Tomorrow we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent. Because our time of waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus is nearing an end, the theme for tomorrow’s service is JOY. Christmas is just 10 days away. I hope that your preparations for the feast are going well so that you can enjoy the process as well as the time with family and friends through the holidays.
I hope you will take a few minutes to read the homily from last week that is included in this letter. For those who heard the homily last week, it can be a reminder of the spiritual value of a smile. For those who were not able to join us for the service last Sunday, I hope you will find that the spiritual practice of smiling will bring more joy to your holidays.
The very best path to understanding God’s love for us lies in our connections with other people. The love that we show to others and the love that we accept from them in return gives meaning to the fabric of our lives. All of the connections that we make with family, friends and even strangers over the Christmas holidays are expressing, in the flesh, God’s love for all of us.
Jesus was an expression, in the flesh, of God’s love for us and for all people. It is that very down to earth love for us that we celebrate when we remember the birth of Jesus in a few days.
May all of your holiday preparations become joyful prayers that help make love more visible in the world around you.
Last Week's Homily
May the Lord give you peace!
Advent is a season of waiting, preparing and hoping. We wait for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we prepare for a holiday filled with family and friends. We hope that peace and love will eventually fill the world to replace all the suffering in the human family.
In the passage that we just heard from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians at Phillipi, Paul’s hope is that “the good work that God has begun in you will continue until the day that Jesus comes once again.” I think that we can say that God has begun some good work in forming our little community of Emmaus. And we hope and pray that God will continue to nurture us in the years to come.
This morning’s Gospel passage from Luke reports the words of John the Baptist, encouraging the people of Isreal to begin preparing for the coming of God’s prophet by preparing the world the way they would for the arrival of a foreign king: build a smooth path so that the visitors can travel without the inconvenience of a hilly, bumpy, crooked road. Do this to show your respect and to give honor to the king who is coming.
What are we supposed to do to prepare the road for Jesus to come into our lives this Christmas? I suggest that we prepare by learning to accept peace in our lives. If we can learn to grow peace in our own hearts and then share that peace with the world, we will be clearing the path for God’s love to enter the world.
I think we would all call ourselves peaceful people. We are not violent, angry people who tend to harm others. I’m talking about a sense of personal peace. There is a deeper level of peace. It involves not being fearful or anxious because we have learned to trust in God’s love for us.
If we are rooted in God’s love for us, if God’s love surrounds us, we don’t need to be fearful or anxious about our lives. We can live in a state of calm and peace no matter what life brings us.
We can understand God best when there are concrete things for us to learn from. When we come to the Lord’s Table, bless bread and wine together, and share them we are encountering God’s love for us and Jesus’ presence among us in a very real way. We share in the Body of Christ and we believe that we become the Body of Christ.
If we are convinced that God’s love for us surrounds us and supports us, even through and beyond our own death, then we can live in peace in our hearts because we know that the ups and downs of life are not all of life. There is more.
Our experience of God’s love for us can give us a deep sense of peace and purpose. We don’t need to be afraid of the future; we don’t need to worry about what we will eat or what we will wear; we don’t need to be anxious about our health; we don’t have to be angry or disappointed if one of our projects doesn’t turn out just the way we had hoped it would.
Our deepest self can remain at peace no matter what troubles pass over the surface of our lives because deep down we know that God’s love embraces us all the time. That embrace is what we celebrate at Christmas. That embrace is the true meaning of the word Emmanuel—God With Us. We experience and renew that embrace every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ at the Lord’s Table.
I would like to offer you a small spiritual practice to try this week. One that may deepen your sense of God’s peace in you.
Right now, would you all take in a deep breath? Close your eyes. As you exhale, smile!
Throughout the next week, as you go about your usual routines, take a deep breath and smile as you exhale. You can do this while you are driving; while you are waiting in line at the grocery store; just before you take a sip of morning coffee. Find as many places to pause for a smile as you can in a day.
Our bodies are miraculous machines. When we smile, it relaxes us. We suddenly feel different. Anxiety and fear lessen. The world around us looks a little brighter and we feel stronger.
That state of relaxed smiling is an example of God’s peace coming alive in us. The feeling of wellbeing that comes with a smile is a reminder of how God’s love for us fills every corner of our lives.
Besides, you can really confuse people around you who will be wondering why you are smiling!!!
My prayer this morning and all week will be that the Lord may give you and me peace. Peace that is rooted in our awareness of God’s love for us all.