Sunday, December 26, 2010
Devotions to Lead into the New Year by Jenifer Gamber
According to the work of researcher Christian Smith, relationships and devotions are the most important contributors to a sustained faith life for teenagers. Vibrant Faith Ministries identifies four keys to passing faith in the home: caring conversations, rituals and traditions, devotional practices and service. Beginning all of these at one time can be daunting. Begin with one practice. The devotions below are one way to begin. Choose a time and a place you will gather each day. You might choose before or after dinner. If the devotions are too long, begin with the reading and reflections. Add prayers as you feel comfortable.
Invite your teen to try these devotions, or do them together as a family, during the twelve days of Christmas. The devotions lead to the Day of Epiphany when the magi arrive at the manger to adore the baby Jesus and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Note: Simple modifications will make the prayers appropriate to saying them as a family.) If you miss a day, don’t be hard on yourself and return to the practice the following day.
Begin by lighting a candle to represent God’s presence with you.
Sunday, December 26
Read: Matthew 1:18-25
Reflect: When have you seen God among your family and friends this week?
Christ within me,
give me strength to be bold
when I have to make a difficult choice.
Christ before me,
lead me to see the goodness
in all creation.
Christ to win me,
open my heart to feel how much
you love me no matter what.
Christ above me,
help me use my intellect
and abilities to be your hands
and feet in the world.
(Based on “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” old Irish poem)
Monday, December 27 (Feast day of St. Stephen)
Read: Acts 6:1-7
Reflect: You have gifts that God has given you to serve the world around you. What gifts might you have? Sometimes other people can identify your gifts. Get together and name those things that others do that bring joy into the world.
Here I am Lord. I have heard you call me. You have blessed me in many ways. You have given me eyes to see your dream that all people will have enough, ears to hear the cries of your people, hands to serve, and feet to take me where the needs is great. Help me to see the good things that I can do to return your blessing.
Tuesday, December 28 (Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist)
Read: John 21:19b-24
Reflect: Peter doesn’t hold back and asks Jesus questions that all the disciples might want to ask, but are too timid to do so. What questions do you have for God? Pray about them.
God of mystery, sometimes I don’t understand why things happen in the world. Help me to understand. Help me to accept. Help me to let go.
Wednesday, December 29 (Feast of the Holy Innocents)
Read: Matthew 2:13-18
Reflect: Malaria is a preventable disease, yet children in Africa die from malaria each minute. What mothers’ cry do you hear in your community?
God of mercy, tend the children who are sick today. Embrace the sorrow mothers, fathers, and anyone who cares for them. Thank you for your care.
Thursday, December 30 (Feast of Frances Joseph Gaudet)
Read: Matthew 25:34-46
Reflect: Frances Joseph Gaudet, an African American and Native American born in 1861, helped establish a school for children of working mothers. What obstacles do you think she faced in doing her work?
God of wisdom, thank you for teachers and schools. Some youth cannot get to school. Some do not have adults who can help them with their homework or a place to do their homework. Soften the hearts of people around them to remove those obstacles. Give me a heart of thanksgiving for the many ways you have blessed me with ways to learn.
Friday, December 31 (Feast of Samuel Ajayi Crowther)
Read: Matthew 9:35-38
Reflect: Read about Samuel Ajayi Crowther here. How is his work a theophany (a revelation of God and Christ in the world)?
God who has given us eyes to see and ears to hear. Uncover my eyes and unplug my ears to the world around me. Help me see You in every day things. Help me to see your glory.
Saturday, January 1 (Feast of the Holy Name)
Read: Luke 2:15-21
Reflect: Were you named after someone? Who? What does your name mean? (You can Google your name if you do not know.) Does your name reflect who you are?
God, you know me by name. When I pray help me to know your names too beginning today, the first day of the year, and all the days that follow.
Sunday, January 2
Read: John 6:41-47
Reflect: What do you think it means to have eternal life?
Life-giving God. Help me grow each day. Renew a right spirit within me. Take away all evil that keeps me from you.
Monday, January 3 (Feast of William Passavant)
Read: Luke 13:10-22
Reflect: The mustard seeds that Jesus talks about aren’t like the mustard seeds that you can buy in the spice section of the grocery store. They were so small, you could hardly see them. Read about William Passavant here. How was William Passavant like a mustard seed?
God, who makes all things possible, give me the faith of a mustard seed. Help me to reach out to others in school especially those who are lonely and shunned so that my circle of friends can grow and continue to welcome new friends.
Tuesday, January 4 (Feast of Elizabeth Seton)
Read: Luke 14:15-23
Reflect: Elizabeth faced discrimination because she was Catholic. What kinds of discrimination exist in the world today? What are its effects?
One God, we divide ourselves into many parts by culture, language, skin color, popularity, wealth, and by sex. Help us to see how we are all human and everyone deserves respect and dignity.
Wednesday, January 5
Read: John 15:1-16
Reflect: What branches in your life bear fruit? Which are not? Does that branch need tending or do you need to prune it?
God the vine-grower, Thank you for tending me and strengthening my branches so that I can bear fruit. Thank you for the joy that this fruit gives me and other people. Help me to see the ways that I do not bear fruit and guide me to prune it from my day.
Thursday, January 6 (Feast of the Epiphany)
Read: Matthew 2:1-12
Reflect: What person in your life is a star that guides you to the place where new life is born?
God, my guide, thank you for those people in my life who name my gifts. Thank you for those people who help me to tend them. Thank you for those people who help me use them others can see your great light.
Jenifer Gamber, author of “My Faith, My Life” a book for teens and “Your Faith, Your Life” for adults is a popular speaker and retreat leader on spirituality and ministry with teens. She lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
· We have opened our presents.
· We have had our feast.
· Our relatives have returned to their homes.
· Things quiet down and we begin to think about tonight’s snow and the festivities around New Years...
But the Gospel for today bids us stop and ponder the birth of Jesus anew, but not in what we have just celebrated. We have experienced both Matthew's and Luke's infancy narratives around Jesus and his birth.
But today, John's Gospel makes us consider a more cosmic and mystical side of the birth and life of Jesus. It reminds me of the revelation that the Grinch experiences after he has taken all of the presents and decorations and food from the Whos of Who-ville. They wake-up on Christmas morning and begin to sing their song; the Grinch is puzzled until he realizes that Christmas doesn't come from a store, that maybe Christmas means a little bit more. John's Gospel gets us to see that Christmas means much, much more.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."In the beginning, words reminiscent of Genesis, the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of our Story: The Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word, in Greek “Logos,” which also means Wisdom, The Word is both distinct from God and yet synonymous with God. The Word becomes God Incarnate, enfleshed in Jesus, both Human and Divine. Jesus has that connection with God we all long for (because he is close to the Father's heart). The Son of God, the Word, was with God from the beginning of time and helped create all there is. Jesus is the hinge that connects our creation and our redemption.
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”That light brought rich Wise Men and poor Shepherds to the manger to glorify and praise God. It was the light in the midst of the darkness in the world. It brought grace upon grace. In the darkness, Jesus was not accepted by his own (The Gospel continues). . .but for those who did accept him, he gave power to become Children of God.
"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."The word became flesh and was born for us and another pageant story comes to mind…
It was time for the annual Nativity pageant put on by the children of the church. The manger was located in front of the altar steps. Mary was there in a blue mantel and Joseph in a cotton beard. The wise men were there with a handful of shepherds, and of course, in the midst of them all was the Christ Child, lying on the straw.Indeed, God let it show on that first Christmas Day when the word became flesh and dwelt among us. But now it is up to us, to let it show, to help bring the meaning and gift of Christmas from here, to wherever we find ourselves. A lovely quote online put it this way:
The nativity story was read by the pastor with carols sung at the appropriate places, and all went like clockwork until it came time for the arrival of the angels - a "heavenly host" of the children of the congregation dressed in white and scattered throughout the pews with their parents. At the right moment the angels were supposed to come forward and gather around the manger to sing, "Glory to God in the highest" and that is just what they did - except there were so many angels that there was a fair amount of crowding and jockeying for position.
One angel, about nine years old who was smaller than most of the other angels, ended up so far out on the fringes of things that not even by craning her neck and standing on tiptoe could she see what was going on. "Glory to God in the highest" they all sang on cue, and then in the momentary pause that followed, the small girl electrified the entire church by crying out in a voice shrill with irritation and frustration and enormous sadness at having her view blocked, "Let Jesus show!"
The wise pastor decided to end the pageant right there. "Let Jesus show!" the child-angel had cried out, and while the congregation sat in stunned silence, the good father offered a quick final prayer and blessing, and everybody filed out of church with those unforgettable words ringing in their ears. [From Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons by Frederick Buechner.]
“Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.” (Janice Maeditere)Today, let us open our hearts for Christ is born for us, the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us, and that open heart can lead us to do what Christ asks us to do today and always, to love one another. Amen.
The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote a charming tale about a poor shoemaker named Martin.
Life was hard for the Russian shoemaker, who lost his wife and children to sickness many years before. Now an old man, Martin lived in his one-room basement shop making and repairing shoes and boots. Tired and alone, the old shoemaker found peace in his small book of Gospels. He took the lessons of Christ to heart; more and more he saw himself in the stories and heard the Savior speaking directing to him.Christ is born as a tiny baby, an old man, a young mother, an old woman, a child, a stranger, a friend. Christ comes to us at all hours, and in all people. May we be open to greet him whenever he appears, and may he be born in our hearts this day. Merry Christmas!
Every evening after finishing the day’s work, Martin would light his small lamp and read from his book. One night he fell asleep while reading. He was awakened by a voice: “Martin!” “Who is there?” Martin called out, but saw no one. “Martin! Ah Martin! Look tomorrow on the street. I am coming.”
Martin awoke the next morning and began his day. He kept looking out his shop window, thinking about the voice he heard. As he went to his bench, he saw his old neighbor Stepanich clearing the ice and snow away from the building.
“Come in, warm yourself,” Martin called. The old man happily obliged and the two sat down to enjoy the tea Martin had made. “Are you expecting anyone?” Stepanich asked. Martin laughed, and told him about his crazy dream. The two laughed and enjoyed another glass of tea. Martin returned to his bench by the window.
As he worked, he saw a woman carrying a child. The woman was dressed in shabby summer clothes and had nothing to wrap her baby in. Martin ran outside and invited them in out of the cold. He heated some cabbage soup and found a blanket for the baby. The woman’s husband was a soldier and had been away seven months. She and the child were destitute; she had just pawned her only shawl for a few cents. Martin pulled out an old trunk from under his bed and found some of his wife’s winter clothes and an old coat. As the woman offered her tearful thanks, Martin pressed a twenty-kopek piece into her hand.
Later that afternoon his work was interrupted by shouting outside his window. An old apple woman had a little boy by his hair, screaming at him. The boy had tried to steal one of the woman’s apples but she caught him. She threatened to take him to the police. The boy denied he had tried to take the apple. Martin entreated the old woman, “Let him go. He won’t do it again. Here, take this for the apple.” The boy tried to run off but Martin grabbed him. “Ask for the Granny’s forgiveness and don’t do it again; I saw you taking the apple.” And the boy apologized. Martin and the old woman then shared memories of their own children before wishing each other well. Martin returned to his bench and worked until dark, and forgot about his dream.
That night, Martin heard the voice again. “Martin — ah Martin! Did you not recognize me?” “Who?” uttered Martin. “Me,” replied the voice. “It is I” and Stepanich stepped out of the darkness. “And this is I,” said the voice, and the young mother and her child appeared. “And this is I,” continued the voice, and the old apple woman and the boy stepped forward.
And Martin realized that the Savior had called upon him that day and Martin had received him.
“Crowds of Americans rioting in the streets. Two opposing groups shout loudly, vying to have their messages heard and heeded. The groups meet. Confrontation ensues. Fistfights break out. Church windows are smashed. What are these rioters fighting about? Christmas. One group favors celebrating Christmas, the other opposes all Christmas observances. This isn't an imaginary event, it is history. It happened in Boston on Christmas day in 1706.” (from Paul Flesher)The anti-Christmas group consisted largely of Congregationalists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, while the pro-Christmas group comprised mostly of Episcopalians. This didn’t happen just once in Boston. This would happen elsewhere…
“On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after St. Peter’s RC church was built in Lower Manhattan of NYC, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed by some in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the melee that ensued, dozens were injured, and a policeman was killed.” (from NY Times)The War on Christmas started long ago, and is still being fought by some today. And yet, it seems to me, we spend too much worrying about it, rather than taking the message of this most Holy Night to heart. Whether others are celebrating as we wish they would, its really upon us, to heed the message and live it in our lives. God challenges our hearts “to prepare him room,” to make a place for the Child of Bethlehem to transform our hearts and homes. This is a story about someone taking it too heart…
It was Christmas Eve at New York’s famed Riverside Church. The Christmas pageant was on and had come to the point where the innkeeper was to say that there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary pregnant with Jesus. The part seemed perfect for Tim, an earnest and faithful member of the congregation who had Down Syndrome. Only one line to memorize, and he had practiced it again and again with his parents and with the pageant director. He seemed to have mastered it.Tim got it. The miracle of Christmas, the holy gift is that in the Child of Bethlehem, God makes his dwelling here and now, in our homes and in our hearts. On this most Holy Night, when our souls are full of hope, let us rejoice for our Lord is born, and it is up to us to say, yes, stay with me Lord. As an old Christmas carol puts it:
So there was Tim standing at the altar, a bathrobe over his clothes, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. They approached him, said their lines, and waited for his reply. “There’s no room at the inn,” Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed.
But then, as Mary and Joseph turned to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, “Wait!” Mary and Joseph turned back, startled. “You can stay at my house,” Tim called. Thinking quickly, the minister went to the pulpit and said, “Amen!”
The congregation repeated the Amen – and both the pageant and the planned sermon came to an unexpected but perfect completion with the singing of Joy to the World. [From Short Sermons on the Run by Walter J. Burghardt.]
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel! Amen.
Once upon a time as Joseph and Mary made their way to Bethlehem an angel called a meeting with all the animals of the earth to choose which of them would attend the birth and be allowed in the cave with the newborn child. The animals were all excited and wanted to be there, of course. First, the lion roared and said, "I am the king of all the animals. It is only right that I am allowed to be there. I will defend the child and tear to pieces anyone who tries to harm him." The angel cringed and said, "Too loud and scary for the baby."This is the night that we remember and tell the story of Jesus who is born, poor, humble, and lowly, to a world weary and battle-worn. Tonight, shepherds will leave their flocks to find the Good News in the manger, angels will sing And nearby two animals will stand their watch with this new baby, a baby born for all of us.
Then the fox came forward. "I will stand guard over the child, and I'll make sure the baby has good food every day In fact, I will steal a chicken every day for the family. The angel looked hard at the fox and said, "We don’t need a thief."
The peacock strutted forward and said, "Let me. I'll spread my feathers, and I'll decorate the cave in a style fit truly for a king. It will rival Solomon's own temple." The angel sighed and said, "Too proud."
One by one the animals came forward with their reasons why they should be the ones allowed inside. Birds swooped about, darting in and out, making a loud noise. The angel said, "Too loud and disruptive for the baby."
The poor angel was getting frustrated and thought, "Why are these animals so much like humans?" The angel looked to see if anyone had been missed and noticed some animals in the field. They were rather old and slow moving, and they had said nothing and were not even in the group. The ox and the donkey were summoned to the meeting, and the angel asked what they would do for the child and his mother on that night.
They looked at each other and neither said anything. They both looked down at the ground and at last the ox said, "We learned a long time ago not to do anything out of line; to be humble and patient and long suffering. Anything else we ever did got us less food and more whippings." They hung their heads and swished their tails. Then the donkey said quietly, "Well, we could keep the flies away by swinging our tails and keep the air moving in the cave."
The angel smiled delightedly, "Exactly! You'll both do perfectly. Come, we must move quickly. Tonight is the night." (story by Willi Hoffsuemmer)
So tonight when you head off to bed, remember the baby Jesus born humbly in a manger, with those animals nearby helping him and his parents. Let us end with a prayer, a prayer I use from a verse in Away in a Manger. Repeat after me:
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there. Amen.
May all of us gathered here tonight, with the awe of the shepherds, the voice of the angels and the humility of those animals, remember in our hearts that tonight there is good news of great joy for us all: born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Amen.
Joseph is always there but he does seem at times to be a side character, not as important as the others. I think of a Nativity Icon, that captures all the different stories of Christmas and there Joseph sits in the corner of the icon, with his head resting in his hands wondering what has happened…
But it is Gospel of Matthew who reminds us of the importance of Joseph, b/c Matthew tells us that Jesus is named by the angel to Joseph in a dream. Dreams play important roles in the lives of so many characters in the bible. For Joseph, when he heard the angel speak to him in that dream, he had a decision to make. Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary. He found out she was pregnant. He knew it wasn’t his. What was he to do?
He could throw her out, and make a huge stink and let everyone know about the child conceived out of wedlock. He could get the people to ostracize her, maybe even stone her to death. But Joseph was a righteous man, and he decided to dismiss her quietly, a generous and merciful act. But in that dream an angel of the Lord appears to him and everything changes. I think the poet and author Rainer Rilke captured that moment:
AND the angel, taking due pains, told the man who clenched his fists: But can't you see in her robe's every fold that she is cool as the Lord's morning mists?It is a startling dream and it must have shook his soul, but in the end he did praise, he did accept it.
But the other, gazing gloomily, just murmured: What is it has wrought this change in her? Then cried the angel to him: Carpenter, can't you see yet that God is acting here? Because you plane the planks, in your pride would you really make the Lord God answerable who unpretentiously from the same wood makes the leaves burst forth, the young buds swell?
He understood that. And now as he raised his frightened glance toward the angel who was gone already . . . slowly the man drew his heavy cap off. Then in song he praised.
“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit, and you will name him Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.”Joseph had set his mind on leaving her. He could have said no to the angel. But Joseph does not, he listens, he takes Mary as his wife. And Jesus is born. And all will change because of this child. The words of Isaiah ring in our ears:
“The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” and “he will refuse the evil and choose the good.”One of my favorite nativity sets I have seen has Mary lying down and Joseph standing holding the baby Jesus. Not only did Joseph say yes, but he indeed became Jesus’ father and loved him as his own. When we hear these readings we look back, we can see God's saving work in Isaiah and in the Gospel of Matthew. God has sought out men and women to be in relationship with their God, the creator, and to guide them toward salvation.
In each reading God speaks of salvation through the birth of a child. For our God is the Lord of heaven and earth, of the history of nations and from the greatest in Israel to the least; for Emmanuel, God is with us. Let us follow Joseph's example: The willingness to change our mind when confronted by God’s word and God’s spirit. The courage in the midst of fear to follow God’s way even if one does not know where it may lead. In the words of W. H. Auden:
To choose what is difficult all one’s days As if it were easy, that is faith. Joseph, praise.May we have the courage and faith of Joseph, to say yes to God, to welcome the birth of Jesus at Christmas with all the anticipation and hope that we have had this season of Advent. For it is a time to rejoice and as Madeline L’engle put it:
GOD did not wait till the world was ready, till . . . nations were at peace. God came when the Heavens were unsteady, and prisoners cried out for release. God did not wait for the perfect time. God came when the need was deep and great… We cannot wait till the world is sane to raise our songs with joyful voice, for to share our grief, to touch our pain, God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!Amen.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he,” said Jesus.John the Baptist had his ministry. He baptized for the forgiveness of sins in the river Jordan. He had disciples too, and they must have taken part in his ministry, helping with those baptisms. He did his work, because he felt God had led him to do it and he must have known that his opposition to the power elite, King Herod, and to religious leaders too, Pharisees & Sadducees, would bring trouble. And it did. He was thrown into prison to quiet his work, and he knew he would be executed,. And yet, he continues to look to see how God is acting in the world and sends his disciples out. Because maybe, just maybe his cousin Jesus is also following God’s call, could he be the messiah?
"Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."John was the messenger, who was preparing the way for the one who was to come after him. He knew he was not the messiah. Who is this messiah? Jesus uses the words of Isaiah, the messiah is the one who makes:
· the blind see
· the lame walk
· the lepers cleansed
· the deaf hear
· the dead raised
· the poor brought good news
This is not like those in power: those in soft robes, living in the royal palaces. When the crowds came out to see John, Jesus said, they went to see someone who is a prophet, and more than that, the messenger preparing for the messiah. They didn’t go to see John in fine robes. And yet, people have always been interested in those who have those soft robes and live in royal palaces.
Growing up, I remember watching Robin Leach and his show: Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. And aren’t we fascinated by those who seem to have it all, for we with our “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” long for such things. Jesus and John stand in such sharp contrast to such thinking.
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”There is a strong tone of humility in these words uttered by Jesus. John is great but even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Such humility is why Jesus is not interested in our judging others, but in our serving others. It is John and Jesus who ask us to do much more than long for being rich & famous but to jump in and do the work that God calls us each to do. Friday, December 10 was Human Rights Day – did you know? – a day that “recognizes the work of human rights defenders worldwide who act to end discrimination.” (according to the UN)
The website introduces us to such defenders in Mozambique, Botswana, Serbia, Russia, Cambodia and the Palestinian Territories. Their work puts them in direct opposition to others who are using discrimination to gain the advantage in those societies.
“While some human rights defenders are internationally renowned, many remain anonymous and undertake their work often at great personal risk to themselves and their families.” (from the UN website)Such is the work of God, that is risk taking… to bring Good News to those in need.
“It is not a role that requires a professional qualification. What it depends on is regard for our fellow human beings, an understanding that we are all entitled to the full range of human rights and a commitment to seeing that ideal become a reality.” Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human RightsAs a Christian, such is our role in this world, to have regard for our fellow human beings, to speak out against any discrimination and to help bring the Good News that we have felt to everyone. On this third Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that we are to bring joy into our lives and that of others. We are the ones now helping to bring the light into the darkness. In our own way to help: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers be healed, the deaf hear, the dead have new life, and the poor have good news brought to them.
What does this look like?
There are members in this community who are part of the Lions Club – one of their ministries is to take prescription glasses we no longer need and find someone who can use them, in a developing country. They are helping make the blind see. It is that humble service that we all can do. In the words of Winston Churchill:
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”Our challenge is to be God’s messengers today, to see the miracles and resurrections taking place in our midst and reveal and celebrate them, to lift them up for all to see. To give so that our lives may be enriched and so others may simply live. Amen.
“Simplify, simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden.Simplify. For Thoreau, this meant living outside Concord, MA and its people by going to the edge of the woods, to live off the land in Walden. He simplified his life so he could “live deliberately” as he put it. The idea of simplifying may seem like a killjoy, taking all the pleasure out of this time of year. But certainly that was not Thoreau’s idea, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” And that’s what made him change his life.
Certainly when John the Baptist preached on the edge of a river, calling people to repent from sin, he did this so people’s lives could be changed, that they would mark a new direction. Advent is such a change for us, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the times, Advent is all about patience and anticipation.
Ask any pregnant mother what it means to live with patience and anticipation of a joyous birth! Ask any child right now about Christmas, they are practicing patience (as best they can!) as they anticipate their Christmas gifts.
As our society engorges itself on everything Christmas, our season of Advent can be helpful to maintain balance when the season can be too much hustle and bustle, too much buying, too much of well, everything. The season of Advent anticipates the birth of Christ and Christ’s return, and we celebrate such an event through the parties we have, the gifts we give and the merriment of the times! All good things!
And shouldn’t we be the most joyful this time of year as we anticipate our savior’s birth and await his return? If we aren’t, then we need to ask why?
As I sat with this question, why we are so discontented sometimes, I thought of a life we celebrated this week, a beloved member of this community, Jane Cottle who along with her husband Bill have been members of St. Peter’s for 53 years. And not just members, they have been active members in all aspects, their sweat, their tears, their joy, their time, talents & treasurer have helped with our mission and ministry.
But when anyone talked about Jane, it was her infectious smile they remembered, along with her wit, her wonderful one liners, those great interactions with her, it wasn’t the stuff of life they remembered nor was that what she loved. It was her family and friends.
That is what Advent calls us to do. As we await with patience, the coming of God into our midst, we are to remember that what is most important, is to share our love, with family and friends and even strangers. A
chronically ill toddler could not always go along with her brother and sister on their various adventures. But at Christmas time, Mom and Dad assured her that she would get to meet Santa. For weeks the little girl spoke of nothing but her coming visit to Santa; Mom prayed for a Santa who would live up to her daughter’s expectations. Finally, on one of the sick little girl’s better days, Mom decided to take the chance.Advent and love go together. Gifts are just tokens of that love. Parties are those celebrations of love, but what matters most is our relationships.
In order to avoid lengthy lines, they arrived just as the mall was opening and Santa was settling into his big chair. When the little girl saw him, she squealed, “Santa Claus!” and darted past the assistant elves toward Santa. The slightly startled Santa greeted her with a big smile and swept her into his ample lap. She snuggled in, stroked his beard and uttered in joyful awe, “Santa!” For several minutes, Santa and the little girl talked and laughed like two old friends, oblivious to the small crowd gathering to share in the magic of the moment.
The toddler’s mother stood nearby, her eyes filled with tears of joy. Just then, a man edged over to her and, to her surprise, she noticed that his eyes were as moist as hers. “Is that your little girl?” he asked quietly. The woman nodded. With a catch in his voice and quiet pride, the man said, “Santa is my son.” [Ruth Dalton, Catholic Digest.]
“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” ~ Hans HofmannThe necessary is what we do for others, in the love we share. For this season of Advent is our time to suck the marrow out of life in wonderful anticipation of what is to come. To hear, John the Baptist calling us to repent, to not gorge ourselves in a Christmas that began weeks ago that is all centered on shopping and stuff.
It is the journey we make to Christmas, all the steps, all the preparations that will make Christmas into the joyful event we want it to be. Full of hope and peace, full of joy and anticipation, where life is ready to repent and to forgive, where life is ready and eager to simply meet Christ again this Christmas. Amen.
(1) Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(2) Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(3) Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
(4) Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.