Saturday, December 25, 2021





Jesus was not white. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you’ve ever entered a Western church or visited an art gallery. But while there is no physical description of him in the Bible, there is also no doubt that the historical Jesus was a brown-skinned, Middle Eastern Jew.




In 2001, the retired medical artist Richard Neave led a team of Israeli and British forensic anthropologists and computer programmers in creating a new image of Jesus based on an Israeli skull dating to the first century A.D., computer modeling and their knowledge of what Jewish people looked like at the time. Though no one claims it’s an exact reconstruction of what Jesus himself actually looked like, scholars consider this image—around five feet tall, with darker skin, dark eyes, and shorter, curlier hair—to be more accurate than many artistic depictions Jesus.

In her 2018 book, WHAT DID JESUS LOOK LIKE?, Taylor used archaeological remains, historical texts and ancient Egyptian funerary art to conclude that, like most people in Judea and Egypt around the time, Jesus most likely had brown eyes, dark brown to black hair and olive-brown skin. He may have stood about 5-ft.-5-in. (166 cm) tall, the average man’s height at the time.

While Cargill agrees that these more recent images of Jesus—including darker, perhaps curlier hair, darker skin and dark eyes—probably come closer to the truth, he stresses that we can never really know exactly what Jesus looked like.

“What did Jewish Galileans look like 2,000 years ago?” he asks. “That's the question. They probably didn't have blue eyes and blond hair.”


Several years ago, a man died and went to heaven. For some reason, God let him come back to earth for one day. The news people heard of it and decided to send out reporters and cameramen to see what he would say. There were reporters from every radio and TV station in the world waiting in breathless anticipation. They were told that they would all have to agree on one question and one question only. After hours of negotiation they settled on one question and decided that  Brian Williams of MSNBC would to be the one to ask the agreed on question at noon on Christmas Day. 

They brought the poor man who had died and come back from heaven and seated him in a big chair in the center of the stage. His name was Jack. Brian Williams went up to Jack with his hand held microphone and asked timidly, "Jack, you have been to heaven and back. You are the only one who has seen God face to face and returned to earth. We all want to know! Here is our question. What does God look like?" There was a long anxious pause as Jack took the microphone. Jack took a deep breath and said softly into the microphone, "She is black!"

People all over the world fainted at the news, but they all went back home knowing that their inherited cultural perceptions of God had been seriously challenged! 


Friday, December 24, 2021



Do not be afraid! I proclaim good news of great joy!

Luke 2:1-14

The real Christmas story is far from sweet and sentimental, no matter what Hallmark Cards has to say! If one reads the story of the birth of Jesus carefully, without all the embellishments, a pretty pathetic situation is presented. Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, but not yet married, found herself pregnant. Joseph almost left her because of it, before he had the chance to understand the facts. Mary came due at the very same time that Joseph was required by law to register in a Roman census that was taken every 14 years. It meant they were forced to travel 80 miles, across country on donkey-back, to a far-off town. All this, so that the foreign government occupying their country could collect more taxes! Away from home and unable to find a place to stay, with no family or friends to help her with childbirth, Mary delivers her child in a barn and places him in a box, out of which the animals ate. Luke could hardly have painted a bleaker picture if he had ended there.

However, Luke knew that if this event had taken place back home, the birth of their son would have been an occasion of great joy. In accordance with their tradition, when the time of the birth was near at hand, friends and local musicians would have gathered near the house to await the news. When the birth was announced, the musicians would have broken into music and song, and there would have been universal congratulations, singing, and dancing around the house.

Luke, the teller of this story, looking at it with eyes of faith, takes this pathetic situation and has the savior of the world welcomed by a surrogate family and musicians: simple shepherds and choirs of angels. Luke paints a pathetic human situation and then has heaven wrap its wings around it and sing to it! And so, God becomes flesh in the humblest of situations.

We know all the details of the Christmas story quite well, but we also need to know the point of the story. We need to know what it means. Luke is not just reporting facts here. He has a point to make. The story of the incarnation is a disarmingly simple story about God kissing the earth and every human being on it. By sending his Son, Jesus, into the world in this way, God is saying to us that heaven is involved in our lives, even in the most pathetic and unlikely situations, even when things seem hopeless and God seems absent. By sending his Son, Jesus, into the world in this way, God is saying that he loves us, all of us, every part of us, including the weakest and most vulnerable of us, even those of us the world considers worthless. 

The story does not end here. This God-child grew up and, in his ministry, Jesus reached out to reconcile heaven and earth. Jesus chose especially the poor and sinners of society to give them a sense of their own dignity. Jesus brought the news that all are considered royal persons, whether they are born in a barn or in a palace. Being poor and rejected himself, he was sensitive to the pain of the oppressed and insists that no one can rob them of their divine dignity, no matter how desperate their situation. By embracing broken and sinful humanity, he wraps the wings of heaven around it, redeeming it.

What does this incredibly loving God want from us for all this? What kind of response does God want to these incredible gestures? In a nutshell, he wants to be engaged in our lives. He wants our hearts. My friends, on this Christmas night, we find ourselves caught in the embrace of an incredibly loving God. Our God does not demand that we be perfect. Our God does not demand that our relationship with him go smoothly all the time. Our God does not even demand that we be free of failure or that we get it right all the time. Our God does, however, insist that we do our best to respond to his love. Our God understands, that far more important than the perfection of response, is the fact that we continue to respond no matter how strong the discouragement and how many the failures.

Our best is good enough for God, no matter how pitiful our best may be some days. Our God wants us to live fully, passionately, and to radiate toward each other a bit of the graciousness that he radiates toward us. In giving us his Son, God has given us his heart. He wants our hearts in return. He wants a relationship with us. He wants us to have a relationship with each other. Christmas is that simple and that difficult.

Most of us know his story by heart. But what does it mean? It means that God so loved the world that he bent over backwards to prove it. He took on human flesh, experiencing everything we experience, but sin. His whole life became one great “show and tell.” By word and deed, he showed us the secret to happiness, how to live our lives and how to treat each other. To top it off, he laid down his life for us, dying like a common criminal, rejected and scorned, loving us anyway! Then he left us with this challenge: “Now love one another as I have loved you!” It's that simple and that difficult! In other words, now that we have heard the Christmas story, we are called to “do likewise.” 

Thursday, December 23, 2021


I can still remember that Christmas - probably 1949 - when I woke up on Christmas Day literally shaking with anticipation of what I would find under the Christmas tree. Back then, all it took was one toy, a small bag of candy and some fruit to concentrate the anticipation of Christmas in my little brain to the point that my body shook and trembled all over. 

In Rhodelia, back then, we had very little so something that "special" could do that to me. I can't remember ever experiencing such an intense emotion like that since then. I guess that is what happens when a person goes through life with "too much." They lose the ability to experience that intense thrill of anticipation that goes with receiving something "special." 


(I Love It When Children Tell the Truth)

It never hurts for a 10 year old boy to butter-up Santa Claus a little bit! 
In the country, we called it "greasing the skids!" 



Tuesday, December 21, 2021




Sunday, December 19, 2021


This painting by Polish painter, Piotr Stachiewicz, is entitled "Christ's Farewell to Mary." It depicts Jesus leaving his mother in Nazareth to begin his public ministry. This painful moment in Mary's life shows Jesus kissing Mary's hand and Mary stroking Jesus' hair as his walking stick and drinking jug wait on the ground. 

Blessed are you among women, Mary. Blessed are you
who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.

Luke 1:39-45

Back when I was a young priest, while I was associate pastor at St. Mildred Church in Somerset, Kentucky, I designed several large banners for the church. Banners were very popular back in the 1970s. The people seemed to appreciate most of them, but one of them raised more than one old lady's eyebrows. It pictured a very pregnant Mary, sitting in a rocking chair deep in meditation, her arms folded carefully over her swollen abdomen. I was trying to capture the words of the gospel in the Annunciation story: “Mary was deeply troubled by the angel's words and wondered what his greeting meant.” I tried to imagine Mary sitting around her house trying to figure out what her surprise pregnancy meant and where her life would lead. After all, she was an unwed mother in the eyes of the Jewish law of her day. Well, the banner was seen as a bit blasphemous in the eyes of some of the very pious. l stood my ground and it went up every year while I was there. The people finally got used to it and many came to love it.

In the first chapter of Luke, Mary is called “blessed” no fewer than three times, once by the angel Gabriel and twice by her cousin Elizabeth in today’s text. “Blessedness” is not all it’s cracked up to be! It’s certainly not all peaches and cream, not by a long shot. Mary was granted the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God. Because of the blessedness, her heart was filled with a mixture both joy and sorrow. It was almost as if she could smell a rat! Her blessedness came to be a sword piercing her heart. It would lead someday to seeing her son hanging on a cross, spit on and despised by a mocking crowds.

To be chosen and blessed by God has its ups and downs. It means great joy and it means great sorrow. Ask anyone who has ever had such a call from God! Ask Peter, Paul, John the Baptist, any of the martyrs, Theresa, Augustine, Joseph, Abraham and Sarah, Jeremiah, Jonah or Isaiah. Ask any of the millions of parents, priests and sisters – anyone who have been called by God for some special task. The raw truth is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort, but to use that person for his special designs and purposes. To be called by God is a scary adventure. With that honor and privilege comes awesome responsibility. Nowhere can we better see the paradox of blessedness than in the life of Mary. She had the joy of being the mother of the Son of God but she also had to face the ridicule of her neighbors, the possibility of being abandoned by Joseph, the disappearance of Jesus for three days when he was a boy, the possibility that he had lost his mind when he was a young rabbi and, finally, his cruel and tortured death when he was a young man.

Mary was “blessed” alright. However, the gospels honor her not so much for her unique and privileged position as “mother” as for her total trust in God no matter what! “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” As the privileged mother we can admire her. As one who totally trusts God, in good times and bad, we can emulate her!

Like Mary’s “blessedness,” this holiday season will, no doubt, be a confusing mixture of joy and sadness. I have heard story after story of happy engagements, heroic generosity, new families being reunited, reconciliations among old enemies, beautiful celebrations and jobs found. I have also heard a lot of sad stories about unemployment, terrible sickness, old people in nursing homes who cannot die, broken marriages, family fights and auto accidents. In fact for me, being “blessed” by God means being in a position to be able to absorb these stories. One minute I will get a letter from a parishioner who tells me how much closer he or she has drawn to God because of a homily I have given or something I have written; the next minute the phone rings telling mg me about a newly discovered cancer or upcoming surgery. One minute I am going to a Christmas party; the next minute l am on my way to a friend's funeral. One morning I am stopped by someone in the street who gushes with compliments about something I have done for them; by midafternoon I get a royal chewing out by someone else for something I have overlooked or forgotten. 

A priest’s life, much like a parent’s life, is often a blessed life and often a pain-filled life. Many of you parents have told me about one of your children who brought you so much joy as a child who now brings you so much pain as a young adult with their addictions and bad choices. The life of a priest and the life of  a parent can often be very much alike. We can be forced into situations where we laugh one minute and cry the next, all in a day’s time!

Most evenings, when it all quiets down and I am alone with my thoughts, I just sit down in a big chair with my journal and wonder what it all means. Some evenings, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Like Mary in her rocking chair in that old banner I designed years ago, I just sit there and wonder what it all means and where it will all lead. Like Mary kneeling before the angel Gabriel, I am reminded of words like: “Do not fear,” “God is at work here," and "Trust God, believe in yourself and dare to dream.”

My friends, on this fourth Sunday of Advent, the church holds Mary up to us as a model of complete trust in God - in good times and in bad, through thick and thin. Somehow, many of us have gotten the impression that problems, pain and disillusionment are signs of God's absence. Mary teaches us that all our confusing mixtures of joy and sorrow are actually signs of “blessedness,” signs that God is indeed active in our lives and all our troubles can eventually be turned to good.

My friends, don't let Advent go by this year without a few minutes in a rocking chair with Mary, pondering what the events of your life mean. Advent is a time to renew our commitment to trust God no matter what, and patiently wait for insight into what it all means and direction on how to proceed! When we don't have answers is when we need to trust - to trust that God is an charge and that all things will eventually turn out for the good. 

"Blessed are we who have believed that what was spoken to us by the Lord will be fulfilled."