December 9, 2022

Dear St. Mark’s Family,

This past Tuesday, Deacon Joy offered the homily at Tuesday Healing Eucharist. Tuesday was the feast day of St. Nicholas and the gospel lesson used was:

Matthew 18:12-14

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

I was very moved with how Deacon Joy spoke of the incredible charity for which Nicholas has always been known, and then how that kind of charity is seen in the love for the ninety-nine and the one that was lost. This point really resonated with me…it is both/and. It is the ninety-nine and the one that are loved by the shepherd.

We are still on our Advent journey and can begin seeing and feeling the coming celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas. The deep love of Jesus, which Nicholas tried to faithfully practice, is at the core of our faith. This love is sheer gift, as it cannot be earned nor merited. We cannot make ourselves worthy to receive. I think this is part of why it is both so amazing and disconcerting to receive such grace and love. We might often feel like we must earn it (from the belief that nothing in this world is free), and when we fall short, we might also think that we are so unworthy that the gift should not be wasted on us. It can be so hard to rest on the belief that we are of value simply because God says we are.

I was visiting with a friend this week and they told me how messy their life is right now. There are family dynamics that are terribly complex, and it is hard to see how it can be and will be resolved. These friends are deeply faithful and bear witness to how this season of Advent waiting is incredibly messy. In our rush to Christmas, we so want things to be resolved so we can get on with the carols and festivities of the coming season.

Advent waiting might entail for you collapsing into the deep love of Jesus Christ. The mess in our lives will not be cleaned up quickly. There are not readily available answers to our troubling questions. It might be difficult to see how our own choices or of those we love can be redeemed. Yet, amid all of this, God loves, Period. God loves us. Perhaps a gift you can give yourself is to simply say, God loves me. If you are the lost one, God loves you. If you are in the ninety-nine, God loves you. Wherever you find yourself right now, trust you are beloved by God.

Fr. James