Celebrating Incarnation and Discipleship

A child is born! Angels sing Glory to God in the highest. Shepherds come to adore. Wise men from the East bring expensive gifts.

But then the child grow up. And as he begins to challenge the authorities of his day, he tells his disciples they must do the same. And he warns them that they will be handed over and suffer for his sake.

That is the message we hear in today’s Gospel on this first day after Christmas. Before we’ve even put away the gifts and finished the leftovers from the Christmas feast, we get the message that it’s not all about celebration. Rather, there will be strife and suffering involved in following Christ: “Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.”

To reinforce the message, the first Mass reading paired with today’s Gospel is the martyrdom of Stephen. Stephen has been “speaking truth to power”, as the saying goes, reprimanding the elders and the scribes for their “stiff-necked” behavior. The fury and threats of those disquieted by his speech did not deter him, however, for Stephen was “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

The result is predictable: they “threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.”

Stephen’s last words before dying recall the words of Christ on the cross: “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit.” And in the Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus promises that those who are persecuted in his name and endure will be saved. And therin lies the promise. As Thomas Merton once wrote, “Christmas, then, is not just a sweet regression to breast-feeding and infancy. It is a serious and sometimes difficult feast. Difficult especially if, for psychological reasons, we fail to grasp the indestructible kernel of hope that is in it. If we are just looking for a little consolation-we may be disappointed.”

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One thought on “Celebrating Incarnation and Discipleship

  1. “Difficult especially if, . . . we fail to grasp the indestructible kernel of hope that is in it.”

    How often have ‘kernel(s) of hope’ as expressed in ‘A Christmas Letter from Muslim Leaders,’ been professed as ‘seed,’ and at planting time “. . . some fell on rocky ground, sprouted up, then withered through lack of moisture. . .”
    – Luke 8:6 (New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition)

    The Spirit of Love, Hope and Charity that often joins so many of different faiths with those of no denomination who live lives connected to varying spiritual and secular beliefs during December’s religious and holiday festivals can also be expressed in the eleventh paragraph of the ‘Christmas Letter’ mentioned above.

    “In the Bible, we are told that Jesus, in response to a question about the most important commandment, is said to have answered: “You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is similar. You should love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40) Jesus added that those whose hearts are filled with such love of God and neighbor live not far from the kingdom of God. (Mark 12:34)”

    “On these two commandments hang ‘All The Law’. . .” To many, the most Blessed of faith’s professions.

    Years ago, during a Mid-Day Dialogue on Creeds at St. Thomas Law presented by professors Stabile and Osler, Mark expressed that the Two Great Commandments, combined with the Lord’s Prayer and The Beatitudes might be a ‘Creed’ potentially more universal.

    Why is the belief and sentiment in the ‘Christmas Letter’ so wonderfully proclaimed publically and often expressed in word by leaders of Roman and Orthodox Catholics, and occasionally proclaimed less frequently within other Christian faiths, often so contrary to what those same leaders profess privately and proclaim to their faithful. Including warnings and consequences of doctrines and ‘Truths’ expressed in their ‘Sacred Writings’ if not adhered to. Including requesting their followers pray for, and evangelize for, the conversion of all ‘Non-Believers’ to their ‘One True Faith?’

    In the hearts of too many faith leaders ‘rocky soil’ may have become ‘closed hearts of stone’ where their true beliefs are rooted within the deepest caves and crevasses.

    “But then the child grew up. And as he begins to challenge the authorities of his day, he tells his disciples they must do the same. And he warns them that they will be handed over and suffer for his sake.”

    The Holy Spirit has an uncanny method of unexpectedly loosening the most private of thoughts from within the deepest caves and crevasses of the heart where they burst forth as ‘sprouts’ of truth and are heavenly recorded – combining them (and also recording them) with the heart’s most desired professions continually reverenced, nurtured and expressed in the light. A convergence of ‘truths’ often revealing the truest of the heart’s beliefs and struggles.

    I am reminded daily of my lamentations, and the response, during the homily (the Samaritan Woman at the Well) on the Third Sunday of Lent, 2014 when a message of acceptance and inclusion became one espousing a need for renewed evangelism and bringing ‘Truths’ of the One True Faith to all.

    “Lord if only you were here!”

    And with a hint of playful sarcasm and tone, . . . again? – was voiced so clearly, “You were there.”

    May ‘Truth’ also be reality, the reality of unconditional Love and the Gift of Spirit dwelling within all of God’s children, dwelling within each of us – a Love and Gift of Spirit that knows no origin, no race, no creed or no gender – A Love and Gift of Spirit we, more often than we know, accept, reverence, nurture and share naturally with each other, though all too often are shepherded separately – separated from each other through professions of ‘Truth’ and within places consecrated to Be Most Holy.

    “And as he begins to challenge the authorities of his day.” Who is to challenge the authorities of our day?

    Lord if only you were here!

    “You were there.”

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