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12/23/18 Fourth Sunday in Advent - Fr. Reggie

Isn't it amazing that the prophet Micah, who lived more than 700 years before Christ, predicted where the Messiah would be born, in Bethlehem?

And isn't it amazing that 700 years later, Mary and Joseph were required by the Roman authorities to go to Bethlehem to register for a census at the very time that Mary was due to give birth?

One of the many lessons God teaches us through the great event of Christmas is the power of his Providence.

He guides the course of history, wisely and gently, but powerfully and securely, without violating human freedom.

This is why the prophet Micah tells us in today’s First Reading that the Messiah, the Christ, will "be our peace." When we come to know Jesus Christ, his person, his message, and his mission, we come to understand and trust God's Providence. Even though sin has turned this fallen world into a valley of suffering and tears, where evil often seems to be victorious of good and injustice often seems to triumph over justice, when we look at the baby Jesus lying in the manger on the first Christmas, our hearts are strengthened and our hope in God is confirmed.

God is at work in the world, slowly setting things right.

God was present in a stable-cave at Bethlehem, an obscure little town far away from the headlines of ancient times.

And he is present and active in all the little Bethlehems of the world today: in your heart and mine, in our homes and families, in our hospitals and on our battlefields.

The Good Shepherd is there, gently guiding the course of history, leading his children to the green pastures of true wisdom, lasting joy, and eternal life.

Knowing this brings interior peace, even amidst the exterior storms.

Each one of us has experienced God’s action in our lives in some special way, at least once: Maybe through a truly uncanny coincidence, or through an answered prayer, or through the providential intervention of a friend or loved one.

I recently heard about one such encounter experienced by a Protestant pastor who ran a non-denominational church called “Almighty God Tabernacle.” He was working late one night at his office in the church and picked up the phone to tell his wife (protestant pastors have wives) that he wouldn’t be home in time for dinner. He dialed the number, and the phone rang, and rang, and rang. It was strange, because he knew his wife was at home, and she always answered when he called. Finally he hung up and went back to work. As he was leaving, he called again; this time his wife picked up the phone right away. She said that the phone hadn’t rung before. The next day the pastor was back at his office and received a phone call from man he didn’t know. The unknown man started to explain that the night before, he was ready to commit suicide. Right before he took the pills, he prayed to God for a sign that he shouldn’t do it. Right then, the phone rang. He looked at the caller ID and it said, “Almighty God.” Sure enough, it had all happened at exactly the same time that the pastor had tried t o call home. So, the man explained, he didn’t commit suicide, and he had called the number back hoping to find Almighty God.

The babe in Bethlehem really is Almighty God, who has not just called us on the phone, but has come to dwell among us.

During this coming week, we will all face at least two situations where our faith in God’s Providence will be tested, where we will be sorely tempted to forget that he is the Lord of life and history, to let our trust in him go slack, and so to disobey his commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

First, we will reconnect with family members who rub us the wrong way, bother us, or have wounded us in the past. Christmas is a time when families get together. It is a beautiful tradition, but it has its pitfalls.

Let's decide today, during this Mass, that when our tempers or emotions start to flare, we will not lash out in anger or fear, but rather turn to the babe of Bethlehem and ask him to give us the grace we need to be his true followers, to experience his peace in our hearts even while storms rage around us, and to share that peace with others.

Second, we will face the challenge of busy-ness. We will all be so busy during these holy days that it will be hard to squeeze in any time alone with God. But unless we make it a priority to have a daily God-time, even if it's only five or ten minutes, how will we be able to experience his peace? The hustle and bustle surrounding this time of year can either exhaust or exhilarate us. If we try to live it with just our own strength, we will be exhausted. If we stay close to God, renewing our confidence in his Providence by spending time with him each day, we will be exhilarated.

Jesus, the Lord of history, came to be our peace.

This Christmas, let's give him the chance to do so.

 

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