Friday, Third Week of Advent

Scripture Readings for December 22, 2017

1 Samuel 1:24-28, 1 Samuel 2:1, 4-8, Luke 1:46-56

Both of today’s readings fit in the context of the last several days. Each day we have had women who have become pregnant only after God has intervened on their behalf. It’s important to know that at this point in history, and for the writer, a woman’s value was largely measured by her ability to produce children. To be barren was socially embarrassing because it was seen as a punishment from God. So telling a story about God enabling a woman to give birth is to validate and vindicate her in very real terms.

1 Samuel tells of Hannah giving her son Samuel to the Lord. Samuel was born only after she had prayed in the same Temple for God to give her a child. If she had a child, she promised to give him to God’s service. The idea of giving away your child even if he was understood to be a gift from God seems terrible. It raises the question of what it might mean to be dedicated to the Lord. I think the answer is found with Mary who also, even more explicitly, was given a child by God only to have her son be totally dedicated to God. That however, is to get ahead of our narrative. Today we have what Mary says about her experience of God having “done great things for” her.

What Mary says about God is modelled after what Hannah said after giving up Samuel at the Temple. In fact, much of today’s Responsorial Psalm comes from what Hannah says in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. This heightens the parallel between the two women. It helps me see more clearly the “lowly servant” aspect of Mary’s statement. I have tended to think of this phrase as merely a statement of humility. But the link to Hannah makes me realize Luke is talking about the humiliation of women and all people who are discriminated against and seen as second class. Mary is speaking as one who has no status, no power. Such a woman does not understand herself as one who could act on her own behalf. Which makes the praises Mary and Hannah sing even the more amazing. Hannah says because of God: “I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in my victory.” Mary says, “From this day all generations will call me blessed.”

I believe both these women are describing what happens when someone experiences God’s immediate loving presence. In narrative terms, Mary has become pregnant with God’s son and Hannah has given over her son, her only claim to personhood, to the service of God. These actions have empowered them and therefore changed their entire world view. I think it makes them not just visionaries of some vague future but participants in the reign of God here and now.

They see, understand and operate in the world in a new way: the proud are scattered, the mighty are cast down and, on the opposite side, the hungry are filled and the lowly lifted up. Mary says all this is the fulfillment of God’s promises. The world is changed, the reign of God spreads, now, in this life, one person at a time.

I don’t think this suggests a mystical experience of God’s presence is required for us to change the way we live. I do think that the more we reflect on what happens in our lives, searching for and recognizing how God is present in it, the more we will be able to act with love, concern and courage. In other words, the more we try to come closer to God, the more God transforms who we are and the lives we live, until in the end it makes sense to give ourselves away.

Thursday, Third Week of Advent

Scripture Readings for December 21, 2017

Song of Songs 2:8-14, Psalm 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21, Luke 1:39-45

As I have said in other reflections I believe we too often spiritualize God’s relationship with us. We keep God at a distance by making contact with God something elusive, ethereal and just not substantive. Today’s readings see the God/human relationship as amazingly up close and personal.

In Song of Songs the connection is openly sexual. The woman in the Song of Songs starts out by repeatedly calling the man her lover. She describes him in wonderfully admiring, masculine terms of strength and prowess. He in turn uses pet names and admiration for her beauty to ask her to reveal herself and come to him. As part of Wisdom literature there aren’t any of the references to The Lord or God that you would find in other parts of Hebrew Scripture. However, the accepted understanding is these poems are in the Bible because they are descriptions of the relationship between God and his chosen people. The description here is of two people who not only love each other they are chasing each other.

The same theme can be seen in part of today’s Psalm response. God’s plan is described as “the design of his heart.” There is an inheritance that goes to “the people he has chosen.” And the response of the people is, “our soul waits,” “our hearts rejoice,” and “we trust.” My point is simply that these words are talking about an intimate relationship with real life consequences.

In Luke’s Gospel we have not one but two examples of God’s intimate relationship with God’s people. Elizabeth was too old to have children but conceives a child anyway. Mary, a virgin, will give birth to the Savior because she has trusted in God. The story of these two women and their sons illustrates that God’s presence is here as part of human life. Perhaps just as importantly it is a story of joy. What could be more exciting and joyful than having a child? Circumstances would seem to have prevented both these pregnancies but here they are “with child” and excited to share the news.

Mary has rushed to see Elizabeth and Elizabeth with nothing more than a greeting from Mary is filled with the Spirit of the moment. She knows Mary is pregnant and that the child is the long awaited Savior. They have come together to share their joy of new life, the children they will bear. They have a special reason to be thankful. They recognize their children, these new lives, as gifts from God. The challenge for us is to be able to recognize the moments that leap for joy within us, as gifts from God.

Like the young lovers in the Sons of Songs, so excited to embrace each other, so excited to yearn and need each other, we too should gaze through windows, peer through lattices to find the God who seeks us. The story of these two women tells us the Spirit of God is within each of us. There are fresh new lives ready to be born. Will we, like Elizabeth, recognize them? Will we trust enough, like Mary, to embrace what is offered? Human birth happens every day all over this planet. Could it be that God’s gifts are just as plentiful, just as common? Perhaps the more we come together, as Mary and Elizabeth did, the easier it is to see them.

Tuesday, Third Week of Advent

Scripture Readings for December 19, 2017

Judges 13: 2-7, 24-25a, Psalm 71:3-6, 16-17, Luke 1:5-25

The only way to begin looking at today’s readings is to point out the distinct parallel of two women, barren and derided because of it, hearing from an angel of God that they will bear a son. Sons who will “begin the deliverance of Israel.” Luke is using this pattern to connect his story of salvation with Israel’s historical and religious story of liberation. For us, set in this Advent season before Christmas it emphasizes a sense of preparation. God doesn’t just drop in out of nowhere. God arrives as part of the history that people already know. God is woven into the patterns of life we understand.

On an individual basis it’s interesting that these men who are going to prepare the way for God’s saving of Israel are being chosen before they were born. God isn’t asking them to change lives that are well underway like Moses or Abraham or any of the apostles. These guys will “be consecrated to God from the womb.” This condition is also claimed for Isaac, Samuel, Jesus, of course, and Catholics believe it was also true for Mary in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Each of these people have a special role to play in salvation history. They are models of being committed to God literally from womb to tomb.

Personally I think these stories are a way to tell us how God operates all the time. We are all chosen before birth as God’s children and empowered by the Spirit to make good things happen. To free our people from fear and hatred through love and mercy. The part we need to remember is that from the beginning, our very beginning, we have not been alone. God put this all in motion. The issue for us is to recognize that we have been “filled with the Holy Spirit” from our mother’s womb and “the Spirit of the Lord stirred” us so we would have the strength to make the world a better place. Our Psalm today says exactly the same thing. “On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength.”

This is the last week of Advent, shortly the Christmas story will go even further saying that God’s very self comes into our world. For now these readings suggest God has been acting in human history, acting in our lives, for a long time. Maybe it says that before we can rejoice in a God fully present, see ourselves as supported by a God of love, we should look for markers throughout our lives. Maybe we need to consider everything from the beginning to get a true sense of what is valuable for us. A good look back may help us recognize what brought us to this time when everything is about to change. When even if we have felt barren and empty a new child is about to be born.

Friday, Second Week of Advent

Scripture Readings for December 15, 2017

Isaiah 48:17-19, Psalm 1:1-4, 6, Matthew 11:16-19

How hard is it for us to take advice? Sometimes nearly impossible. Husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, parents and our children can often seem naturally resistant to the advice given by those closest to us. So it’s not really a surprise that we find today’s readings complaining about the same thing. In Isaiah, God points out that if we paid attention to God’s message our lives would be as easy as water flowing downhill and that our prosperity would last for generations. Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel, is frustrated with people who dismiss God’s message no matter how it is presented.

My suspicion is that we don’t always respond to God’s call because it comes in ways that are too familiar, too much a part of everyday life. We want what people in the Gospels said they wanted, signs. Big signs that would startle our sense of the ordinary. Then surely we would recognize God’s presence and adjust our way of living. The issue is, it didn’t work even when John the Baptist and Jesus were alive and confronting the populace. John, was fire and brimstone and Jesus, was gentle and accepting, and yet according to Matthew in today’s reading Jesus is upset that people aren’t accepting the message either way.

The problem, as I see it, is how we think of God and what we expect God would do if God were, in fact, acting in our lives. Too often our God is a distant reality and all powerful in an overt sense. It’s harder to see God as intimately a part of life, so familiar that God’s power is expressed in the very reality we see around us every day. Instead of looking for God in outsized events and dramatic actions we would be better served to look for God in the deepest part of ourselves. In the same way that we resist the advice of those closest to us because we don’t want to admit they know us that well, we might consider that situations and thoughts that resonate with us are a sign of loving presence.

That sense of resonance is the basis of praying with Holy Scripture. We read a passage and something catches our attention. Sometimes we like what we read and other times it doesn’t make sense or it upsets us. If we take the time to listen to our reaction and the passage we may discover something that is meant for us. Prayer, of this type, is about listening to what resonates with our own deepest selves. More importantly, it is an indicator of something larger, a connection to God’s presence, which can operate, not just when reading Scripture, but all the time in relation to daily life situations. What happens in every moment of life can be a contact point with God’s love because all of creation is an expression of God.

The challenge we have is to be open to it. There are many books about mindfulness which is another non-religious description of what I’m talking about. Today’s readings suggest to me that the challenge to recognizing God’s presence in our lives is we often don’t pay enough honest attention to exactly what going on for us. Just as we are resistant to the advice from those closest to us, we don’t listen to our own life as a source of divine revelation. We shouldn’t be looking for signs and wonders to step in and guide us or fix this or that. We should be learning to see and hear the reality of our lives, what we respond to, what excites or worries us and then discover the message contained in that response and circumstance. The Gospel today suggests God’s message can come in very different forms. But it won’t make any difference to us unless we’re willing to see and listen.

Memorial, St. John of the Cross

Scripture Readings for December 14, 2017

Isaiah 41:13-20, Psalm 145:1, 9, 10-13, Matthew 11:11-15

If yesterday’s readings were about a Savior who is humble and meek in his behavior today is about the God who acts decisively with strong significant moves that everyone can see. Isaiah leads the way by saying, “Fear not, I will help you.” God will take care of the poor and hungry people who need help. Bringing rivers and springs to deserts and dry land, planting trees and making it fruitful. These are big clear, public actions.

I think this type of dramatic action by God is the key to understanding Jesus and his talk about John the Baptist in today’s reading from Matthew. Jesus is trying to explain the turning point that is taking place in salvation history right before these people’s eyes. Therefore, I believe that verse twelve is best understood in terms of its alternate translation, “the Kingdom of God is powerfully establishing itself despite all obstacles.” Not violence against the Kingdom but forceful moves by the Kingdom to create space for itself. I think that fits as Jesus’ summary of John’s actions to fulfill all of the Old Testament prophesy and law that have gone before. He sees John as the embodiment of Elijah, the one who would precede the appearance of the Holy One of God.

People ought to be paying attention to these events because they now must make a choice. The law and the prophets have all predicted this coming of God’s Reign. People no longer can avoid a choice by claiming it is something to come on some undefined future day. This is the day. If John is the foretold Elijah then now is the time of judgment. Not as John understood judgment in fire and brimstone terms, but because Jesus is the water in the desert, the expression of God’s love in the here and now. Each person must either embrace this reality or forfeit the peace and plenty that is offered. In other words, Jesus is God’s dramatic, historical action.

The message for us, as I see it is verse 15, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” We too are part of the time period that the historical presence of Jesus inaugurated. So the issue is the same for us, we have to choose. Do we live recognizing that a loving, caring approach to the world is part of a Divine pathway to a better, fuller life or do we look for happiness and fulfillment elsewhere? Personally, I’m not sure the choice for living in this way has to have a religious motivation for it to be effective for us personally or the planet. However, religious faith is the way I and others have come to a point where we think honesty, generosity, love and care for others is the best and most fulfilling approach to life. But it’s a choice. One that isn’t necessarily easy or obvious depending on our background, experience and inclination. The challenge it seems to me is that we actually have to make the choice. It isn’t about thinking something is a nice or even great idea. It’s about having to face all the times when: it would be more convenient to lie, take the accepted path, go along, ignore the consequences, turn our back or in that moment, choose that love, honesty and concern is better. Not an easy thing to do. Patterns of behavior make it difficult to face the challenge of the moment in the moment it must be faced. “Oops I should have…” is not a good excuse but a persistent reality. It is better to be honest with oneself about what is happening right now … and choose.

Memorial, St. Lucy

Scripture Readings for December 13, 2017

Isaiah 40:25-31, Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, Matthew 11:28-30

Today’s readings are an effort to raise our personal spirits, perfect for those down in the dumps, I’d rather just stay in bed days. Isaiah is very clear that God gives strength to those who faint and energy to those who are weak. Even though the young “stagger and fall … those that trust in the Lord … will run and not grow weary.” Written originally to encourage Israel to hold on to its faith while exiled in Babylon these words are just as important today in helping us remember we are not alone when our own sense of well-being collapses. It seems to me that is the key thing religious faith does: reassures us that we are not on our own, especially in our deepest selves. When feelings and attitudes seem to turn against us, when outside support doesn’t seem to help, then we need to hear that the God, who created the entire world, is on our side and will provide the support no one else can give.

It seems we repeatedly get the message wrong. Historically, Christianity has often doubled down on human sinfulness and guilt instead of emphasizing God’s mercy and forgiveness. We are subject to the broad general attitudes that see religion as a course for moral guidance and proper behavior. That makes it easy to see God as judge and score keeper. Matthew’s gospel for today is a good antidote for that approach, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is a theme reinforced in the Psalm, “Merciful and gracious is the LORD … He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills.” That is what I think is meant by redemption, by salvation. God saves us from all we do wrong, from the ideas and attitudes that keep us from being open and loving to others as well as being frightened of a world intended for our happiness. We too often let people, situations and our own experiences drive us to defensive, negative attitudes and actions. Only honesty, perseverance and trust can dig us out. God’s loving presence supports that kind of behavior, that kind of thinking and the sense of well-being that underlies it.

The lesson is exactly what Jesus says in Matthew, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Jesus is meek and humble not strident and proud, not fighting for advantage in each situation but willing to take what comes as one who trusts that the world itself is good and if anything, tilted in our favor. Can we believe it is possible to be ourselves, work for what we value and actually enjoy a fulfilling life? Will we let the Word of God comfort us and support our hopes, desires and the real challenges we undertake? If we can, then the Gospel will surely be Good News for us.

Monday, Second Week of Advent

Scripture Readings for December 11, 2017

Isaiah 35: 1-10, Psalm 85:9-14 and Luke 5:17-26

Once again our first reading from Isaiah, indeed all of Advent, gives us an image of what will happen when God comes: the weak will be strong, deserts will run with water, the blind will see. It is probably best summed up in saying, God comes to save us.

The Gospel from Luke gives us a concrete example of that happening. A paralyzed man is brought to Jesus and Jesus forgives his sins and heals his paralysis and the man walks home. By any standard, this is God saving his people.

Luke is trying to say one thing. Jesus is God present among us. That’s the message. As Christians, of course, we all believe that.

So what’s the message for us, we already believe Jesus is God’s presence in the world. I think our issue is that Jesus, the person who lived in Nazareth, isn’t here anymore. That makes it harder to operate as if God were here saving us today. That, however, is exactly what being Christian is all about, living out of the belief that God is here saving us today just as Jesus demonstrated 2,000 years ago. That is the point of what we can the Incarnation. You know, what we popularly call Christmas. The outrageous notion that God would become one of us, live a human life and suffer the same way people do. Why would God do that? Christian doctrine says God did that to make it clear that God lives here with us as part of everything, including death, and not far away in some distant heaven.

If that’s true then life should be dramatically different. As Isaiah says, people who are afraid will lose their fear, the lame will walk, flowers will bloom in the desert. An interesting example is in today’s Gospel. Things are dramatically different here. A man, who in the story doesn’t say a word, has his sins forgiven, his paralysis cured and he gets to walk home.

The thing that has always struck me about this story is Jesus’ response to this man being dropped through the roof right in front of him. The first thing Luke describes is, “Jesus saw their faith.” The narration explains the group of men couldn’t bring the paralyzed man into Jesus because of the crowd in the building. So they have to go up on the roof and lower him through the tiles. In this very elaborate physical work Jesus sees their faith. We often think of faith as a spiritual exercise, saying yes to beliefs. But here faith is connected solely to the physical task these men did. Additionally, it isn’t even the faith of the man on the stretcher because when Jesus addresses the man on the stretcher, “as for you” he is separating the paralytic from his observation about “their faith.” This is important because it says the paralytic’s sins were forgiven because of the work, the action of faith, performed by the men, who got him into the room.

This is a rather amazing intertwining of spiritual and physical issues, as well as the connections between us all. It is, for me, an example of how God actually lives in the reality of the world. It says that what happens, or not, each day in our world is an expression of Spirit not just day by day mechanics. Why should we think that a physical explanation of a given situation excludes the spiritual reality of God’s presence? For example, we know very well that doing something nice for another person can help that person feel better. You could say it lifts his/her spirits.

Our lives should be dramatically different if we act on the faith, the trust that God is part of our present reality. In Luke, a group of men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus and he was healed body and soul. What person, what relationships, what attitudes, what else that needs healing should we be bringing to the Savior through how we live?

Solemnity, Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

Scripture Readings for December 8, 2017

Genesis 3:9-15, 20, Psalm 98:1-4, Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12, Luke 1: 26-38

Today the readings from Genesis and Luke are foundational stories of faith: the sin of Adam and the announcement of Jesus’ virginal conception. The stories are here as a way to celebrate an article of faith about Mary, her Immaculate Conception. It is an example of how the body of belief develops over time. One thing we hold as central, Jesus is the son of God born because of God’s action and not human initiative, leads to the realization that something else makes sense as well, that Mary was conceived without original sin because she would be the mother of Jesus.

Faced with these long accepted items of faith, it is important for me to remember that these stories are how we convey meaning. We tell stories to hold ideas that are the most elemental and far reaching for our existence. These are often ideas we can’t fully grasp, we’re trying to capture what may be elemental instincts about who we are and what we’re about and a narrative illustrates rather than analyzes. A narrative can hold contradictory elements better than logical arguments and so the normative measure of our faith is a book of stories and poetry.

So to honor Mary’s Immaculate Conception is, for me, to talk about how God reaches out to all human beings from the very beginning of our lives to offer us the grace, support or presence that enables us to live happy, productive, holy lives. In simpler terms, Mary represents the perfect example of what is possible for all of us.

So that said, what do I see in today’s readings? It occurs to me that perhaps we don’t take the story of Mary seriously enough. What I mean is that it’s too easy to make Mary perfect. We assume her relationship with God was so special that it’s an unattainable single instance of graced existence. I suspect the story is meant to inspire the opposite. We should take the life of Mary as an example of what is named in both Genesis and Luke, “nothing will be impossible for God.” We all have a blessed existence.

There is strong support for this line of thinking in the Hebrews reading for today. It says God, “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens … to be holy and without blemish before him.” That’s pretty strong, to be holy and without blemish. It sounds like a description of Mary or, for that matter, Jesus. The point being that we too are beloved of God, each of us. Too often we don’t accept our own goodness. Life experiences and other people can run us down, raising questions about our abilities or intentions. Too often our confidence and positive self-image are fragile. We need the support of others, we need to recognize that from the beginning we have been good and at our deepest core it is goodness that supports who we want to become. That’s what we should take away from the stories about Mary and Jesus in the Bible. God made us, from the beginning, to be holy and good and happy. Believe it.

Memorial, St. Ambrose

Scripture Readings for December 7, 2017

Isaiah 26:1-6, Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 19-21, 25-27, Matthew 7:21, 24-27

There was a time when I really didn’t like Jesus’ statement in Matthew about heavenly reward as available to “only the one who does the will of my Father.” It felt a lot like lock-step obedience which didn’t sit well with me. Lock-step obedience still puts me off but I’ve come to realize that is not what is being presented here. This is about responding to an offer of love, insight and wisdom. Today’s readings assume you already understand that God has made the first move. God unconditionally offers love and care and the historical Jesus tried to convey that reality emotionally by the way he lived his life and intellectually by the rather striking and clever parables he told. So there’s an offer on the table. The question is, are we going to accept it? Accepting it means putting into practice what we know about how God operates. God asks that we try to do what God does, live a life that gives to others, open caring based on who we are, giving what is ours to give. If we do that then we will be on solid ground. If we don’t we’ll discover that there isn’t any other real solid ground to stand on. All the rest is illusion, sand that can be washed away by any of the storms in life. So this isn’t about lock-step obedience it’s about being willing to discover where truth and justice live.

As the reading from Isaiah says, it all begins with trust.  Do we, in fact, believe in a God that offers good things, care and protection? This is clearly not obvious to many people. It takes more than readings from the bible to provide the basis for this view of life. It takes the experience of love and care to foster this view. It’s also why living a life that is caring and loving has such a concrete effect on our little part of the world. It’s why paying it forward makes such a surprising difference for people. It’s what we celebrate when we talk about saints, whether it’s St. Ambrose, St. Francis or Mother Teresa. These people decided to devote their whole lives to paying it forward. They felt such a strong love from God that they wanted to share it with others, especially those who weren’t getting it from anyone else.

For us, if we believe we have been blessed by God, the question is will we respond to what we have been given? It probably doesn’t mean rebuilding the Church, going to foreign lands or feeding street people. It does mean paying it forward to others who may not expect or even deserve our generosity or love at that moment. Those moments occur all the time in families, with friends and colleagues. My own challenge is while driving. I think people should follow the rules of the road, when they don’t, I’m not very good at being generous. No doubt there are situations in which you are less likely to give way or turn pleasantly helpful. There are, of course bigger issues than facing our daily frustrations but there is no better place to start. It’s a way to begin to look at who we are in all that we do. Do we trust enough that God is with us to act justly, give generously and love unconditionally in real everyday situations? Not so much when some charitable organization needs a donation but when we are challenged, when there’s a risk, a cost to giving something of ourselves to others. Our first reading from Isaiah says that if we are willing to do that, then God will be with us and peace will be the result.

Wednesday, First Week of Advent

Scripture Readings for December 6, 2017

Isaiah 25:6-10a, Psalm 23:1-6, Matthew 15:29-37

Today’s readings are about God’s loving care for us. The Gospel from Matthew summarizes it best, “They all ate and were satisfied.” Isaiah has God not only feeding people rich food and choice wine but God destroys death and so wipes the tears from everyone’s face. These are the images of the messianic banquet where all our needs are met. It’s the time we wait for in Advent.

I am struck by the sheer, over the top, abundance described in these readings. Isaiah doesn’t just say that God will provide rich food and choice wine he has to repeat in more lavish terms that this is, “juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” He reveals God’s empathy for the fear all people have of death and makes the removal of that fear a touching moment in which God wipes the “tears from all faces.” I think this is definitely the God “for whom we looked.” It is a God who protects us, takes away our fears and gives us more than we had expected.

Today’s Psalm reinforces this idea. It is the famously quoted Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” which describes God’s soothing presence, one who is a guardian in time of fear, a provider of rich and extravagant blessings so that “only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life.” Who could ask for more than that? This is the gratitude of one who lives “in the house of the Lord.”

Finally, we have Matthew’s story of Jesus on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee. This too is a story of gift and abundance. Jesus cures the sick and in so doing amazes the crowd. It is a description reminiscent of the healings that Isaiah uses to describe the time of God’s reign. Yet Jesus not only cures the lame and the blind but he sympathizes with their simple but essential need for a meal. Not only does he eliminate many of the severe and future killing major calamities of their lives with physical healings but then turns around and serves them a meal. Who acts like this? The message in these readings is clear, God does.

I think we have to take these readings seriously. If Advent is to mean anything then we have to consider that these readings tell us something about how God operates towards human beings. I want to set the challenge of evil in the world aside for the moment and just absorb the gift of these readings. Here is a message of love so clear, so strong, so plainly sincere that we need to be sure we don’t dismiss it. That we don’t write it off as irrelevant to our daily lives or a nice description of what heaven must be like. This might have been an idyllic messiah story for Isaiah or the Psalmist but when Jesus lived in this world the whole thing changed. A real human being, who was later killed, brought God’s generous, caring gifts into ordinary people lives and the world has not been the same since. Stuff changed. History was effected by Jesus, his disciples and all the myriad believers, heretics, thinkers and peasants who lived and struggled to live up to what they thought Jesus was all about. We need to embrace the love and active generosity of God. It is affecting to accept that God is trying to give us a life of happiness and joy. That is what Advent asks us to do, look ahead, see what is possible, and be willing to welcome the gifts.