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December 16, 2018
[Sacred Heart Church, Waianae]
Around this time many of our parochial schools are putting on their Christmas concerts and pageants. When I was a pastor, the principal would always ask me to sit in the front row, presuming that it was the best seat in the house. I, however, usually tried to sit on the side, somewhere in the middle. From there I could see not only the children, but the beaming faces of their parents, which was a treat in itself. The children were always the stars, but the faces of their proud parents lit up the room with joy. Not every note was hit correctly; not every movement was perfectly choreographed, but the smiles and beaming eyes of the parents did not seem to care too much about perfection.
I think that is what we need to believe about God, who loves us despite the sour notes we produce, and even when we are not in the right place at the right time. Zephaniah speaks of God singing, as one sings at festivals. We are told by St. Paul to rejoice, because our Savior is near at hand, but while we do, God’s face is lit brightly, and it is God who sings heartily with joy in his heart, the same kind of joy that was reflected in their children.
Even though God rejoices that we are his children, he would rejoice even more if we disciplined ourselves to sing the song of life in a way that will bring more harmony and less discord to the world. He would sing even more heartily if we performed the tasks of life more zealously and with a greater sense of justice. And therefore – like the teachers of those school children -- he wanted to make sure we were well prepared to learn the love song that he would sing, the eternal Word that he spoke in the person of Jesus; and he wants us to repeat the sounding joy with every fiber of our lives so that, through us, the whole world could allow his Word to become flesh and to live among us. To prepare us, he sent John the Baptist and other prophets, so that they could challenge us to be our best, to tune our hearts and our voices to the song God wants us to sing. Some would say that John the Baptist was a harsh teacher, demanding a conversion of heart that led to a conversion of the very practical things in life so that we could be much more in tune with the commandments of God, the commandments that are not burdensome but that give us life.
As John urged the tax collectors not to collect more than was their due, so he urges us to be good stewards of the gifts God has entrusted to us by recognizing that all we have and all we earn is a gift from God, a gift he wants us to share joyfully with those in need and for the task of evangelization. John exhorted soldiers to be content with their pay and not to extort others, and he urges us to be thankful for what we have and not to always be looking for ways to increase our wealth for its own sake. He urges the soldiers to not falsely accuse anyone, and in doing so he reminds us of the destruction we can wreak when we gossip about others or accept accusatory things we hear about others in the social media as the truth, even though we all know how many distortions and downright lies can be presented there.
And while there is sometimes room for a solo performance if someone is really good, most of the time, our singing is better when it is part of a community’s song. Like the children who must be taught to sing in harmony with their classmates, so we must learn to sing in harmony with those who are different from us, who may see things a different way, or whose life experience can teach us something that can take us out of our own narrow vision. And so John reminds us that this life is a rehearsal for eternal life, and that if we are to sing forever the praises of God in heaven, we must learn to sing harmoniously here on earth. Just as a teacher would not just hand the students a song to sing cold at the Christmas pageant, so we must practice, prepare, be vigilant, listen to the voices of others around us, and learn to harmonize with each other. We do this in the sacrament of Penance, which we hopefully will celebrate during these Advent days. We do it by attending the nine Simbang Gabi Masses, so that we can better grow in our appreciation of the Word who wants to continue making himself flesh in our world. We do it by reaching out to the poor and needy, by visiting the sick, by praying for our hurting Church and all who have been hurt by it.
If we dedicate ourselves to this conversion of heart, tuning them ever more finely to the joyful song that God wants us to sing, we will not only find ourselves joining with our brothers and sisters in the most beautiful concert of life, but we will see God himself, our heavenly Father, beaming bright and singing about his beloved children, even as one sings at festivals.