The outstretched hand

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, Benedictine Fr. Christopher Kirchnessnerr reminded us at Mass that it is "our responsibility to bring the excitement of our loving God into this hurting world!" This message was timely, especially since my mind had been pondering the devastations of the world.

I had been questioning how I was to celebrate this holy season when so many people are suffering. Father Christopher's message answered my question.

I was reminded of recent events I had experienced. Sister Nancy and I were eating a late dinner at a famous restaurant last week. At a nearby table approximately eight elementary school teachers were celebrating the beginning of Christmas vacation. Their laughter was joy-filled and contagious. Their liveliness was so inviting I did not hesitate to stop by their table on the way out and tell them so. Their responses to my comment only incited more laughter.

The next day my niece Taeylor and I were at a different restaurant enjoying a chocolate molten cake with an extra scoop of vanilla ice cream. A little girl stopped by the table and, extending her small hand toward my niece, said, "This is for you!" She placed a shiny quarter in Taeylor's hand. Three times the quarter was unsuccessfully returned, as with determination the little girl placed the coin in Taeylor's recoiling hand.

As I watched this exchange I wondered if I should intervene until the child's mother approached us and said to Taeylor, "Please, it is okay to take it. She is a very caring child and likes to do nice things for nice people." We had never seen the little girl before, but something in her heart connected with my niece.

For me, these two episodes captured the message of Father's homily. Perhaps, this is how I will celebrate this holy season in the midst of such a suffering world; to laugh more with others and to extend a caring hand.

My inner spirit had become restless as I have questioned how was I to celebrate this holy season when some hearts were in turmoil and minds were conflicted. How do I remain mindful of the reason for this Christian season when I live in a country where people no longer trust one another, and crudeness towards others has become the norm?

It appears to me that the core of America is becoming distasteful and rotten; unappealing like soured milk. For me, the spirit of America has weakened. I fear that the infrastructure of the United States will implode because of rash judgements or erupt like a volcano or crumble beneath the weight of greed and the obsession for power.

Government polarization, extortion, and a disrespect for humanity have torched the underbelly of the United States. Unrest and violence on all levels of society have become such an everyday affair that emotions have become immune to the stinging grips of sadness and dark passages of evil.

Is America becoming a living testimony of how not to be Christ-like while still righteously professing a love for God?

I have to hold on to Father Christopher's message of hope. I have to let people know that an exciting, living and loving God is still present in this world where a young child dies in the arms of his father, hundreds of children are orphaned by explosives, and thousands of refugees and immigrants are seeking safe shelter.

It becomes my responsibility to make the birth of Jesus come alive to the mother who screams as she watches her child pulled from a burning building; the presence of God alive in Jesus to the family searching at night for a place to sleep within the rubble of a once vibrant city.

If I close my eyes and feel the silence around me, I enter a world of peace. In the silence, I find God waiting and listening. In silence, I find God crying with the father who holds one dying child but simultaneously gains strength to embrace another. In the silence that weighs heavy on my ears, I find God who leads a displaced family to a safe place for one more night.

In spite of the selfish and careless interactions of humanity, there are those who provide comic relief, and there are those who offer an outstretched hand.

God will always embrace us. God will give us another day and raise us victoriously; one more opportunity to heal beyond defeat.

God is the courage that moves the smallest one step beyond her greatest fear. God is the consolation that soothes stinging pangs of sadness and the stabbing pains of being misunderstood. When we feel alone, God is in the sound of the breath we breathe, and when we are lonely, God is the comforter in the warmth we feel.

We can all celebrate this holy season as God has intended; we have nothing to fear.

Dr. Bill Leonard in his sermon, "Shepherds, Angels and the Rest of Us," captures it best when he quotes parts of "The Wizard of Oz" film.

"You are a very bad man," Dorothy says when she discovered that the would-be wizard was not wise at all.

"Oh, no, my dear," the old man replies, "I am a very good man. I am a very bad wizard."

That is it, isn't it? God did not send the Christ-child in order to make us wizards who know everything, understand everything and control everything. God was in Christ not to make us wizards, but to make us good. And the wonder of it all is that grace may find us in people and places that are least expected, often with danger all around. We're all "bad wizards;" that's why we need grace.

So, according to Dr. Leonard, the good news is this: Fear not. Fear not angels or wizards, cheaters or power-brokers. Fear not, for God has come among us. Fear not, for the world is filled with wonders. Fear not, fear not, fear not, Amen. (Dr. Bill Leonard is professor of church history at The School of Divinity at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina).

Let us fear not and take on the responsibility of bringing the excitement of God into the world. Sing, shout, dance, and laugh . . . throw quarters . . . Jesus is the Kings of Kings and the Prince of Peace!

[Mercy Sr. Larretta Rivera-Williams is originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she is coordinator of pastoral care at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church. Since entering the Sisters of Mercy in 1982, she has ministered as an elementary, secondary and divinity school educator. She has written and produced plays as well as directed and choreographed.]

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