A Day by the Galilee
We ended Friday night in Tiberias, a Roman city then and not a New Testament town, but now a thriving tourist destination. Our first glimpse of the Galilee was ringed by lights a night from our hotel room, but its beauty truly transfixed us in a morning of bright sunshine amid temperatures in the lower fifties. The first thing to know about the Sea of Galilee is that is not a Sea, but a lake. Actually, I think it looks stunningly lie Lake George surrounded either by mountains or villages.
Jesus came to this area after the crowd at the synagogue in Nazareth not only rejected him but attempted to thrown him down a “hill” which turns out to be a precipitous cliff of hundreds of feet. He came to the shores of Galilee and began his ministry to the world. It is here that he lived and called his disciples and perhaps even found himself.
We started our day in a perfect place – the Mount of Beatitudes. What else can you say about a lush hill perched above a lake on a clear day and sanctified by such holy words? It is adorned by another beautiful Barluzzi church, a circular masterpiece with an eight sided cupola atop, each with a beatitude written in Latin near its apex. It is perfectly attuned to its peaceful surroundings and a powerful place to pray. We had thirty minutes to explore and pray for which I was grateful, but if we were told we had to stay there all day, that would have been fine too. I must admit when I arrived at the patio on top of the hill and overlooking the water, my thought was “Heck, anyone could give a great sermon here.” It made think of how it must have been received. After all, some of the things in the Sermon on the Mount such as “Blessed are they who mourn,” and “Love your enemy” seem both illogical and unattractive. But on a breezy spring day in that setting, I bet everyone thought this crazy kind of unlimited and dangerous love was just the tonic we need. Beauty has the ability to do that. It opens our hearts and minds not just to more things, but to more positive things. The scope of what is possible and who we are grows wider in the presence of beauty. Then one more beatitude to celebrate this place: “Blessed are those who take in the beauty around them.”
At the base of the hill is Tabgha, the site of the feeding of the five thousand from five loaves and two fish. You realize that no area in the world was as thick with miracles as this small stretch of land of lakeside villages. Even scholars who approach Jesus from a purely historical perspective conclude he must have been a wonderworker give the unanimity of his praise. And no place was more blessed in that way than Jesus’ home base of Capernaum.
This is a relatively new site. The Franciscans (more on them later) had bought the land in the hope of literally unearthing something special in the town that Jesus may have called home for nearly three years. They were well rewarded. Once again, Christian tradition and archeological evidence of ruins and first century pious devotions led to the discovery of St. Peter’s house where a church dedicated to him peers gloriously over the water. In that rock hewn house appears to be a guest room, most likely used by Jesus. Capernaum saw many wonderful sites in the years Jesus lived there – both gentle like the hand holding of Peter’s mother-in-law to cure her of fever and the dramatic like the healing of a paralytic lowered through the roof of that same house. It seems to me this stretch in Capernaum was a decisive period in the life of Jesus for finding success and his voice, honing his mission and then understanding his destiny. When the town folk begin to claim him as their own, when the potential of a comfortable life as beloved rabbi and healer beckoned, he understood the trap. “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.”
We finished the morning celebrating mass at the Church of the Primacy of Peter. His primacy was given over twenty miles away in the region of Caesarea Philippi, but here the resurrected Jesus reaffirmed it after Peter’s heartbreaking denial on the night of the Lord’s arrest in the famous, “Peter, do you love me?” dialogue. The altar is built around the rock called Mensa Christi – the table of Christ. Jesus baked the fish while his disciples were fishing and they noticed him from afar (John 21). Outside you could imagine the disciples out in their boat, slow in their recognition of Jesus and the excitement that caused Peter to jump out of the boat and swim to Jesus.
In the afternoon, we traveled to the newly excavated site of Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene. The Legionaires of Christ bought and worked on this site just a few years ago and have found compelling and treasured artifacts, including one of only seven first century synagogues discovered in Israel. It was a well to do town. Fish from the Galilee were so renowned that they were shipped to Rome and Magdala seems to have been a fish processing center. The homes are large leading to the speculation that Mary was among the wealthy female disciples of the region that funded Christ’s mission. So let’s say it all toogether: MARY MAGDALENE WAS NOT A PROSTITUTE. The Legionaires of Christ have built a beautiful church dedicated to the women of Christ’s life and a wonderful church with a boat shaped altar and the staff of the mast standing as the cross. It looks like it is about to set sail on the Galilee.
And that is what we did next: we went out on the boat in the quiet of the Galilee. Jesus did a few famous things on the Sea of Galilee. He calmed a storm which countless rain delays at ballgames prove I cannot. He walked on the water which I did not want to risk, allowing for my insufficient sleep. He caused a great catch of fish which I thought a long shot for me. And he slept on the boat and I thought here is my true opportunity to be Christ like on the Galilee. I almost get there, but was awakened by the beginning of our prayer.
From the boat we had a panoramic view of our day with holy sites dotting the shore: the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, the Primacy of Peter and Capernaum. The perspective showed how word must have spread. From miles along the coast, you could see if hundreds or thousands of people were milling around, or listening to someone a hill. You would be intrigued; what is happening? Can I make it there? It is hard to find a better spot for growing a faith. Let us pray we can find that ideal place in our lives.

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Ein Karem
Our day began in Ein Karem, the hometown of John the Baptist which makes it the center of all the events surrounding his birth and Mary’s visit to his mother Elizabeth. The church of John the Baptist is another simple church which takes claim to the title by being located in the Judean hills as the Gospel states and by tradition. As Catholics we count on tradition a great deal and the holy land is actually affirming of this as time and again the traditional sites are verified by archaeology. The church focuses on the miraculous events of John’s birth to elderly and supposedly barren parents and John’s father Zachariah who thinks the angel is crazed who told him of the remarkable child to be born and is silenced until in obedience he insists the child’s name shall be John, upsetting traditional naming customs. Then his tongue is loosened and he proclaims the Benedictus – “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel who has come to his people and has set us free.” Each morning this prayer I say this prayer as part of the Liturgy of the Hours. I confess to the low mumbling of it for it suffers for its everyday roteness. The paintings, the presence has made the prayer spring to life again for me.
We were sad to learn that the Visitation did not occur in the home of Elizabeth and Zachariah, but instead up a steep mountain to another church. As we climbed up the over 100 steps, I asked aloud why Mary had done this to us. It was explained that Zachariah like many priests had two houses and to keep ritually pure, he separated himself from his wife. But walking comes with pilgrimage and if John was born in the Judean hill country, then the walking must be uphill. The church of the Visitation was worth the hike. A gem of a chapel designed by Italian architect and third order Franciscan Antonio Barluzzi, it elegantly tells the story of the encounter of the two women and is a true celebration of womanhood. It was an honor to say mass there and hear the wonderful words so deeply held in our hearts such as “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And of course the Magnificat, “My soul proclaims the glory of the Lord.” I pray this each day as well, and it is reiterated multiple times during the Advent season, but I never tire of it. It is the song of the coming revolution Mary is carrying within her. “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” What a thrill to say mass there along with Fr. Tim and feel the empowered by two wonderful female sacraments of grace.
Nazareth
So much of the ancient and modern story of Israel is geography. As we set out on our two hour journey to Nazareth we broke free of the sharp hills of Judea in the South and entered into the wide open plains of the North which included the Plains of Meggido where Armageddon is to occur. This reflects a disastrous loss of ancient Israel. Looking for miles on those lush plains from either side of the road, one could easily imagine a setting for two great armies to clash.
Our destination was Nazareth, Jesus’ home for thirty years. My emotion took me by surprise. A modern church built after Pope Paul VI recommended it after his famous visit here in 1964, it encompasses the childhood home of the Virgin Mary. Skeptics slow down. There was likely only 50 houses in the town back then and sure enough excavations revealed 1st century AD and BC houses and pottery recovered from the first century AD to that says “Ave Maria.” A beautiful façade welcomed us with the story of the Annunciation and over the door the words, “Factum est,” or “May it be done” – Mary ringing assent to God’s astonishing plan. A wide platform forms a ring above a lower level where the cave house of Mary is venerated. A small group of pilgrims kneeled in awe before an altar with a stone inscription. I chill shivered my spine as I knelt before the powerful words “Verbum caro hic factum est” or “The word became flesh here.”
Have you ever wondered what is more important, Christmas or the Annunciation? Probably not for Christmas has taken such a large part of our consciousness and time. But if we celebrate the marvel of God being born into such vulnerability and smallness, imagine God beginning as a zygote, cells forming over nine months, parts of the Son of God still in development. Such is the subtle and amazing formation of our salvation. It began in Nazareth with an astounding divine plan; it began with a faithful yes from a girl of outsized faith; it generated, from the smallest start possible, life and light.
Of course, Nazareth is not just where Jesus was born but where he lived and worked and grew for thirty or so years. So up the block so to speak is the lovely church of St. Joseph and his home. Its simplicity is a testament to the simplicity with which they lived. Still to see they have discovered a workshop and rooms in which he lived underscores the humanity of the Christ. We know it and I preach it and we see it throughout his ministry. But it is really present in the town where for most of his life, no one outside his family believed he was anything other than completely human, even normal person, except for great piety and learning. If you want to understand how much we fail to see Jesus as a man of a place and time, a man of work, picture his hands. Are they beautiful and soft? Or are they calloused as man who had worked as a builder and carpenter for most of his life? In Nazareth we meet the Jesus who was not yet known as the Christ.

Bethlehem
The Holy Land is another world and Bethlehem is another country. I do not want to go on about the politics of the country, but there is always an admixture of holiness, history and politics in everything here. To travel the few miles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the territory captured in the 1967 Six Day War, one must go through a checkpoint. Getting into Bethlehem is easy for us; leaving it to go to Jerusalem is almost impossible for its citizens. The security Wall built in the last ten years (called by our Palestinian Christian guide Rula, the Wall of Separation) is beautifully painted with depictions of hope including contributions from the renowned modern artist Banksy and one of a triumphant Muhammed Ali.
You wind up the main street of town, Manger Street, and at the top of the hill stands proudly the Church of the Nativity. It is not massive as are the great cathedrals of Europe or even the United States. Its noble simplicity seems to state that its power does not derive from the building, but what is celebrated here. The primary entrance is through the door of humility. I was prepared for this tiny door but still my stooped back brushed across the lintel as my shoulders barely managed to slide through its width. As with many things religious, what began as a necessity has morphed into a symbol. The door which was designed to keep out large animals such as camels in the Middle Ages (conquerors torn down and rebuilt the great sites many times since Constantine’s mother St. Helen first had them built in the fourth century) is now a sign of the humility of God daring to become as vulnerable as an infant. Shared by five different Christian communities, each quartered in their own section and praying in carefully choreographed intervals so as not to provoke a religious civil war, they have thankfully all agreed to a badly needed restoration, funded in large part by the governing Palestinian authority.
We arrived at mass through an ancient maze of stairs and other small doorways in the cave of St. Jerome, who translated the bible into Latin while living as a hermit for 30 years in Bethlehem. It struck me that such a holy a spot, where one of the founding great minds of the western church produced one of the most important books in history, were anywhere else, it would be due a massive shrine. Here it is a footnote, but a moving one, as Fr. Tim said mass just feet away from the birthplace of Christ.
From there we went around again to the original church and waited for a thankfully short time to climb down the stairs to venerate the birthplace of Jesus. A beautiful and startling happy icon of Mary with her son smiled at us as we prepared to descend to the birthplace of the Lord. All the holy places here are down old steps as each city and especially the churches have been razed and raised many times. A small fourteen pointed star represents the spot where the Lord was born. A few steps away, in another crowded cave, was the chapel of the manger. It makes a sense you might never have anticipated without being there. As Fr. Tim pointed out, it is not just where Jesus was born, but where God entered the world. The simply miraculous, a mother giving birth and the outlandishly, impossible, God becoming human, is the form of our salvation.
Jericho and the Jordan River
Perhaps only in the Holy Land can you experience two world “mosts” within half an hour. We visited the world’s oldest city, Jericho and the lowest place on earth at the head of the Dead Sea. Jericho’s green lushness made it an oasis in the desert for longer than there has been a historical record. It still teems and must have in Jesus’ time as well. Certainly, then a two thousand year old sycamore tree could have been the one chosen by the diminutive Zacchaeus. As they said, it is a sycamore and it is still around, so it could have been. Yet, the impressive sycamore still works better as a symbol anyway. For I am here still trying to see Jesus. What has been challenging due to time and space is now just a factor of time and the space lends a certain perspective which was all Zacchaeus was after anyway. The trick though remains, not to just see Jesus but to surrender to him as Zacchaeus does by giving half his belongings to the poor and promising to never defraud again as a tax collector. Salvation came to his house in the person of Jesus. It comes to our house by straining to see him in all that we do.
But the true blessing of the afternoon came at the Jordan River. Here too the story cannot be told without politics. Until a couple of years ago, the site most likely the one John used for his baptizing ministry was inaccessible as it formed the tense border with Jordan. But in a rare sign of Middle Eastern hope, Jordan and Israel have combined to make the baptismal spot open again.
If the Jordan River was mighty and wide when Michael rowed the boat ashore, it is not now. As the river completes its long journey from the north of the country and just before it empties into the Dead Sea, the river is narrow and muddy. It truly may have been wider before water diversion programs made green a barren land, but now it is barely more than ten yards wide.
The thin reeds and the bristled beauty made it easy to picture this being the wilderness haunts of John the Baptist. Judea, southern Israel is indeed tough country bringing added meaning to the mission of the Baptist to create a broad valley out of a rugged land. Jesus was attracted to this ministry and submitted, against his cousin John’s will, to baptism in the Jordan. This baptism did not make Jesus holier, it made the water holier. It is the water in which we have all been baptized. On a cloudy dank day, a thin light patch recalled the voice that came from heaven. “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” The water still speaks as we are baptized into the life of the man of peace and hope. The Jordan river is part of all of us.
As we renewed our baptismal vows, a male Jordanian soldier watched lazily from the baptismal site on his side of the river. (It is generally agreed that John baptized on the east bank but it is of little difference now.) Then as we left, we saw two young female Israeli army officers laughing while machine guns jauntily tangled by their side. We still have not listened to him.
Dinner with a Palestinian Christian Family
That night we went back to that other country, an Arab city next to Bethlehem and were entertained by a family of Palestinian Christians – a wise cracking couple making bad jokes about marriage, an engaging sixteen year old daughter, a 12 year old Boy who spent the entire dinner in his room playing video games and a cute, mischievous six year old son. (Sound familiar?) Palestinian Christians which once made up 10% of all Palestinian people now barely represent 1%.
We had a lovely jovial time. We talked politics because it is inescapable. Johnny said that his life is dictated by politics and more than just his restricted movement. He temporarily lost a customer for his kitchen modeling business when the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its intention to move its embassy because the fear of violence made him insecure. He explained that he does not watch politics, he lives it. We parted as friends but as we passed by the checkpoint again, it burned inside me that we could visit him, but he may never visit us.

I have always wanted to go to two places in the world. Africa and the Holy Land. By the grace of God, I now will have been blessed to do both. This primal yearning is as mysterious as any of ours but I imagine it is because life originated from Africa and new life flowed from the Holy Land.  Africa was the dawn of creation and the Holy Land the dawn of our salvation.In a sense then we all share in both places.

I am stunned that for at least one week I will call home where Jesus did. And as much as nearly everything has changed in two thousand years, they have not moved the Sea of Galilee and the sun still rises and sets as He saw it. Olive trees can live two thousand years; which young tree witnessed that young man walked by. And the holy sites we will visit not only echo the words spoken and the miracles and the compassion of God-with-us, they have been made somehow even holier for the prayers and adoration that have occurred there since Jesus and his friends first changed water into wine, or multiplied loaves and fish, or cured a leper, or spoke of whom God surprisingly has blessed. Or died for all of us. Or rose from the dead.
I joked this morning that mass schedule for the week was Rosa Road on Monday, Union Street on Tuesday, Bethlehem on Thursday, Galilee on Friday, the church of the Holy Sepulcher on Saturday and the Garden of Gethsemane on Sunday. But today’s readings really fit my day. Incredibly enough, we heard of David triumphantly and joyously bringing the ark into Jerusalem for the first time. And in the Gospel , as Jesus’ family insisted on speaking with him while he was with others, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” On Sunday I said that all I have preached about for twenty years has been “there.” Now I will be able to say it happened “Here.” But perhaps the true excitement is that which happened where I will be a pilgrim made every place “here” for his presence is never foreign and his closeness is universal. This journey is about the place that made us family.
Thank you for all of your prayers and your prayer I carry with me. Each day promised to be very busy, but I will do my best to keep you up to date on the blog.

Epiphany B 2018
Some people are comfortable with change and some people are not. What we all discover is that change does not care how you feel about it. Change is coming for you.
Actually, we all occasionally welcome or resist change. When things are good, we want nothing to change and when things are bad, we desperately want everything to be different. Yet, it seems to me that every change represents an opportunity whether welcomed or unwelcomed for our God never abandons us. There will be news ways to be merciful, to console, to receive or give. Grace is present everywhere and sometimes change is the new light we need to notice blessings previously unknown.
Not all our reasons for not embracing change are positive or helpful. It may be to preserve power. It may be that which is habitual becomes deeply engrained in us, especially our worse habits. The regular, no matter how darkly imbued, is familiar and we become so attached that our fears prefer it over the new land God promises. So we stay in jobs that sap the joy out of our lives; or we endure in relationships that become toxic and even dangerous. And God’s voice is harder to hear for fear counteracts love.
I think of this for today we see two reactions to change. The Magi see a star rising in the East and, at best they hazard a guess that there is a new born king of the Jews. They abandon everything to follow that star and prepare to give the best they had in homage to this king. They do not hesitate even when their journey ends not in a palace, but before the poor parents of a humble child. They still surrender their best. The journey is rewarded.
The same change that the Magi gave everything for is right there for King Herod. Jesus offers the same salvation to him. He will fulfill the dreams of all his people. You know the song “Do you hear what I hear?” Of course you do for they started playing Christmas songs in late summer. He could have been the king who announced the birth of the Lord as the one who would bring us goodness and light. Instead, all he can think is how to destroy the child. If he had looked for beauty, he would have known it in its fullness; if he had looked for God, he would have met him.
We each have a star that leads us to Christ. It may not lead us to where we plan, but it will always lead us in the direction of peace and of love. And do you know what you get when you reach that place? That’s right – an epiphany! Committed to love, you will find love; searching for peace, you will be a peacemaker; living with hope, your light will shine before the world. And to live in the light, it is worth giving everything. So give your gold, your frankincense and… I know it is hard, but even your myrrh. Accept change and let it lead you to Christ that you may bask in his light and bear that light to others.

Holy Family B 2017

I sometimes imagine Simeon receiving the promise from the Holy Spirit that he would see “the Christ of the Lord,” as a young man. There is no evidence of this but it seems to me his reaction to seeing Jesus is not just joy, but relief.  I think of the thrill he must have had when receiving the news and how anxious he must have been to know he would witness Israel’s salvation.  But as we know, not only are hope and expectation a great joy, but also a burden that taxes our patience.  In those long years, how many children did he see and wonder if that child is the Messiah?  How many times did he hear preachers in the precincts of the Temple who intrigued him and thought could that be the one?  The suddenly, on this day, he spies Jesus, a child no less or more beautiful than any other.  And he knows. He knows like one who had that thought they had been in love, but now truly know what love is.  And he boldly takes the child from his mother’s arms and beautifully proclaims, “”Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

One can instantly sense that Simeon has met his peace; so much so that he is ready to go home to the Lord.   He is absolutely fulfilled by holding salvation in his arms – nothing else is needed.  And then there is the old prophetess Anna.  She was not given the same promise as Simeon, but she is so holy, so attuned to God, that upon witnessing the scene with Simeon and Jesus, she gets it.  And while Simeon is ready to rest in peace, Anna is just getting started, “She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”  She is among the first evangelizers of Jesus.

That is the beauty of the incarnation.  God has come to earth.  The Word has been made flesh.  And once that glory appears on earth, it remains here.  It becomes part of the fabric of our lives.  Heaven now intersects with earth.  Those heavenly moments, those zones of God’s presence become what we live for.  When we glimpse our salvation, we know the peace that Simeon felt and we feel the need to share it as Anna did.

The easiest way to know those moments is to think of the most significant ones.  Have you ever been to a bad baptism?  I love them because we are reminded of the promise we have been given as surely as Simeon – we will know our salvation.  Weddings too are a sign of God’s promise fulfilled as two people entrust their faith and lives with each other.  All our milestones: first job and retirement, first love and last breath are a window into grace.

But the incarnation means that God is everywhere, so our salvation is made known in the common and the subtle as well.  Moments when peace overtakes you and joy fills you.  I see it at holidays when children return and parents gleam that their families are intact.  You can find it in quiet moments with a friend or uproarious moments with your holy family.  In younger years, my friend Fred and I would choose a Mets night game on the west coast, pull a television out on the porch, back when you could pull a television, grab a cold beverage and watch a game in the warmth of a summer evening. That felt pretty close to heaven to me.

Today is New Year’s Eve.  Promise me to make this resolution:  Aware of God’s presence you will spend your time looking for glimpses of salvation; treasuring the heavenly things of earth.  Be on the lookout for the beautiful, the miraculous and the loving and your eyes will see the salvation that God has prepared.  Be like Simeon and let that peace rest in your soul.  Be like Anna and tell the story of the touch of the Holy Spirit.  Then you will know true peace.  Then you will celebrate the glory of our God!

3rd Sunday of Advent B

This is the time of the year when people talk about “Christmas Spirit.”  It is a good thing.  It is an expectation that all will find this a joyous time.  That people will be friendlier, more caring and even more generous whether we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ or not. It is summed up perhaps by the song “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas.”  Anything in this day and age that promotes a more congenial feeling, anything that strives for harmony among people is a good thing.

But for those of us who believe that the birth of Jesus Christ ushered in a new era of human history; for those who find the beginning of their salvation in that moment in Bethlehem, the Spirit of Christmas means something entirely different.  It is the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit that overshadowed Mary and suddenly the “Lord was with” her.  It is the Spirit that drove John the Baptist into the desert and in the words of today’s Preface “sang of his coming and proclaimed his presence when he came.”  It was a Spirit so evident even in an infant that shepherds left their fields at the urging of an angel and magi came from the East with gifts.  Despite the spare circumstances they encountered for this new born king, they did not leave disappointed.

Most importantly, when the Son of God came among us, his Spirit was unleashed in the world.  It would drive him to share divine wisdom, to create a community of love and led him to the cross.  It is the same Spirit that raised him.  And remarkably, for those baptized into his name, the same Spirit inhabits us.  Yes, the Spirit that made Jesus Jesus is within us and transforming us.  When we acknowledge that we are carriers of God’s Spirit, we must look again at ourselves. St. Athanasius said that God became human so that we might become God.  So we must be strong, for if God is not strong than what could be strong.  We must be wise for the agile Spirit of God that is the font of all wisdom is God’s gift to us.  We must be beautiful, for the Spirit ensures that we are made in the image of God from whom all beauty comes.  And we must be loving for God is love.  The Holy Spirit is meant to define our lives.

Oh there are certainly other Spirits lurking within us.  Not everything or everyone is holy.  A couple of weeks ago I was a mess at mass.  I stumbled over words, said the wrong prayer at the wrong time.  I felt horrible about that Sunday.  It made me look back over my week and I realized that my prayer had not been as good as it usually is.  That I had lacked focus on God all during the week.  Without connecting more intimately with the Spirit, I was not the best I could be.  So I got back to work on my prayer, my gratefulness and my service so that the Spirit of Christ would be more evident in me. As we are reminded in the second reading, “Do not quench the Spirit.”

Imagine an entire people who are generous, caring and good and moved by God.  Imagine a community and a church that knew they were divinely strong, wise, beautiful and loving.  Those are the people who can fulfill the vision of Isaiah whom the Spirit anointed; a vision that Christ would make his own to “bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD.”  We can speak to the poor about compassion and justice and to the poor in spirit of the hope we have found in our faith.  We can cry with the brokenhearted and promise then of the good things to come. We can release those captive to addictions or ruinous patterns of behavior with the new way of Jesus.  Imagine a community so joined in the Holy Spirit that we dare to announce that this year, for all the trials and the division we face, will be a year of favor from the Lord for his Spirit will lead our actions.  Then we will truly bring forth the kingdom of God.

So when we ask for the Spirit of Christmas this year, let us ask more boldly and believe more deeply.  Let us dare to be beautiful, wise, strong and loving. Then we will truly be disciples of Christ fulfilling the prayer of the angels to the shepherds, giving “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”