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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bethlehem or bust

[Blogger's note: I usually post my homilies at my other site but, since Fr. Joe Fedora was the inspiration for this, I thought I'd post it in both places. Enjoy.]


Joseph and Mary had such wonderful dreams and plans for the future. Following Jewish custom, they would be engaged for one year before living together as husband and wife. Then one day their dreams came crashing down because of two terrible facts: Mary was pregnant and it's wasn't Joseph's baby.

Joseph was filled with so many conflicting emotions and thoughts. Doubt, anger, hurt, resentment, confusion, betrayal, sadness and fear. Fear of what his family and friends would say when they found out. Fear of being thought a fool. Fear of being judged by religious leaders. Fear he had trusted and loved the wrong woman. But most of all, fear of what would happen to Mary when people found out. The Law of the Lord was clear. Such women must be stoned to death.

How many sleepless night did Joseph spend, tossing and turning, tortured by these thoughts and awful possibilities? Then he made up his mind to divorce her secretly so as not to expose her to the Law.

It was at this point that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child within her is conceived by the Holy Spirit."

Joseph rose from his sleep and took Mary as his wife and the rest, as they say, is history.

As we prepare to celebrate Christ's birth, consider there are people in our church today whose dreams have been shattered and whose future is in doubt. Some of you may be angry, hurt, resentful, confused, sad and filled with fear. The gospel message for you today is the same as to Joseph and the same as to Mary, "Do not be afraid." You are exactly where God wants you to be and no matter what happens, God will be with you.

Do not be afraid of losing your job. Do not be afraid of losing your health. Do not be afraid of losing your life. God will be with you. This is the message of Christmas. This is the hope born in a manger in Bethlehem.

I have never been to Bethlehem, but I hope to go there someday. My friend and colleague, Father Joe Fedora, lives and works in Peru, in South America. He sent me a Christmas message two weeks with the good news. He said:

"Guess what? I´m going to Bethlehem and I´m planning on spending lots of time there! I’m traveling light; I can’t afford to be weighed down by things I won’t need. One carry-on should do it. Getting there shouldn’t be a problem; I’ve been there before and, besides, I’ve lots of angels and stars showing me the way. Once I arrive, I’m going to take off my shoes and maybe even kiss the ground. And then I´m off to the manger – the AIDS ward and soup kitchen and prison – to hang out with Jesus. I’m going to Bethlehem and don’t even have to leave Lima.
“When I was sick…
When I was hungry…
When I was in prison…”
Where will you be spending the Holidays?
May the angels and stars in your life show you the way to Bethlehem.
Merry Christmas!
Love, Joe

So as we prepare to celebrate Christmas and hope that all the parties and presents will take away whatever pain we may be feeling, remember Bethlehem is only a car, a bus or a subway ride away. A homeless shelter, an old folks home, a hospital. All these are the stable of Bethlehem because in all these Christ may be found.

And when you find Christ, or rather, once Christ finds you, you'll no longer be weighed down by fear. Do not be afraid to take Joseph, and Mary and Jesus into your hearts and into your homes. Do not be afraid. God is with you.

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