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21 Dec 2008

“And coming to [Mary], [Gabriel] said, ‘Hail, favoured one!  The Lord is with you.’  But she was greatly troubled at what was said …” (Luke 1:28-29)        In the name …

Bernard Madoff made-off with a ton of his friends’, family members’, and philanthropies’ monies, something like a staggering 50 billion dollars with of their money.  Tuesday evening I heard an interview on public radio with a professor from Harvard University who had written a book about John Kenneth Galbraith. http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/12/16/pm_big_bezzle/  Galbraith  was an economist who died just a couple of years ago.  He wrote a book about the Great Depression, and in it he coined the term “bezzle” for the time in 1929 when a steadily increasing economy suddenly grinds to a halt.  It’s at this time that embezzlement schemes come up short and are discovered.  As long as people are handing over more money to the ones who invest it for them, as long as new people keep coming along, then embezzlers have no problem hiding their shenanigans.  New money pays off old investors, but when the market stops growing and people want out, and people stop adding new money, well, that’s when the embezzlement schemes are discovered en masse. 

The Harvard professor on the radio the other night thinks we’re heading into another period of “bezzle.”  I was astonished at the amount of money Bernard Madoff had stolen, but the guy from Harvard thinks that there may be more and bigger embezzlements discovered before too long.  I find that even more astonishing, but I mentioned this to a group of people I was with on Tuesday and they didn’t seem too surprised.  They agreed with the Harvard professor that more Madoff’s are out there, more scandals, more bankruptcies for hard-working people who lose their entire life savings and retirement nest-eggs, more philanthropies that will have to close their doors and stop doing the good work they had been performing.  So if, say, there are just two or three other bigger Bernard Madoff’s out there, that means we’re talking about the lose of another 150 or 200 billion dollars.  What will that do to banks and investment firms tottering on the edge already?  What will that mean personally to people who were financially responsible and saved for a lifetime and then it’s all gone?  If people stop investing, what will that further do to our economy at large?  But the guys I was with accepted this news as all very possible, this extremely bad news as all very possible.  These are businessmen, accountants and professors.  They’re not naïve or cynical, in other words.  They’re out there everyday in the real world.  And they weren’t surprised by the bad news or the possibility of even worse news.

My question on this last Sunday of Advent as we stand only a few days shy of the wonderfully, joyously Good News of Christmas, is how come we’re so ready to accept the bad news of the world yet sometimes we appear so skeptical when it comes to the Good News that Christmas reveals about this same world?  Last Sunday I took our Sunday School students upstairs to church and we talked about the meaning behind the symbols of Advent.  One of the most prominent symbols of this season is the Advent wreath.  I mentioned that last Sunday’s pink candle symbolized the hint of joyous anticipation that sneaks into our Advent season of penance and spiritual preparation.  The joy of Christmas just can’t be kept completely in check at this time of the year.  The kids wanted to know, however, why the pink candle is third and not fourth.  Why do we move from the hint of joy one week, and then on the last Sunday before Christmas why do we move back to the purple of penance?  Today the angel Gabriel comes down from heaven to tell Mary that she will give birth to the Son of the Most High God.  The next liturgical step is for the angels to come back down from heaven on Christmas Eve to tell the shepherds that Christ has been born.  Why then are we back to the purple candle, the kids wanted to know.  And I don’t know why, but I wonder if it has anything to do with even the church having a bit of reluctance to really accept the Good News that Christmas reveals to and about our world.  Is even the church skeptical?  Is the willingness to accept the bad news of our world so prevalent that even the church turns away from the hint of joy in last week’s pink candle so that now as we hear Gabriel’s glorious message we still turn back to the purple of penance? Are even we reluctant?

Since the Advent wreath is only an adopted para-liturgical service.  It’s not like the Mass or the sacraments that can’t be altered willy-nilly.  How terrible would it be if next year we “accidently” put that third candle in the spot of the fourth candle? 

But back on topic … I know it’s not easy, some would even say it’s naïve, when we look at a world filled with violence, deception, hardship, disease and accident, and that these are repeated generation after generation, with only the characters and the locations changing, and yet to still hear and believe in the Good News that Christmas reveals to and about this world of ours, but that’s what we must do as Christians.  We are ready and willing to accept the bad news, and even the possibility of worse news around the corner, but that makes all the more important our willingness as people of faith, as people who believe that God became one of us on Christmas Day 2000 years ago, to make the conscious effort to believe in the Good News.  Even Mary when she heard the angel Gabriel address her as “favoured one,” was, in the words of today’s Gospel, “greatly troubled.”  Even Mary had trouble embracing the Good News and instinctively reverted to an expectation of bad news.  We have to be cautious of this pessimism.  We don’t need to be naïve, but neither do we need to be cynical.  The promise of the one who is coming on Christmas should fill us with hope above and beyond all of the nonsense this world throws at us. That willingness to hope is the final step of our Advent journey of preparation.  The willingness to hope in the Good News is what will open us up to the true joy and meaning of Christmas.  And for this gift of Christmas hope, for this we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  +


Fr. Randy Calvo


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