Advent – Cycle A

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

23 December 2016

Reflecting on Matthew 1: 18-24

He doesn’t speak a word in the entire New Testament, and yet his character comes in loud and clear. He is unlike any of the men we meet anywhere in scripture―except, of course, the Joseph of the Old Testament, who is also given to prophetic dreams, and also is the son of Jacob, and, like Joseph of the New Testament, went down into Egypt. Yes, St. Matthew is definitely remembering the Joseph of the Old Testament as he writes his narrative of Joseph, the spouse of Mary.

There are more Christian shrines to St. Joseph than any man except Jesus. One of the things I’ve learned from my privileged life of travel is that Christians of all traditions are crazy about St. Joseph. He’s everywhere.

Thirteen countries (and all the provinces of the Western Hemisphere) claim his as their patron. In fact, the most common name for a city on this planet is San Jose, Spanish for St. Joseph.  We know very little about him, but Matthew’s gospel tells us what we need. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is featured prominently in St. Luke’s radiant Christmas story. But it’s Joseph who comes to the fore in Matthew’s much darker narrative of Jesus’ birth, and history has embraced the foster father of Jesus with great devotion and love.

It’s Matthew who tells us about this righteous man who said yes to the mystery of the virgin birth. And don’t miss this: he decided to divorce Mary quietly― rather than having her stoned (Deuteronomy 22: 23-17)―BEFORE the angel appeared to him in a dream and told him that the child was conceived through the Holy Spirit.

So, the first thing we know about him is that he’s a really good guy. The rest of Matthew’s story will show us HOW good a guy he is, how strong and faithful and courageous and intuitive and protective he is. Do you know the way to San Jose? It’s through faithfulness to God, in darkness and in light.

What traditions does your family keep about St. Joseph?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

12 December 2016

Reflecting on Matthew 11:2-11

Do you feel like you’re stuck in a holding pattern? Have you prayed the same prayers for years, with little or no sign of an answer?

If you’re nodding your head and saying, “Yes, Yes, Yes” then this is your season. Advent is your seedtime.  You may never see the harvest in your life. But your prayers are in some awesome company.  Take St. Teresa of Calcutta, for example. We now know that she spent the last five decades of her life praying for the return of the consolation of God. That’s okay. She has eternity to rest in it now.

John the Baptist is an Advent saint. Locked up in Herod’s dungeon, we can imagine that he looked back at his ministry at the Jordan and wondered whether he had it right or not. Israel was lousy with false prophets. He himself had railed against them. And yet, chained in and far away from the desert stars, he may have feared that he had thrown his life away for no good reason.

His disciples carried his prison prayer to Jesus: are you the One who is to come?  You can feel Jesus’ love traveling faster than the speed of light from the Galilee into the Jordan Valley and right into John’s cell. Go and tell John what you hear and see.

Which takes us back to our own Advent lives. Have you, over time, experienced the healing of an illness, the reconciliation of a broken relationship, the growing out of an addiction or an immature behavior? Go and tell someone what you’ve heard and seen.  It may be the message they’ve been longing to receive while they themselves are in chains.

What answered prayers will you share with someone this week?

©Kathy McGovern 2016

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

8 December 2016

Reflecting on Isaiah 11:1-10

There are so many ways to waste time on the internet these days, but I can’t stop myself from lingering over those heart-warming videos of those inter-species animals playing and cuddling up together.

Here’s a cat and dog opening a door, a bear and tiger snuggling, a beautiful bird swimming with a dolphin. What speaks to us, I think, in these anomalies of nature is that the animals seem to delight in getting to know each other, to investigate each other’s fur and size and wingspan, without fear of betrayal or attack.

It’s that peaceable kingdom, that idyllic and lovely playground where animals frolic instead of preying on each other, which Isaiah promises. Imagine it. In spite of everything we have ever thought, the most terrifying of tigers is actually meant to snuggle contentedly with the sheep in the pasture. Why? Because the tiger is not hungry, and is not hunting among the defenseless lambs for food for her cubs. Take hunger out of the equation, and the Peaceable Kingdom has already arrived.

There might be some memory extraction required. Eagles and fish will need to rethink their relationship. Tigers might need to unlearn what they’ve known for thousands of years. But oh, what a fun education that would be.

Are humans smart enough to attend this school? Can the most recent―and by far most predatory― arrivals in earth’s long history miraculously pull together and save ourselves? Can we, finally, learn to work together to open the locked door, to find comfort in each other, to delight in swimming the seas together? As Advent always asks, “If not now, when? If not us, who?”

How are you helping to bring about the Peaceable Kingdom?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

First Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

29 November 2016

Reflecting on Matthew 24: 37-44

We were robbed last month, sometime around midnight. Our friend Karen, who lives in our basement and brings huge gulps of laughter and fun into our house, heard someone coughing in our driveway. Her first thought was that she should go outside and investigate. Her second thought―thank God―was that her bed was cozy and warm and that she should go back to sleep.

My husband Ben also heard coughing right outside our upstairs window at the same time. He got up and looked out the window. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he considered getting up and going outside, but, again, cozy and warm outbid chilly and cold.

We all compared notes in the morning, when we saw the ransacked garage and the broken-into cars. The intruders were brazen enough to walk right through our back yard rather than use the closer entrance through the alley, certainly because our neighbors, having been robbed exactly the same way last year, have a bright motion detector that lights up whenever the smallest squirrel ventures into their magnetic field.

We got right on it, of course. We changed the code on the garage door and once again promised to remember to lock the garage door at night. Next time, we’ll be ready.

Which brings us, of course, to Advent, and St. Paul’s urgent warning that now is the hour to awake from sleep. Loud coughing right outside our window at midnight wasn’t alarming enough to rouse us. Sleep is so much more comforting than facing that which is urgently trying to wake us. But it’s Advent, and it’s time to wake up. Jesus, our Morning Star, is trying to rouse us.

What is Christ calling you to “wake up” to this Advent?

Kathy McGovern ©2016

 

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

22 December 2014

Reflecting on Luke 1: 26-38

My mother and father didn’t see him. I was working at the grinding stone, grinding wheat to make the bread for the noonday meal.

I think I felt him before I saw him. The air around me seemed to change, as if a sudden rainstorm was brewing. I looked up and saw a flash of light, and then a luminous figure stood before me. I was too shocked to speak, too mesmerized to move.

Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you. My breath stopped. I couldn’t turn my eyes away. I suddenly knew what my heart has known my whole life. God has given me a grace unlike any other graces. For this moment I was born. My spirit leapt and began rejoicing.

Speak, I wordlessly told the angel. Speak, and tell my soul what it has known from the moment I was conceived in my mother Anna’s womb.

He spoke. I joyfully uttered my yes. And the Spirit of the Most High overshadowed me with so much grace and peace that a new life was created in my virgin womb. Blessed be God forever.

I set out in haste to visit my cousin Elizabeth, for God who is mighty has done great things for her also. And her child somehow already knew what God has done! When I greeted Elizabeth her baby leapt in her womb! This cousin isn’t even born yet, and he is already announcing my son.

Here’s something important for you to know. From the second my baby was conceived I began to feel a mother’s love for every person who has ever lived. And especially for you. Now, and at the hour of your death. AMEN.

Have you ever been touched by an angel?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

13 December 2014

Reflecting on I Thessalonians 5:16-24

Test everything. Retain what is good.

Paul’s advice to the church at Thessalonica sounds so easy, but how do you really know how to test the counsel that you receive, and keep what is good?  How, for that matter, does an intelligent person read the paper, watch the news, or vote in an election? Is it possible to see through the spin and discern who, if anyone, is telling the truth?

St. Paul is guiding the infant church in Thessalonica, the second largest city in Greece, in the ways to live their lives now that they have put on Christ. Since Paul’s letters precede any of the gospels―and since this is, in fact, his earliest letter, written less than twenty years after the resurrection― their questions take on even more urgency.  How DO they live their new lives in Christ? How DO they become mature and faithful disciples of Jesus?

There are no gospels, no Catechism of the Catholic Church, not even any other Pauline letters circulating around to give guidance to this early Christian community.  They are dependent upon what they learned from Paul himself when he visited two years earlier and founded the church there. They are a newborn creation, but how, then, should they live?

Huh. Somehow, modern Christians can’t figure that out either. We feel guilty no matter which way we vote. We feel certain that God is calling us to this job, this house, this friendship, and then things change and we’re not so sure.

St. Paul’s words give us guidance. Do not quench the Spirit. Refrain from every kind of evil. And surely John the Baptist would add, Prepare the way of the Lord.

How is Advent going for you so far?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Second Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

7 December 2014

Reflecting on Mark 1: 1-8

The funniest bumper sticker I’ve ever seen has a kind of Advent tint to it: Jesus is coming back. Look busy.

I still chuckle. What makes it funny, I think, is that it betrays our hapless misunderstanding of the Divine. If Jesus is coming back―and, by the way, he never left, thanks to his abiding Holy Spirit―then it must be like the teacher coming back into the room, or the boss returning from a trip.

Look busy, everybody! Because everything we’ve been doing while the boss was gone must be worthless. Working on projects, answering e-mails on our own schedule, or even taking a delicious sick day must all be a waste of the company’s money. The boss wants us to work, work, work, and if we work enough we’ll get promoted so we can work even harder.

Yuck. What an odd and unhappy Jesus we must be expecting.  We see in the gospel that people of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were making the trek out to the desert to hear John and be baptized by him. And I’ll bet they were all willing to use their sick days to get there.

Why? Because they sensed that John was the witness of the One to come, and they wanted to be as close as they could get.

I suspect that, if Jesus has questions of us at his return, they will be something like this: Did you notice the astounding beauty of the world? Did you love as well as you could? Did you dig deep and find the grace to forgive?

And, finally, I imagine him asking that great question  that Aslan, The Christ figure in the last book of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, asks each of us:

I have known you long. Do you know me?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

First Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

2 December 2014

Do you love Advent? I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t. And these days, after reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s exquisite book Learning to Walk in the Dark, I think I know why. After the long days of summer and the fading lights of fall, we’re finally ready to give in to the dark. Advent gives us permission to stay in the dark for four delicious weeks.

Something there is that doesn’t love the dark, but there is another part of us that craves it. Even the most roaring extrovert is grateful to crawl under the covers and let the night come in, with its healing dreams and restorative quiet.

And it is in the dark, of course, where we keep watch the best. The stars guide sailors to safe ports, and the changing shapes of the moon give expression to our own spiritual shifts, from consolation to desolation and back again.

This Advent I’m trying something new, and my soul is ready for it. I’m going to spend more time in the dark. I’m going to watch the darkness give way to the dimmest violet―an Advent color, by the way―in the early hours of the morning. I’m going to sit in the pitch dark―or at least as dark as our over-lit urban landscape allows―and listen for coyotes and night song.

It was, after all, in the night watch when the angels appeared in the sky, announcing the birth of the Savior and singing their Glorias to highest heaven. Just think: if the shepherds hadn’t been spending the night in a pitch-black field they would have missed the greatest moment in the history of the world.

It’s getting dark. It’s time to go outside.

What sacred memories do you have of meeting God in the dark?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

21 December 2013

Reflecting on Mt. 1: 18-24

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

When my friend Emily was a freshman in high school, she was reading Matthew’s gospel in Theology class.  When she came across the section where the angel told Joseph to name the child “Jesus” she was stumped.  Huh?  Why does the angel tell Joseph to name the Baby “Jesus” when, just one sentence later, we read that all this is to fulfill what the prophet Isaiah said, which was that the Child would be called  “Emmanuel”?

I nodded wisely and assured her that once she was older she would understand the many hidden complexities of Matthew’s gospel. Then I went home and scrambled to find a decent answer to give her.  It’s only taken me twelve years, Emily, but here’s my attempt.

The author of Matthew’s gospel (which we are now reading for an entire year) desperately wants us to know that Christ will never leave us.  The historical Jesus, the actual person who was born in Bethlehem, smuggled out into Egypt by his wise father, baptized by John in the Jordan, began his public ministry in the Galilee at thirty, was crucified by Pontius Pilate, suffered, died, and was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea―that historical person, our Savior, was named Jesus (or “Yeshua”—God saves).

After his resurrection, on the day he ascended to heaven, he said these very last words to his disciples, and to us: Behold, I am WITH YOU always, even to the end of time. So, Matthew’s 28 chapters begin and end with that promise.  He is with us.  Emmanuel. In sickness and health and sorrow and joy, and yes, for all eternity.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

In what ways do you sense that Christ is “with you”?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

Third Sunday of Advent – Cycle A

14 December 2013

Reflecting on Mt. 11: 2-11

© Jesus Film Media

Waiting.  It’s excruciating.  I’m not thinking about the usual waitings: in line, in traffic, at the doctor’s office.  Those are character-building, and give us daily opportunities to pray for all the people who got to the post office ahead of us, who were daydreaming when the light changed, who were getting serious news from the doctor while we were reading magazines in the waiting room.

I’m thinking about the kind of waiting that’s truly painful.  Like waiting for the nausea medication to work when you have the stomach flu.  Or waiting for the sound of the garage door opener when your teenagers are two hours past curfew.  Or waiting for the biopsy results on that asymmetrical mole with the irregular borders.

It seems that all creation quivers in a constant state of waiting.  Chipmunks are good waiters. They store seeds and nuts under their nests in late summer, then rouse themselves from sleep during the winter to eat what they have wisely stored. Bears are expert waiters.  They store fat before winter, and then hibernate in a sleep so deep that they don’t wake until spring.  And then, get out of their way.  They are ravenous from their months of waiting.

And don’t even mention the word “waiting” to butterflies.  They are creation’s superstars of waiting.

John the Baptist, shut up in Herod’s prison, knew he was coming to the end of his earthly waiting.  He sent his disciples to see and hear the One of whom the prophets foretold.

Go and tell John what you see.  The blind see, the lame walk, the poor have the Good News preached to them.

Dark night is done.  Bright morning dawns at last.

What are you waiting for?

What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Kathy McGovern © 2014-2015

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