Homily from the 4th Sunday of Advent - Year C
On Friday afternoon, our school children finished the semester with a prayer service in the gym. The entire student body gathered in the gym for some prayer, scripture reading, and songs with our teachers, our principal Ms. Guffey and Monsignor John. Some of the first graders were the first to enter the gym and as we were waiting for the prayer service to begin I asked the first graders if they were ready for Christmas. They all nodded their heads up and down enthusiastically. And then one student shouted out “PRESENTS!!!”
Yesterday afternoon, I heard a radio commercial (I don’t even remember what it was for) but it was a series of children telling what presents they wanted for Christmas. “I want a Hello Kitty bookbag.” “I want a Transformer.” “I want a Hobbit toy!"
Tune in TNT in the next couple of days and you’ll be sure to hear Ralphie say, “I wan’t an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle!” To which we all respond, say it with me now: “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
After hearing all that, I suppose one could cynically say that Christmas means only one thing to kids: gifts... materialism. To which I say, “Good.” Because that is what Christmas is supposed to be about. Christmas in it’s deepest meaning is about gifts. It’s about A gift specifically: the gift God gives us, His Son Jesus. And Christmas in it’s deepest meaning is about materialism. It’s about the spiritual becoming material. It’s about the Word becoming flesh. It’s about God becoming man, becoming a material man in a material world that other men and women could see, hear and touch. Or, as St. John says in his first letter: that Jesus is “what we have heard, what we have seen with out eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands.”
As Advent comes to a close, we look forward to waking up on Christmas morning and receiving a material gift: that of Jesus Christ, given to us by the Father, in the form of a baby, wrapped not in paper and a bow, but in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
That’s why you and I are here today. That’s why you and I come here every Sunday. To receive this gift from the Father. To receive Jesus Christ.
For the past four weeks, I’ve suggested that the readings for the four Sundays of Lent offer a kind of recipe for our spiritual life - for our relationship with Christ. And they are:
- To pray daily.
- To go to confession seasonally (about every three months when we observe a change in the seasons).
- To rejoice always.
- And to go to Mass weekly, which we’re reflecting on today.
Why do we have to go to church? We come to Church to receive the gift God wants to give us. We can’t get it at the lake house. We can’t get it at Notre Dame stadium on a Saturday. We can’t get it at a party. The only place we can get this gift is from this altar. What God most wants to give us is Himself.
In our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author of that letter is painting, if you will, an image of Jesus, the Word of God, becoming flesh, becoming man. And he portrays Jesus as saying these words of the 40th psalm to the Father in Heaven: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.”
Meaning that, instead of offering external offerings of the flesh and blood of bulls and goats, the Father in Heaven asks for the internal offering of Jesus Christ himself. “A body you prepared for me.” Jesus is saying to the Father: “You gave me this body, to offer back to you as a sacrifice. You gave me this material thing: this flesh and blood to be given as a gift. To you and to your children" (us.)
That’s why you’re here. To receive a Christmas present from the Father. A sacrificial offering: the Body of Christ. Jesus gives you his whole being: his body and blood, soul and divinity.
So, what should we give back to Christ who has given us himself? Copy his idea. Give him yourself. And just as he gives you himself in the Mass, give yourself to him in the Mass as well. Just as Christ pours his whole being: his whole body and blood, soul and divinity into the Mass; we should do the same. We should “get into it” and give our whole selves over to him through our worship of him.
So, I want to conclude with a few practical ways in which you and I can make of ourselves a total gift back to Christ through the Mass.
Get Ready For Mass
Read the Sunday readings and pray with them sometime during the week. You can find them on the Bishop’s website at www.usccb.org. There are smart phone apps. Get a subscription to Magnificat or Word Among Us.
Arrive on Time
In fact, get here early and spend some time in prayer. Bring an intention to the Mass: keep in mind a person or a situation that you want to offer your coming to this Mass for.
Mentally be here. Don’t get freaked out and scrupulous about normal distractions. But don’t deliberately bring any distractions with you. Turn the cell phone off. Please don’t text during the Mass. And if you need a bathroom break, you know the best time to go? Right now, during the homily. Trust me, what I’ve got to say is far less important than the Word of God and the celebration of the Eucharist.
Pray the Mass With Me
We’re all in this together. Even though I’m the one saying many of the words, you should be praying them with me, especially the Eucharistic Prayer. Although you don't pray it out loud pray them out loud with your heart. Listen to the words being said and pray them with me to the Father.
St. Augustine once said, “He who sings, prays twice.” Frankie and the Holy Rollers have a shirt that says, “He who rocks, prays thrice.” Don’t be afraid to sing. Where else in the world do you get to sing publicly? This is the place where your soul should cry out in song to the Lord for all that He has given you. If you’ve got a good voice, thank him for that gift by praising Him with it. If you’ve got a horrible voice, protest to the Lord for depriving you of that gift by letting Him hear it.My dad has a horrible voice.
By this, I mean not just with one another, but with God. And not just through responses and prayer, but with the highest level of communication possible: communion itself. The two becoming one. When you come up here to this altar, God is going to be placed in your hands or on your tongue. As you receive him, you might just pause for a moment of adoration, and then become one with him. That’s the ultimate communication: becoming one with the other.
After you’ve received communion, say thanks to God for giving you this gift: the gift of Himself. That’s what we’re doing in the silence after communion.
Don’t Leave Early
Please don’t leave before the final blessing. Sometimes there may be a valid reason for leaving early such as if you have an appointment to donate a kidney. Beating traffic isn’t one of them. If you want to avoid the rush of traffic, stick around and pray. Give thanks to Jesus for giving his life to you so you could have eternal life and offer your time in prayer for someone who needs it like the soul that’s been in purgatory the longest.
Live the Gospel
Let the Gospel message that you’ve prayed on before coming to Mass, and heard here, and the Body of Christ that now dwells in your body actually turn your life around.
Bring a Journal
Write down some of the things you here so you can remember them later. And I’m not talking about the homily. But rather, your reactions to the Word and the homily and prayer.
Pour your whole self into the Mass and make of yourself a gift to Christ. Because, that's what Christ does for us; as we'll hear him say in a few moments: "For this is my Body, which will be given up for you."