Sunday, December 4, 2011
WELCOME HOME -- ISAIAH 40
Isaiah was promising the exiled and enslaved Israelites that before long they would be freed and allowed to return to their beloved Jerusalem. There, they would be at home with their beloved Lord, on their revered land. The chapter is very poetic. Those who have taken the time to read the words of Isaiah know this already. Those of you who have still to bring yourselves to open your Bible, could resolve to do so during this season of Advent. Start with this chapter. You will not be disappointed. I have Father Macabio's permission to use his ideas here. They are a great table-setting for the reading of this chapter. They are also a good lesson for us all. They will help us to respect the connection between the Hebrew part of the Bible [Old Testament] and our Catholic part, which we call most often, the New Testament.
Isaiah tells the People of God that a time is coming when they will be free again. They will be together in the Promised Land and there, because they will be Home, they will be happy. Just like we all are when we go back home.
Mark the Evangelist tells us the same thing when he shows us John the Baptist promising the coming of the One who will Baptize us in The Spirit, as well as in water. Thanks to the coming of the Messiah, we too know what Home feels like when we are faithful to Him. It is here that Father Macabio got personal.
"The other day someone asked me what I wanted most for Christmas. I had to say, with some sadness, that what I want I can not be given. That is because, more than anything, I want to be home." This sentiment is a true one, even though perhaps a little embarrassing for a missionary to say. But, Peter was not shy to tell Jesus, "Behold we have left all things, and have followed thee: what therefore shall we have?" If Peter could talk like that to Jesus, I am quite sure that Jesus was not offended by Father Macabio's expression of his Christmas wish. Even we, simple mortals were not offended, and still are not. Especially since we are mostly mortals who are in an "adopted" home anyway. Don't we "all" come from someplace else? It doesn't matter whether it is Caribou, Maine or Snowflake Mountain in the Yukon Territory or St. Louis, Missouri or even, like Father Macabio, San Mateo, Isabela, Philippines. It doesn't matter whether it is warm or freezing cold; whether it is the super gorgeous Canadian Rockies or the mosquito infected forest of the Amazon. If it is home, we all want to be there at Christmas. Look at the picture at the head of this piece. I put it there because it features people of many different personal situations seeking the path back home. Just like us.
There was no Christmas yet when Peter turned on Jesus, but he knew that he was not home. He and his companions had left everything. Don't laugh at that. No matter how little or how much it was, it was still everything. You're reading this in the comfort of your home, or on one of those new fangled portable electronic inventions. That means that by looking around won't see much. Next time you're in church, especially at this time of the year, look around you and let yourself identify the number of possible people in attendance who would like to be home for Christmas. Chances are that you will start with yourself. That's good. It will help to give you an appreciation for the emotions of your brothers and sisters.
It is true that we make home where our heart is. We also make home where necessity keeps us. In Father Macabio's position, he makes home where the One that he loves most asks him to be. That is no different than what many of us do. We leave cities, towns and villages to follow our loved one. We make our home together with him/her. The where is secondary in many instances. The who is more valuable. The missionary is with the Who, and that makes the where less important. If you read the Bible, even just a little bit. If you know the stories of the Bible by heart without being an habitual reader, you will still know that Jesus Himself was far, far from Home when He was with us. The Prophets went where the Lord sent them. The Apostles left home to follow Jesus. They left home to obey His command to spread the News. Finally, they made Heaven their Home...the Home that they yearned for because it came to be more important than Bethsaida, Nazareth, Capharnaum, Tiberias, Bethlehem or even Jerusalem.
We all know that Jesus' home town is Bethlehem. Every year it becomes our home town too. We follow Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Joseph had to go for the census. That's where we go every year too. Deep down we know that Bethlehem is our home town. It is the place where we are all born into the life that Jesus came to share with us. We can't deny it. No matter where we have been through the years, we always seem to come back to Bethlehem. We all live in the spiritual Bethlehem. We all come to a moment in our lives when we wonder when the back alleys of the town are going to get cleaned up. [If you've ever been there, you know what I mean.] We live through that period. We go from "town"to "town" and we realize that there is nothing quite like good ol' Bethlehem. The manger turns out to be the most comfortable bed that we've ever slept in. We sneak back into town during the Christmas season just to see how things are shaping up. We can't help but be shaken with the emotions that the sights, smells, sounds and ideas that float all around us are really the spirit of Home vibrating within us. It is the moment to take our courage into our hands and do something about making our bed here where we really belong.
Yes, I am saying 'WE." I include myself. I try to come Home every year. Every year is different. Every year Home is just a little bit cleaner, and for me, anyway, mathematically, just a little bit closer. The direction of the homily this morning pointed us all to Home in a special way. Advent is the time of "housecleaning" of knowing that we are going to continue accepting the invitation to keep heading Home. First, to Bethlehem, then to where ever Jesus wants us. Even if we aren't missionaries like Father Macabio, we can still accompany someone else with us. This is the time of prophecy. This is the time of high appreciation of where Home is. This the time of Homecoming. This the time when we all feel excited about the Event. This is the time when we are all pregnant with Jesus. We are all on the way to Bethlehem. We know what to prepare for. The last thing we want to do is to not deliver... literally.
With this background, you can either go to your Bible or click here to read the marvelously well written chapter 4o of the Prophet Isaiah.