

December 14, 2014

Homily for the Fourth  Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

Today in the book of Samuel we get the story of David who was rewarded for his faithfulness to God and his wanting to build a place to house the traveling ark of the covenant. God declares that he will in return build a house for David as well, but it is a house that will be established after David’s death,  but from his children that house will produce an offspring whose reign will never end. Again, looking backwards as does Paul in the writing to Romans today, the early Christians saw this as the reign of Jesus, A son of David, the secret for long ages which has been disclosed..

The psalm re-iterates this prophecy and promise: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.”

So that, of course, is the background for our Gospel reading today and why Luke chooses to show the Davidic line of Jesus through Joseph. We have today the familiar story of the angel Gabriel visiting the virgin Mary with the startling announcement that she is to conceive a son, and tells her what to name the child. Gabriel then prophesies that this child, this offspring of David’s line will be great and will be called the Son of God, the offspring of God. He will be the inheritor of David’s throne and covenant, and, in the same words that God used to Nathan, Jesus will be forever the ruler, and his kingdom will never end.

The angel Gabriel appears only three times in Scriptures. He appears to Zechariah in Luke’s Gospel, and to Mary, and in the Hebrew Testament he appears to Daniel. Because the Book of Daniel is so eschatological, which means dealing with death, judgment and the final destiny of mankind, it is appropriate that Gabriel appears here as well since Jesus will reign forever and be the one to come at the end of time.

Only two of the four Gospels have a birth story. Mark was not concerned with the issue and John treated it symbolically. Matthew and Luke retain the same basic facts though the stories are really quite different due to what each wanted to point out. As I stated earlier, Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to Adam and not just to David. Many of the incidental events around the birth are also different fro each writer as well. Matthew was writing for a primarily Jewish audience while Luke was writing for a Gentile one. This alone shaped what they wanted to show in their stories, and so their emphases are different. Luke also feels that it is important to point out that nothing is impossible with God, especially because the story of the virgin birth is so scientifically absurd.

In just a very few days we celebrate the birth that Mary so amazingly agreed to, with a complete trust in her God. “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy will.”

As we make our final preparations for Christmas, let us ponder those words of Mary. For some people Christmas is a difficult season as they remember relatives who have died and won’t be present, or who are alone, or who get upset with all the media hullabaloo going on. Let’s just give in to Jesus this year. Let us be servants of the Lord, accepting the will of God for us. If we can develop that all-encompassing trust of God, knowing that out of all the chaos, misery, suffering, depression, unhappiness that sometimes make up our lives, God has a plan for us, and the ending will be good, despite what it may look like to us now. Trust in his infinite mercy and love. God sent his Son in human form, lowered himself to experience what we experience. He knows our humanity, he partakes of our humanity, and he will empathize with us, and carry us through. That really is the gift we celebrate each Christmas, as we focus on the child, the helpless God in the manger, about to born again in our memories and our liturgies. Let this thought give you peace and a little bit of joy in these hectic last few days, and let us experience the mother’s joy after birth as we welcome the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And this is the Good News message of trust and peace I want to  leave you with today.

In just a few days we will celebrate the birth that

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

November 30, 2014

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

The beautiful Advent readings today are all about anticipation of the coming of God prophesied by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, in one of the most imagery laden and colorful passages in the Scriptures, and again by the New Testament prophet, John the Baptist. Even the second reading from 2nd Peter anticipates with patience the second coming of the Messiah waiting for the “day of the Lord”. So much anticipation, so much hope, so much excitement for what is to come. That is the true spirit of Advent and what should happen in the season of expectation.

We begin our church year devoted to the reading of the Gospel of Mark with the very first chapter of Mark today. As I have mentioned before, Mark’s Gospel is my favorite, perhaps because I was an English Lit teacher and I am impressed with how he has written his story – both the deceptive simplicity of it and the rapid movement of it leading to his climax. In the original language it moves very quickly as every sentence seems to be “Then this happened, and then this happened, and immediately that happened, and then….” It is also a bit of a detective story or mystery story, except that we are in on the mystery and we watch everyone else trying to solve it. And trust me, the apostles in mark are not very good at it!

Right from the first line of the Gospel, though, we are let in on the secret of who Jesus is: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”! Mark pulls no punches but tells us straight on that Jesus is the Son of God. Then he proceeds with the rest of this identity story which builds when Jesus asks: but who do you say that I am? and is answered by the Gentile centurion at the foot of the cross who realizes “Truly, this man was God’s own son.”

So for Mark, the anticipation is the wonderful discovery of who Jesus is Mark does not go into any genealogy of Jesus or give us any birth narratives, but jumps right into the beginning of the public life of Jesus. First we meet the prophet John the Baptist, himself prophesied by Isaiah as the messenger of God sent to announce the Messiah and prepare the people for his coming. Right away Mark ties the Gospel story to the Hebrew Scriptures, letting us see that this is the culmination of the Scriptural anticipation.

And what was John supposed to be doing? According to Mark he was first of all, proclaiming the message and vision of Isaiah: getting people ready and fixing up the road so that God had a straight path to us. Secondly, John was asking us to turn ourselves around, the meaning of “repent” and look at our lives and ask for forgiveness, so that we too will be on this straight path to receive the Lord. In the first verses of Mark, John the Baptist did not know who the Messiah would be, but that he would be someone much more powerful than he, and who would baptize not only with water but with the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God would be in him, part of him.

So this first few pages of Mark sets up the movement of the whole Gospel of Mark and even though we now know who Jesus is, we anticipate what will happen when the others find out and look forward to seeing how they do find out.

I do have to say a few more words about the Isaiah reading today, as well, because it is such a moving piece of prophetic literature. God, seen here, is a God of comfort who wants only to speak tenderly to us, to forgive our sins. Isaiah wants the messenger of God to stand on a high mountain and announce the coming. And although he notes that God is a mighty God, and a strong God, we are not to fear God because he is more like a shepherd than a warrior, and he will gather us in his arms and carry us next to his breast, and gently lead us where we need to go. These are the images of God that I hold dear, that give me hope, that allow me to anticipate the second coming and am not afraid of the world being “dissolved” by fire, as Peter describes today. Instead I am filled with peace, which is what Peter asks us to be, because the coming of the Lord then and to come is ‘good news’ and we will be comforted and held in the arms of our God. And that is the anticipation we should be thinking about as Christmas approaches. The Christ child is that image of peace, and so, in the next few weeks of hectic readying-ness, we need to put aside some time to center ourselves, breathe a little, repent for anything getting in the way of that peacefulness and feel God’s arms around us, comforting us and helping us on our journey. That is the peace I wish you this week as we all anticipate God’s first and second coming and the Good News that this implies. God bless.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

November 23, 2014

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

Today is the beginning of a new Church year, and once again Advent roles around. I like the word “advent” because I always think it is important to look forward to something. Half the fun of something is the anticipation of it. For many children it is the anticipation of getting some new toy, and for many adults it is the anticipation of seeing relatives and friends and having a good time. Unfortunately, because of the furor in the marketplace today, there are some who do not look forward to Christmas or any holiday, but only have anxiety for it.

For me, Advent is a great season because it can put into perspective what it is I really look forward too, and strip away all those false expectations and anxieties created by the marketing and the media. Let’s face it. They just want to make a living, and that is their job – to get you to go out and buy. But the four Sundays in Advent can balance all of that angst by reminding us of why we are really here, what we really should be looking forward to and figuring out how we can get more love in our lives.

On the last Sunday of the year, last week, we learned that we are to be judged simply on how much love we have shown our neighbors. How can we apply that to the Advent season and help to add to our bank account of love? Last week we saw the final coming of the Lord, but now we put that aside and look at the first coming of Jesus, and are reminded of how that coming was stripped away of any richness or revelry. It was simple, it was peaceful, it was calm.

The Jews for the most part have been living in anticipation for centuries, waiting for this Messiah to come. And they kind of missed it, because in their anticipation they imaged , as did Isaiah today, all the mountains quaking and the awesomeness of the event. It didn’t happen that way. Nor did they think that he would make brothers and sisters of us when he came. He was not to be a conqueror but as Paul says today, “by God you were called into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Interestingly the Gospel today is the first of many Gospels we will hear from the evangelist Mark today – actually my favorite of the four Gospels for reasons I hope to explain as the year goes on – but we don’t hear from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel any kind of Advent story. This is because Mark doesn’t have one. As the first to write a Gospel, his is the most spare in details, and in fact, he doesn’t say anything about Jesus until he is about 30 years old and beginning his ministry. So it isn’t a good Advent Gospel in that sense. So what the Church has done is to take a later section of Mark that is about the Second Coming of Jesus, and have us apply it to his first coming.

“Beware, keep alert;” Jesus says, “for you do not know when the time will come.” Certainly that was true of the first coming as well. And his advise to everyone: “Keep awake.” Be on the look out! Keep the coming in mind!

And so that gives us the theme of the First Sunday of our preparation period. Like the Jews waiting for a Messiah, we too should keep awake in case we might miss him.

Within the context of the metaphor, in which we are seen as slaves with a particular job to do in a household while the master is away, we also have to make sure that we are doing our jobs and don’t slack off. And I think that is pretty good advice for Advent, too.

I know that you and I have now been through many Advent seasons, but maybe the job we have been asked to do is changed. Maybe we are asked to show our love and our charity more in anticipation of the master coming home. Let’s not sleep on the job, then. Stay awake to times that we can prove our love for neighbor, that we can service others, that we can provide peace to others in their misery, pain and grieving. Be awake to the opportunities that will show themselves in our loves to be Christ to others.

It is that vigilance, that active waiting, which Jesus seems to ask for today, as we await his coming as an innocent, powerless child on Christmas today. I hope we are all up to it as part of our Lenten observance to balance out the messages of media and marketing.

That is my Advent wish for you and the Good News I present to you today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]