Sunday, March 18, 2012


Yesterday may have been for the "wearin' o' the green," but in the Church this Sunday, it's again the wearin' o' the rose.

That said, I did "go green" this the sense of "recycling," that is.  Those of you who have heard/read my homilies for some time may recognize this one; it's modestly reworked from a homily I gave on these readings at St. Mary's Cathedral in Ogdensburg when I was assigned there back in 2006.

   Fourth Sunday of Lent   B 

As most of you know,
I grew up on a farm over in Beekmantown
where there’s a large hill out behind the barn.
When we finished our chores on mid-winter evenings,
it would already be dark as we headed to the house for supper.
They hadn’t put streetlamps up on our road yet,
so we could clearly see
both the lights of Plattsburgh just down the road apiece
and the stars above, millions of miles away.
As a little kid, I remember noticing—not every night, but fairly often—
a bright beam of light that came up from over and behind the hill,
repeatedly scanning across the sky.
I couldn’t see where 
the light was coming from,
and I was too scared to tell anyone 
about what I saw…
…mostly because…I was absolutely certain
it was an alien spaceship scoping us out.
(I had a fairly active imagination!)
Needless to say, 
I remember being much relieved
when I first realized that it was actually
the light of the beacon 
at the Clinton County Airport
helping planes to find their way in the dark!

This is Laetare Sunday.
Like the mid-point of Advent
when the rose-colored candle begins to glow,
so at the mid-point of Lent the Church encourages us
to “lighten up” a bit in the midst
of our penitential Easter preparations—
to rejoice in the brightness of the resurrection
which already shines upon us and all of creation.
It’s a time to celebrate the light that came to scatter our darkness.

Our first reading this Sunday
tells of a very dark time in the history of God’s people.
The second Book of Chronicles is the last in the Jewish Bible…
…and, at first glance anyway,
it doesn’t look like this story is going to have a happy ending.
Invading armies have forced God’s chosen people to leave the Promised Land.
It was the people’s infidelity that brought on this disaster—
condemned by their own sinful actions.

Prophets had been sent 
time and again 
to call them back;
God’s love 
had remained constant,
but the people’s had not.
With the temple burned 
and Jerusalem destroyed,
the survivors live as captives 
in a foreign land
for seventy long, painful years,
weeping by 
the streams of Babylon, 
robbed even of their songs.

But into this bleak darkness a light begins to shine—
one which is almost missed because its source is so unexpected.
A new king comes to power—a Persian, named Cyrus—
who releases God’s people to return to Judah
and to rebuild the Lord’s house at royal expense.
One could understand how a foreign ruler
had taken rebellious Israel off into exile.
But could God really be using another unbeliever
to restore it again?

Our gospel reading begins 
under cover of darkness, as well.
a prominent religious leader—
had come to question Jesus 
by night,
for it would certainly raise 
more than a few eyebrows
if he were seen seeking counsel 
of this rabble-rouser
who had just caused such a ruckus
among the moneychangers 
in the temple.
But like a moth to the flame,
his searching heart 
was drawn to this man
who not only spoke the truth, 
but lived it.
The light Nicodemus found 
shining in and through Jesus
pulled him out of the shadows,
to the point that he would be one of the few who made sure
that Jesus had a proper burial after his death on the cross.
Could God really be taking someone
who comes in secret, with such fear and mixed motives,
and make him a firsthand witness to the saving love revealed in his Son?

The light of Christ—the true light that has come into the world—
often shines like that airport beacon
which I used to see—but not understand—on dark nights as a child.
It is meant to guide us along life’s often dim and winding pathways:
there not to condemn, but to save;
burning that we might not perish, but have eternal life.
The trouble is, sometimes we do not recognize
the light for what it really is.
Like the thought of God working thorough a pagan king,
its source may be hidden, unexpected,
or too startlingly different and new.
We can have a hard time believing
that the Lord might actually try to meet us in “this sort” of situation,
might actually speak to us through “that kind” of person.
Sadly, too, we sometimes even prefer the darkness.
Like Nicodemus, we are troubled by what the light might expose—
shortcomings we’d rather leave concealed,
shady tendencies of which we’re not quite ready to let go.
We feel the pull to come nearer,
but can also feel too frightened, too embarrassed,
too ashamed to get too close.

God’s only Son, Light from Light, was lifted high on a cross
that he might lift us up together with him in glory.
He came into this world’s darkness
not to alarm us, not to accuse us, not to rebuke us,
but to bring to light the incredible riches of God’s mercy.
As Saint Paul writes to the Ephesians,
God’s love for us is so great that, in Christ,
he has already given us seats in heaven:
not because of our own stumbling efforts to find a way in the night,
but because of the shining beacon of God’s saving grace;
not because of anything we might accomplish ourselves,
but because we are God’s handiwork,
created and re-created by his free gift.

In Jesus we find a light brightly beaming from beyond…
…though not from an alien spaceship.

If we can find the faith, 
if we can have the trust,
to seek after its unseen source,
we will find it slowly scattering 
the darkness of doubt and fear
that so often clouds our minds and hearts.
Recognizing God’s only Son 
present here in the Eucharist,
may our eyes be opened to see him
whenever, however, 
and in whomever he should come to us,
unafraid to step out of the shadows 
and into his light.

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