Homily for February 2019 Holy Hour
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 (2a)
If you look at the front of tonight’s program, the theme is “A Winter’s Rest.” I picked this time almost two weeks ago on a cold winter day with snow on the ground. So, a theme involving winter seemed appropriate. However, I was concerned that it would warm up to 60 and the snow would be gone.
Alas, the high temperature today was around 30 degrees Fahrenheit and the ground is covered with snow. Clearly, it is still winter.
We shouldn’t be surprised by it. It happens every year. The four seasons are a natural part of creation as God established it. While we might not enjoy the extremes of hot and cold, we can enjoy in our area experiencing all four seasons. The “bad weather” helps us appreciate the “good weather.”
However, in picking “A Winter’s Rest” as tonight’s theme, it is not so much the snow and the cold I was thinking about. Rather, think about the trees, think about the gardens. What do they look like right now? The trees are barren. The gardens are empty except maybe a bush.
What about the squirrels and the birds? We don’t see them much this time of year as they either migrate south or “huddle-in” for the winter.
Signs of life in the winter outdoors can be few and far between. Yet, we know that the cycle of the seasons will continue. Spring will come and the grass will grow, the leaves will come out, the gardens will grow, and the animals will come out. This is the natural cycle of life in creation.
So it is with death. Jesus died on the Cross. In worldly terms, his life was over and his body was laid in the tomb. If this was the end, it would be a terrible ending.
However, we know it is not the end. Jesus rose on Easter morning.
When Fall comes followed by Winter, so much of creation seems to die but it is not really dead but merely asleep. In the same way, we know that Jesus’ life did not end at his Crucifixion. Yes, his body was laid in the tomb but only for three days until He was raised up in the Resurrection.
As we sit inside on this winter night, we know spring will come. In the same way we know in faith that the dead will rise and so we have hope.
Now, think of the Jews who were taken in exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life and they had been ripped from it. For them, their existence, their life, as they knew it was over.
There were false prophets trying to appease the exiles by telling them God would rescue them from exile very soon. I stress “false” prophets because we can see in our reading from Jeremiah who was a true prophet that was not God’s plan.
God’s plan was for the Exile to last seventy years. Through Jeremiah, the Lord told them, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits. Take wives,….Increase there,…. Seek the welfare of the city…for upon its welfare your own depends.” The Lord is telling them that they will be there for a long time.
It wasn’t “home.” It wasn’t the way life should be but it is God’s plan. They are to make the best of it.
Now, think of our society today. We have not been taken away in physical exile but perhaps we can parallel the decline of faith in God in our society today with being in spiritual exile.
In exile, the Jews would not have been able to worship in the Temple. In a foreign land, they would have been expected to worship the false gods of the local king.
Many in our society expect us to worship false gods of money, power, and prestige. These are the gods for those put these first in their lives.
Perhaps the most distorted “false god” today is “freedom.” To them freedom means we can do whatever we want. They talk in terms of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion but ignore the “freedom” due to the child in the womb. They promote sexual freedom to live whatever sexual identity and behavior one chooses.
Yet, they restrict the free expression of our Christian values. We aren’t supposed to speak out for what we believe. Here lies the exile to which I refer.
Yes, we are free to choose. However, we make the best use of our freedom when we choose to follow God’s values in the faith He has given us.
So, we withdrawn and might choose to hide our faith, living in spiritual exile. Picture the empty trees, the empty gardens, and the lack of seeing outdoor wildlife. We look at society today and it is hard to see God. We might even feel abandoned. Remember winter does not last forever and neither will the spiritual exile.
For now, we hold onto our faith. We live in this world to the best of our ability but we remember what Paul wrote to the Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven.”