Dear Parishioners,

There is an old rabbinic story about a farmer named Isaac who went to his neighbor and asked to borrow his donkey. The neighbor said, “I’m sorry Isaac, but my donkey is already out on loan to someone else.” But just as he finished speaking, the donkey brayed from inside the stable. So, Isaac said, “How can you tell me that your donkey is on loan to someone else when I can hear him braying inside the stable?” The neighbor shook his head and said, “Isaac, who are you going to believe, the donkey or me?”

“Who are you going to believe?” That question is posed by today’s gospel. In the gospel today we hear many good things. We hear of the good news of Jesus Christ. We hear that God is present in our world. John the Baptist says that Christ is coming, a powerful Christ that will baptize us in the Holy Spirit. All these things are wonderful. But they are not the only voices in our world.

There are other voices that tell a very different story: the voices of terrorism and war, that tell us we are not safe and that we may need to use violence to protect ourselves; the voices of scandal in business and in our church that undermine the institutions we value and cause us to doubt our connection to them. There may be voices in our own lives, voices of dissension and rejection that we find in our relationships–in our families, in our marriage, in our friendships–voices that tell us that trust and love are no longer possible. There might be the voices of grief, voices that tell us that we have lost something very dear; perhaps a person who has died. These voices tell us that we will never shake that emptiness. We will never be happy again. All these voices resound in our ears. They tell us that there is no good news, only bad news; that there is no reason to rejoice, only reason to weep. Who are we going to believe?

Both the words of John the Baptist and the words of Advent call us to listen. To listen for the Good News, to listen for the voice from the stable. You and I believe that Jesus Christ was born in a stable, lived his life, died and rose again as our risen Lord. We believe that he is still with us. We believe that if we listen, we can hear his voice. We might hear it in the innocence of children, or in the faithfulness of a friend, or in the goodness of our spouse, or in the kindness of a co-worker. We might hear good news in a ministry that we engage in as part of a Christmas project here at St. Philip (the Giving Tree or food collection), or in generosity from a stranger, or in the beauty of the snow, or in the stillness of our hearts.

Wherever we hear those voices, those voices of good news, Advent tells us to listen to them and let them in. Advent tells us that the voices of negativity, the voices of gloom and fear should not be the only voices in our lives. They are not the only voices in the world. There are voices of good news if we can hear them. There is reason for hope if we can let it in.

Shouts of bad news and shouts of good news cry out at the same time. Reasons for hope and reasons for despair coexist within our world. Who are we going to believe? Advent tells us to believe in the voice from the stable, to believe in the voice of Christ. His is a voice we can trust in. His is a voice we can stake our life on. If we listen to that voice, we will not be disappointed. For even though there is darkness and brokenness in our world, his voice will lead us to good news. Even though there are real cries of sadness, in his voice we can hear peace, hope, and joy.

Fr. Monteleone

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