Monthly Archives: December 2014

Unlikely Heralds

Are we spreading the word about Jesus, like the shepherds who were the very first to give witness of him? They were told by an angel that a Savior, the long awaited Messiah was born. They were told where they could find him and how they would recognize him — in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in an animal’s feeding trough.

God chose shepherds, one of the humblest of occupations at the time, to be the news media of the day to spread the word about God becoming one of us through the cooperation of an unknown teenage girl in a remote area of the world in the most humbling of circumstances.

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2: 17-18)

We can only imagine the reaction of Mary and Joseph to having some shepherds, complete strangers, visit them and share a story that confirmed what they, too, had been told by an angel – that the son born to Mary was the son of God, Savior and Messiah.

The news of a savior of the world being born is of course pretty amazing stuff. The good news the Shepherds first proclaimed 2000 years ago is just as important to the world today as it was then. A savior has been born! The creator has become one of his created! An anointed one has come and is present to reconcile God and humankind, and humankind with one another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this savior offers to dwell in us, to be present to us and enable us to be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances in our lives.

Like the shepherds, we may consider ourselves unlikely heralds that Jesus is still present in the world today. He is present to all who accept his offer to dwell in them. Like the shepherds, we also have the opportunity to spread the word about Jesus in what we have seen, heard, and experienced.

Are we spreading the word by our witness and how we live that Jesus Christ is present in the world today through us? It is part of God’s plan for us. All who hear and see his love, peace and joy through us will be “amazed!”  

Why We Celebrate Christmas

After hearing the Christmas story over and over, year after year, we might be tempted to take it for granted. Yet if we think about it, God’s willingness to become one of us is the greatest act of humility and love in all of human history. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” John 1:14

Here we have God, the Father, creator of all that exists, creator of the millions of galaxies and the billions of stars whose distance is measured in light years; this God who created the atom and the molecule whose size is measured in nanometers – that’s one billionth of a meter; this God who created the human being with a body, soul, spirit and mind, became one of his created in order to free each of us from our sins and the world from its bondage to sin – to reconcile us to him and one another.

Father William Barry, in his book, A Friendship Like No Other, says, “God took humanity seriously enough to become one of us, and we do God no service if we downplay what God has done in becoming human.”

God in Jesus was a real human being, born of Mary in the humblest of circumstances in a cave or stable with animals nearby. He had to be toilet trained, learn a language, be raised by real parents, work out his vocation and discern the will of God just as we do.   His family was forced into exile to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. After assuming his public ministry, the leaders of his own religion handed him over to the Romans to die a horrible death. God is no stranger to suffering. God in Jesus knows what human life is like from the inside. His desire for friendship and to dwell with us and in us knows no bounds.

A cobbler does not become a shoe, a cabinet maker does not become a cabinet, but God the Father and creator of all that exists became one of us. Little wonder that history’s calendar is measured in terms of before and after this event.

Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus for what it is – the greatest act of humility and love in all of history.

No Room in the Inn for Jesus

How ironic! Jesus experienced rejection even before he was born. “She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) There was no room for Jesus in the inn, so Mary and Joseph had to settle for a cave that was used as a stable for animals.

While these circumstances may have served God’s purpose in taking on our humanity in the humblest of settings, you have to wonder what the innkeeper might have done had he known who Mary and Joseph were and what was about to happen.

We should not be too harsh in judging the innkeeper, for how often have we failed to make room for Jesus in our lives? There have been times in my life when I made more room for my career than I did for Jesus. There have been other times, when, like the innkeeper, I did not recognize Jesus in a colleague looking for someone to talk to or the street person looking for help on the streets of New York.

The good news is that God never ceases to give us opportunities to make room for him through his son, Jesus. He is always inviting us to open the door of our hearts so he can reproduce himself in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is always inviting us to love, to forgive, to serve — to build his Kingdom on this earth in the daily circumstances of our lives.

As we celebrate the day when the God of all creation became one of us at a specific time and place in order to change our lives and the course of history, let us renew our yes to him, our yes to Jesus and our yes to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Am I making room for Jesus today in how I relate to my spouse, my children, my colleagues at work and the stranger for whom there is no room in the inn?

Freedom to Choose – God’s Gift

Do we appreciate the gift of freedom that God has given us?

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, we see that God did not force himself or his will on her, the person he desired to be the mother of his son. We may tend to take her decision for granted, but it was not automatic. However holy and righteous Mary may have been, it was still within her power to decline the role God desired for her. He gave her freedom to reject his invitation, but she chose to say yes. “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)

How precious is the gift of freedom which God gives to each of us! He preserves it even in the midst of his most important act after creation – his incarnation – the intention to become one of his created in order to overcome evil and save the world from its pattern of acting outside his desire and plan.

We honor and revere Mary for her decision of faithfulness and obedience to God’s desire. As we read Luke, we may tend to gloss over all of the real and practical complications, second guessing, and judgments Mary must have endured in saying yes to God’s messenger. Even Joseph intended to divorce her until God spoke to him in a dream.

Without this freedom to choose, love, faithfulness and obedience have no meaning. They cannot be tested. Their integrity is suspect. A coerced love is no love at all. Freedom is a precondition to love. It’s the way God set things up, and Mary illustrates it perfectly in agreeing to be part of something that had never happened before in human history. Even Jesus had the freedom to choose in the agony of the garden. He prayed that the cup of sacrifice, torture and death he was facing be taken from him, but then he submitted, “Yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Like Mary and Jesus, God has given us the freedom to make choices. Several years ago I was offered a promotion in my work that would have required our family to move. Everything in my work experience was calling out to me to accept this apparent advance in my career, but my wife and I discerned that it was not God’s will for us. We will never know what might have happened had I accepted the new position, but we do know what has happened – an apparent initial sacrifice was transformed into a cup overflowing with a multitude of blessings over many years for our Christian family of five children that has now evolved into four additional Christian families and thirteen grandchildren.

How will we use this freedom God gives us? Will it reflect love and faithfulness to God and the people he puts in our lives along with the blessings that follow, or will it reflect the epitaph that “I did it my way” and the “success” that follows in the eyes of the world?   

“Your Prayer Has Been Heard.”

Do present circumstances discourage you from praying for the desires of your heart?

Zechariah and Elizabeth were unable to have children, but apparently their prayers for a child continued, even into their old age. While Zechariah was serving in the Temple, the angel, Gabriel appeared to him and said, “Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” (Luke 1:13) He went on to say that this son will be great in the sight of the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit and bring many people back to the Lord.

Although Zechariah had been praying for a son for many years, his present circumstances caused him to question whether this could still happen. He asked, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Even Gabriel acknowledged Elizabeth’s advanced age in Luke 1:36.

While Zechariah’s doubt rendered him unable to speak until the promise was fulfilled, his faithfulness in serving the Lord and persistence in prayer over many years was rewarded with the birth of a son, John the Baptist, whose mission was to prepare the way for God’s own son.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are great models for us. They remained faithful and persistent in their prayer over many years and even after the answer to their prayer seemed impossible.

Our daughter, Emily who is now 28, was born with Down syndrome and a speech disability. For more than 20 years we have been praying for the healing of her speech disability so that she could be better understood and able to interact more fully with others. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, the present circumstances may indicate that not much is happening, but we have seen some progress in her increased efforts to converse, and we will never cease praying in faith for God’s special intervention in the life of this special child entrusted to our family.

Jesus offered the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8) to urge his followers to “always pray and never give up.” He says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” St. Paul entreats us to “pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1Th. 5:17) “For nothing is impossible to God,” says Gabriel in a subsequent appearance to Mary. (Luke 1:37)

While we may struggle to know the mind of God, the fact that something may appear impossible is not a reason to refrain from praying for the desire of our hearts.