Parson to Person - Are you ready for God’s return?
In the second chapter of his Gospel, Luke tells us :
In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (NIV)
Fast forward 2,000 some odd years, and it is December, the month we celebrate the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
It’s early in the morning of Dec. 6, 2016, to be exact around 6 a.m., and Fr. Brian Shepley lets the Tuesday morning ladies’ scripture/prayer group into St. Alphonsus Catholic Church as they prepare to further their advent journey in preparation of the celebration of the birth of the Savior on Christmas, Dec. 25, a little over two weeks away.
A little over an hour later, the ladies find Fr. Brian dead on his kitchen floor. This seemingly healthy man of only 54 years, dead. Only five months after becoming the new pastor of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, dead.
Suddenly, the advent journey of preparation takes on a new light. Emotionally, the staff and parishioners of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church may feel like there is no room for them at the inn, but the messages of preparation, which Fr. Brian has been giving them, ring true.
You see, Advent isn’t just about the preparation of the celebration of the coming of the child Jesus, it is also about preparation for the resurrection. The gift of Christmas is the joy given to a sinful world. The joy of salvation, salvation which came through the death and Resurrection of man that the tiny baby born, on Christmas day became. The gift of Christmas is new life. New life for you, for me, the ladies of the Tuesday morning scripture/prayer group, for everyone, for Fr. Brian, and all the faithfully departed.
New life, which gave us the gift of eternal life is what we celebrate at Christmas. As John tells us in his Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” But he didn’t physically remain among us. For our sake, he was crucified, died and was buried. But he rose again, (the resurrection) and so too shall we.
Father Brian reminded the congregation just a few days before his own death, that we never know the time or the hour of our death, our new birth into everlasting life. He reminded us to be ready, to seek forgiveness and give forgiveness. He also reminded us to be ready to be held accountable for our actions here in our earthly life.
Are we ready, not only for the celebration of the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, but for the coming of the dawn of our new birth into eternal life? That dawn can come quite unexpectedly, and can be the cause for great celebration if we are ready.
A poem by an anonymous author goes something like this:
I believe in death.
I believe that it is part of life.
I believe that we are born to die.
To die that we may live more fully.
Born to die a little each day; to selfishness, to pretense, and to sin.
I believe that every time we pass from one state of life to another,
Something in us dies and something new is born.
I believe we taste death in moments of:
Loneliness, rejection, sorrow, disappointment, and failure.
I believe that we are dying before our time:
When we live in bitterness, in hatred, and in isolation.
I believe that each day we are creating our own death by the way we live.
For those with faith, death is not extinguishing the light;
It is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
By now, I’m sure we are all nearly ready for the celebration of Christmas, but are we ready for the dawn if it chooses to come today?