God is in our midst
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 13, 2020:
Years ago, there was a monastery that was going through a crisis. Some of the monks had left the monastery; no new candidates were joining them; and people were no longer coming for prayer and spiritual direction. The few monks that remained became old, depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a holy hermit living in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how bad things had become and that only seven old monks remained. Praying about this, the hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him: one of the monks currently living in his monastery was actually the Messiah, but He was living in such a way that no one could recognize Him.
With this revelation the abbot returned to his monastery, and recounted what the hermit told him. The monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who, among them, could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has a holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and could never fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits to disguise His true identity. This only made them more confused and they could not figure out who was Christ among them. All they knew for sure was that any of them could be the Christ.
So, from that day on they began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could, in fact, be Christ. They began to show more love, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and worship. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again as the monks grew in holiness. All this because of their awareness of a simple truth: Christ was living in their midst.
My sisters and brothers, Advent is for us a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord: we recall His birth 2,000 years ago; we look forward to His return at the end of time. But, now, suppose that we were told, like the monks in our story, that the Christ for whom we are waiting is already here in our midst – what difference would that make? Would we treat each other with more reverence, with more kindness and compassion?
We live in a world that feels more devoid of kindness, compassion, love, concern, goodness and holiness than ever before. Bu, today, John the Baptist is our hermit, our holy man, with a life-changing message. John tells us, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me.”
Now, the reason the people of Jesus’ time could not recognize Him as the Messiah is that they had their own ideas about how the Messiah was going to come. He would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His reign by destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where He came from because He came from God. So when Jesus finally arrived, born of a woman just like everyone else, they did not recognize Him. He was too ordinary, too much like them, and so, far too many people didn’t see the very presence of God in their midst.
We face the same challenge today. We too have our own expectations of what God in our midst should look like. We too have created expectations so amazing that they can keep us from seeing God among us, seeing God in one another. God is right in front of us in Word, in Sacrament, and perhaps where we miss Him most often – God is present within us, and in every single person we meet. God is present even in those we don’t like, or those with whom we disagree, or in those our world has deemed unworthy. After all, this is why when we hear, “The Lord be with you,” we respond, “And with your spirit.” These words recognize God’s presence in those around us. The Lord is in you and is in me. I recognize God’s spirit within you.
And so, my friends, listen carefully today because I have a secret for you. One of the members of our community is actually the Messiah, but living in such a way that they aren’t quickly recognized. “There is one among you whom you do not recognize.” So, how will we recognize this presence of God in our midst? Because God is right here before us, waiting for us to invite Him in.
Let us revere each other as the very presence of God in our midst, let us care for each other, as though caring for Christ Himself. Let us greet even our enemies with the dignity of those who bear the Spirit of the Lord. Because, my friends, it will make all the difference.
May the Lord give you peace.
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