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The Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 22, 2019


    G. K. Chesterton, the British author, poet, literary light, convert to Catholicism – and arguably one of the great writers of the twentieth-century - once said that the reason people like fairy tales is that they’re like Bible stories. Chesterton specialized in getting people’s attention with startling statements, but he did have a point because the two do have one thing in common: the altogether surprising and unexpected things that happen in both of them – things which completely reverse ordinary human expectations.  The girl, covered in ashes, who was forced to keep house for her wicked stepmother and spoiled sisters goes to the ball and marries a prince; a boy with a magic bean outwits a towering giant and brings home gold to his poor widowed mother.

     Those may not sound much like Bible stories – until you remember a young lad named David who used a sling shot to bring down a hulking giant. Or the elderly Abraham and Sarah who became the progenitors of a great people, numerous as the sands of the seashore.  Or Elizabeth, sterile and childless in her old age, conceiving and bringing forth the prophet and precursor, John the Baptist. And then there’s Joseph of Nazareth who listened to his dreams and met God in them, and Mary, his betrothed, who opened herself and her life to God and brought forth in a wondrous manner God’s own Son, the long-awaited Messiah.   

     Fairy stories those are not. Bible stories they are – full of surprises – even the miraculous. And unlikely as they are, we like them – in much the same way that children like fairy tales because who doesn’t like stories where the small, the weak, and the insignificant come out on top? Stories like that give us hope. And not only that: the stories that crowd the pages of the Scriptures open our eyes to the surprising and unexpected things – even miraculous things – that are happening all around us even now because whenever God is at work, miracles do happen. And when is God not at work!

     Let me share with you a couple of ‘miracle stories’ that are very close to home. Six days a week here at the Cathedral an army of volunteers – ordinary folks with extraordinarily generous hearts - prepare and serve meals to hundreds of poor and homeless people in what I think of as a kind of modern-day re-enactment of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The meals really shouldn’t happen, and they wouldn’t, except for that fact that a superabundance of food seems to come almost out of thin air, thanks to generous merchants, and thanks to equally generous volunteers who delight in making miracles happen.

     Or think of some of our young people who minister to their peers with special needs. They’re just kids but they work wonders Sunday after Sunday as they accompany and shower love and attention on their special needs friends and help them to learn about Jesus and about how much God loves them. That’s another kind of miracle that probably shouldn’t happen – after all, they’re just kids - but happen it does. Right here. And the truth is that stories like these are happening around here all the time. Every day.

     This weekend, we are remembering yet another kind of ‘miracle’ that took place here at St. James Cathedral exactly twenty-five years ago when a fairly small but highly committed group of parishioners pitched in to bring about a miracle in this Cathedral we love. Thanks to their efforts, their generosity, and their willingness to dream big and reach far, this Cathedral church - pretty tired, dated and, to be honest, kind of dreary - got marvelously transformed into this!  Into what we all take for granted today. But let me assure you that it wasn’t always this way!

      Thanks to those people, some of whom are still with us, this wonderful Cathedral came alive and took its place among the great cathedrals of this country. But more important by far, this whole community came alive in new ways, and what had been a rather modest neighborhood parish here on First Hill with a fairly low profile in the city became a beacon for the city and for the entire region. And that’s not a fairy tale or a Bible story, but it is kind of a miracle story, I hope you agree!

     Dear friends in Christ, it’s almost Christmas, the season of the miracle we love most: the coming among us of the Word made flesh, the child of Bethlehem, our savior, our redeemer.  Open your eyes to the wonder of it all. Take it in. And then give thanks that miracles are not confined to the past: God’s wonders are all around us. All we need are eyes to see and hearts to believe!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303