Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Have You Any Room For Jesus?

December 25, 2013 - Christmas at Midnight - Year A

Have You Any Room For  Jesus?

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 

Unknown in His own House

It's not like Joseph could have gotten online and booked a place ahead of time. There was no Yahoo or Google. No e-mail. No iPhone. No text messaging. All the instant communication we can't live without did not exist at that first Christmas. We don't give logistics a second thought because before we can imagine there's a problem we're already Googling for an answer. We book flights, and hotels, and dining out, online and receive instant text messages confirming our requests. And upon arrival at the terminal, or hotel, or restaurant, or Regal Cinema, we have authorization numbers and bar codes on our handy dandy SmartPhone and presto, we're in without any further questions. 

The journey was slow going for Mary and Joseph given that Mary was 'great with child.' Fellow travelers to Bethlehem had passed them up days ago. And now entering the ancient city of David as the sun set, Mary and Joseph began looking for a place to lay down for the night. Local cousins seemed more distant than they were from Nazareth. It seems that news of Mary's 'strange' pregnancy arrived before they did. Perhaps the local Inn would have a place for them to stay. Sold out. The proprietor was sorry and noticed Mary's tummy brimming with a new life inside. He thought for a moment and hesitantly said, "There is  a corner in the animal shed behind the Inn. I built it myself against a big rock so you will have plenty of privacy and protection from the night air. I can even prepare a fire for you to help keep you warm. The animals will stay behind the low fence separating you from them." The Inn keeper seemed genuinely wanting to help any way he could. 

Joseph looked at Mary who gave an approving nod. 

"Great! I'll bring some food out for you as well. Both of you look like you haven't eaten much in the last couple of days."

And thus began the reality and destiny of this Child's life - the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.

Like Us in Every Way - Except Sin

The evening ended with the warm lamb soup the Inn keeper provided. But close to midnight Mary knew that the time had come. She woke Joseph. He quickly arranged some hay in a feeding trough; no crib for this King's first bed. The minutes passed with great expectation; the air seemed alive in a different way. A local cat meandered closer and a dog followed his lead. The two cows in the stall chewed their cud and the camels knelt down in their regal and reverent posture. And Joseph beheld the handmaiden of the Lord with nervous wonder. In his heart he rehearsed the Angel's message: "You will name Him Jesus! For he shall save his people from their sins."  

Then Mary broke the silent night. Between contractions she whispered, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." The months of ugly stares and bewildered faces, faded away. In a moment that marked their union, the strong and older hand of Joseph grasped Mary's hand. His strength, and character and faith washed over Mary's grateful heart as the second Adam descended into the birth canal. There was every reason to be fearful, but no fear gripped Mary's heart - that is no fear of a hopeless sort. Gabriel had said, "The Lord is with you." And that she believed with every contraction and with every push. 

Joseph sat at Mary's feet now. His eyes grew wide with wonder as the head crowned. "That last push means one or two more times, maybe three, and"...Then Mary whispered again, "He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden and all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name."

There were no CNN or FOX News teams on hand. There were no pictures. Joseph and Mary carried in their hearts the knowledge that in the fulness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman. (Galatians 4:4) 

Asleep in a Feeding Trough

In the outlying area of Bethlehem there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. And the sky lit up and the glory of the Lord shone all around. It was a fearful sight. But the Angel of the Lord appeared to them and said, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."

And all at once there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" And with haste they went to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

As the second reading proclaims, the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, to set us free from Satan's power - good news indeed - tidings of comfort and joy! So the question remains, have you any room for Jesus? Is there room in your heart and in your home for Him? Let us today swing our heart's door widely open and let Him in today; let Him in to stay!

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Amen.

Merry Christmas!  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Spirit of Christmas - 4th Sunday of Advent

Reflections on the Readings

December 22, 2013 - 4th Sunday of Advent - Year A

By Dennis S. Hankins

The Spirit of Christmas

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 

A Mysterious Pregnancy

Here we are again. Another Season of Christmas is just a few days away and like last year the Christmas wars continue this year. Somewhere, someone doesn't think the signs and symbols of Christmas should go public. Others dismiss Christmas and the Holiday Spirit with a flat but firm, "Bah! Humbug!," meaning it's all a hoax. Still others, through no fault of their own, find the jubilation and warmth of the season overwhelming; it costs too much, and is too painful, and too burdensome, and for many, it is too depressing. It's for these for whom Christmas is so overwhelming we want to especially pray for so that they may be blessed with the true Gift and Spirit of Christmas to their everlasting happiness and joy. 

The Christmas story is a story worth telling again and gain. Any good story needs to told over and over. And Christmas is such a story. It's a story not everyone knows and we may need to hear it again for the first time. We need to listen one more time to the enduring Story and Mystery of Christmas which inspires the now familiar phrase 'the Reason for the Season'. And because it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas we hear the inspiring story retold in today's Gospel explaining that Mary, a young betrothed virgin, is pregnant. 

It happened like this. The house Joseph was building for his bride was nearly done and soon he would bring Mary to her new home. He always knew Mary to be prayerful and chaste. However, she came to Joseph one afternoon with urgent news. The news she broke to him was painful - painful because her pregnancy meant she belonged to someone else and according to Mary that Someone else was the Holy Spirit. Not willing to dismiss Mary as a farce or even worse as an infidel Joseph contemplates Mary's relationship with himself differently than he ever has before. He thinks about the many promises of the Law and the Prophets about a Savior and Redeemer and concludes that Mary is the spouse of Another for the salvation of the world. Since betrothal in his culture meant that one is married, only a quiet divorce could nullify his relationship with Mary and keep her safe. This he concluded would be his way to honor God and Mary's special destiny as she prepared to bring into the world from her blood and wrapped in her flesh the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Do Not Fear the Mystery

Following his evening prayers, which was his custom, Joseph went to sleep with his prayerfully laid out plans firm in his heart. A just and godly man, Joseph pondered about the great mystery of God growing in Mary's womb just  before the shutters on his eyes closed. Not once in his pondering did he imagine that he would have anything else to do with Mary or with the promise of salvation now firmly planted in her womb. 

But as his eyes shut, an angel of the Lord visited his heart in a dream. Like another dreamer of his name's sake in Israel's history, this dream would also prove to be life changing. 

"Joseph, son of David!," the angel said almost loud enough to awake him. 

And then with a powerful whisper the angel continued, "Stop being afraid of God and of being Mary's husband and of what lies in her womb! Just as Mary told you, that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus. Name him JESUS! For He will save his people from their sins." 

Embracing the Mystery

When Joseph woke up he did so with a new and invigorating desire to do what the angel had told him to do. After Mary, he is the first to encounter the Spirit of the first Christmas; the first of 2,000 Christmases to date. So washing his face and willing to face a future with faith and fidelity to all that God asked of him, Joseph went to Mary and told her all that the night had revealed to him. And with Mary he embraced the Mystery of the Spirit-Story that they would live out together.

Every Christmas we meet someone who says something about not being in the Christmas Spirit. Perhaps the Spirit of Christmas is something other than what we might think it is. Because it's not necessarily a particular feeling or a favorite holiday cappuccino or even a pungent aroma of homemade apple pie wafting through the house. Those things are fun and special in their own way, but they do not give us the true Spirt of Christmas. We are closer to the true Spirit of Christmas as we embrace the Mystery like Mary and Joseph did. The great and ever inspiring Mystery of Emmanuel, which means God with us! 

Spirit of Christmas descend upon us and tell to our hearts again the great story of God's Love veiled in flesh, even Jesus, our Emmanuel. Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com 



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Wonders of His Love - 3rd Sunday of Advent

December 15, 2013 - 3rd Sunday of Advent - Year A

The Wonders of His Love

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"

Solitary Confinement

John's preaching was challenging. Too much so for Herod. Herod had John taken into custody and would have put him to death except for his fear of the people who held John to be a prophet. Instead he put him in solitary confinement. The charge? John had said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife!" Straight preaching and certainly not politically correct. 

John had introduced Jesus to the multitudes at the Jordan River as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It is John the Baptist who baptized Jesus and witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove. John said that Jesus must increase; and about himself he said, "I must decrease." 

Now in prison, John the Baptist felt his very life ebbing away; the end seemed perilously soon. Rumors had it that he would soon go to his grave without his head attached. Questions raced through his heart. News from the outside brought wonder and excitement yet John felt a slight pause; a 'what if' thundered in his head. He asked if he could see some of his closest associates. Ushered in under heavily armed guards they listened to their teacher's last request. "Go to Jesus and ask him this question for me: 'Are you he who is to come, or do we look for another?' " 

 A Sure Word

Wrapped in the darkness of the prison, John waited for the answer to his question. The days were dark and the nights were even darker. Familiar with the words of the prophets, he may have mused on Isaiah's hopeful and joyous words we have before us today. The prophet speaks of a new Eden. Isaiah promises that the very fabric of creation will put off its wildness and dryness and like the Rose of Sharon will blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. How will this be?  

The day Isaiah sees in the future is filled with the glory and majesty of the Lord. Everyone is to take inspiration from his words and begin to live with a new courage and hope: "Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 'Be strong, fear not!'" Even the blind will see again and the deaf ears will hear and the lame shall leap like a deer. To all who live in fear and pain and anguish Isaiah proclaims: "Behold your God will come and save you!" 

Peter says we have a sure word of prophecy: "And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2 Peter 2:19)

Peter explains that the prophecy of scripture is never a matter of one's own power, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 2:20, 21) And because this is so, we sense a joy that is the very essence of Christmas. For Christmas and all the mystery it holds for us and for our salvation came in fulfillment of many prophetic words. Those words of scripture are filled with the promise of God coming among the sons and daughters of the earth as their Savior and Friend! 


The Proof and More

What is the real reason John sent his disciples to ask Jesus his question? Is it because that he feared that he had been forgotten? Was it because the news dribbling into his prison cell of the great deeds of Jesus left him wondering about something? Maybe John wondered to himself and questioned why wouldn't Jesus do something miraculous for him. All John wished to do was to return to his preaching and living in the wilderness and eating his locusts dipped in wild honey. 

Then the door of his cell creaked open. His disciples had returned with vital information. John stood up to receive them and to hear what they had to say. His closest disciple, we'll call him Joshua, said, "Master, Jesus sent us back to tell you what we heard and saw. Master, the blind see. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor are among the first to hear the good news." 

Tears begin to stream down the weary face of the servant of God called John the Baptist. Looking into Joshua's eyes he knows that there is something else. 

"What is it, Joshua?"

"There's one more thing, Master. Jesus told us to tell you also blessed is he who takes no offense at me." 

And the greatest prophet in Israel since Elijah fell to his knees bathed in the wonders of the love of him he knew to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com 

Friday, December 6, 2013

A New Heart for Christmas

Reflections on the Readings
December 8, 2013 
Second Sunday of Advent - Year A

A New Heart for Christmas

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

To the east and southeast of Jerusalem, in the area of the Jordan Valley, a strange, yet compelling preacher drew great crowds. He dressed simply and ate sparsely; nothing about John the Baptist was meant to impress anyone nor did he crave attention or accolade. Burning within his heart was a word of hope and promise: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. God is coming near us! Repent and be ready to receive him!" 

Repent. We hear this word a lot. I heard it almost every service at the Pentecostal Church I grew up in. In that church revivals were mostly about preaching to save souls; to draw men and women, and boys and girls, to the knowledge that they should repent and receive their Savior, Jesus Christ. 

But what is repentance? What does it mean to repent? Why do we have times of penance in the the life of the Church? The Greek word for repent is metanoia. It means a change of mind, a change within our inner selves, as in conversion. Further, with that change comes a docile acceptance of the will of God. From time to time we need a little house cleaning; the room in our lives for God gets crowded with stuff and things and God has less space and time instead of all of our heart. 

Advent is a time of personal renewal and conversion of  heart and mind. And it has more to do with the presence of God in our lives than the presents we're buying to put under the tree. The commercialization of Christmas intrudes, if we let it, into this holy time of repentance. If we are to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is necessary to prepare our hearts and make room in our selves for him for whom there was no room in the inn. 

Let's put something really special at the top of our Christmas wish list. Let's ask for a new heart filled with his grace and forgiveness so that in our heart and life there is always room for Jesus. Amen! 

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com