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November 23, 2015 | Volume 91 Number 2

COLUMNS

Believe as you Pray »

In Light of Faith »

photo: Dcn. Christopher Colville

believe as you pray

First Sunday of Advent

Jer 33:14-16
1Thess 3:12-4:2
Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Here we are again at the beginning Advent and a new liturgical year. We know it is Advent because two weeks ago they started playing Christmas music on the radio and in the stores. We also know it is Advent because we see purple instead of green vestments and we begin reading the Gospel according to Luke. At the Church of the Redeemer we know it is Advent because it is time for our “No Room at the Inn,” event. We also know it is the beginning of Advent because we hear in the Gospel about the signs of anxiety, confusion, fear and dread. We hear that the powers of heaven will be shaken. Say, what!

Wait a minute, you might say, I thought the coming of Jesus was about peace and love. This isn’t a pretty or inviting way to start the New Year and prepare for Christmas. Many people would be with you in this wondering. We need to remember that there are three things we celebrate at Christmas and for which Advent helps us to prepare. All three of these are captured in our Scripture readings this coming weekend.

The first and most evident is the preparations to remember and celebrate the coming of the Word of God as an infant at Bethlehem. The display of nativity creches, the decorations and Christmas songs certainly help us remember and celebrate this event and it is the main emphasis of our Christmas celebration. Jeremiah is telling the people that the coming of the Messiah will bring safety and security and a time of peace and justice. To a people who were living in exile he says‚“he shall do what is right and just.” “Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure,” Jesus proclaimed in his ministry the message of love and peace.

Advent is also a time of looking toward the Second Coming of Jesus. The reading from Jeremiah was to the Jewish people who were awaiting the first coming of the Messiah. It is also a message to us who await the Second Coming. Luke tells us that before that Second Coming there will be times of trial and tribulation and he exhorts his readers to be vigilant and be strong if they are to survive and stand before God. Advent help us prepare to be vigilant and strong.

We also prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus into our hearts, our lives, our families, and our communities every day. I submit that this is the most important aspect of Christmas we need to remember. Paul does two things in the reading from the Thessalonians. He prays that the Lord strengthen them and exhorts them to increase their efforts in living out the Gospel message. Paul is telling the Thessalonians they are doing okay but they need to do better. He is calling the Thessalonians and us to ongoing conversion. If God truly lives in us, in the community, and in our hearts, our lives must improve because of that presence. The Advent season is a chance to look for ways we can make Christ present in the world, in the lives of others. Those who suffer from injustice, insecurity, fear, or anxiety about their lives wait for the coming of God in their day. We are called to bring that presence, that great day of rejoicing to them.

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in light of faith

A Debacle Turned Blessing

Being a gourmet chef has never been a title to which I can lay claim. Like most non-foody moms I know, putting a meal on the table that is both satisfying and nutritionally sound takes precedence over creativity and exotic presentations. As a result, my culinary skills definitely fall into the category of simple and ordinary. Don’t get me wrong. That’s not a bad thing — after all, few foods say “I love you” like homemade mac and cheese. However, every now and then, the temptation to dazzle people around the dinner table gets the better of me. Perhaps that explains why I find myself scouring cookbooks and online recipes for something beyond the ordinary when planning family celebrations or entertaining dinner guests.

Last week in preparation for a birthday dinner for our son Andrew and his wife Amy, (their birthdays are only 3 days apart) my search led me to a recipe for a pumpkin cheesecake. Recalling that one of the layers on their wedding cake was a cheese cake, I decided it was a perfect choice. Pumpkin cheesecake it would be! After all, how hard could it be? I even had the right kind of cake pan, one I had inherited from my mother-in-law. Decision made, I headed to the grocery store.

Never having made a cheesecake from scratch, I carefully followed directions, keeping a close watch on the oven while the aroma of pumpkin spice filled the kitchen. Once cooled, I carefully released the lock on the side of the pan, placed the cake on a decorative plate, and stood back to admire my work. Yes, I concluded: it would definitely be the star of the show. Little did I realize how that would play out!

Following my satisfyingly simple dinner, and amid lively conversation, I went to the refrigerator to retrieve the cake. And then it happened. In the blink of an eye, my masterpiece went flying off the glass plate and landed face down on the kitchen floor amid a sea of candles and whipped cream. I stood there in disbelief. The cake was definitely a show stopper, but not in the way I had anticipated. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

Days later, I look back on my cheesecake debacle, and I can laugh about it, but at the time all I could do was apologize. While Andrew and Amy were most gracious, pointing out that they could do without the extra calories, I did learn a few lessons from the experience. First of all, never grab hold of a cake plate by the pedestal, which can tilt all too easily. Secondly, I realized that the celebration was never about the cake, but about spending time together and celebrating the gift of life. Perhaps at an earlier stage, I might have decided the time, effort and cost of the ingredients had been a huge waste, but now I can appreciate that it is not what we do or how well executed our efforts may be that matters, but the love that goes into the effort. Despite the fact that the cake never made it to the table, you can be sure it is one birthday cake Andrew and Amy will long remember. All this got me thinking.

If the intention behind our failures can be appreciated on the human level, imagine how much more God appreciates even our most insignificant efforts when motivated by love. When faith, hope and love become the main ingredients, no effort is without merit and seeming failures become blessings in disguise.

In a few days our family, like so many others, will gather around the Thanksgiving dinner table. My hope is that my recent experience with the cheesecake will serve as a reminder that while food plays an important role in Thanksgiving festivities, what we eat should never overshadow the reason we come together.

I admit that there was a time when hosting Thanksgiving dinner meant I had to do everything. However, in recent years, I have learned that when I invite guests to contribute to the meal, not only does it lessen my workload, but everyone feels included. No one person owns the meal, least of all the host and hostess. The gathering truly becomes a communal celebration that reflects and honors the special gifts and talents of the people who gather, not unlike the celebration of the Eucharist.

During Mass faith communities gather to give thanks and to receive the God of heaven and earth under the guise of something as commonplace as bread and wine. All because on the night before he died, Jesus took ordinary bread and wine and made it forever holy. At the time, Jesus’ mission seemed to be failing, but as we know, that was not the end of the story, nor should our seeming failures define who we are.

That being said, as we gather around the Thanksgiving table, let us remember to give thanks, not only for the abundant blessings we have received, but also for life’s disappointments and challenges because they too serve a purpose. They remind us not to sweat the small stuff, to keep our priorities in right order, and to look for the grace hidden in every event. This is not about being a Pollyanna, but about seeing all of life as a gift from God, a gift that continues to surprise and enlighten, and for that we give thanks. Every moment is a precious gift from God, the gift that is at the heart of every Thanksgiving meal, those celebrated in Church and those we share when we go forth.

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