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Bishop's Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 19, 2021

[St. Catherine Church, Kapaa; Holy Cross Church, Kalaheo; Immaculate Conception Church, Lihue]

It is intriguing when we read a novel and all the seemingly unrelated incidents seem to fit together in the end as if they were all pieces of a puzzle.  So it is with our Scripture readings today.

Did you know that the word “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread?”  As we hear the prophet Micah sing the praises of Bethlehem because, even though it was “small among the clans of Judah,” from it would come forth one who would be the ruler in Israel, shepherding his flock.  He could have been speaking about King David, who was born in Bethlehem and who was a shepherd, but his prophecy is about the future, and King David had already died.  But do you remember that God had promised that his kingdom would last forever?  Centuries had passed without a king, and it seemed that God had forgotten about his promise, but he had not.  Jesus, born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread and City of David, would become the Bread of Life for us and would be the son of David who would rule forever, shepherding his flock, the Church.

The letter to the Hebrews speaks of sacrifice, and, let’s be real, shepherds do not raise sheep as pets.  They raise them so that they can be slaughtered and become food to give sustenance to people.  Some of those sheep, the best of them, would be offered in sacrifice to God to thank and praise God for all his goodness.  And here we hear of a sacrifice not of animals but of the finest Lamb that ever lived, the Lamb of God, who as the Son of God laid down his life for us in sacrifice.  But his crucified body was raised up to life again, and is given to us as food in the Eucharist, so that we may feed on the Lamb of God himself.

Then there is the miracle of God becoming a human being in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  As she visits the recipient of another miracle – her relative Elizabeth finally bearing a child, even though she was well past child-bearing age – John the Baptist, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for joy at the presence of the Lord, whom he cannot see.  Jesus was hidden in his mother’s womb, yet John, also hidden in his mother’s womb, recognized the real presence of the Son of God.  Do any of us see Jesus when he is present to us in the Eucharist?  Yet his hidden presence here today is as real as it was in the manger in Bethlehem.  (And have you ever heard the word “mangia” in Italian, which means, “eat!” and derives from the same root as manger?)

All the little pieces of God’s plan fit together beautifully in the great celebration of the birth of Jesus for which we prepare in this season of Advent.  But there is more!  The prophet Micah also speaks of this one who will come to shepherd his flock.  And that, my friends, would be us!  We are the sheep of the Lord’s flock, because he loves us a nourishes us with the best of food, his own Body and Blood.  But, this Shepherd did not call us to be his pets, upon whom he simply pours out his love, though he certainly does that.  Like all sheep, we are fed so that we can feed others, sacrificing ourselves for them, and laying down our lives as the Good Shepherd did once for all.  We receive into ourselves the very same Jesus who was carried in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and whose hidden presence made John leap for joy.  And so it is that this presence of Jesus, which we carry in a hidden way, is to bring joy to a world that is shut up in so much of its own darkness.

We sacrifice ourselves when we forgive an offense, when we take the risk of being reconcilers with others, and when we work to bring peace where there is discord in our families or in our communities.  We sacrifice when we take our hard earned bread and share it with the poor, or when we give it to the Church so that we can give corporate witness to Jesus.  We sacrifice ourselves when we commit ourselves to speak and live the truth about the sanctity of life, even when others criticize or ridicule us.  We sacrifice ourselves when we leave our comfort zones to share our faith with others who do not believe in Jesus; or when we invite others back to this place where we turn from the junk food that we allow to fill our souls and accept the gift of the Bread of Life and the Chalice of love outpoured for us all.

We can look at all of these details of God’s plan and be fascinated by any of them.  But what amazement there is when we put them all together and see the entire picture:  that God continues to take flesh in us, so that, united to God, we can join with Jesus and give ourselves to nourish the souls of many.