Letters from a Pastor to His People- December 22, 2019
I'd like to "dedicate" this letter to our very own Father Emanuel. Why? Well, first of all, Father Emanuel is just awesome, so why not? Second, because Father Emanuel's birthday is December 25th (that's right, he shares Jesus' birthday!). And, third, because we hear the name Emmanuel mentioned in our readings this 4th Sunday of Advent and on Christmas. Isaiah prophecies, "the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), and Matthew repeats this passage.
We first receive the name of our Messiah in the context of Ahaz and Isaiah. Ahaz was the King of Judah about 730 BC (Judah and Israel, at this point in history, are two separate kingdoms). About to be invaded by Syria and Israel, Ahaz panics. The prophet Isaiah arrives and counsels Ahaz to not be afraid and ask God for help, for "God is with us." Ahaz doesn't listen. He instead makes a deal with Assyria, who goes on to defeat Israel and Syria, but then makes Judah an Assyrian vassal, exacting massive tributes upon the Hebrew people. Ahaz did not trust that God was with him.
Emmanuel. We know and we've heard it a hundred times. But we need to let the name, its meaning, and its significance sink in. God is with us.
When you get down to the root of all our fears, I believe you arrive at loneliness. We are afraid, ultimately, to be alone. Rejection, isolation, failure, even suffering all branch out of loneliness. Take physical suffering, for instance. The actual pain is not as dreadful a prospect if you know you won't be alone--that others will be with you and share in your sufferings. So, it is to be by yourself, cut off and unloved, that is our greatest fear.
Now, most fears are unfounded. In fact, we could say they are lies whispered to us by the enemy. This is why Jesus says so often to "not be afraid." Loneliness or isolation is not real. Because God is with us.
We will never be alone. Even if we are rejected by our friends, family, community, God will still be with us. And with God, "all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).
Advent is the steady pounding into our minds and hearts that God is with us. Think about how we've been singing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Like waves relentlessly pounding a shore, the reality is driven into us that we are not, and never will be, alone.
Even if the blackness of loneliness feels to be closing in on you, like the seemingly infinite darkness of outer space, look closely. You will see the Bethlehem star sparkling, assuring you that you are not by yourself. Christmas is the definitive destruction of loneliness.
God is a person, Jesus Christ, and Christ is with you as your best friend, your brother, your lover, your savior, etc. Please, don't make the mistake Ahaz made: feeling alone and making decisions apart from God. Let the Lord be with you this Christmas and New Year!
On Tuesday, December 24th, we will have two morning Masses in the chapel as usual: 7am and 8:30am. These Masses "count" for December 24th (not Christmas Eve). The Christmas Eve Masses on the 24th will be 3pm, 5pm, and 10pm all in the church. On Christmas Day, Masses will be at 7:30am, 9:30am and 11am. There will be no evening Mass on Christmas Day.
If you are away from the parish on Christmas, have a wonderful and safe holiday!
Yours in Christ,