Dear family and friends,
I am taking the occasion of this homily to send you my Christmas greetings. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he be gracious to you, and be kind. May he show his face to you and give you his peace. With great joy I will hold you up before the Lord especially during this Christmas season. I will take all your hopes and your fears, your joys and your sorrows, your pains and your pleasures, your past, your future and your present and together we will stand before God in faith, in hope and in love.
“Be strong, fear not. Here is your God. As the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, you too must be patient. There has been none greater then John the Baptist, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” These words combine the messages of all three readings today. and set the themes, the direction of our minds and hearts during this Christmas season. It seems a bit unusual however for us to be awaiting the coming of the Lord, to be anticipating his presence, to be preparing to welcome him when he is already here.
I love the preparations for Christmas. I love the lights, the tinsel, the snow, real and artificial. I love Santa Claus and shopping for gifts and Christmas carols and cards, sacred and profane. I think right now of the Christmas Carol that says, “everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.” But as I feel it in my heart it is, “everywhere, everywhere, Christmas every day.” I even love Rudolph and Jingle Bells and that stupid,”All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”.I love the 24 hour commercial hype that used to begin at Thanksgiving but now begins at Holloween. To me it is my community, my society, the culture in which I live shouting from the mountain tops, (and what better mountaintops than Snowmass and Aspen,) ” see, the Lord is coming and is already here.” Everybody and everything is shouting this, whether it be the lights on Main Street put up by the Chamber of Commerce, or the crèches displayed in front of the churches, the worship services, the lights in the windows of our homes or the special menus in the restaurants, the home made chocolate chip cookies that our friends have the nerve to send us, the eggnog that brother Benito buys for the community as a special treat: whether they like it or not, they are all shouting, “Be strong, the Lord is coming and is already here, be strong.”
I had another special Christmas treat this year. I just returned from a week in the Bahamas. Alas it was not a vacation. I was giving a retreat on Paradise Island to the Sivananda ashram. The nearest I got to the beach was the window of my room which overlooked it.Even so Father Joseph still politely asks why I happen to pick December dates to go to Nassau. But I did take part in the chanting of the mantras. For half an hour each morning and each evening the nuns and monks of the ashram together with some hundred and fifty guests chanted the praises of the many names of God. These mantras are considered to be very special prayers given by great mystics. Consequently they have great power before God. This is, for all the world, not unlike the chanting that we do here at St. Benedicts each morning at Lauds and each evening at Vespers, singing the praises of God in the inspired,sacred words of the Psalms from the Bible.
Sometimes the swami’s, who are the spiritual directors of the ashram, will give their devotees a special mantra, a personal one which is also considered to have great power. I am about to become your guru and do precisely this for you all.Though,in fact, I am not going to do this but that guru that we all have in common, Jesus Christ, is going to.But before I do that,one further thought.
Christmas is the time when we anticipate and celebrate the presence of the Lord as he is to come and as he is already here. It is up to us to respond to the faith we are given by God and the hope and the love to recognize this presence. This is what Christmas is all about. Recognizing the presence of God among us. Sometimes we are apt to limit this presence of God by our own narrow perceptions. We think maybe God is present only in very holy people, or only in children, or only in churches. I think however that we must allow our faith to tell us the mantra: “Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight and Christmas every day.” The world itself, and all that it contains is really the primary locus of the sacred. St. Bonaventure gives us a beautiful Christmas mantra when he writes ” the presence of the triune God is found glittering within every single object in creation.” However the kingdom of God and therefore the presence of God, Jesus tells us, is within us and among us”.
I remember a conference that father Thomas gave as Abbott to his monks over 50 years ago. He said that if we wished to find the presence of Christ in our lives, it is to be found in one another. Sometimes I think, he said, that when we meet we should genuflect to one another. I saw something of this last week in the Hindu ashram as people greeted one another with the word, ‘namaste” which means, “I honor the presence of God within you.”
Right now, at this very moment, Jesus and I are going to give you a sacred Christmas mantra. It is a very powerful one and it will help you to recognize the reality of God in your life and to honor the presence of Christ in one another. Are you ready? You must have this always in your heart and frequently on your lips. Here is the mantra…. “Whatever you do unto one of these, the least of my brethren, you do unto me.”
I would like you now to repeat this mantra after me three times:Whatever……