I shared in my homily last weekend the various types of preparation for events or experiences in life. Preparing for a meal is different than preparing for a test. Preparation for marathons, team sport games, interviews and college vary in intensity and form. Advent scriptures also give us varied images and invitations and challenges, but they all have the same message — Prepare for the coming of the Lord. John the Baptist captured our religious imagination last week with his word Repent. This week The Baptist, confined in prison, sends messengers to Jesus seeking absolute certitude that he is the ONE, the ONE to prepare for. Jesus sends the messengers back with facts, a resume so to speak, of his healing and preaching as well as one criteria for discipleship: “Blessed are those who take no offense at me.”
Jesus then extols the greatness of John the Baptist. He proclaims him the greatest ever born of a woman, “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he,” he says. This is a mysterious statement. Is this simply consistent with some of Jesus’ other statements such as, “… the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”? Or that “the greatest will be least and the least the greatest”; or “the last shall be first and the first shall be last”? Or does it mean that those who are already in heaven are greater than anyone—even John the Baptist? Perhaps its mystery is like Advent itself — we are preparing for something and someone who is already here. Karl Rahner suggests that in the beauty of the Incarnation eternity enters into time, so perhaps looking at the magic and sanctity of the Christmas experience, we are called to embrace the newness of the birth of the Christ child and acknowledge the promise of eternal life that comes with it at the same time.
Jesus does give us something concrete though in the midst of this mystery. He asks, “What did you come out in the desert to see?” He continues with some suggestions. Do we expect John the Baptist to be a wishy-washy messenger whose message shifts with the winds of culture; or do we expect someone nicely dressed with a nice message delivered in a nice way? No way! Not John the Baptist!
So what do you expect this Advent? Anything different than last Advent?
I hope that the environmental and liturgical changes that are guiding our Advent journey are helpful in your preparation. I hope that the darkened church, the more solemn procession and the beautiful music of our worship are guiding you along a meaningful Advent road. Our hope is that these liturgical elements will assist you in seeing something new this Advent and Christmas. As the church gets lighter, so does our ability to see the bright light of the Incarnation and new life — the ultimate new life that is Jesus Christ.
Accompanying the growing light will be our new theme for the year, reNEW. It is Jesus Christ and our relationship with him that will reNEW us always. This word not only supports the efforts of our new cardinal and the Archdiocese of Chicago, but it is an invitation for all of us. As you can see the emphasis is on the word NEW. This year brings us opportunities to reNEW our selves as God’s people in our local church, but also here at Holy Family. It quite simply is an invitation to be an even HOLIER Family. I am asking you very directly to be the evangelizers of the many good, positive, creative, powerful and meaningful ministries that happen here at Holy Family every day. I am asking you to be harbingers of our many ministries and how they have enriched your faith life and that of your family. I am asking you to more personally and intentionally invite family, friends and loved ones to join us for one or several of our Christmas liturgies. Please see the cover of our bulletin or our website for the dates and times of our liturgies. Let these beautiful prayer experiences reNEW your spiritual journey.
And speaking of new, we welcome a new member to our staff, Dennis Brown, who is a permanent Deacon for the Archdiocese of Chicago ordained in 1988. Dennis and his wife Marge live in Buffalo Grove and have been active in ministry at St. Mary’s in Buffalo Grove and St. Patrick’s in Wadsworth. Dennis will serve part time here at Holy Family while also serving at Catholic Charities. I have known Dennis for many years and know that you will enjoy his presence and appreciate his spiritual insights. In addition to serving as a Pastoral Associate and a Director of Religious Education in previous parish assignments, Dennis has been active in the Feeding America anti-hunger organization in Chicago where he led faith-based initiatives and public policy efforts. Prior to his ministry in the church, Dennis worked for Baxter International and Rockwell International in quality assurance initiatives. He was born and raised in North Carolina and earned a degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He and Marge have two daughters and two grandchildren. Dennis will preach at all Masses this Sunday so give him a warm Holy Family welcome when you see him.
An opportunity to reNEW your spirit is our all parish Advent Reconciliation Service on Wednesday, December 14 at 7 pm. Mark your calendars.