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Christmas Eve – December 24, 2020

4112920[1]Luke 2:39-40

Filled With Wisdom and Light

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Last week we spent time with Luke’s telling of the Nativity Story and in our reflections we explored four Lucan themes: the rearing of Jesus in the Mosaic Law and traditions, the importance of Jerusalem and the Temple in Jesus’ family life, the presence of God’s Spirit in the Jesus story, and Jesus as the presence of truth and light that will effect decision and judgment. (Mays 932)

God says: When you experience my son in this story you too will be filled with wisdom and light. When you live in my Spirit you too will find your decisions come to you more easily for they will be made in and through me. I do not want to control you and that is why I have given you full free will. I want to love you, and I want you to love me. Jesus lives by the old law in order to bring about the new. This is not easy and it involves misery and disappointment; yet this sadness is transformed just as a butterfly arises from the cocoon spun by a caterpillar; new life springs from the decaying seeds of the old tree, and eternal life arrives through the fidelity and integrity of your relationships. Remain in me as I remain in you. Allow yourself to be filled with my wisdom and light. And allow my favor to bring you out of all suffering and pain. 

As the child grows strong and becomes filled with wisdom, so too do we grow in strength and understanding when we grow in God. As God’s favor rests upon the Child of Wisdom and Light, so too does God’s favor rest on each of us when we live and work in the Spirit. As we move through this holiest of weeks, let us open our hearts and minds to the gift of endless light and life.


Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 932. Print.

Image from: http://wallpaper4god.com/en/background_christian-graphic-light-of-the-world/

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Wednesday, December 23, 2012

Psalm 84

God’s Court

Nesting Barn Swallows

Nesting Barn Swallows

Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. 

In this brief last week of Advent we have little time to reflect on the coming nativity of one who is the keystone of our existence.  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, La Nochebuena or “The Good Night” as the Spanish name this holy day. This year, as we struggle with the stress and anxiety brought on by a pandemic,  we can experience the quickness that is our lives in this last week that brings us to the celebration of Christmas.

Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. 

One of the messages we hear continually in the Gospel parables is the need to be prepared. Jesus is forever reminding us of the importance of being good stewards of gifts God has given to us. We are repeatedly asked to be prepared for our own exodus. We are constantly told of the great value of the kingdom we are called to build with others. We are always asked to remain close to God no matter the circumstance. We might wonder why Jesus repeats this message so often and if so we need not look long for an answer.

As a sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest to settle her young, my home is by your altars, Lord of hosts, my King and my God! Happy are those who dwell in your house! They never cease to praise you.

We have no way of knowing our future no matter how hard we work at knowing. We have no eyes to see images of our lives a generation forward. We can only rely on God and God’s goodness to preserve and protect those who flock to him.

As a sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest to settle her young, my home is by your altars . . .

Chipping Sparrow Nest with Eggs

Chipping Sparrow Nest with Eggs

It is impossible to live the past again even if we want to right wrongs we have committed, even if we hope to heal wounds or change our crooked ways. We can only trust God and God’s mercy in forgiving all wrongs and transforming all transgressors.

As a sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest to settle her young, my home is by your altars . . .

We do not control our own destiny; we only control our reaction to the world and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  We can only step forward as we answer the call we hear from God in our hearts.  We can only prepare a place for God’s presence in our lives.  We can only build our nest under the plinth of God’s altar and settle our young in the safe haven of God’s court.

Better one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. 

As Advent draws so quickly to a close, we might feel the crush of time to complete hundreds of worldly tasks but rather than spend our time fussing with the details of a life that is fleeting, let us rather decide to build our permanent home in a place that is eternally protected.  Let us choose to spend our time with The Living One who transcends all time and all wrongdoing.  Let us fix on a site for our nest under God’s altar.  Let us pledge to spend our last days of Advent preparing our minds and our hearts for the coming of The Christ Child.  And let us spend our last days in God’s court, rather than a thousand elsewhere.


To learn more about swallows and where and how they nest, click on the image above or go to: http://www.petcaregt.com/blog/varieties-of-nest-sites-and-nests-in-swallows.html and http://smartisans.com/personal/ccam_6-1-2000_4-03pm.htm

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Wednesday, December 22, 2020

Titus 3 

Prepare

El Greco: The Apostle Paul

El Greco: The Apostle Paul

This brief letter has something to say to us about forming community.  Today we reflect on its third and last chapter. Titus was an assistant to Paul mentioned in some of his other letters and also in Acts. He began a Christian community on the island of Crete, and Paul counsels him about how he might advise these early Christians to live among deceivers and heretics. These are words we might use today.

Be under the control of magistrates and authorities . . . be obedient . . . open to every good enterprise . . . slander no one . . . be peaceable, considerate, exercising all graciousness toward everyone. 

Paul reminds Titus and us that we have all been foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. No one but a saint escapes the downside of humanity.

The upside, the good news is that the Christ has come to walk among us, to be one of us, to take on our burdens which overwhelm us because God is goodness and mercy in their most perfect form.

What are we to do to reach for such heights? Avoid foolish arguments, genealogies, rivalries and quarrels about the law . . . After a first and second warning, break off contact with a heretic.  We are to devote ourselves to good works to supply urgent needs. 

The message is clear. While we strive to follow Christ we cannot expect perfection in or of ourselves. This perfection can be obtained only in and through Christ because of God’s mercy and compassion and love for each of us.

In this Advent season, as we near the celebration of the day when the child comes to live among us, we might pause to consider our arguments and our foolish enterprises. We might consider how we are to cast off anything that does not lead us to Christ. We might consider how we best devote ourselves to good works that address urgent needs when all else fails us. We might consider how we will be best prepare. For now is that time.


Adapted from a reflection written on December 18, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://rclnotes.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html

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Monday, December 21, 2020

6596191_orig[1]Zephaniah 3:20

Coming Home

At that time I will bring you home, and at that time I will gather you; for I will give you renown and praise, among all the peoples of the earth, when I bring about your restoration before your very eyes, says the Lord.

We yearn to go back to a place and time of innocence. We miss the elders who peopled our childhood years. We look for comfort in old, familiar places. Zephaniah reminds us today that all of these dreams are already fulfilled.

God says: Rather than see the world around you as chaos, come to me so that I might give you rest. Rather than look at what is missing in your lives, consider all that you are and have. Rather than look for consolation, turn to others who need your consolation. This is the gathering Zephaniah describes to you.  This is the restoration he proclaims. It is the healing I bring to each of you when you decide to live and think and act in me. You do not have to wait for the death of your body to experience this coming home to me . . . you are already there. Put aside your chores and your worried for a little time . . . and come to me.  I have much I wish to give you.

coming-home[1]Time, people and places. We feel nostalgia as we recall good memories and ward off the bad. We re-create in our mind’s eye the faces of loved ones we can no longer see or touch. We close our eyes and conjure up the scents and aromas of those places we thought we had lost but that we now somehow find in an old reminiscence. God’s time is eternal; God brings all of us together in the Mystical Body of Christ; God is in all places at all times. When we join this great coming home . . . all of time, all the faithful, and all places come together in union with this God who loves us so much that he chooses to live among us.  Zephaniah tells us that when we come home to God we are already there in those times and places we miss, we are already there with all of our beloved.

In this last week of Advent when the day of Jesus’ birth nears, let us consider for a time the renown and praise that we are already given by God.  Let us consider the renewal this season brings to us. And let us go gladly to take part in this gathering up and this coming home.


For more reflections on the words of the prophet Zephaniah, enter his name into the blog search bar and explore.

Images from: http://www.thefellowshipsite.org/zephaniah-317.html 

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The Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 20, 2020

Hebrews-6-19[1]

Hebrews 5:11-14 & 6

Resting in the Promise

You have become sluggish in hearing . . .

Notes from the NAB, page 1328: Rather than allow the slow to become content in their slowness, Paul exhorts them to even higher levels of spirituality.  He is not lenient. And as for those who have fallen away completely, he does not even address these apostates. If all we need is energy to progress in our spiritual journey, we can turn to Christ for he tells us through Matthew (10:28-30), my yoke is easy, my burden light.  Christ himself exhorts us Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Sometimes we are not so much sluggish as afraid. We know that the task lying before us is laden with tricky passages, dark corners, deceitful paving stones that look firm and yet sink into quicksand. On these occasions we must also turn to Christ, trusting him when he says take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. Disobedience is not an option for an apostle.

Paul tells us that Christ’s promise is immutable, and he uses the long story of the covenant promise between Yahweh and Abraham as ample proof. Did not the elderly couple – Sarah and Abraham –   begin a kingdom of millions? Did this new way of seeking God not travel to all peoples of all nations? Do we not know even today the story of this Abraham, Sarah, and the high priest Melchizedek? Paul reminds us that it is impossible for God to lie; his very goodness and honesty force him to keep his covenant with his people.

So when we feel weary or afraid, we might turn to Paul for a reminder of the words of hope we can never hear too often. This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil [into the Holy of Holies], where Jesus has entered as forerunner . . .

In this Advent season when we anticipate the arrival of Emmanuel, God among us, let us rest in this promise. Let us acknowledge that when all is dark and appears to be lost, when all is more difficult or more terrifying than we can bear we must be still  . . . so that we might hear again . . .

Come to me . . . and you will find rest for your souls . . .


Image from: http://society6.com/PocketFuel/Hebrews-619_Print#1=45

Adapted from a reflection written on December 11, 2008.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Luke 2:25-35

Rembrandt: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Rembrandt van Rijn: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Simeon

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.               

Righteous, devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel . . . Simeon focuses all of his spiritual, mental and physical energy on God. We imagine what sort of award awaits us when we determine to live as Simeon lives.

He came in the Spirit into the temple . . . Not only does Simeon live in the Spirit but he carries this Spirit with him wherever he goes. We imagine what effect we might have on the world if we are as faithful as Simeon.

“A second Lucan theme lies in the setting: Jerusalem and the Temple. For Luke the ministry of Jesus moves toward Jerusalem and the mission of the church moves out from Jerusalem. As for the Temple, Luke is alone among NT writers in is favorable view. His Gospel begins with Zechariah in the Temple and it will close with Jesus’ disciples in the Temple”. (Mays 932)

In this Advent time of year when all the world awaits  relief from a pandemic, and when we await Christ’s coming into the world, let us consider the many directions in which we feel ourselves pulled, the many losses we feel, and let us determine to await Christ in the temple of our hearts. Let us decide to take the story of our salvation to the world.

Tomorrow . . . a third Lucan theme.


To read and understand more about the importance of Simeon’s words, click on the image above or go to: http://www.jesuswalk.com/lessons/2_21-38.htm 

Or enter the word Simeon into the blog search bar and explore.

Image from: https://www.canvasreplicas.com/Presentation-of-Jesus-in-the-Temple-Rembrandt-van-Rijn-Painting-Reproductions.htm

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Third Sunday of Advent – December 13, 2020

Today is Gaudete, or “Rejoice” Sunday and it is a pause in our watchfulness as we await the coming of Light to a world longing for hope. As we continue our journey into a season of darkness in the northern hemisphere, we reflect on the plundering of the Jerusalem Temple, and our transformation that grows form the ashes of despair. When we listen to the ancient carol Gaudete, we have a sense of the joy we might find amid the sadness of dark days. Click on the image above or visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUbcHfnx0pY

2 Maccabees 3

A Prayer for the Plundered

Simon lusts after control and so lies and connives to gain his end.  He appears to succeed, yet we all know from our perspective in the second millennium that a new temple brings down the Jerusalem temple and rebuilds it in three days.  This happens in the person of Christ.

The faithful who follow the good and compassionate priest Onias immediately take to the streets, the priests prostrate themselves in petition, and Yahweh answers their prayer in a surprising way.

Gérard de Lairesse: The Expulsion of Heliodorus from_the Temple

Heliodorus and King Seleucus IV both recognize the power and awe of this God of the patriarchs and Heliodorus himself undergoes a conversion.

It should not surprise us that the men in this story who grasp for control of the treasury resort to any means to achieve their ends; nor should it surprise us that God answers the pleas of these holy and faithful people.

It should not surprise us that even those enveloped in the power, money and control can have their eyes opened.

And it should not surprise us that this conversion will often happen as the result of a cataclysmic event.  We must constantly prepare ourselves for these experiences and these people.  And so we pray . . .

Dearest God, Creator, Savior and Consoler,

Lead us away from the ways of Simon and keep our eyes open for the times we want to take control. Show us how easily we may be tempted to resort to any means to achieve our own ends. Remind us to make a new temple of ourselves as Christ has asked. Remind us that we are called to be holy disciples.

Lead us to you as your faithful. Keep our ears open for your word, your message and your rescuing messengers. Remind us to intervene and intercede for those who wish us harm. Remind us to act when we see injustice.

Lead us to the Christ who dwells within us. Keep our hearts open to our own conversion. Remind us to witness for you in the marketplace. Remind us to stand and to proclaim your goodness.

We ask this of you our Loving Protector. We petition you our Loving Redeemer. We entreat you our Loving In-dweller. Amen.

Tomorrow, we move forward with the nativity story . . . 


Adapted from a reflection written on January 5, 2008.

Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1674_G%C3%A9rard_de_Lairesse_-_Expulsion_of_Heliodorus_from_the_Temple.jpg

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

We continue our journey through troubled days of pandemic that teach us the lesson of waiting. These days also teach us that temples are not always the safe places we imagine. They teach us that physical temples are always plundered. They teach us that the temple of Mary’s waiting is a sacred lesson we will want to learn. 

Raphael: The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple

Raphael: The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple2 Maccabees 3

An Attempt to Plunder the Temple

Today’s reading is a story about a man named Heliodorus, treasurer to King Seleucus IV of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire from 187 to 175 B.C.E. It is also the story of a man named Simon, superintendent of the Jerusalem temple, who argued with the high priest Onias . . . and decided to exact revenge.

There are some important points to consider when we read this chapter.

  • Footnotes tell us that this book of the Bible is likely a condensation of a many-tome collection of events which occurred just before the Romans took control of the Middle East.
  • Looking ahead, we can see the story of Simon and his deception does not end. Simon escapes unscathed from this deceitful confrontation but when we move into the Gospels, we know that the corruption we see in this story eventually brings about the fall of the temple.  History tells us that this happened about 40 years following Jesus’ death . . . and the rest of the Good News which we know so well unfolds.
  • The Jewish community was exempt from paying Greeks taxes on all temple sacrifices, and this practice was re-negotiated later with the Romans.
  • The Jewish community took care of widows and orphans from this temple fund; and wealthy Jews “hid” their money from taxation in this temple fund which was administered well and poorly, depending upon who was in control at the time.

The messages that run through this chapter are important for us today:  1) where we find money, power and fame we will also find treachery, jealousy and corruption, 2) the anguish of the faithful is heard and answered by God, and 3) even those who come to attack us may experience a change of heart.

As we continue our Advent journey, how does all of this speak to us today?

Tomorrow . . . A Prayer for the Plundered


Adapted from a reflection written on January 5, 2008.

In the artist Raphael’s depiction of these angels of God who intervene for the faithful on God’s behalf, we see the mysterious mounted man with his two compatriots on the right as they strike Heliodorus down.  http://www.abcgallery.com/R/raphael/raphael37.html

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Second Sunday of Advent

jwelcom[1]December 6, 2020

Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12

Welcome

Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright by the land’s afflicted.

Isaiah shows us a vision of God’s Kingdom and of the world as it might be. We are welcome to paint our own images upon this enormous canvas of hope. The prophet describes a dominion the hunters live peacefully with their prey. A child plays near a venomous serpent; division, harm and ruin have come to an end. Our superficial system of judging and choosing no long functions. God’s justice sees what is in the heart and mind. Our empty gestures are seen for what they are, hollow hope, false hospitality and silly pandering. We forget that those who live on the margins are the closest to God’s heart. When we exclude the poorest among us we exclude Christ.

What might we do to welcome this vision of the kingdom in honesty? How might we welcome Christ as generously as he has welcomed us?

Edward Hicks: The Peaceable Kingdom

Edward Hicks: The Peaceable Kingdom

Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Paul speaks to an audience in conflict; his listeners and readers have allowed petty differences to divide them and they have openly ignored the beauty and wealth of God’s offer of this peaceable Kingdom. With clear reason Paul presents his cogent argument: God’s Kingdom is not a club with rules; rather, it is a state of being in which everyone speaks the Language of Love.

How might we examine our own actions and thoughts to root out our pettiness? How might we nurture our growth in God’s Law of Love?

Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. 

In the end there is one sure way to know if we are hearing, speaking and acting in God’s love: our personal yardstick is the fruit our labor bears. If we call on candor and patient waiting, we will quickly see how much we welcome the Christ in others and how much we exclude.

lion and lambDo we invite everyone to learn about Jesus by the way we live? Do we chase away lions and bears assuming that they do not belong in the Kingdom? Do we exclude adders and vipers because we cannot see their potential for change? Do we welcome only those who look and act and believe as we do?

On this Second Sunday of Advent we are welcomed by Christ – along with countless billions – to prepare for his arrival. Let us ready our hearts and our minds to receive the greatest gift of all time and space – the gift of an amazing Kingdom, the gift of unbelievable peace, the gift of Christ’s universal welcome.


Images from: http://users.elite.net/runner/jennifers/welcome1.htm and https://atsunnyside.blog/2019/01/14/edward-hicks-peaceable-kingdom-1833/ and http://www.abolitionist-society.com/

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