Lynne Smith’s Homily from Christmas Day, December 25, 2016

Lynne Smith, OSB Homilies 2 Comments

Christmas Day – 2016                                                                     Lynne Smith, OSB

In September this year, a husband and wife and their five children boarded a bus in a refugee camp in Tanzania to be taken to a plane where they would be flown to their new home in another country. The husband had lived in the refugee camp since he was eleven. The family didn’t know where they were going. When Joel Makeci Ebuela got off the plane, he asked, “Where am I?” He and his family, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, had arrived in the Missoula, Montana to start their new life. A recent article by Amy Frykholm in The Christian Century tells their story. (“Welcome to Missoula: Resettling Refugees in a Time of Fear,” December 21, 2016)

In the fall of 2015, when Joel and his wife, Bikyeombe Abwe were applying for resettlement, Mary Poole saw the photo of three-year-old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, who drowned trying to get to Turkey with his family. Poole was a new mother and she couldn’t get the picture out of her mind. At that time, she said she didn’t even know what a refugee was, but she felt she had to respond in some way. After many phone calls and learning more than she knew there was to learn, she got the office of the International Rescue Committee reopened in Missoula and established “the organization Soft Landing Missoula to help welcome immigrants.”

As you can imagine, Mary’s efforts were not popular. She, the city council members, volunteers and clergy who supported the plan received death threats. Nevertheless, as the protests grew, so did the offers of volunteer help. Amy Lee, who lived in the apartment below Joel and Bikyeombe and their family was against their coming. “It was hard enough, she said, to make ends meet for her own family and to get access to the health care they need. What good would it do to bring in more needy people? But her view changed when she met the family and heard their story. She has become an advocate for them.  “I like the whole family”, she said. ‘But that one,’ she pointed to Joel and Bikyeombe’s three-year-old daughter, Bertha, ‘I already love.’” (p. 25)

According to Luke’s telling, Jesus was born into the midst of daily life shaped by the dominating power of the Roman Empire and the chaos of family life caught on the margins. Luke’s story tells us where to look for the hope and peace we seek. It doesn’t lie with the powerful of the empire nor with plans we might make by ourselves. The hope and peace we yearn for deep down will be found in something ordinary and yet entirely new that God brings about with our cooperation. God comes to less than perfect people in less than ideal circumstances and invites us to participate in the new thing God is doing. We find hope in a child lying in a manger who parents out of love and obedience risked social ostracism and rejection to provide for him. We may be surprised to find the holy precisely in the humble and vulnerable ones among us or when we are powerless and know our interdependence with others. We may meet the holy through the stranger or the outsider rejected by those in power. We may find the holy in our midst when our plans for peace and prosperity have fallen apart. In freedom, God breaks into our lives at the margins, in the difficulties we face, when we seem to be powerless, when we are tempted to despair. This in-breaking of the spirit in ordinariness and humility calls together a community oriented toward justice and compassion.

God does this unexpected new thing. Rather than rescuing people out of this difficult situation, the Holy enters into it, coming as a human being to gather a community and show us how strong the divine love is for all people. This is not the way we would write the life of God if we had it to do.

But the Holy One is not confined by our plans nor restricted by the powers that be. God has promised life and peace and love for all people. The prophets of old spoke of this promise. Now we have heard and seen it in Jesus. Having heard this message of peace, we are invited to participate in it creating communities of justice and compassion.

Since Joel and Bikyeombe arrived in Missoula, other refugee families have been resettled there as well. Joseph Bazunga and Vanis Nyiraburango and their 15-year-old daughter, Sifa came after fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo and spending almost twenty years in a refugee camp in Uganda. A few weeks after their arrival, they were asked about their hopes and concerns for life in Missoula. Joseph said his worry was learning English. Vanis said, “English is hard.” When asked what they hoped for, the three of them spoke in Swahili among themselves “searching for the word in English. Joseph said finally, ‘We hope here to experience life’” (p. 25).

Jesus is born and God has spoken to us through the Beloved. God desires to give us life and will go to any means disrupting the powers that be to bring it about for all people. We who hear the song of the angels are called to participate in bringing forth this life and love through our lives.



Prayers of Intercession

God of incarnation, your angel host announces that peace has been born among us, embodied in fragile flesh. With confidence in the power of that miracle, we bring before you our prayers for the church and the world.

  • For the 65 million refugees displaced from their homes around the world, that we would have welcoming hearts as big as yours to extend to them life and hope, we pray, God among us, hear our prayer.
  • For the Christian Churches and world religions, that we would take to heart your message of peace, justice and love and come together in unity to witness to your dream for all peoples, we pray,
  • For the sick and dying, that they may be comforted by your presence through family and friends and their care givers.
  • For those who have lost hope and do not know where to turn, that the promise of your presence would break into their lives bringing hope and peace, we pray.
  • For all those written in our books of intentions and those for whom we have promised to pray, we pray.

Tender and precious God, from ancient times the promise of your salvation has sustained your people. Teach us to treasure in our hearts the birth of Jesus, lead us to participate in the life of justice and compassion he taught. Amen.

Let us share a sign of God’s peace


Comments 2

  1. Lynne
    A spot on reminder that the Divine in-braking/resurfacing is always, and in all ways, here at this very moment in the humble, unassuming, spectacularly ordinary that we can so easily miss if we are not looking. Blessings of peace and rich productivity for you and the growing community at Holy Wisdom not only in this season of cold and quiet but also for all the years to come. Dennis

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