ANGELS – Week 3

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

My Dear Friends in Christ,

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. In addition to the third week of our message series on Angels, today is also Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice which is always celebrated on the third week of Advent, at or after the midpoint of our Advent journey. Our focus is different as is our liturgical color, all to remind us that our joy increases the closer we get to Christmas, or rather, I should say, the closer we get to Christ.

In spite of that, though, I still struggle with St. Paul. In fact, sometimes I think he’s crazy. Rejoice always? On my daily commute? When my kids are driving me nuts? In the face of sickness and disease? When work is insane and stressing me out? When I’m falling behind at school? When I’ve lost my job? When my pastor drones on and on and on? And then St. Paul goes further: Pray without ceasing. Again, the impossible, especially for those of us who struggle to focus for even a few minutes. Is St. Paul joking with us? Tormenting us?

Too often we think this way about matters of faith. God wants us to be perfect but, since we can’t be prefect, since we can’t rejoice always or pray without ceasing, we may as well give up, throw in the towel, concede the match and forget trying anything. But St. Paul is not a sadist nor is he crazy. And God does not ask us to do the impossible. Well, actually, God does ask us to do the impossible. But not on our own.

It turns out God is asking what’s impossible for us, but there is a key to the impossible, and St. Paul himself gives it to us. “Rejoice always” and “Pray without ceasing” are quickly followed by “In all circumstances, give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Paul wrote often about the practice of continual prayer, always in the context of gratitude or thanksgiving. In other words, it’s about worship. Worship is ascribing worth and value to something, investing our time and attention and money into it. Giving ourselves and our lives to something or someone else. We worship what we think will give meaning and purpose to our lives and we give our time and abilities and energy to what we worship. In fact, you and I were created to worship. Like eating or sleeping you simply cannot live and not worship. All of us worship. The only question is over what you worship.

People worship money, power, pleasure, sports, their kids, or their kid’s sports. We may not think about it this way, we may not feel comfortable using the word in this way. It’s clear what people worship because that’s where they invest their time, their energy, their enthusiasm and their money. The problem with worship of anything other than God is that such worship is, by its very nature, circumstantial. Such worship can make you happy such as if your team wins, your investments pay off, you get the date, you figure out the puzzle. But happiness is not guaranteed by such worship and, in fact, such worship might make you sad, your team loses, your investment is lost, you get stood up or the answer eludes you. You can enjoy sports, but you ought not worship them. You should love people, but not worship them. Worship of anything that isn’t God is circumstantial and illusive.

Authentic worship, on the other hand, is properly and fully directed to God. In other words, St. Paul is instructing us to make worship of God a lifestyle. Worship can be a part of the whole of your life, inform every area of your life, challenge you, sustain you even in the most mundane of situations. When we worship God, when we are aware of and revere God, when we invite God into any area, then we can rejoice always and pray without ceasing.

That’s what angels do, they worship God with the whole of their being and all of their activity. Angels live in God’s presence and stay focused on God. Scripture describes them as constantly worshiping and praising God. In fact, one of the most solemn and sacred moments at Mass is taken from the prophet Isaiah’s description of angelic worship: at a great distance…I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were angels, and they were calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Later, on at the first Christmas, angels appear in the sky outside of Bethlehem with worship that we also use at Mass, they sing: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” Heaven comes down to earth. The angels come and worship God who has become one of us, human in all things but sin. At Christmas, in Christ, heaven and earth get thoroughly and permanently mixed up together. God himself comes into our poverty and the angels continue to worship!

Christmas is a vindication for those angels who continue to worship a God who has emptied Himself, who comes into the cold, bleak and dark winter, who is born into poverty and limit and lack. And angels continue to worship. This whole mystery unfolds here at the Mass. The Mass is the source and the summit of the whole of our Christian living. Here we are united in worship with the angels and saints, to direct all of our worship to God. Here we enter into a ritual that takes us through the progress of this mystery, using words that angels themselves use. Here we come to the very source of our joy which is salvation in Christ, and we give thanks. Here Christ comes to us in simplicity and humility as food. Here we receive what we worship to become more like him. And from here we are sent back out into the whole of our lives to live this mystery in everything that we do, each relationship we have, our work, our family, our friends. The Mass can be the source and summit of a life of worship, in which we give thanks to God for everything.

One of the very best ways you can make progress in your spiritual life is to prepare for Mass, to read the readings, to share in the worship of the angels by spending quiet time with God. When we open back up, spend some time with the Blessed Sacrament, in Eucharistic Adoration. Draw close to the Lord you worship.

In today’s gospel reading we hear the familiar story that always accompanies our Advent celebration: the story of John the Baptist, the greatest and last of all the prophets. John is a towering figure in the Gospels who helps us recognize and receive Christ. He came to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. He was not the light. But he came to testify to the light. And that’s precisely what angels and saints do: testify to the Light, worship the Light, increase the Light. Oh, and it’s also what us ordinary everyday Christians are also called to do, we’re not the light, he is, we testify to the light. Our daily prayer time and our weekly worship at Mass are not meant to be the sum total of our worship. What God wants is a change in our heart, for us to live a worshipful life, one filled with worship. That comes from prayer. And leads to Joy.

And perhaps one of the best and most fruitful ways you can testify to the light is on Christmas Eve. More than any other night of the year, people approach Christmas Eve looking for… well, they may know not what. Ultimately, though, they’re looking for God, for the comfort and hope that God can give, the way forward God can provide, the light God seeks to bring into our world. And, like John the Baptist, you can help point out that light and testify to that light. We may not be able to be together, but we can reach out to others and invite them to watch and to celebrate on-line with us and with you. Gather your household and watch together as a family. At the same time, you can Zoom with someone who may be alone. Or call them and share God’s comfort, help them to grow closer to God and know how close God seeks to be to them; reveals God’s glory by thinking of them and sharing with them. Maybe you think of someone NOW. Begin NOW to share the light of Christ so it can shine brighter on Christmas Eve. We may not be able to do it in person, but we can still serve others.

Angels by their help and their example are reminders to be better people. Angels are all around us all the time, nearer than you think, and a lot more useful than you probably imagine.


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