Monthly Archives: December 2019

Unlikely Heralds

“When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed at what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2: 17-18)

God chose shepherds, one of the humblest of occupations, to be the news media to spread the word of Jesus’ birth. They were told by an angel that a Savior, the long awaited Messiah had been born. They were told where they could find him and how they would recognize him — in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in an animal’s feeding trough.

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! God has become one of us through the cooperation of an unknown teenage girl in a remote area of the world under the most humbling of circumstances. The 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 about Jesus, like the shepherds who were the very first to give witness of him? Are we spreading the word by how we live that Jesus Christ is present in the world today through us?

All who hear and see his love, peace and joy through us will be “amazed!”  


An Incarnation Analogy

Do you ever struggle with grasping the full meaning and purpose of God becoming one of us in the person of Jesus Christ?  

For many years radio commentator Paul Harvey shared the following story at Christmas to help us understand.


The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge; he was a kind, decent, mostly good man; generous to his family, and upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…at first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on the light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them.

So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm lighted barn.

And then he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…that I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them and confuse them, they just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells, listening, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Merry Christmas!


No Room in the Inn

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

How ironic! Jesus experienced rejection even before he was born. 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 City. Let me share a story.

When I worked in New York I would sometimes attend daily mass at St. Matthews Catholic Church 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 into the church, a man on the church steps asked me to help him, but because I was so programed to get into the church I ran right by him.

As I sat down I thought to myself, “What did I just do?” Someone was asking me to help him and I blew right by him in my haste to get into the church. I was just like the innkeeper. I had no room or time for this guy.  

When I went back outside he was leaning over the front bumper of a car, vomiting. “No way,” I thought, and started to walk across the street to my office. But then I turned back and asked if he wanted some breakfast. We went into a little diner next to the church.

His name was Richard. He had been a trumpet player for a band, got fired, started drinking, got rolled, and lost everything. After connecting him up with the Salvation Army, I saw him about a week later. He was all cleaned up with new clothes and had a 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. “Richard, what happened?” I asked. 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 and I never saw him again.

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 to love, to forgive, to serve — to build his Kingdom on this earth in the daily circumstances of our lives.

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?


Faith to Do God’s Will

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:45)

These are the words of Elizabeth to Mary upon her arrival at Elizabeth’s house. We might wonder how Elizabeth would know to commend Mary for her decision to accept Gabriel’s message that she would give birth to the Son of God before Mary told her about it.

The Gospel of Luke says that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at Mary’s greeting. By the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth commended Mary for believing what she was told.

Elizabeth was also aware that her husband, in contrast to Mary, was rendered mute when he questioned the angel’s message to him that Elizabeth would give birth to a son in her old age.

So, here we have the Holy Spirit in Mary giving rise to the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth, and the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth commending Mary for her faithful acceptance of God’s will and offering praise for God’s physical entry into human history.

Surely, Mary’s statement to the angel Gabriel, “May it be done to me according to your word,” has provided the example of true and humble faith in accepting God’s will for every generation since Jesus’ birth.

Seeking and fulfilling God’s will should be a primary objective for all of us in our walk of faith. This can involve significant life decisions such as our vocation, where we go to school, what our occupation will be, who we will marry, how will we raise our children, where will we live, to daily choices such as how we will relate to others, how we share our faith, how much will we pray, and how generous we will be.

Let me share an example that falls into the daily choice category. Once or twice a month I take communion to Catholic residents of a local senior living and care center. One of the residents, who I will call Patricia for the sake of anonymity, suffered a stroke and is totally paralyzed on her left side. As a result she is bed ridden and suffers a great deal. She is such a sweet lady and is always so gracious in expressing her thanks for bringing her communion.

Recently, I was prompted to pray with her for healing of the effects of the stroke. While I was cautious in not wanting to be presumptuous, at the same time I kept getting the idea that I should make the offer. So, after saying the Lord’s Prayer together and giving her communion I asked, “Patricia, would you like me to pray with you for the healing of your stroke?” It was something I thought God wanted me to do and she said yes. So we prayed, acknowledging God’s love for her, asking for healing and for her to be able to experience movement on her left side.

While I of course do not know what the outcome will be, I nevertheless felt like it was God’s will for me to offer to pray with Patricia.

Are you facing a significant decision in your life or perhaps a daily choice? Are you asking God what he wants you to do?

“Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)


The Holy Spirit after a Long Drought

“He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15)

These were the words of the angel Gabriel to Zachariah about the son that was to be born to his wife Elizabeth, whom we know as John the Baptist.

What is significant about this is that God had not been speaking much to the people of Israel, nor pouring out his Holy Spirit for several centuries before Christ. Malachi, the last prophet appearing in the Old Testament composed his work before 445 B.C. The Book of Daniel was written in the period of 167 to 164 B.C.

But now Gabriel is telling Zachariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son in their “old age” and that the son would immediately be filled with the Holy Spirit. After a long absence, God would be anointing John at his conception. God would “go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)

With the power of the Holy Spirit, John would prepare the people of Israel for God’s son, Jesus.

As we begin this season of Advent and Christmas, perhaps we could reflect on how privileged we are to be able to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism at an early age, just like John — the same Holy Spirit that gave him the power to speak and bring the people of Israel to repentance, the same Holy Spirit that enabled Peter to bring three thousand to repentance on the day of Pentecost, and the same Holy Spirit that enabled the apostles, Paul and all of the early Christians to spread the faith against unbelievable odds and persecution.

If you are not currently experiencing the Holy Spirit in this way, ask the Lord to renew the Holy Spirit that is within you through your baptism. Ask Jesus to ignite the spark that never goes out, but is waiting to be fanned into a flame to live for God and to do his work. As Gabriel said to Mary, “nothing is impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37)

Many years ago, I was invited by a priest to ask Jesus to take my sins, accept his forgiveness and renew the Holy Spirit’s presence in me. He did, and my life was forever changed.

As Jesus said to the disciples just before his ascension, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Do you experience the Holy Spirit like John the Baptist, the apostles, or many Christians today? Ask Jesus to fan into a flame the Holy Spirit that is in you through your baptism.