We are so used to the story of Christmas and we have gotten used to the busyness of this time in the semester in university life. Our hectic pace and all that needs to get done in the next week, only six days left. 33 hours until the start of exams, in case you did not yet know it. 153 hours until the end of Friday exams. And then you have the seven days to Christmas and all that needs to be done for your Christmas at home, wherever that may be.
Our traditions suggest that we take some time, even in the midst of all these demands, to enter more deeply into the Birth of our Lord. Jesus’ birth is a special gift of God’s love that came into our world in a moment and continues to be offered for each and every one of us. Today’s scripture tries to tell the history. Zephaniah shares the gift of the Savior—
…The King of Israel is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear….Fear not O Zion, do not be discouraged! The Lord our God is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you…with gladness, and renew you in his love.
Saint Paul adds that the Peace of God…will guide your hearts and minds. Luke shares with us John the Baptist’s response to the simple question “What should we do?” John’s simple teaching. “Whoever has two cloaks, should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized.” Given this simple hope and expectation Luke tells us “the people we filled with expectation.” “….Exhorting them in other ways he preached the good news to them.”
These readings always take me to a reflection on what it would take for us to end misfortune, what good news would make us see the God in our midst? Like the crowds we too ask “What should we do?”
As I thought about our scripture tonight, I discovered an article in America Magazine by Mariele Courtois, a 2015 graduate of Loyola Marymount University (America, November 2, 2015). Mariele begins by speaking about her social justice activity which she notes—“Along with many other Jesuit institutions LMU makes service and social justice a priority in its educational mission.” She goes on to reflect upon the role and impact of the service that we do on our campuses.
And then quoting the late LMU chaplain Sister Peg Dolan, RSCJ, she asks—“What happens when our service seems to be of no avail or brings about no tangible results.” Quoting Peg’s 2008 Commencement address she “encourages students ‘to make the gift of your life become a masterpiece each day that will help you make your life better for you and all you meet on your life journey.’”
Meriele then goes on to recall the masterpieces she has witnessed. I imagined the great researchers who mapped DNA, George Handel after he completed Water music, (a tune which always refreshes my spirit), Thomas Moran’s paintings of the western US; and a Seattle Seahawks touchdown. All works of art and inspire my spirit.
Our lives are “the active form of creation” Mariele notes. “You choose the medium; you choose the time; you choose the craft—something exquisite, like stained glass.” The purposeful artist selects humble shards, fits them together in an unexpected pattern, and then reveals her pictorial window, through which the world can gaze. But I think that there is also an equal, passive form of creation, one experienced by the stained glass itself.
“Stained glass,” she continues is impractical. “It does not help the stone wall stand. In fact, it is the most vulnerable to breaking. It is made from broken pieces. It is a potential weak point in the wall. But it is through stained glass that the light can bring color to the darkened nave.”
Mariele notes other persons’ stained glass shines out to us and from us. So it is through the stained glass of our choices, of our service, of our lives that God shines through to us. The 18 of us saw the light shine our in the lives of the Salvadoran people last week. We saw and celebrated the legacy of the Martyrs Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, Sr. Dorothy Kazel, Jean Donovan and their companions, and the Jesuit University in San Salvador and we know that tens of thousands of innocents have died and how many thousands more since then. Even now, around the globe–how many die in their attempt to escape poverty and conflict?
So where else do we see these masterpieces of which Mariele speaks? Look around this church, everyone here is such a masterpiece. Each of us has experienced pain of some kind—maybe it was illness like me (I was treated for epilepsy as a boy. In the days before computers and cable TV, and often in isolation, I was so bored I would watch the traffic light change outside my window.), my mother was a widowed at 32 (on December 18th, so Christmas was always a tense time for her even as she neared 100). She knew a lot of pain but likely never could have seen that pain as the stained glass of her life. Maybe that insight would have brought her the peace for which she longed.
We don’t have to travel to find the margins. Jesus was born in the margins, lets us invite Jesus to help us find a way find justice and to heal every member of our campus.
Can we see that misunderstandings, family conflicts, and bullying cause pain? Can we see what the sin of racism does to African Americans on our campus? Can we understand how alone and isolated persons of color can feel on campus, even in class? Do we see behaviors that suggest the sin of homophobia? Do we know that Muslims and Jews are Children of Abraham our Father in Faith? Our campus rejects divisions based upon race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin. Do we treat others as sisters and brothers of ours—our campus community and everyone else? Our choices impact our community—it makes this community what it is.
Right now our divisions, disrespect and sin, do damage to members of our community. Our work for justice off campus is undermined by the injustice we tolerate here on campus. We can work together to make an inclusive campus community a reality but it will take the efforts of all Persons of Good Will to make real the promise of the angels sang: Peace on Earth: Good will to all. This year I ask you to commit to work with everyone on campus to build a community of respect and inclusion—Good will for all.
The Lord our God is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you…with gladness, and renew you in his love.
The Peace of God…will guide your hearts and minds especially for the next 32 hours.
God’s peace has guided us. God exhorts us tonight—will we listen to the good news and live it so that it is good news for all? We are filled with expectation.