Deacon Sil's Word For All Second Sunday Of Advent
Homily: Prepare The Way Of The Lord
Christmas Story: The Last Straw
Table of Contents
First Reading (Baruch 5: 1-9)
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 126: 1-6)
Second Reading (Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11)
Gospel (Luke 3: 1-6)
Homily: Prepare the Way of the Lord
Prayers of the Faithful
Introduction to The Last Straw
The Last Straw
Reference for Last Straw
Go To the Table of Contents First Reading (Baruch 5: 1-9)
Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever. Wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God's worship. Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you; but God will bring them back to you borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God. The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God's command. For God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.
Go To the Table of Contents Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 126: 1-6)
Refrain: The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy. 1) When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy. (Refrain) 2) They said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them." The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. (Refrain) 3) Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb! May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! (Refrain) 4) He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, They shall come home with shouts of joy, brining his sheaves with him. (Refrain)
Go To the Table of Contents Second Reading (Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11)
In every prayer of mine for you I rejoice as I plead on your behalf, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Go To the Table of Contents Gospel (Luke 3: 1-6)
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness; and he went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
Go To the Table of Contents References:
1. From Good News, by Rev. Joseph T. Nolan. Liturgical Publications, Inc., 2875 South James Drive, New Berlin, WI. 53151. 2. From Homiletics, by Dr. Leonard Sweet. Communication Resources, 4150 Belden Village Street NW, Suite 400, Canton, Ohio 44799-6115. 3. From Lectionary Tales for the Pulpit, Year C, by Richard A. Jensen, pp. 15-16. CSS Publishing Company, Lima, Ohio: 1994. (Quoted in Good News.) 4. From Inside the Soul of a New Generation, by Tim Celek and Dieter Zander, pp. 106-107. Zondervan Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI.: 1996. (Quoted in Homiletics.)
Go To the Table of Contents Resources:
The Days of the Lord, Volume 1, pp. 80-87. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn., 1991. Catechism: #'s 717-720 (John the Baptist). United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC: 1994. [As recommended in A Homily Sourcebook (The Universal Catechism), by N. Abeyasingha. The Pastoral Press, Washington, D.C.: 1993.] The Living Pulpit (see issue of October - December 1997 on "Advent", especially pp. 1 & 41), 5000 Independence Avenue, Riverdale, NY 10471, or contact them at their web site at http://www.pulpit.org. The Gospel of Luke, by William Barclay. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. 1975. The Letter to the Philippians, by William Barclay. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. 1975. The Desert Experience, by William J. Bausch. From More Telling Stories, Compelling Stories, pp. 110-114. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, Ct. 06355: 1993.
Go To the Table of Contents Homiletic Ideas
- see also In the Grip of Grace, by Max Lucado, pp. 116-117, for a story about change (metanoia) being important and lasting.
Go To the Table of Contents Homily: Prepare the Way of the Lord
In today's gospel, we hear quoted the words from the prophet Isaiah which have come to be identified with John the Baptist and his role in history: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." When Isaiah wrote these words, there were actually engineer soldiers called "sappers" who would go ahead of a traveling king to smooth out the road for the monarch's chariot. Sappers leveled hills, filled in ditches and removed all obstacles in the king's way. Even today, much the same thing happens. The visit of a monarch or a head of state ensures that a city is spruced up and looks its best. Roads are repaired, buildings are painted, and beggars are removed from the streets. (1)
These are the words so often associated with John the Baptist and his mission. So who is John and where did he come from? Well, we're all familiar with the circumstances surrounding his birth from the first chapter of Luke's gospel. However, Luke makes no further reference to him until today's gospel passage. Although Luke does not give as many details about John's lifestyle as do some of the other evangelists, Luke does make enough observations to suggest that the Baptist had ties with the ascetical community of Qumran. This is suggested by the fact that the locale designated "around the Jordan" is where this community was situated. In addition, John and his message are introduced with words from Isaiah 40: 3, a text which was very important to the Qumran community. The water ritual "baptism of repentance" mirrored aspects of the Qumran community's own ablution rites. And finally John's apparent conviction that God's judgment upon Israel was imminent - except for those who would repent - all suggest that the Baptist and Qumran had some connections.
But it is also clear at this point that John is on his own, undertaking his own ministry with its own unique agenda. John has received a special call, which Luke reinforces by using the traditional prophetic "call" formula: "the word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah". What John is called to proclaim is a message of repentance. Both Luke and Mark identify John's rite as a baptism of "repentance" (from the Greek word metanoia, which means a "change of mind"). This purposive "turning away from sin" will result in the life-transforming experience of "the forgiveness of sins". This proclamation is undoubtedly what leads Luke to specifically identify John's message as the beginning of the "good news" which God intends to give to his people, Israel. (2)
So what does this "repentance" or metanoia entail?
An incident from some twelve years ago, when Americans were held hostage in Lebanon, dramatically illustrates the meaning of "repentance". Perhaps the best-known of the hostages was Terry Anderson, the Associated Press journalist. He was kidnapped in 1985 and imprisoned for 2,454 days, or almost seven years. At first, he was blindfolded most of the time and kept in chains. He was losing his capacity to think. When asked what he wanted, he replied that wanted a bible. He was provided one and began to read, starting with the book of Genesis. Although he had raised as a Catholic, he had not been practicing his faith for many years. That bible was like a gift from heaven. He read and read, and thought about his life. He had lots of time to think. He wanted to confess that he had hurt his first wife and daughter. He wanted to confess his many mistakes and his arrogance. He wasn't sure that people liked him and he certainly didn't like himself very much. Later in the first year of his captivity, he became aware that other hostages were living next door. One was a priest, Father Lawrence Jenco. He asked the guards if he could see the priest. "I am a Catholic and want to make a confession," he said. His captors agreed and Fr. Jenco came to his room. Both men took off their blindfolds. It had been 25 years since he had made a confession. Fr. Jenco gently encouraged him. Anderson began telling the priest of his sins. There was much to confess. A bad marriage. Chasing other women. Drinking. It was a tremendously emotional experience. When he had finished, both men were in tears. Fr. Jenco then laid his fight hand upon Anderson's head and proclaimed, "In the name of a gentle, loving God, you are forgiven." This was a turning point in Terry Anderson's life. His faith deepened. He had begun the process of turning around, leaving the darkness of sin and facing the light. This is what repentance is like. (3)
Terry Anderson experienced a metanoia in his life and was never the same again. John came preaching a baptism of repentance. And just like the ancient "sappers" removed obstacles in the pathway of the king, we are called to get rid of all obstacles in our lives which hinder our welcoming the Lord Jesus into our hearts. John's message was "The king is coming. Mend, not your roads, but your lives." Thus, the duty is laid on everyone of us during this Advent season to make our lives fit for a King. Like the Baptist, we are called to minister to others, to serve others. As Christ's disciples, I believe that we are called to do three things: first of all, we are called to a metanoia in which we strive to eliminate sin from our lives and to allow Jesus and his law of love to dwell in our hearts. Once that happens, we must proceed to see Jesus in the others with whom we interact on a daily basis and treat them accordingly. And lastly, by our actions, we allow others to see Jesus in us, a Jesus who believes in them and loves them. I would like to conclude with a poem which I believe sums this up so well:
Do you know, do you understand
that you represent Jesus to me? Do you know, do you understand that when you treat me with gentleness, it raises the question in my mind that maybe Jesus is gentle too?... Do you know, do you understand that when you listen to my questions and you don't laugh I think "What if Jesus is interested in me, too?" Do you know, do you understand that when I hear you talk about arguments and conflict and scars from your past that I think, "Maybe I am just a regular person instead of a bad, no-good person who deserves abuse?" If you care, I think maybe Jesus cares - and then there's this flame of hope that burns inside of me, and for a while, I am afraid to breathe because it might go out. Do you know, do you understand that your words are his words? Your face, his face to someone like me? Please be who you say you are. Please, God, don't let this be another trick. Please let this be real. Please. Do you know, do you understand that you represent Jesus to me? (4)
Go To the Table of Contents Penitential Rite:
Lord Jesus, you are the Lord of Light, the Dawn by whom we see the way. Lord, have mercy. Christ Jesus, you came to earth in lowliness to rescue us from Satan's snares. Christ, have mercy. Lord Jesus, you are the King of Kings who will come again in glory. Lord, have mercy.
Go To the Table of Contents Prayers of the Faithful
Celebrant: John fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah and prepared a way for the Lord. As we ready our own hearts for the Lord's coming, we confidently lift our needs to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer." That the members of the Church will use this Advent season to prepare their hearts as a fitting place for the Lord, we pray to the Lord. That the Lord may guide those in positions of authority to treat all those under their care with justice and righteousness, we pray to the Lord. That the Lord may increase our love for one another and especially for those in need at this blessed time of the year, we pray to the Lord. That the Lord may find us watching and ready at his coming, we pray to the Lord. For the success of our parish campaign, for willing volunteers and generous giving, we pray to the Lord. For all of the intentions which God knows are in our hearts and which we recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: O gracious God, as we prepare a place in our hearts for your Son, grant us the grace to remove the obstacles which hinder our love for one another. Help us to build bridges of unity with one another. We ask this through Christ, your Son and our Lord. Amen.
Go To the Table of Contents Introduction to the Last Straw
The following story has appeared in Good Housekeeping Magazine three times; in book form published by Chariot Books, a division of the David C. Cook Publishing Company; it has been serialized in British and Australian newspapers; and most recently appeared in late 1997 as part of the newest release in the best selling Chicken Soup for the Soul series, "Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul." The author retains all rights and copyrights to this work and is currently looking for contacts or interested parties to make a half-hour animated or live-action Christmas television or cable special of this classic work. Interested parties can contact the author, Paula McDonald via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 416 W. San Ysidro Blvd., Suite L724, San Ysidro, CA 92173.
The Last Straw is not Christmas fiction but a true story that happened in the McDonald household almost 20 years ago. The tradition of the straws continues and has now spread to thousands of households around the world.
Go To the Table of Contents The Last Straw
[Invite children to come up around the altar. Ask them if they know what Advent is all about. (To prepare a place in their hearts for Jesus.) Ask them how they prepare such a place. Then ask if they have brothers or sisters and, if so, do they ever have arguments with them. Then propose that perhaps Advent is a time to be nice to them, as the children in this story were.]
It was another long, winter afternoon with everyone stuck in the house. And the four McDonald children were at it again: bickering, teasing, fighting over their toys. At times like these, Mother was almost ready to believe that her children didn't love each other, though she knew that
wasn't really true. All brothers and sisters fight, of course, but lately her lively little bunch had been particularly horrible to each other, especially Eric and Kelly, who were just a year apart. They seemed determined to spend the whole winter making each other miserable.
Mother sighed as she listened to the latest argument coming from the living room. With Christmas only a month away, the McDonald house seemed sadly lacking in Christmas spirit. This was supposed to be the season of sharing and love, of warm feelings and happy hearts. A home needed more than just pretty packages or twinkling lights on the tree to fill it with the Christmas spirit. But how could any mother convince her children that being kind to each other was the most important way to get ready for Christmas?
Mother had only one idea. Years ago her grandmother had told her about an old Christmas custom that helped people discover the real meaning of Christmas. Perhaps it would work for her family. It was worth a try. Mother gathered her four little rascals together and sat them down on the stairs, smallest to tallest-Mike, Randi, Kelly and Eric.
"How would you kids like to start a new Christmas project this year?" she asked. "It's like a game, but it can only be played by people who can keep a secret. Can everyone here do that?"
Everyone agreed that they could.
"Well then, here's how the game works," Mother explained. "This year we're going to surprise Baby Jesus when he comes on Christmas Eve by making him the softest bed in the world. We're going to build a little crib for him to sleep in right here in our house, and we'll fill it with straw to make it comfortable. But here's the catch: each piece of straw we put in the manger will represent
one kind thing we do for someone between now and Christmas. The more kind things we do, the more straw there will be for the Baby Jesus. The secret part is that we can't tell anyone what good things we're doing and who we're doing them for."
"But who will we do the kind things for?" asked Eric.
"It's simple," said Mother. "We'll do them for each other. Once every week between now and Christmas, we'll put all of our names in this hat, mine and Daddy's, too. Then we'll each draw a name and do kind things for that person for a whole week. But here's the hard part. We can't tell anyone whose name we've drawn for that week, and we'll each try to do as many favors as we can for our special person without getting caught. And for every secret good thing we do, we'll put another piece of straw in the crib."
"But what if I pick someone I don't like?" frowned Kelly. Mother thought about that for a minute. Maybe you could use extra fat straws for the good things you do for that person, because they might be harder to do. But just think how much faster the fat straws will fill up our crib. Then on Christmas Eve we'll put Baby Jesus in his little bed, and he'll sleep that night on a mattress made of love. I think he'd like that, don't you?
"Now, who will build a little crib for us?" she asked.
Since Eric was the oldest, and the only one of the children allowed to use the tools, he marched off to the basement to give it a try. After a couple of hours of work, Eric climbed back up the stairs with the manger in his arms. "Here it is," he grinned. "The best crib in the world! And I did it all myself." Everyone agreed that it was, even if one leg was an inch too short.
"Now we need some straw," said Mother, and together they headed out to the car to go searching for some in the nearby fields. Surprisingly, no one fought over who was going to sit in the front seat that day as they drove around the countryside, looking for an empty field. Eventually, they found one and quickly filled a cardboard box in the trunk to overflowing. When they got home, they spread the straw carefully on a tray Mother had put on the kitchen table. The empty manger was placed gently on top, and the straw hid its one short leg.
"When can we pick names?" shouted the children.
"As soon as Daddy comes home for dinner," Mother answered.
At the supper table that night, the six names were written on separate pieces of paper, folded up and shuffled around in an old baseball hat. Then the drawing began.
Kelly picked first and immediately started to giggle. Randi reached into the hat next. Daddy glanced at his scrap of paper and smiled quietly behind his hand. Mother picked out a name, but her face never gave away a clue. Next, little Mike reached into the hat, but since he couldn't read yet, Daddy had to whisper in his ear and tell him which name he had picked. Eric was the last to choose, and as he unfolded his piece of paper a frown crossed his face. But he stuffed the name into his pocket and said nothing. The family was ready to begin.
The week that followed was filled with surprises. It seemed the McDonald house had suddenly been invaded by an army of invisible elves, and good things were happening everywhere. Kelly would walk into her room at bedtime and find her little blue nightgown neatly laid out and her bed turned down. Someone cleaned up the sawdust under the workbench without being asked. The jelly blobs disappeared magically from the kitchen counter after lunch one day while Mother was getting the mail. And every morning, while Eric was brushing his teeth, someone crept quietly into his room and made his bed. It wasn't made perfectly, but it was made.
Mother noticed other changes during that week, too. The children weren't teasing or fighting as much. An argument would start and then suddenly stop for no apparent reason. Even Eric and Kelly seemed to be getting along better. In fact, all the children wore secret smiles and giggled to themselves at times.
By Sunday, everyone was anxious to pick new names again, and this time there was even more laughter and merriment during the picking process, except for Eric. Once again he unfolded his piece of paper, looked at it, and then stuffed it in his pocket without a word. Mother noticed, but said nothing.
The second week of the game brought more amazing events. The garbage was taken out without anyone being asked. Someone even did two of Kelly's hard math problems one night when she left her homework out on the table.
"Who will be Baby Jesus anyway?" Randi asked on the third Sunday night after they had all picked new names.
"Perhaps we can use one of the dolls," said Mother.
After all of the children had made their contributions to the doll pool, everyone agreed on an old doll named "Chatty Baby" as their Baby Jesus.
Meanwhile, the pile of straw grew and grew. Every day brought new and different surprises as the secret elves stepped up their activity. The McDonald home was finally filled with Christmas spirit. Only Eric had been unusually quiet since the third week of name picking.
The final Sunday night of name picking was also the night before Christmas Eve. As the family sat around the table waiting for the last set of names to be put in the hat, Mother said, "You've all done a wonderful job. There must be hundreds of straws in our crib - maybe a thousand. You should be so pleased with the bed you've made. But remember, there's still one whole day left. We all have time to do a little more to make the bed even softer before tomorrow night. Let's try."
For the last time the hat was passed around the table. Little Mike picked out a name, and Daddy whispered it to him, just as he had done every week. Randi, Kelly, Mother and Daddy each took their turns, too, and then handed the hat with the last name to Eric. But as he unfolded the small scrap of paper and read it, his face pinched up and he suddenly seemed about to cry. Without a word, he ran from the room.
Just as Mother reached the top of the stairs, Eric's door banged open. He was trying to pull his coat on with one hand while he carried a small suitcase with the other hand.
"I have to leave," he said quietly, through his tears. "I can sleep in my snow fort for a couple of days" Eric said. "I'll come home right after Christmas. I promise."
The front door closed, and together Mother and Daddy watched from the window as the little figure with the sadly slumped shoulders and no hat trudged across the street and sat down on a snowbank near the corner. It was very dark outside, and cold, and a few snow flurries drifted down on the small boy and his suitcase.
Dad persuaded Mother to wait a few minutes before going out to him. Finally, she walked across the street and sat down beside him on the snowbank.
"What is it, Eric? You've been so good these last few weeks, but I know something's been bothering you since we first started the crib. Can you tell me, honey?"
"Aw, Mom, don't you see?" he sniffled. "I tried so hard, but I can't do it anymore, and now I'm going to wreck Christmas for everyone." With that he burst into sobs and threw himself into his mother's arms.
"But I don't understand," Mother said, brushing the tears from his face. "What can't you do? And how could you possibly spoil Christmas for us?"
"Mom," the little boy said through his tears, "you just don't understand. I got Kelly's name all four weeks! And I hate Kelly! I can't do one more nice thing for her or I'll die! I tried, Mom. I really did. I sneaked in her room every night and fixed her bed. I even laid out her crummy nightgown. I emptied her wastebasket, and I did some homework for her one night when she was going to the bathroom. Mom, I even let her use my race car one day, but she smashed it right into the wall like always!
"I tried to be nice to her, Mom. Even when she called me a stupid dummy because the crib leg was short, I didn't hit her. And every week, when we picked new names, I thought it would be over. But tonight, when I got her name again, I knew I couldn't do one more nice thing for her, Mom. I just can't! And tomorrow's Christmas Eve. I'll spoil Christmas for everybody just when we're ready to put Baby Jesus in the crib. Don't you see why I had to leave?"
They sat together quietly for a few minutes, Mother's arm around the small boy's shoulders. Only an occasional sniffle and hiccup broke the silence on the snowbank.
Finally, Mother began to speak softly, "Eric, I'm so proud of you. Every good thing you did should count as double because it was especially hard for you to be nice to Kelly for so long. But you did all those good things anyway, one straw at a time. You gave your love when it wasn't easy to give. Maybe that's what the spirit of Christmas is really all about. If it's too easy to give, maybe we're not really giving much of ourselves after all. The straws you added were probably the most important
ones, and you should be proud of yourself.
"Now, how would you like a chance to earn a few easy straws like the rest of us? I still have the name I picked tonight in my pocket, and I haven't looked at it yet. Why don't we switch, just for the last day? It will be our secret."
"That's not cheating?"
"It's not cheating," Mother smiled.
Together they dried the tears, brushed off the snow and walked back to the house.
The next day the whole family was busy cooking and straightening up the house for Christmas Day, wrapping last-minute presents and trying hard not to burst with excitement. But even with all the activity and eagerness, a flurry of new straws piled up in the crib, and by nightfall it was overflowing. At different times while passing by, each member of the family, big and small, would pause and look at the wonderful pile for a moment, then smile before going on. It was almost time for the tiny crib to be used. But was it soft enough? One straw might still make a difference.
For that very reason, just before bedtime, Mother tiptoed quietly to Kelly's room to lay out the little blue nightgown and turn down the bed. But she stopped in the doorway, surprised. Someone had already been there. The nightgown was laid neatly across the bed, and a small red race car rested next to it on the pillow.
The last straw was Eric's after all. (1)
Go To the Table of Contents Reference for Last Straw
1. The Last Straw, by Paula McDonald. From Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell, pp. 69-78. Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, Fla.: 1997. Visit them on the net at http://www.hci-online.com. Used with permission of the author.
Deacon Sil Galvan