Monthly Archives: December 2015

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.

Let me share a story to illustrate, and I apologize that it will extend the usual length of this blog.

When we lived in New York and I was commuting on the trains into Manhattan each day, I would sometimes attend daily mass at St. Matthews just a half block east of Grand Central station.  Since my train did not arrive until 7:32 and mass started at 7:30, I would always be rushing to get there by the time of the first reading.  One day as I was rushing to get into the church, there was a man standing on the church steps who asked me to help him, but because I was so programed to get into the church by the time of the first reading, I ran right by him.  

As I sat down in the pew, I thought to myself, “What did I just do?”  Here someone was asking me to help him and I ran right by him, ignoring his request so I could get into the church at a given time.  I was just like the innkeeper.  I had no room or time for this guy.   

I committed to myself that if he was still there when I walked out, I would see what he needed.  When I came out of the church, he was no longer on the steps, but leaning over the front bumper of a car on the street, vomiting.  “No way,” I thought, and started to walk across the street through a revolving door of a building that would take me to my building.

But the Spirit kept me in that revolving door and back around I went to exit where I entered to check out this guy one more time.  I walked over to him and said, “Pretty sick, uh?”  He was too sick to speak.  He just nodded his head.  I asked if he wanted some breakfast and we went into a little diner next to the church.

It turns out that his name was Richard.  He had been a trumpet player for a band, but lost his job, started drinking, got rolled, beat up, and lost everything he had.  After connecting him up with the Salvation Army, I saw him about a week later.  He was all cleaned up with new clothes and suitcase.  He said he was going to Hartford, Ct., which was his home.  I congratulated him and was delighted to see what had happened.

Then a couple of days later, there he was again, all beat up, his clothes torn, looking awful.  I asked Richard, “What happened?”  He couldn’t say.  He just looked at me with his hollow eyes and shook his head.  I told him to meet me at 10 o’clock, at 43d & Lexington; that I was going to buy him a train ticket to Hartford and put him on the train.  I bought him the ticket, went to 43rd and Lexington, but Richard never showed up and I never saw him again.

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.

So let us ask ourselves, am I making room for Jesus today in how I relate to the people in my life — my spouse, my children, school friends, work colleagues and the stranger for whom there is no room in the inn?

 

 

 

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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 billions of stars whose distance is measured in light years; this God who created the atom and 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 to 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 used as a 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 the Father 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, persecution and injustice.  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, 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! 

* Reposted from Christmas, 2014

Unlikely Heralds

Are we following the example of the shepherds in telling people about Jesus? 

The Gospel of Luke reports that at the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds nearby 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, tightly wrapped in strips of cloth 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. 

“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 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.  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 to reconcile God and mankind, and be an example in reconciling each of us to one another.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this savior offers to dwell in 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, but he is present to all who accept his offer to dwell in them.  We have the same opportunity as the shepherds to spread the word about Jesus in what we have seen, heard, and experienced.

Over the past year, I have been participating in a Christian ministry to the local jail.  The venue of the jail has certainly taken me outside my comfort zone.  But last month I found myself sharing about how in between the first and second coming of Jesus, there is a third coming – when we invite Jesus to come and reside in our hearts. Sharing how Jesus changed my life prompted three of the inmates to share how Jesus had changed their lives.  This was remarkable because inmates are very cautious about sharing anything personal in front of one another.  

As with the shepherds, I was an unlikely herald in the venue of a jail, but telling others about Jesus is part of God’s plan for us.  All who hear will be “amazed!”    

 

Tongue-tied for Not Believing

How often are our tongues silent because of limited faith or fear? 

When the angel, Gabriel, appeared to Zechariah, to tell him that his prayer had been answered and his wife would bear him a son who was to be named John, Zechariah asked, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”  After explaining that he was God’s messenger, Gabriel said, “And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens because you did not believe my words.” (Luke 1:11-20)

Zechariah could not speak until the time of John’s circumcision when his speech returned and he confirmed that the baby should be named John instead of a name more familiar to the family.  Luke reports, “His tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.” (Luke 1:64)

How often are our tongues rendered silent because our faith is not strong enough to believe that God is acting in a given situation?  How often do we fail to speak up for fear of what others think?  How often do we fail to offer to pray with someone for fear of being rejected?

Weakness of faith and fear disables our tongues from being used by God to further his will and purpose.   

While there have been times when my faith has not been as strong as it should be, there have also been times when I would ask God what he wanted me to do and then sought to do it.

A few years ago my wife took a phone message from a former secretary.  Her message was that she had cancer and experienced a stroke, and sounded like she wanted to say goodbye before she died.

Her name was Marilyn and she had been my secretary more than 30 years earlier.  When I returned her call she told me about all of her medical difficulties and that she was confined to a wheel chair.  She said she was calling people who had impacted her life.  She recalled how I had encouraged her to go back to college and get a degree, which opened the door to her advancing in her career with our company, Mobil Corporation.

While she was talking I asked God what he wanted me to say to her.  “Pray with her,” was the response.  So, I asked her if I could pray with her.  She said that she didn’t used to believe in God or go to temple and pray, but now she did.  Mindful that she was Jewish, I prayed to the Father that he would bless her and heal her of the effects of her cancer and stroke.  She offered her “Amen.”  I finished our conversation by saying, “Marilyn, I want you to call me back when you stand up from that wheel chair and start walking.”

About six months later I received another call from her.  “Mr. Dalgetty, you told me to call you back when I could walk free of that wheel chair.  Well, here I am, walking.” 

God’s Power Announcer

How do we measure the power of a message?  Surely the efforts of John the Baptist in announcing the advent of Jesus’ public ministry would qualify as powerful, given the overwhelming response he received.  Mark reports, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” (Mark 1:5)  Matthew says, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” (Matthew 3:5)

Given that communication was mostly dependent on word of mouth and that transportation was accomplished primarily by walking, it is remarkable that John was receiving huge crowds of people from all over Judea.  Jerusalem would have been at least a day’s walk and more remote areas of Judea would have taken even longer.

What made this even more extraordinary was that John’s message was not one of sweetness and light.  It was a tough message, calling people to change their ways and repent of their sins.  Imagine, people from all over Judea going to John to confess their sins.

Only by the power of the Holy Spirit, would John have been able to attract so many people, from such distant areas, with such a challenging message.

This was previously confirmed by the angel Gabriel when he appeared to Zechariah and told him that his wife, Elizabeth was going have a son whose name was to be John.  “He will be great in the sight of the Lord” and “will be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Gabriel added, “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15, 17)

In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, John was preparing the people of Judea to receive the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.  “A voice of one calling in the desert; prepare the way of the Lord.” (Isaiah 40:3) He was preparing them through the confession and cleansing of their sins in the waters of baptism.

Like John, we too, are called to lead family, friends, colleagues and even strangers to open the door of their hearts to Jesus. It starts with how we live our lives.  Righteous conduct gives credibility to our words. Sometimes, our role is just to plant seeds for God’s future cultivation.  Sometimes we have a more direct role such as with our families (spouse and children) for whom God gives us a direct responsibility.   Sometimes God places people in our lives for the purpose of introducing himself to them through us.

Like John, we too, have the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us the wisdom, courage, knowledge and opportunity to speak and build relationships with others for the purpose of leading them to Jesus.

As we move into this season of celebrating Jesus’ birth, are we acting with the same passion as John the Baptist in introducing people to Jesus?