Fr. Tony’s 8-Minute Homily
Today’s readings focus on the circumstances leading up to the first coming of Jesus, the event which sets the pattern for his coming to us now and at the end of time. The Gospel stresses the key role of Mary in the work of our salvation. In addition, today’s Scripture texts describe God’s promise to David and its fulfillment in Jesus, the Son of David. They also tell us that God’s preparation for the coming of Jesus was full of surprises.
Select one or two of the following illustrations to insert here. View more by clicking on the “ILLUSTRATIONS” tab above. Feel free to insert more throughout the homily if so desired (but this should not be overdone).
Scripture Lessons Summarized
Fr. Tony’s unabridged edition for this section can be found by clicking on the “COMMENTARY” tab above. Feel free to include more detail if so desired.
The unfolding of God’s plan of salvation though history has contained many surprises.
The first reading surprises us by telling of God’s promise to David that he would have a long line of royal descendants culminating in a final King, Jesus Christ.
In the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 89), the Psalmist recalls all of God’s promises and surprises us, describing God’s promise to David and his descendants in terms of a Covenant.
The second reading surprises us with Paul’s explanation of the unveiling of God’s plan for human salvation through Jesus.
In today’s Gospel, the Angel Gabriel surprises Mary with seven announcements.
- i) Even as a virgin betrothed to Joseph, she will become a mother.
- ii) She will become a mother through “the Holy Spirit [Who] will come upon you, and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
- iii) The angel continues, “Therefore, the Child to be born will be called Holy, the Son of God.”
- iv) She is to “name the child Jesus,” which means Savior.
- v) God will make Him a King and, as a descendant in the line of David,
- vi) “He will rule over the House of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end.”
- vii) As a Divine sign, Elizabeth, Mary’s aged barren cousin is six months pregnant, “for,” says Gabriel, “nothing shall be impossible with God!”
The Gospel narrative also surprises us by reminding us that God’s promise is best fulfilled not in buildings, or even in great kings like Solomon, but rather in humble souls like Mary who trusted in God’s promise.
Fr. Tony’s unabridged versions can be found by clicking on the “LIFE MESSAGES” tab above. Feel free to include more detail if so desired.
1) We need to say a courageous and generous “yes” to God: True obedience comes from a free choice made in the light of what is true and good. Such a self-surrender often requires a great deal of courage because it can involve going against the tide of social expectations. True obedience also aims at putting oneself at the service of something/Someone that is greater than oneself, accepting what God clearly wants us to do or what He wants to do through us. It is by saying, with Jesus and Mary, a wholehearted and totally unconditional “Yes” – “Fiat! May it be done in me,” to Jesus that he will be re-born in each of us, or maybe even born in me for the first time. By my saying “Yes,” Jesus will be born or re-born in others, too.
2) We need to try to learn God’s plan for our lives: The Good News in today’s Scripture message is not only that God is making provision for the salvation of His people, but also that He has a plan for each individual person. In many cases, our work for God seems rather ordinary, but each ordinary task which we carry out fits into God’s plan in ways that we cannot yet understand. God desires not only the skill of our hands and talents but the love of our hearts. The Babe in the Manger reminds us of what God has done and is still doing for us. What are we doing for Him in return? Let us show our gratitude to God by living as true followers of Christ: “Behold, here I am, Lord! I come to do Your will.”
ABC7 News Bay Area (1:49) — Memories of what may be the Bay Area’s most famous marine visitor — Humphrey the whale.
Fr. Tony’s Illustrations
Humphrey, the humpback whale
Humphrey became a national celebrity in 1985 when he made his way into the San Francisco Bay and headed up the Sacramento River into fresh water which, of course, could have been fatal for him. Each evening a large local television audience would tune in for the latest update on Humphrey’s plight. Then national media coverage began and the whole country watched the ensuing story.
None of the traditional herding techniques were working and the world held its breath as Humphrey appeared to be dying. His skin was graying and he was becoming more and more listless. As a last-ditch effort, Dr. Bernie Krause, who had recorded the sounds humpback whales made while feeding suggested using them as a possible way to lure Humphrey out. No one knew if this would work, but it was their last shot at saving him.
A speaker was lowered over the side of a boat, the sounds of other humpback whales were played, and everyone stood quietly while the eerie songs reverberated through the hull. Suddenly, Humphrey emerged from the water at the bow of the ship right where the speaker was playing, and gazed at the startled crew.
The Captain quickly started down the river with Humphrey following close behind. As they approached the San Francisco Bay, and the water gained in salinity, Humphrey was visibly excited and began diving deeply to everyone’s delight and amazement. It was like the climax to a Hollywood film.
The air was filled with helicopters and the river banks were lined with thousands of spectators all cheering Humphrey on to freedom. Don’t you think that’s interesting? They failed using various methods to lure Humphrey to turn around. Nothing worked until he heard the recorded sounds of other humpback whales. I guess it takes a whale to talk to whales!
Now imagine God’s dilemma. God sought to communicate His love and His purpose for humanity through the Law and through the Prophets, through Scripture, and through the worship of the Hebrew people in the Temple of Jerusalem. But still the people did not get it. We did not know how much God loves us and that God’s ultimate plan was for us to love one another. So God did the only thing left. God became one of us in the Baby in the manger. God came to us when, intellectually, we could not reach up to Him.
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
“Do not be afraid!”
It’s an obvious understatement to say we live in a day of great fear. The language of “terror” has become the motivating mantra of our day. I did a Google search for the word “fear,” and I came up with a fascinating site called “The Phobia List”—pages of phobias, A to Z. Everything from Alliumphobia—the fear of garlic and Lachanophobia—the fear of vegetables to Zemmiphobia—the fear of the great mole rat. It even lists Ecclesiophobia—the fear of church and, get this, Homilophobia—the fear of sermons! You can even get a poster of the “Phobia List” which will cover your entire wall. We all have our own phobia lists, and the list can be as fresh as the morning papers: Daily bad news from the auto industry, uncertainty about the present and future course of Covid 19 and its economic repercussions, about the state of the economy or personal security. A questionable course in Iraq, Afghanistan … wherever, with no clear sense of how long all this will go on, when or how it will end. Fear of bird flu or bad weather or a bitter diagnosis from the family doctor. Add to that, fear-mongering TV preachers and politicians who use talk of terror for political gain until the fear of terror becomes its own terror. And add to that, panic-driven newscasters who can’t even give the weather without fear-filled, bated breath. It all leads to what Jane Spencer in the Wall Street Journal refers to as the “fear system” of our day. Into that maze of fear, we have the audacity to read the word of the angel to Mary: “Do not be afraid!”
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
“Somewhere, somehow, set things right.”
On the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a moving photograph of a mother and her little girl being taken to a gas chamber at Auschwitz. The girl, who is walking in front of her mother, does not know where she is going. The mother, who walks behind, does know, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing, the mother can do to stop this tragedy. In her helplessness, she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hand over her little girl’s eyes so that at least she will not have to see the horror which faces her. When people see this picture in the museum, they do not move quickly or easily to the next one. You can feel their emotion, almost hear their cries, “O God, don’t let that be all there is. Somewhere, somehow, set things right.” — Luke’s word to us this day is that God hears those prayers, and that it is into just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that the power of God is born. It is there that God invests His treasure, lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things — setting things right.
Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
God’s House, God’s Housemaid
Three stonecutters were involved in building work. When asked what they were doing, the first one replied, “I’m breaking stones!” The second answered, “I’m earning a living!” The third exclaimed, “I’m building a house for God!” Like the third stone-cutter, in today’s first reading King David desires to build God’s House. But, let’s ask: who really builds whose house? And ultimately, who is God’s perfect housemaid? The symbol of “house” is significant in the first reading. Since he is living in a palace while the Ark of the Covenant rests in a tent, David tells Prophet Nathan of his desire to build God a House. However, God asks, seemingly sarcastically: “Are you the man to build Me a House?” The Bible says that it was David’s son, Solomon – not David – who was chosen to build God’s House (see I King 5:2-5). Yet, reminding David of all the blessings he received, God promises, “The Lord will make you a House.”
Francis Gonsalves in Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds – Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
“Joy to the World”
In the prologue to his book Joy, William Schutz tells how the birth of his son Ethan inspired him to write the book. Ethan begins his life by giving joy to his parents. The joy continues as Ethan sees, touches, tastes and hears things for the first time. But something happens to Ethan as it does to all of us. Somehow his joy diminishes with growth, never to return fully. Schutz wrote his book to help readers recapture some of this joy. Like Ethan, Jesus, too, begins his life by giving joy. Even before he is born his very presence brings joy to people. –Even when we cannot achieve our full human potential in some of those areas Schutz outlines, we can still experience a profound interior joy because Jesus is in our midst. The power of his presence enables us to endure any difficulty, transcend any trial or overcome any obstacle. His presence can bring peace where there is anxiety, sharing where there is selfishness and dreams where there is despair. Isaac Watts was right when he composed a Christmas carol entitled “Joy to the World!” Indeed, there is real joy in the world at Christmas time because the Lord is come. He is Emmanuel, God with us!
Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds – Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
Fr. Tony’s Life Messages
We need to say a courageous and generous “Yes” to God as Mary did
True obedience comes from a free choice made in the light of what is true and good. It often requires a great deal of courage, because it can involve going against the tide of social expectations. True obedience also aims at putting oneself at the service of something/Someone that is greater than oneself by accepting what God clearly wants us to do, or what He wants to do through us.
Jesus’ own moment of greatness, like his Mother’s, came when He said “Yes,” to his Father in Gethsemane, and Jesus’ own obedience is our model.
Will we surrender to God and allow God to do what, from our human point of view, seems impossible? Will we surrender our agenda, our will and our kingdom to God and allow God’s agenda, will and Kingdom become a reality for and through us?
It is by saying, with Jesus and Mary, a wholehearted and totally unconditional “Yes,” to God that Jesus will be re-born in each of us – or maybe even born in us for the first time. By my saying “yes,” Jesus may well be born or reborn in others too.
(Fr. Tony) (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)
We need to try to learn God’s plan for our lives
The Good News in today’s Scripture message is not only that God is making provision for the salvation of His people, but also that He has a plan for each individual person. Just as God called Mary, He calls every mother to raise her child in the awareness of God’s nurturing presence, His unconditional love, and His guiding commandments.
In many cases, our work for God seems rather ordinary, but each ordinary task which we carry out fits into God’s plan in ways that we cannot yet understand. God desire not the skill of our hands and talents alone, but the love of our hearts.
The Babe in the Manger reminds us of what God has done and is still doing for us.
What are we doing in return? Let us show our gratitude to God by living as true followers of Christ: “Behold, here I am Lord, your humble and grateful servant. Let it be done to me according to Your word.”
St. Francis said, “We are the mother of Christ when we carry him in our heart… and we give birth to him through our holy works which ought to shine on others by our example.”
Life messages from the Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart
i) “What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?” Mary’s “Yes” that brought Christ to the world is not just a “memory event,” such as recalling Babe Ruth or Tiger Woods setting records to remember. Instead, it ought to lead us to ponder how to imitate her:
- How can I bring Christ to the daily world that I live and participate in?
- Do I reflect Christ in what I say and do? Am I a true disciple, like Mary the model disciple?
ii) A second question that Meister Eckhart asks: “What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son . . . does not take place within myself?” When God comes to dwell within us at our Baptism, we are empowered to live the Christ-life, one oriented to loving God and neighbor.
- Do I see that orientation in my own heart, or am I still oriented to selfishness?
- Do I humbly submit to all of the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, without exception, so that its wisdom can grow in my heart?
In summary, in a sense our personal meditation can parallel Mary’s journey: have I truly given an unqualified “Yes” to Jesus in my own life, and what is the best way for me to bring this Good News to my own little world?