Friday, December 29, 2006

Year I 5th Day on the Octave of Christmas

A brief homily delivered at Holy Family Parish this morning.

Readings: 1 Jn 2,3-11; Ps 96,1-6; Lk 2,22-35

In today’s Gospel we read of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph did this, according to St. Luke, to fulfill a requirement of the Mosaic law. In other words, they presented Jesus and, as their first-born son, consecrated him to God, out of obedience. We can be assured, however, that their obedience did not flow merely out of an externally imposed adherence to the requirements of the law. Rather, they were obedient of out of their love for God, whose own Son they were presenting back to him. In a way this is a prefiguring of Mary’s ultimate sacrifice of watching her Son die on the Cross, which would be the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy that she would be pierced by a sword.

Obedience is also the theme taken up by St. John in our first reading this morning. John does not tell us about a white-knuckle, bone grinding adherence to God’s commands; running the checklist of righteousness. John writes beautifully and often that God’s commands, which are summarized in Jesus’ Two Great Commandments- to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves- are not only to love, but to be obeyed out of love. In fact, John tells us that he is "writing no new commandment to you but an old commandment that you had from the beginning". To that end, he writes:

"Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes."

The challenge for us, Jesus’ disciples, is twofold. The first challenge is to obey God, in imitation of Mary and Joseph, and to do so out of love, not out of a self-determined or self-righteous desire to "be good" so that others can see how good we are. Such an attitude earned the Pharisees multiple rebukes from our Lord. As those who seek to follow Jesus, our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. We must, to borrow words from the secular Christmas song, "be good for goodness sake". In other words, our obedience must be born of a genuine love of God, which, we learn from St. John, is demonstrated by our love for our "brother". This is all internal, with God's commandments as our guide on how to love.

In order love anybody, we must know that person. So, to fulfill God's command to love, to be correctly motivated, we must know Christ. To know Christ we must pray, which means not only to speak to Him, but to listen to what He says to us through the Holy Spirit, who, with the Father and the Son, is God. In this St. Simeon is a model for us. It was through his prayer of listening to what God was telling him through the Holy Spirit that he waited patiently, until he was a very old man, for his eyes to see "the salvation which [God] prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel". By listening to God we open ourselves to correction, for whoever the Lord loves, he also chastises.

Our second challenge is closely related to the first, it is do good works so that God is glorified, not us. We must believe that to which St. John testifies in our reading from his feast the before yesterday, which is summarized well by the English poet John Betjeman, "that Christ really is the incarnate Son of God and that Sacraments are means of grace and that grace alone gives one the power to do what one ought to do". Just as we all know through our own experience that it is not only what we say, but how we say it; in terms of Christian discipleship, it is not only what we do, but how we go about doing it. We must do it in the way our Lord Himself did it because, as St. John tells us, "whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked."

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