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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category


Monday, January 6, 2020

Matthew 9:35-38: The Compassion of Jesus

sheep-with-shepherd[1]A year ago we looked at these verses and today they pop up again. When familiar scripture returns we have the opportunity to look a bit deeper – and today is no exception.  A year ago we looked at the meaning of Epiphany, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  Today we fast forward to watch Jesus at work among the crowds who throng to him now that the word has spread about his healing goodness.  When we look more closely at these few short verses, where is the epiphany for us?  Where is the surprise?

What is it that moves Jesus to grow into one who heals the blind, deaf, mute and diseased? At the sight of the crowds . . .

When is it that we see Jesus in our own lives?  When is he beside us on the bus or train? When does he ride in the back seat of the car?  When does he work in the cubicle down the row?  When does he stand in the grocery line with us?   At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them . . .

Why is it that Jesus continually forgives, consistently shows mercy and always delivers justice?  Why do we shrink from his offer of relationship when we are rejected by others?  Why do we turn away from the source of all goodness when we are distressed? At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned . . .

How is it that God walks among us healing constantly, consoling always and touching our lives with many small miracles and we do not see?  At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. 

Jesus comes to us to mend and console.  This is not surprising when we read his story.  This is no Epiphany.

God gives us the choice to follow or reject Christ.  This is not surprising when we consider how much God loves us.  Neither is this is an Epiphany.

The Spirit accompanies and protects us at all times.  This is not surprising when we remember the promise of the cross.  Not even this is an Epiphany when we know the Gospel story.

At the sight of the crowds . . . We are only one in a crowd of billions and yet God knows our smallest needs and greatest hopes.  Perhaps this is our Epiphany.  God so loves us that he sends his only child into the world to retrieve and shepherd us.  Christ so loves us that he is willing to redeem us.  Christ’s compassion knows no bounds . . . so let us then respond to God’s call with our own Epiphany.  Let us surprise ourselves . . . and follow willingly.


A re-post from January 6, 2013.

To read an interesting blog post on what it means to be Sheep, click on the image above or go to: http://tndickersondiaries.blogspot.com/2011/02/and-we-think-were-so-smart.html

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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Acts 4:23-31: Spiritual Realities

Deep Space as seen from Hubble

Deep Space as seen from Hubble

Many of us think of reality as a quality in opposition to spirituality.  Today Paul tells us that this is not so and earlier this week a friend and I shared our thoughts on our own spirituality: who we are, why we exist, what our purpose is, and where we are going . . . spiritually.

I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling . . . The human condition is one in which we easily confuse our physical and spiritual states.  Our surrounding world and prevailing pressures push us always away from God’s wisdom; they lure us into trusting the world’s wisdom.

The Spirit scrutinizes everything . . . We rely on word of mouth, on the Internet, and TVs talking heads, on anything other than God.  We hesitate to examine our thoughts and actions too closely; we have drawn veils across the truths we do not wish to see.

We speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden . . . When we allow ourselves to make a journey of the cross, God’s wisdom begins to make more sense to us; the world’s wisdom begins to fade.

We speak about [the things freely given us by God] not by words taught by human wisdom but by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.  We need to learn and use the vocabulary, syntax and linguistics of spirituality if we hope to engage in conversation with God closely; intimacy with God grows only when we devote time and energy to our own spiritual reality.

Who are we?  Why are we?  What are we doing?  Where are we going?

These questions all have answers.  These answers are not found in the world but in God.  We find God in our own spiritual reality.  We find our spiritual reality when we spend time with God.

As we approach the last day of the Christmas season and we commemorate the Magi who wisely bring gifts to the Messiah, let us find time and let us expend energy in the examination of our spiritual reality.  And let us prepare to bring the gift of our spiritual selves to the one who created all, for it is in this open vulnerability to God and that we discover God’s wisdom.  And it is in this willingness to know our spiritual reality . . . that we find the answers to these questions that define us.


A re-post from January 5, 2013.

Image from: http://michaelgr.com/2007/05/20/the-hubble-space-telescope-vs-new-james-webb-space-telescope/

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Thistledown

Wisdom 4:20 & 5: Hope

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

These verses – actually beginning with the last verse of Chapter 4 – give us reflections of the wicked concerning the fate of the faithful.  Here is an answer to all of the times the psalmist laments: Why do we suffer and the wicked get away with murder?  Today we have the answer to so much questioning.  The faithful will rest in peace after struggling so long in the temporal world.  This chapter is a balancing counterpoint to chapters three and four: The Hidden Counsels of God.

So much about God is mystery.  Perhaps this is why we like this time of year with lights twinkling in the darkness, carols piercing cold air, our breath forming vapor as we step into the early morning crispness.

Over the week end my grandchildren and I watched one of their favorite movies, Babe, about a pig that becomes a sheepdog.  The story takes place in New Zealand and so Christmas is celebrated in the dead of summer; yet the farmer places a Christmas tree atop his house and the family gathers in the warm weather to exchange presents.  The grandchildren and I had a lively conversation about what we would and would not like about having Christmas in July.  At first it was winter that seemed more appropriate because it is the time when we are hunkered in and hunkered down, waiting for life to begin.  On the other hand, the coming of Light and Truth into the world coincides with the full and open days of summer, jammed with activities that distract us.  When do we need Christ more?  The answer is likely: all of the time.

We also spent time – as we always do when we watch this film – reflecting on the faith and doubt of the farmer and his wife about the pig and themselves.  We spoke again about the relationships between generations.  And, of course, we spoke about the incredible idea that a pig might win a sheep herding tourney.  We have sat in the bleachers at the Harford County Farm Fair and watched these dogs work a flock of sheep.  We have also watched pig races, horse sled pulls and other animal trials.  The children – and I – are impressed by the competency of this Hollywood pig.  And we are all rewarded by the cheers of the crowd when Babe brings the final sheep configuration home.  These were the same people who had jeered moments before.  Yes, the hope of the wicked is like thistledown borne on the wind . . .

When we are confronted with sneering laughter we need only focus on the potential within and wear the Lord as our armor (verses 16-19).  For when we put on Christ as recommended by Paul in Ephesians 6, we have no need of any other thing for the just live forever, and in the Lord is their recompense. 

This is one of the times in the liturgical year when we hear the theme of the rejected cornerstone.  It gives us the opportunity to think about surprises . . . and about unusual possibilities like Christmas in July . . . pigs that can herd sheep . . . cornerstones that no one recognizes.  It is the time of year to think about arming ourselves with Light and Joy . . . Peace and Hope . . . about wearing the Lord as we set forth each day . . . about being Christ in a turbulent world.


Written on December 1, 2008, re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/2010/03/page/4/

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Philippians 3:12-16: God’s Upward Calling

Monday, March 4, 2019

It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ [Jesus].  Paul always insists that our perfection lies not in that we live without error, but rather that we persist in pursuing wisdom and obeying God.

I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.  Paul always explains that our lives are nothing if they are not centered in Christ and lived through Christ.  And Paul remains God’s humble servant as he empties himself of self in order to make room for the Spirit to dwell within.

Paul does not worry about how to be perfect for when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. (1 Corinthians 13:10). 

Paul exhorts others to persist in this noble pursuit, to fight the good fight, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love patience, and gentleness.  Compete well for the faith.  (1 Timothy 6:11-12)

Paul explains that although we are in the flesh we do not battle in the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of the flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. (2 Corinthians 10:4)

Paul reminds us that whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

When I was a child I remember the days that ran up to Christmas as ones that were full of mystery and quiet excitement.  Did Mother hide the presents in a place I might stumble upon as my sister had done?  Would the surprises in store for us on Christmas Eve be spoiled by running ahead too quickly or with the wrong intention?  Did Santa really think that I might be old enough to appreciate the gifts I wanted so much?  Is it really possible for a tiny baby to save the world?

We noticed that Mother and Dad exchanged quick looks when one of us talked about what we hoped to find under the tree.  We saw that Mother smiled a lot as she brought in the extra groceries for holiday meals; and that Dad did not mind the extra work it took to prepare a household for a Christmas worth remembering.  And without words being spoken, we were aware of how important God was to our celebrating.  We were asked to live lives of quiet gratitude for all that we had and all that we were . . . and we were asked to do this well.

In our plugged-in, high-powered world today, the days of Advent seem cluttered with too much activity and not enough reflection, too many loud advertisements and not enough quiet jubilation.  In this special season of mystery and anticipation, Paul reminds us that unless we move forward in Christ we are stagnant, or worse, we move backward.  Paul tells us that the race is long and that we must pace ourselves.  Paul calls us to join him in his faithful, constant, steady progress in Christ, for Christ, toward Christ.  Paul asks us to be our best selves in spite of all that we see around us that disappoints us or causes fear; he tells us that our genuine maturity arrives with Christ and not in spite of him.

When we move forward in Christ we cannot lose, we must win.

When we move forward in Christ we do not grieve forever, we will rejoice.

When we move forward in Christ, our worst fears and anxieties will not overpower us, we will learn to face and even conquer them; and we will discover that we have indeed been taken possession of by Christ, we have pursued and even claimed the prize of God’s upward calling.


A re-post from December 10, 2011.

Image from: http://www.darren-price.com/android/

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Matthew 9:35-38Epiphany

Sunday, January 6, 2019

James Tissot: The Magi Journeying

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.

Diego 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.


A re-post from January 6, 2012.

Images from: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/4436 and  http://www.restoredtraditions.com/clipart-bundle-birth-and-childhood-of-jesus.aspx

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

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Luke 11:37-54Unmarked Graves

Friday, December 4, 2019

The Pharisees Question Jesus

Jesus warns his listeners, Woe to you!  – and he also warns us – that we might fulfill the letter of the law and completely miss its spirit.  Jesus describes for the Pharisees and others – and he describes for us – what it means to be his true disciples.  Jesus tells the dinner guests – and he tells us – how to avoid becoming unmarked graves that people walk over without even realizing.

Jesus also speaks to those who know the law inside and out; he challenges the lawyers and scribes and points out how they block entrance to the kingdom by their obtuseness and their stubborn inflexibility.  He also warns all that we are judged by what we do and what we do not do.

Commentary tells us that here Jesus delineates six woes and we might take the opportunity to examine ourselves today.

Do we worry about our outward appearance and cleanliness and neglect our true selves, our souls?

Do we speak with piety and yet rebuke the marginalized and broken?

Do we make a show of our tithing and do nothing for the poor?

Do we seek honor and fame while we isolate and segregate those we see as unworthy?

Do we overly obfuscate and complicate the simple law of love that Jesus gives us and steer others away from the true Way?

Do we attempt to supersede the Holy Spirit by encouraging others to worship us rather than God?

With Jesus’ words we see the easy pitfalls that line the pathway of our journey.  We will want to look for the small and subtle ways in which we complicate the simple instruction to love one another.  We will want to gather around ourselves like pilgrims who openly share the difficulties of the road; and we will want to move away from those who lie in wait to catch others in something they might say.

The Scribes and Pharisees Hear Jesus

Today’s picture is one we will want to keep with us for a while before we leave the Christmas season because it gives us insight into how to best deal with the kind of envy and greed that both lures and surprises us.  In the Christ Child, we have just been given the dual gifts of hope and light; we have received these as tools we might use to conquer the narrowness we see today in the scribes, the Pharisees and even ourselves.  These are the instruments we will use to avoid embroiled arguments, byzantine squabbles and superficial bickering.  The presence of the Christ in each moment of our lives is all that saves each of us from becoming the unmarked grave of a life lived . . . and lost.

And so let us pray as St. Paul prayed with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:12): Our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have conducted ourselves in the world . . . with the simplicity and sincerity of God, [and] not by human wisdom but by the grace of God.  Amen. 


A re-post from January 4, 2012.

Images from: http://allsaintswritersblock.wordpress.com/about/ and http://possessthevision.wordpress.com/seeking-jesus/passing-from-the-way-and-into-the-truth/jesus-is-victorious-over-an-evil-establishment/

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Isaiah 45Reminders

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The wise men approach from the East, bearing gifts that will sanctify, purify and sustain.  They are yet another sign of God’s promise to us that he loves, guards and guides us.  We will want to be watching for the many reminders God gives to us as marking posts along the way of our journey.

This reflection was written on January 3, 2010 and it is posted today as a Favorite . . .

I have not spoken from hiding nor from some dark place on the earth . . . I, the Lord, promise justice, I foretell what is right.

The prophet Isaiah brings us a message today that we already know; yet we can use a frequent reminder. He announces the coming of hope, the arrival of the long-awaited one who frees us from defeat, the advent of one who helps each of us to cross our daily hurdles.

It was I who stirred up one for the triumph of justice; all his ways I make level.

If we wish to walk in the level path, we have only to follow God’s anointed one.  In today’s reading it is Cyrus, the Persian king who rises up against Babylon and releases the captive nations.  As the New Testament story tells us, God also sends a true Messiah who releases us from our bondage of sorrow and chaos.  He sends the Christ.

Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down.  Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up!

Today we celebrate the idea that although political kings did not recognize the power of Christ, three wise magi from the East bring frankincense, gold and myrrh to the most unlikely of all kings, the child of Light, the child of Justice.  Isaiah reminds us that this child brings something to us which we all seek . . . true peace, eternal serenity . . . if only we might walk with him a little way, pray with him a little while.

Come and assemble, gather together, you fugitives . . .

Rather than stand alone on the rampart, Isaiah reminds us that we must gather into phalanxes with all of the faithful, that we must put aside our squabbles so that we might rise at the sound of the Shepherd’s voice to form solidarity as we witness.

Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other!

There is no dark corner that the eye of the Lord does not see.  There is no sequestered portion of creation from which the ear of God cannot hear the plea of the weary.  There is no god who can outlast our God, none who can withstand our God, not one who will win any battle against this God.

The prophet Isaiah brings us a message today that we already know . . . yet we can use a frequent reminder.

Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other!


As we ponder the plight of refugees around the world in 219, we visit this re-post from January 2, 2012.

Images from: http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/wise-men-ancient-text-differs-bible-tale-magi/story?id=12460820 

For an interesting new twist to the Magi story, click the image above or go to http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/wise-men-ancient-text-differs-bible-tale-magi/story?id=12460820

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Acts 20:25-38Resolutions

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A 1915 Postcard: New Year’s Resolutions

A new day dawns, a new year begins . . . we have before us a new opportunity for reconnection and rebirth.  In today’s Noontime we examine part of Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders in Miletus in which he lays out a kind of instruction manual for those whom he has brought into Christ’s infant church . . . and for whom he has great love.

As we begin a new year, we might resolve to take Paul’s admonitions seriously; we might decide to be faithful followers of the Gospel . . . and this may be more difficult than we first think.

I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to be fearless in proclaiming the Good News to all we know.  In our secular world it is so easy to say nothing when others rant about how the poor are lazy, about how we need to take back America from the immigrants.  It is easy to remain silent in the face of such anger.  It is convenient to forget that most of us are not descended from indigenous peoples.

I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to be both watchful and loving, and let us determine to be in the world but not of it. In a presidential election year it will be easy to join a drumbeat of complaint.  It will be difficult to listen without judging.  It will be awkward to express a view that is contrary to the majority.

Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to maintain healthy boundaries as we take care of ourselves even as we tend to the needs of others.  In a self-centered society we will often find ourselves alone when we advocate for the disenfranchised.  We will be at odds with conventional wisdom.  We will run counter to general opinions.  We will struggle with knowing which work is our own and which is not.

Miletus: Agora with public building

Be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day, I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to be prudent and compassionate in all that we do in Jesus’ name.  In a time when a show of emotion is characterized as a weakness we will be against the tide.  In an era when the phrase “personal responsibility” is used to erase God’s call to heal the broken-hearted and help the marginalized, we will stand out as different and even bizarre.  We will be targets for people’s hatred.

In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to be determined to live out the Gospel message in our support of the marginalized.  Let us acknowledge that the world will disparage who we are and what we do . . . and that Christ will be working right beside us.

When he had finished speaking he knelt down and prayed with them all . . . As we begin a new year, let us resolve to join others in prayer whenever and wherever possible to unite our voices and hearts in unison with the Creator.  Let us recognize that the work of Christ’s disciples is difficult at best . . . but amazingly rewarding and well worth our personal cost.

Paul reminds the faithful that Christ’s call will run counter to what is comfortable or popular; yet Christ’s message will be wonderfully simple and beautifully plain.  On this New Year’s Day let us remember the gift of Christmas as we resolve to both fashion and fulfill new resolutions that will ask much of us . . . but that will be well worth the sacrifice and even the pain.


A re-post from January 1, 2012.

Images from: http://www.allanbevere.com/2010/10/was-ephesians-circular-letter.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NewYearsResolution1915FirstPostcard.jpg 

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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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