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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category


Matthew 2:1-12: Leaving by Another Road
Friday, July 20, 2018

Written on June 7 and posted as a favorite today . . .

I love this portion of the Christmas story. The wise men are so wise that they are able to read Herod’s secret intent. Nothing can be hidden from the wise because they are so connected to the creator that they appear to have special insight. What they really have is patience, serenity, and a finely tuned ear for God’s word. And so the magi left for their own country by another road.

I am thinking about the number of times I have averted disaster because that calm, strong voice within indicated that I was to stay put. We notice that an attitude of patience and a willingness to obey always accompanies the wise. The wise are not brash or excitable. They do not speak harshly, nor are they silenced. Like the Persistent Widow, they know when to persevere in speaking God’s word. And like the Three Magi, they know when to stand down and melt away into God’s protecting presence.

The wise know when to stand and witness . . . and when to leave quietly by another road.


Read the parable of The Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8.

We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on July 29, 2011.

Image from: http://lifeasilookatit.blogspot.com/2011/03/road-not-taken.html

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Matthew 2:1-12Leaving by Another Road – A Reprise

Epiphany Sunday, January 7, 2018

Edward Burne-Jones: The Adoration of the Magi

With Christmastide ended, we find ourselves observing the official feast of Epiphany. What significance does this feast hold for us? To further explore, we return to a Noontime reflection on the wisdom of the Magi. We reflect on the wisdom they reveal, the wisdom of patience, willingness, and  openness . . . as they listen to God’s voice that speaks within. 

I love this portion of the Christmas story.  The wise men are so wise that they are able to read Herod’s secret intent.  Nothing can be hidden from the wise because they are so connected to the creator that they seem to have special insight.  What they really have is patience, serenity, and a finely tuned ear for God’s word.  And so the wise men left for their own country by another road.

I am thinking about the number of times I have averted disaster because that calm, strong voice within indicated that I was to stay put.  We notice that an attitude of patience and a willingness to obey always accompany the wise.  They do not appear to be brash or excitable.  They do not speak harshly, nor are they silenced.  Like the Persistent Widow, they know when to persevere in speaking God’s word.  And like the Three Magi, they know when to stand down and melt away into God’s protecting presence.

The wise know when to stand and witness . . . and when to leave quietly by another road.

A reflection from June 7, 2011.

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Matthew 9:35-38Epiphany – A Reprise

Saturday, January 6, 2018

James Tissot: The Magi Journeying

Today’s post is a reprise from January 6, 2012.

E-piph-an-y: A Christian festival, the manifestation of a deity, a sudden intuitive perception or insight, a piece of literature presenting a revelation.  These definitions define the holiday or the emotion, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  This word may also define our relationship with Christ.  Today we encounter Jesus in the midst of his work and this is what we find.

Jesus teaches.  Jesus proclaims the Good News that we are free to choose life over death.  Jesus heals. Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of the crowds.  All of this goodness is what God has in mind for us.  All of this kindness is what God has in store for us.  All of this love is what God intends for us.  And this is what the Magi come to honor and worship.

In our Western tradition we have come to know these three men as Melchior, a scholar from Babylon, the place of Israel’s exile about six centuries before Christ’s birth, Caspar, another scholar from Persia, the civilization that overran the Babylonians, and Balthazar, an Arab scholar.  These learned men bring gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold that serve as symbols for our own worship of the Son of Man.  Frankincense, aromatic incense, is brought to purify the Lord; myrrh, perfumed oil often used in embalming, is offered to anoint the Lord; and gold, the symbol of power, is presented to honor the Lord.  Some commentary suggests that the Magi bring forward these gifts for medicinal purposes; others propose that they are meant as tribute to this new kind of high priest, savior and king.  Still others say that these gifts stand in stark contrast to the sacrificial gifts of birds, lambs and oxen that the Jewish people proffered to God.  In any interpretation the story holds importance for us for these men have spent their lifetime studying the heavens and their search leads them to a small place in a small town where this small Jewish family shelters for a time.  Who is more surprised?  The Magi themselves?  Mary and Joseph?  The shepherds who tend their flocks and follow the Magi who follow the star?  Or are we perhaps the most surprised?

All of this is tradition as we have said earlier but we hold and cherish this belief in the story of the Magi for a purpose.  We love to hear the names read out rhythmically.  We want to listen to the details of this story again.  We want the mystery and surprise of this holy night to roll over us and wrap us in the warm and holy mystery of the Christ.  We want to be children for a little time again.

When I was small my Eastern European grandmother made doughnuts and inside them she had hidden shiny, bright coins.  Who would find the pennies, the dimes?  Who would be lucky enough to encounter the rare quarter?  Children understand how important it was to nibble the edges of the pastry carefully.  Children know the importance of joyful anticipation.  Children understand wonder and surprise. As adults we want the confirmation from these intelligent students of the heavens and stars.  As adults we want to be affirmed that the Good News we have heard is true.  As adults we want someone to stun us with a vivid and beautiful truth.  We want the verification that wonderful surprises lie ahead of us.  We want to see and hear and touch the reality of the Christ Child.

Velázquez: The Adoration of the Magi

On this Epiphany let us resolve to believe more and doubt less.  Let us decide to act on our beliefs and turn away from a cynical view of the world.  Let us announce to the world that we will love our enemies into goodness.  Let us bow in homage to the Christ child.  Let us lay at his feet the incense of our own suffering and the joy of our hearts.  Let us come and worship the Lord.  And let us allow ourselves to experience the surprise and enchantment of the Epiphany . . . just as God has intended.

For more on the identity of three Magi, visit: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+9%3A35-38&version=GNT;NRSV;CJB;MSG

For more on the gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, visit: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/ 

For another reflection on the Epiphany, go to the post for January 2, 2012: Reminders

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The Trinity

Creed: We believe . . .

The Twelfth Day of Christmas, January 5, 2018

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gives to me twelve drummers drumming.

These twelve drummers lords represent the twelve beliefs held in the Apostles Creed.

When the circumstances of life challenge us, we take our burdens to the LORD . . .

We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

When life confuses us about how we are to behave and where we are to go, we take our worries to Christ . . .

We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.

When life presents impossible obstacles that seem insurmountable, we remember that with God all things are possible . . .

We believe that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary.

When life’s pain seems to have no purpose, we remember that Christ offers salvific suffering for us each day . . .

We believe that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Women Apostles

When horrible events destroy innocent people, we remind one another that Christ overcomes all evil and brings goodness out of harm . . .

We believe that Jesus descended into hell and on the third day rose again from the dead.

When dictators and oligarchs wipe out cultures and truths, we remind ourselves that God’s kingdom is the only kingdom that lasts forever . . .

We believe that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God.

When corruption thwarts justice and exploits the marginalized, we remember that there is only one judgment that lasts forever . . .

We believe that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.

When we are abandoned, alone, or rejected, we remember that we are all on in the Spirit . . .

We believe in the Holy Spirit.

When the structures we design to protect us become tools of subjugation, we recall that the Spirit lives in our ancestors who go before us, and in our children’s children who follow . . .

We believe in the holy catholic Church and the Communion of Saints.

When we are beleaguered, overwhelmed or undone, we recall that God’s goodness overpowers any errors we commit . . .

We believe in the forgiveness of sins.

When we are unloved, unwanted or numbed by tragedy, we remember that Christ brings us home to new life in The Way . . .

Giovanni Battista Gaulii: The Three Marys at the Sepulchre

We believe in the resurrection of the body.

When we are duped or deceived by life on earth, and when we lose all hope, we remember that God is with us always, loving us into eternal goodness . . .

We believe in life everlasting.

This is what we believe, this is what we share, this is what we know.

Amen.

For information about where the Creed is found in Scripture, visit: http://www.acatholic.org/about-the-catholic-faith/catholic-the-apostles-creed/ 

For information about the split between Western and Eastern creeds, visit: http://orthochristian.com/90157.html 

For more in-depth interpretations of The Apostles’ Creed, visit these sites. 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Apostles-Creed

https://blog.faithlife.com/blog/2015/04/the-apostles-creed-its-history-and-origins/

http://www.dummies.com/religion/christianity/catholicism/the-twelve-articles-of-catholic-faith/

 

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Pushkin Museum – Moscow, Russia: The Synaxis of the Holy and the Most Praiseworthy Twelve Apostles

Apostleship: Following the Call

The Eleventh Day of Christmas, January 4, 2018

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gives to me eleven pipers piping.

These eleven lords represent the eleven apostles who doubted, yet remained faithful to Christ.

When crisis comes into our lives, we often retreat into hiding, taking our fear and exhaustion with us. We revert to what we know and do well; just as Peter and the other fishermen-followers did when they returned to their boats after the horrible events of Holy Week in Jerusalem. Like the story in John 21, we flounder in our boats while Jesus stands “on the shore” of our lives. Like the apostles in this story, we too often do not recognize the faithful Jesus. After fishing all night in the dark, we – like the apostles – remain frightened. Jesus calls to us, saying, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” We answer, as the apostle did, “No?” And Jesus says, “Cast the net over the right side”. We roll our eyes as we might guess the apostles did. But when we do as Jesus asks, we haul up the net that is “not torn . . . even though it was full of so many” fish. Then we, like Peter, must take the leap over the side of the boat and flail to shore . . . because there Christ is waiting with the brazier of live coals to cook us a meal, to bring us comfort, to open The Word to us, to free us from oppression, to raise us from the dead. And when Christ asks, “Do you love me?” we, like Peter who days earlier had denied that he knew Christ, must respond, “You know that I love you”. It is then that we will be told what and how to do: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep, follow me.

Nicolas Poussin: Ordination of the Apostles (detail)

And we must follow. We must take the leap when Christ calls us from the shoreline. We must have faith and we must choose to enact our faith as the faithful followers did. We must cast our nets even though we have been at the task all day and all night without finding success. When we hear the call, we must step out into the water and fly to the shore, because there is truly nothing else more important. This is where the salvation of humankind lies.

Adapted from a reflection on apostleship written on April 22, 2007.

According to tradition, the remaining eleven continued to follow Christ in this world as they continued to build the Kingdom. Tradition also tells us that the faithful eleven continued to preach The Word all the days of their lives. Some died violently, others did not. For more details, and for short video clips about the facts we know, use the links below, or visit: http://www.catholic.org/saints/

  1. Simon, called Peter (rock) was crucified on Vatican Hill in Rome.
  2. Andrew, Peter’s brother was executed in the city of Patras, Greece.
  3. James, son of Zebedee, brother of John was decapitated in Jerusalem.
  4. John, son of Zebedee, brother of James died in Ephesus in about the year 98 C.E.
  5. Philip was crucified in Hierapolis, Greece.
  6. Bartholomew, called Nathaniel was flayed and beheaded in Abanopolis.
  7. Thomas (referred to as the doubter) preached in India and was killed in a hunting accident
  8. Matthew, the tax collector, called Levi, Matthew, the Evangelist preached in Persia and Africa, and we have no information about his death.
  9. James, the son of Alphaeus, also named The Less or The Just was executed in Jerusalem.
  10. Thaddeus, the son of James, called Judas/Jude (not the betrayer), brother of James the Less visited Beirut and Edessa, and was likely martyred with Simon.
  11. Simon, the Zealot was likely executed in Jerusalem.
  12. In Matthew 27:5 we learn that Judas hanged himself; but in Acts 1:18, his death is described as resulting from a fall. As always, those who explore Scripture are invited to read, reflect, and meditate on The Word that Christ brings to us as his followers. 

For fascinating articles on where the remains of these followers lie today, click the images above, or visit: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/tcraughwell/where-are-the-12-apostles-now or https://aleteia.org/2017/07/21/whatever-happened-to-the-twelve-apostles/ 

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Order: The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments

The Tenth Day of Christmas, January 3, 2018

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gives to me ten lords a-leaping.

Many of us are familiar with The Ten Commandments that Yahweh gives to Moses, but how often do we pause to think of the fact the God, through Moses, not only gives us a simple set of rules to follow, but that he explains the effect these rules will have on our lives. God sees our authenticity by the way we live, and by the way we do or do not say, “Yes,” in response to God’s call. Today the old Christmas carol poses these questions to us: do we see the Gospel stories as a fulfillment of God’s hope in the covenant God establishes with us in the promise of the Ten Commandments?

This part of the Exodus story is bracketed by two convergent episodes: the provision of quail, manna and water by God to the Israelites, and the planning and building of a desert temple-tent for Yahweh by the Israelites. We see actions by both God and the Chosen People that speak of their desire to live in a covenant relationship. And the actual agreement, along with its explanations and implications, lies between these two actions in chapters 20 to 24.

The Holy Spirit

God takes the Israelites out of bondage – just as Jesus later does for all when he comes to live among us and to institute the Kingdom (in Luke 4:14-30). With the giving of the commandments, God foresees the struggle of the people in the desert. God’s preservation and protection of these people bring to God not only fame, glory and praise, but also an arrogant, contemptuous rejection by us. So too does Jesus arrive among God’s people to fulfill the Mosaic Law, to provide and protect us, and then to suffer at our hands; yet ultimately, God the Father and God the Son both offer their compassion and mercy to us when we are wayward. All that is required of us is that we repent of our past transgressions and then respond to the call. Just as God sent an angel to guard the Israelites and bring them to the place God had in mind for them (23: 20-33), so too does Jesus send the Holy Spirit to dwell with us after Jesus’ resurrection – to guide and protect, and to lead us to the holy place he has prepared for us. Of course, later in Chapter 32 of Exodus, the people tire of waiting for Moses to descend Mt. Sinai, so they create and worship the Golden Calf. Moses returns, breaks the tablets and loses his patience. The people repent, agree to do as Yahweh asks and Yahweh restores the tablets. A familiar story that we repeat today – we only need to read and compare history and current events. And it is no wonder that we stray – no wonder that the Israelites strayed. When we look at chapters 20 to 24 of Exodus, we see the social implications of the Mosaic Law. We might pay special attention to some of the verses that hold ideas difficult to take, verses that call for us to respect ourselves and one another: 22:15, 23:1, 22: 1-3, 22: 20, 21:35-36.

So on this day when we continue our celebration of God’s truest gift of love, we take a few moments to recollect our experiences in covenant relationships with others. We might mediate for a bit on how we might remain faithful to the one central covenant in our lives. And we might decide how best to renew that covenant each day with our Creator.

Adapted from a reflection on The Ten Commandments written February 14, 2007.

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Fruits: Living in the Spirit

The Ninth Day of Christmas, January 2, 2018

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gives to me nine ladies dancing.

But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these. (Galatians 5:22-23 GNT)

Are we able to think of others before ourselves? Are we willing to love our enemies into goodness? This is the love that Jesus describes.

Are we able to rejoice in our suffering? Do we praise God even in times of stress and turmoil? This is the joy that Jesus describes.

Do we rely on our relationship with God to guide us in all we do? Are we able to settle into the peace of this relationship despite the confusion the world promises? This is the peace that God brings us.

Are we willing to listen more than we speak? Do we wait for God to tell us which way we are to walk and what we are to say? This is the patience Jesus practices.

Do we offer our words gently when we speak truth that is difficult to hear? Are we able to act with compassion no matter the circumstances? This is the kindness that bears fruit in the Spirit.

Are we able to obey Jesus’ call to return good for evil? Are we open to seeing the good that comes out of harm when we allow Christ to lead us?  This is the goodness we see in the Spirit.

Are we willing to abide with those who live on the margins? Do we maintain a steady course without falling to temptation? This is the faithfulness Jesus models for us.

Can we put aside our desire to get ahead and to find comfort at all cost? Do we put our ego aside to allow others to share scare resources? This is the gentleness that flourishes in the Spirit.

Do we work toward consensus? Do we collaborate as we share in decision-making? It is the gentle invitation to others to join us in kingdom-building that exhibits the Spirit’s gift of self-control.

These nine fruits of the Spirit are difficult to practice but they are essential to life in the Spirit; and they are the mark of one who follows Christ. Today we reflect on the presence of these gifts in our daily thoughts and actions.

But what happens when we live God’s way? God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. (MSG)

When we compare versions of these verses, we begin to see that the fruits of our life in the Spirit are essential to life as a follower of Christ.

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Beatitude: Happiness

The Eighth Day of Christmas, January 1, 2018

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gives to me eight maids a-milking.  

The ancient carol reminds us that happiness comes to us in a variety ways; and as Jesus tells us, all ways lead to The Way. Christ continues to lead us along the path that asks us to reduce ourselves so that he may increase in our lives. This Way is narrow yet full of blessing and promise that come to us through inversion – as does so much that Christ explains to us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the ones who hunger and thirst, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake.

Rather than encourage self-centered thinking, Jesus asks us to care for others as readily – or even more – than ourselves. This is difficult living, Christ reminds us, yet the reward will be great indeed.

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they will be comforted, they will inherit the earth, they will be filled, for they will receive mercy, they will see God and be called children of God, for again . . . theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Contrary to a world that tells us to tend to ourselves, Christ asks us to show preference for those on the margin. Despite this apparent contradiction to survival, Jesus promises a life that is beyond any we might have expected. A life that produces fruit in endless abundance.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great.

On this first day of the new year, let us explore the words Christ has for us about happiness, one of the gifts he brings to us this Christmastide; and let us consider how we might find this eternal bliss today and all days.

For detailed notes on the Beatitudes, see the Happiness page on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/happiness-beatitude/

 

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Gifts . . . freely given

Jean Restout: The Paraclete

The Seventh Day of Christmas, December 31, 2017

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming.  

Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of God. These seven gifts freely given by the Spirit reside with us – whether we know it or not, and whether we believe it or not. When we least expect it, the Spirit rises to provide us with the tools we need for the circumstances we experience.

Wisdom comes to us with patience and with waiting on the LORD. When we reflect on the persons who hold wisdom, we realize that they listen more than they speak, praise more than they berate, and love more than they disparage. These gifted ones share their wisdom with us, and we do well to share God’s wisdom with others.

Understanding is more than comprehending, more than accepting, and more than believing. Understanding pierces darkness, brings lights, nurtures love in others and enacts love in all. When we practice understanding, we receive more than we expect, and more than we can hold. Understanding grows wherever it resides.

Counsel allows each of us to respond to God’s call no matter how challenging, no matter how awkward, no matter how uncomfortable we may feel. Counsel converts fear into courage. Counsel transforms hatred into love. Those who are open to God’s counsel are better able to see The Way of Christ and to follow.

Fortitude brings us the strength to do what needs to be done when few others will do it. Fortitude brings us the resolution to endure suffering, and to allow God’s hand to convert our suffering into joy. When we allow God’s fortitude to support us in difficult times, we remember Psalm 126: they go out weeping and return rejoicing.

Knowledge of the LORD brings us the foundation on which to stand as we enact the work God calls us to do in this world that struggles to be Kingdom here and now. This gift, perhaps more than any other, allows us to speak and act with authority as Jesus does. Knowledge instructs our decisions, lives in our words, and guides our actions. Knowledge informs our sense of justice and mercy, brings order out of confusion, and love out of hate.

Piety is not a saccharine, duty-bound quality of sweetness; rather, it is love bolstered by God’s power, fidelity strengthened by God’s steadfastness, and hope empowered by God’s promise. Piety is faithful because it makes the choice to persist in God’s love and to believe in God’s covenant. Piety does more than just show up. Piety acts with compassion and patience; and piety is unshakable.

Fear of God is not the experience of anxiety or alarm; it is instead love of God for God’s sake. It demonstrates respect, seeks to worship, and shares joy in the experience of God. One who fears the LORD, stands in awe of God’s goodness and is eager to share the Good News of our rescue from pain and worry.

These seven gifts are more than words. They are tangible forces in our lives. They are stones with which we lay the foundation for our relationship with God. Those who would be wise, are also understanding. Those who give counsel also provide fortitude. Those with knowledge and piety live in awe of God who loves us into creation, and who abides with us even beyond the end of time. On this eve of a new year, we do well to open ourselves to these gifts freely given.

Isaiah 11 describes the Spirit’s gifts as does Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 12.

To learn more about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, visit: http://catholicstraightanswers.com/gifts-holy-spirit/

 

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