There is never, ever a dull moment at St. Barnabas. Our corner of the world, at 5th Ave and 10th Street is always hopping, people coming and people going. Babies and kids from the daycare, and beyond, older folks, people heading towards the Thrift Store, or just wandering through the courtyard to soak in a bit of green, or stopping to smell the roses.
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2015 was as ever one of challenge and of blessing. We saw some people die, and others were born, and even a few were married. Some people left for other pathways, and – glory be to God – others found their way to our door, and across it, and have become treasured members of our parish family. We had parties along the way, to raise money for new heat, and to celebrate the summer, and Christmas, and Epiphany. We chatted, sat at the table, and hung and smashed piñatas in English, and in Spanish. We have continued, in constant discernment, to understand the moving of the Holy Spirit, and to work towards becoming the Body of Christ in our neighbourhood, alive, and engaged in the acts of mercy and the works of glory. Dozens of pots of soup were made, and thousands of sandwiches, heaps of carrot sticks and celery, bowls of fruit salad, vats of coffee and tea, and mountains of sweets were set out, shared and consumed. And down in the Thrift Store, magic occurred with old things made new, and out the door, into happy hands. And in our precious Church building, God continued to be revealed in the twice-weekly breaking of bread and the pouring of wine. We sang, and prayed, we read out loud from our Holy Books and listened and waited in silence. We reached out our hands in the love of Christ, and proclaimed, together, that fear has no place in our lives, because we are already Christ’s own forever.
I have the best job in the world. Not always easy. My job is to help us all see, believe and understand our own belovedness. We are, you are, I am, a beloved son, a treasured daughter, of the Ancient One, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. We are adopted brothers and sisters of the Human One, who came here, to bring us back to the Way of love. We are sparked alive, and we are witnesses to the truth. The Kingdom is even now breaking out here among us. A new year beckons with promise of work, study and prayer. Thanks be to God. Alleluia!
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These wise men from the East were the first in that great procession of which the prophet Isaiah spoke in today’s first reading (cf. 60:1-6): a procession which from that time on has continued uninterrupted; in every age it hears the message of the star and finds the Child who reveals the tenderness of God. New persons are always being enlightened by that star; they find the way and come into his presence.
According to tradition, the wise men were sages, watchers of the constellations, observers of the heavens, in a cultural and religious context which saw the stars as having significance and power over human affairs. The wise men represent men and woman who seek God in the world’s religions and philosophies: an unending quest.
The wise men point out to us the path of our journey through life. They sought the true Light. As a liturgical hymn of Epiphany which speaks of their experience puts it: “Lumen requirunt lumine”; by following a light, they sought the light.
They set out in search of God. Having seen the sign of the star, they grasped its message and set off on a long journey. It is the Holy Spirit who called them and prompted them to set out; during their journey they were also to have a personal encounter with the true God. Along the way, the wise men encountered many difficulties.
Once they reached Jerusalem, they went to the palace of the king, for they thought it obvious that the new king would be born in the royal palace. There they lost sight of the star and met with a temptation, placed there by the devil: it was the deception of Herod. King Herod was interested in the child, not to worship him but to eliminate him. Herod is the powerful man who sees others only as rivals. Deep down, he also considers God a rival, indeed the most dangerous rival of all. In Herod’s palace the wise men experience a moment of obscurity, of desolation, which they manage to overcome thanks to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who speaks through the prophecies of sacred Scripture. These indicate that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.
At that point they resume their journey, and once more they see the star; the evangelist says that they “rejoiced exceedingly” (Mt 2:10). Coming to Bethlehem, they found “the child with Mary his mother” (Mt 2:11). After that of Jerusalem, this was their second great temptation: to reject this smallness. But instead, “they fell down and worshiped him”, offering him their precious symbolic gifts. Again, it is the grace of the Holy Spirit which assists them. That grace, which through the star had called them and led them along the way, now lets them enter into the mystery. Led by the Spirit, they come to realize that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men, that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love. The wise men are thus models of conversion to the true faith, since they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendour of power.
And so we can ask ourselves: what is the mystery in which God is hidden? Where can I find him? All around us we see wars, the exploitation of children, torture, trafficking in arms, trafficking in persons… In all these realities, in these, the least of our brothers and sisters who are enduring these difficult situations, there is Jesus (cf. Mt 25:40,45). The crib points us to a different path from the one cherished by the thinking of this world: it is the path of God’s self-abasement, his glory concealed in the manger of Bethlehem, on the cross upon Calvary, in each of our suffering brothers and sisters. The wise men entered into the mystery. They passed from human calculations to the mystery: this was their conversion. And our own? Let us ask the Lord to let us undergo that same journey of conversion experienced by the wise men.
Let us ask him to protect us and to set us free from the temptations which hide the star. To let us always feel the troubling question: “Where is the star?”, whenever – amid the deceptions of this world – we lose sight of it. To let us know ever anew God’s mystery, and not to be scandalized by the “sign” which points to “a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12), and to have the humility to ask the Mother, our Mother, to show him to us. To find the courage to be liberated from our illusions, our presumptions, our “lights”, and to seek this courage in the humility of faith and in this way to encounter the Light, Lumen, like the holy wise men. Amen.
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There are about us wars and rumours of wars. The days are dark, and darkening still. The nights are long, and the days and the nights are laced with cold. There is trouble in the world, and there is trouble in many of our hearts. And yet we gather.
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We come together, in the holy sanctuary of our church, in this warm place, where there is light, where the table is set for all, and where Love is the only rule.
Here we are. It is Advent. Advent is a time of waiting. Over four Sundays, and in the time between, we await the birth of Jesus and all that he will mean for the world. And so Advent is also a time of reflection, of contemplation — how will we respond to the promise that Jesus sets for us; how will we live out his example of confronting the unjust use of power; how will we open our hearts and doors to those most in need; how will we commit to building right relationships with the whole of creation?
Yet that is not the whole story, or even the most important story. In a few days we will welcome again the Human One, God come to Earth as a wee helpless baby, to teach us the truth about love. We are loved, we were made in love, we are swimming in an endless sea of God’s abiding love. We are to strengthen our hearts in holiness, and to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all.
Some years ago, Alan Boesak, the South African theologian, declared God’s truth in the midst of a time of violence in his part of the world, truth about God, ourselves, and one another. In these times of gathering darkness, let us read, mark and inwardly digest Boesak’s profound reflection:
It is not true that this world and its people are doomed to die and be lost. This is true: for God so loved the world that God gave the only Son so that everyone who believes in him shall not die, but have everlasting life.
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction. This is true: I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that war and destruction have come to stay for ever. This is true: for to us a child is born, to us a son is given, in whom authority will rest, and whose name will be Prince of Peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil that seek to rule the world. This is true: to me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the church, before we can do anything. This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all people, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, and your old folk shall dream dreams.
It is not true that our dreams of liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace, are not meant for this earth and its history. This is true: the hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and truth.
Saint Barnabas was an leader of the early church. His name means Son of Encouragement, or Son of Consolation. That is what we set out to do every day, in every activity and every prayer in our little parish. Let us hold out the light of God’s love this season. All are invited to God’s abundant banquet table.
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