Sunday, December 14, 2014

Homily – Third Sunday of Advent - Christmas Truce

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
1st Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

            John the Baptist is a light shining in the darkness of a bleak world.  His words and actions bring hope in a time of heartbreaking despair.
The Jews have endured a thousand years of enslavement and domination by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and now the Roman Empire.
The average Jew in Jesus’ world probably wondered, what have we done to deserve this?  What sins are bringing about such awful abuse?
In the bleakest of days, in walks John, a vagrant, a bum, offering his people the forgiveness of their sins through repentance and the cleansing waters of baptism.
            He was preparing a way for the Lord.
John was a light shining in the darkness. But, in John’s humility, he reminds the people, “He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.”
            This is Gaudete Sunday.  The rose colored candle of the Third Sunday of Advent is here to remind us all to REJOICE!  That’s what Gaudete means: REJOICE.
Jesus is almost here. 
            In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah (written 500 years before Christ) we hear the comforting words to the Israelite people returning from exile in Babylon.
            For most of us, we recognize these words from Luke’s Gospel and a scene in which Jesus comes to a synagogue in his home town of Nazareth and is asked to open a scroll and read from it.   He shares these words from Isaiah and then proclaims the prophecy is fulfilled in his reading.
            Jesus was telling the people his public ministry was the fulfillment of Israel’s prophetic tradition. 
            This fulfillment of all Jewish hope is about to be born in a humble manger. The light of Christ is about to shine on a cold, dark world filled with heartbreak. 
This same light of Christ shined on a cold, dark world filled with heartbreak exactly 100 years ago this Christmas, producing one of the most powerful moments in world history.
On the battlefields at the start of the First World War, in what was supposed to be “the war to end all wars,” something miraculous happened.
A light shone in the darkness reminding all to REJOICE!  Jesus was coming.
            Dubbed “The Christmas Truce,” it was a moment our world would remember forever.
            The incident made popular worldwide the song Silent Night, for it was the song sung in English and German in frozen foxholes that Christmas.  Allied troops and German troops singing together in earshot of each other.
            A cold snap had plunged temperatures to below freezing. Snow was falling. The battlefield looked like a picture postcard of a white Christmas.
            One press report said, “Their trenches were a blaze of Christmas trees, and sentries were regaled for hours with traditional Christmas songs.”
            One British soldier’s letter home captured the details of the miracle:

"As I told you before our trenches are only 30 or 40 yards away from the Germans. This led to an exciting incident the other day. Our fellows have been in the habit of shouting across to the enemy and we used to get answers from them. We were told to get into conversation with them and this is what happened:
From our trenches:
"Good morning Fritz." (No answer).
"Good morning Fritz." (Still no answer).
From German trenches: "Good morning."
From our trench: "How are you?"
"All right."
"Come over here, Fritz."
"No. If I come I get shot."
"No you won't. Come on. Come and get some (cigarettes), Fritz."
"No. You come half way and I meet you."
"All right."
One of our fellows thereupon stuffed his pocket with (cigarettes) and got over the trench. The German got over his trench, and right enough they met halfway and shook hands, Fitz taking the (cigarettes) and giving cheese in exchange."
            On Christmas Eve 1914, German and Allied soldiers laid down their guns and crossed trenches to exchange Christmas greetings, share food and souvenirs, play soccer, hold joint burial ceremonies and swap prisoners. Roughly 100-thousand troops took part in the Christmas Truce.
            It was considered by some historians as “one of the most remarkable Christmas stories in 2000 years.”
            The light of Christ broke through the heartbreaking darkness and every man on that battlefield would forever REJOICE! for their moment of peace in the midst of a bloody war.
            Like John the Baptist, these troops heralded the coming of the Savior on Christmas Day by an act of love toward one another that Christmas Eve.
            It was nothing short of a Christmas miracle, a beautiful silent night, when the guns of war were quieted, but for a brief moment.
            This same light shines on those living in darkness today. 
Think of the actions of ALL of the doctors, nurses, religious and other volunteers from around the globe who are working on the front lines of the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.
            These brave souls risk their own lives to save the lives of the poorest of the poor in countries with primitive medical care.
            Many have died serving “the least of these” sisters and brothers.  
For their bravery, these men and women were honored this past week as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
And then there this...  an Alabama grandmother was caught by a police officer shoplifting three eggs so she could feed her two grandchildren.  They hadn’t eaten in two days.  They were hungry. She was desperate.
Instead of arresting her, the police officer bought her a dozen eggs. And now the officer and community are coming to her rescue and making sure the family has plenty to eat.
She says, “this is not food, this is manna from Heaven.  This is the best thing that has ever happened to us!” She says her home pantry has never been so full.
Not that it matters. But the grandmother is black. The officer is white.
The woman says in a time of riots and allegations against police officers, she hopes this officer’s loving kindness will have an impact. 
              All of these acts of love, yesterday and today, are illumined by the light of Christ. They are voices crying out in a desert of our humanity, sending glad tidings to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to captives and release to prisoners, announcing a day of vindication by our God.
            Through their actions we find joy in a world of heartbreaking sadness.
The great Catholic writer Henri Nouwen said JOY is something much deeper than sadness.
He writes, “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.” 
       Jesus is coming in 10 short days. He’s coming to show the world He loves each and every one of us.
For this, we should REJOICE ALWAYS!

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