Monday, December 15, 2008

3rd Sunday of Advent
Stay in Touch with the Light

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
Picture: LATimes Print Edition

Sisters and brothers, something about the main section of Friday’s LA Times caught my eye. You probably noticed it too. It was quite difficult to miss. A quick glance at the paper brought to view the usual slew of bad news. On the front page there was a report about how the recent Metrolink train crash was probably the result of bad decisions made by the company two decades ago that had gambled with passenger safety. On the same page, there was also news about how, in China, economic woes have led to increasing outbreaks of rioting and unrest. And, of course, the auto bailout had died in the Senate. Further on, on page 16, there was news that a meter reader in Orlando, Florida had found the grisly remains of a toddler, suspected to be those of 2 year old Caylee Marie Anthony, missing since June 15, and alleged to have been murdered by her very own mother. Like I said, it was the usual slew of bad news.

But in the midst of all this darkness, what caught my eye was the lone colored photograph on the front page. It was a photograph of an elderly Jewish man, planting a kiss on the cheek of a younger black man. It was the picture of 86-year old Marty Biegel, former history teacher and basketball coach at Fairfax High School in LA. And the man he was kissing was Darryl Brooks, a former player in Marty’s team. In the paper, Marty’s story took up the whole of page 20. It told of how, in a dark time of racial desegregation in the schools of LA, Marty had helped to build bridges between the races by welcoming black athletes into his gym. It was also about how these players had since become his friends for life, such that even to this day, Marty and his former players, black and white, continue to have regular get-togethers. It was a story of how one person was able to make a difference in the lives of others. It was a heartwarming story. You could feel your spirits lifting even as you read it. You felt happy. You felt like life was worth living, even in the face a slew of bad news. You noticed how the story in the paper ended with Marty telling his friends to please stay in touch. And you found yourself wishing you too could stay in touch with this person who had let his light shine out so brightly, yet so unobtrusively, in the midst of the darkness.

But what I found so amazing was that one could actually feel that way simply by reading the story of one person, even a person such as Marty Biegel. How marvelous it was that even a single story of someone who had let his light shine out in the darkness could actually lighten my heart on a Friday morning, when the rest of the news was threatening to plunge it into the depths of darkness.

And isn’t this very much like what our prayers and readings at today’s Mass are seeking to do for us today? We all know very well that times are bad – perhaps worse for some than for others. Everyone has their own story of woe, their own burdens to carry. Yet, in the midst of our experiences of darkness, both personal and communal, our attention is being drawn to a particular figure. It is a figure that we already met last Sunday. It is the figure of the voice crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.

As we may remember, last Sunday, what was emphasized in the message proclaimed by this voice was the call to repentance. We were invited to level the mountains and to fill in the valleys of our hearts, so that a smooth highway might be paved for the Lord’s coming.

Today, the message remains the same, but the emphasis has shifted. Even as we continue to heed the call to repentance, today the voice beckons us also to rejoice. As Paul tells the Thessalonians in the second reading: Rejoice always…. for this is the will of God for you…

But how are we to heed this call? How are we to rejoice, especially if we find ourselves engulfed in darkness of one form or another?

Much like Friday’s paper did with the story of Marty Biegel, our readings invite us, not just to listen to what the voice is telling us to do, but also to what it tells us about itself. We are invited to listen to its story. For not only does this voice tell us to rejoice, it also speaks to us of its own experience of rejoicing. As it tells us in the first reading, I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice…

Here, we find the first answer to our problem. The first secret to rejoicing in the darkness is to continue to look to the Lord for our joy, to recall the many things that the Lord has done and continues to do for us, not least the gift to us of Christ the only begotten Son, both in the stable at Bethlehem and on the mount of Calvary. Again, as Paul tells the Thessalonians in the second reading: in all circumstances give thanks…

But that is not all. Notice also what the voice says at the beginning of the first reading. Notice the strong sense of purpose. The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor… And notice too, how, in the gospel, this same sense of purpose fills the mind and heart of John the Baptist. Like the one in the first reading, John also comes to testify to the light. And notice how this sense of purpose, this mission of testimony, gives John an enduring appreciation of his own proper identity. He is quite happy to tell the religious authorities that he is not the Christ. Indeed, he is quite happy to say that he is not worthy even to untie the sandal strap of Christ. Isn’t there something deeply liberating in this realization – that one is not the Christ? Knowing who we’re not frees us to be who we are meant to be, and to do that which we are called to do, to testify to the light.

The scriptures go on to show us at least one other secret to the art of rejoicing in the darkness. We caught a glimpse of it in the first reading, which speaks of how just as the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations. We saw it too in the second reading, where Paul assures the Thessalonians that the God of peace will keep them blameless for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The secret is a firm hope in the fidelity of God – trusting that God will always remember God’s promise of mercy.

Gratitude, testimony and hope – these are some of the things we find when we listen carefully to the voice crying out in the desert. These are the means by which the voice rejoices, even as it continues to proclaim a message of consolation in the desolate wastelands of the desert.

And if, in this season of Advent, we were to continue to focus our attention on this voice, might it not happen, as it did with Marty Biegel and the LA Times, that we will find ourselves caught up in its joy, the same joy that endures even in the most desolate of deserts? Might we not find ourselves illuminated by the light that shines even in the darkest of nights? Might we not find ourselves desiring to heed Marty Biegel's parting words to us, to stay in touch with the light?

My sisters and brothers, on this 3rd Sunday of Advent, what reasons might we have to rejoice in the Lord today?


  1. What reasons might we have to rejoice in the Lord today?

    Well, for me, it's a relief over the last weekend to realize through the words of a new friend that we have come to the Church "to be saved" and "NOT to save the Church"!

    It was so funny! Suddenly, I kind of felt understood and also realized what I've been trying to do.

    Still it's so tempting to want to take action. And it's such a challenge to try to discern the point of balance between prayer and action. For example, when are we called to pray and entrust everything to God, when are we called to take action?

  2. Fr Chris, the black on your deep purple blog is rather difficult to read nowadays. :-p

    Would you consider using a lighter shade of purple or even lavender please? (see )


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