Why We Celebrate Christmas

After hearing the Christmas story over and over, year after year, its true meaning and impact may fade against the backdrop of today’s culture.  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 person with a body, soul, 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 and be raised from childhood to an adult just as we all have been.   His family was forced into exile to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. He evidently followed his earthly father, Joseph, in the trade of a carpenter, for the people of Nazareth were later to ask, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3)

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, 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.

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Birth by the Holy Spirit

thenativity%20600%20x%20300The birth of the baby Jesus and our spiritual birth have a common element.  The agent for both is the Holy Spirit.

The conception of Jesus in Mary was brought about by the Holy Spirit.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”  (Luke 1:35)

The same Holy Spirit is the source of our spiritual birth.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5)

Both Mary and Nicodemus asked the same question, “How can this be?”  Both the angel, Gabriel and Jesus gave the same answer.  It is by the Holy Spirit that these things happen. 

As a result, Jesus instructed the disciples before his ascension not to leave Jerusalem, “but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… and “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1: 4-5, 8)

Thus, as Jesus was born through the power of the Holy Spirit, so too was the Church.  And so too, are we.  As St. Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17)

Ever since I was a young boy growing up in a small town in Iowa, I have experienced a special feeling of God’s presence on Christmas Eve.  It is a feeling of peace and love.  A calm descends; the earth is quiet from all the hurrying and scurrying of Christmas preparations.  It is the Holy Spirit.

When I was old enough to drive, I would often leave the house after our Christmas Eve traditions with family were completed and drive through various neighborhoods in our small town.  Very few cars were on the roads.  Some houses would be dark.  Others would be full of lights with people inside celebrating the coming of the baby Jesus.

The words of the song Silent Night gently echoed: “Silent night, Holy night; All is calm, All is bright.”

As we move closer to the celebration of Christmas this year, let us remember the role of the Holy Spirit – the means by which the creator of all that exists became one of us through the Virgin Mary, and the means by which we can experience God’s presence and saving grace at this very moment.

Jesus, the Great Multiplier

CIC_FoundersCropWe are familiar with the story reported in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish, gave thanks, and proceeded to distribute the bread and fish to a crowd of five thousand men, not counting women and children.   

“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets of broken pieces of bread and fish” that were left over. (Mark 6:30-44)

The five loaves and two fish were of course, insufficient to feed such a large crowd, but Jesus took what was insufficient and made it sufficient.

He does the same thing with us.  He takes what is insufficient – our faith, our love, our knowledge, our wisdom, our various skills – and makes them sufficient to carry out his will and purpose.

Thirty-six years ago, three men in three different cities were trying to develop some kind of Christian outreach to people in business.  Each of them was trying to serve a need – helping people in business to see how God was calling them to impact the marketplace by bringing the presence of Christ to bear through their day-to-day actions.

Two of them, Louie Grams from Minneapolis and John Mooney from Phoenix, Arizona, met at a conference and discovered they were each trying to do the same thing.  Thereafter, Louie and Bud Rose from South Bend, Indiana got together and started to develop a format for a possible retreat.  They then met with John, and together prayed and asked God how they should proceed.

Over a couple of different weekends their prayer resulted in the outlines for a weekend retreat where attendees would be given a vision of being Christ in the workplace.  They would be encouraged and equipped to be God’s presence in their work by the power of the Holy Spirit, exercising faith, integrity and excellence in their day-to-day actions.  They would be challenged to be good stewards of God’s creation, using their talents, time, money and possessions to impact how business gets done.

Today, Christians in Commerce (CIC) has thirty-three chapters across the United States, with a multitude of small groups meeting weekly.  Fifteen thousand people have attended the weekend retreats and have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in their workplaces. Twenty-three chapters in Africa have brought Christian renewal not only to Christian business people, but also to marriages, and youth.  Food for the poor and numerous water wells have contributed to the welfare of many communities.

Publications by CIC include a monthly newsletter and daily e-mail reflections which apply God’s word to workplace related challenges and issues.  Podcasts share stories of people being Christ to the people and circumstances in their workplaces.  A recent video based workshop, Working for our Father, gives people a vision for how important their work is to God and how it is a part of his plan for creation.

As Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish, we see how God takes the inspiration he has given to three men, and multiplies their efforts by the power of the Holy Spirit into something none of them would have been able to do on their own. 

Whatever task we face, let us call on Jesus, the Great Multiplier, to assist our every action!

Unknowingly Searching for God

Are we created with a built-in desire to search for and come to know God?

The Gospel of Mark reports that after King Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned, he liked to listen to him.  He had imprisoned John at the urging of his wife, Herodias because she resented John pointing out that she was also the wife of Phillip, Herod’s brother.

Herodias wanted to kill John, but initially she was not able to do so, “because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.  When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:20)

How fascinating!  Herod was attracted to what John had to say, so he apparently visited him from time to time in prison.  He may have been puzzled by John’s words, but he was still drawn to listen.  Though he may not have realized it, Herod was searching for God.

Once when a work colleague learned that I was involved with a ministry called Christians in Commerce, he laughed and loudly proclaimed that the name, Christians in Commerce, was an oxymoron.  When we were with other colleagues he would kid me about the ministry and mock my Christianity, but when we were alone he would ask all kinds of questions about the ministry and passages from scripture that he did not understand or agree with.  He would not admit it, but he was searching for God.

God creates us with a desire to seek him and the truth about life and existence.  It may not be a desire that is obvious to us.  Yet, we all seek meaning, purpose and what is real in life.  

We are attracted to the truth.  When Jesus explained the meaning of the scriptures about himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, the disciples exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

When Pilate was questioning Jesus about whether he was a king, Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

Unfortunately, our sin and the distractions of the world can often keep us from listening to Jesus.  We listen to other voices that obscure the truth and the message God has for us.  Paul speaks to this problem in his letter to the Romans when he says, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:25)

Fortunately, God never stops working to draw us to him.  In honor of our free will, he never forces our acceptance of him.  But he made it part of our DNA to seek meaning and truth.  As St. Augustan said, 

         “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it                rests with you.”

The Wisdom of Being Thankful

Several places in the Bible encourage us to be thankful to God regardless of our circumstances.  St. Paul encourages us to “Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1Th. 5:16)

After Nehemiah led an effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem following their destruction by the Babylonians, he arranged for an elaborate dedication ceremony “to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with music of cymbals, harps and lyres.”  He said, “I assigned two large choirs to give thanks.  One was “to proceed to the top of the wall on the right…and the second choir proceeded in the opposite direction.” (Ne. 12:27 – 47)

In a couple of days we will observe a national holiday for the ostensible purpose of thanking God for the many blessings he has conferred upon our nation.  This follows a precedent established by some of the earliest Christian settlors to the shores of this continent.

Why is thanksgiving important to us individually and collectively as a people?

First, it helps us to acknowledge that we are not in complete control, but in fact dependent upon someone other than ourselves for some of the positive things that happen to us in our lives.  Both God and others contribute to many of our blessings.  Even abilities and talents that we may attribute to ourselves are given to us by God, and we should acknowledge their true origins.

Second, it is God’s will for us to acknowledge him and to be thankful for his provision, for as Paul says, giving thanks “is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Th. 5:16)

Third, by acknowledging God and others with thanksgiving for our needs, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds.” (Phil. 4:6)

I have previously written about my brother and his wife who were rescued by boat from their home during Hurricane Harvey in Houston.  The flood destroyed most of their belongings.  Their first floor had to be stripped down to the studs.  To further compound matters, my brother has serious health issues.

But in the midst of their many challenges, they are thankful for Christian friends who took them in immediately after the flood, for a daughter that they are now able to live with while their house is being rebuilt, for another daughter and son who regularly come to visit them from distant locations and assist them, for the excellent medical care my brother is now receiving and for their loving friends who take them to church and Bible studies and support them in prayer and various acts of kindness.

Being thankful gets us out of ourselves, brings joy and peace to our hearts, and helps align our lives with God’s will. 

Why Wait?

A couple of weeks ago was the 40th anniversary of when I met Jesus Christ in a new and personal way and experienced the release of the power of the Holy Spirit in my life.

This was not a new belief experience, for I was already a baptized, practicing Catholic.  This was a “going deeper” type of experience in my relationship with God.  It was the beginning of my not just knowing about God, but my coming into a personal relationship with him through his son, Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

It had many effects.  Prayer changed from occasionally talking to God to having regular conversations with him.  A casual and infrequent use of scripture was transformed into an intense desire to read the Bible.  Over the next few months I read the Bible from cover to cover as I commuted on the trains in and out of New York City.  There was a desire to be reconciled with anyone I might have offended.  Prayers at mass that I had heard for years took on new life and meaning, and I acquired a new love for my church.

I began to experience some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in my life as described in Isaiah 11:2-3 and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12.  There was a desire to bring this new found presence of God into all aspects of my life, including my work life which I had previously separated from my faith life.  If you ask my wife, she will tell you that all my focus, direction and priorities began to change following this encounter with Jesus.

I was 37 when this happened.  I have often wondered what would have been the effect on my life had I been open to seeking this kind of relationship with God when I was a teenager or in my early 20’s.  While I am extremely grateful to God for all the many blessings he has allowed me to experience, I might have avoided some missteps and sin along the way, and been able to serve him more fully earlier in my life.

So, I offer this thought to all of our younger Christian brothers and sisters who may be in their teens and 20’s: Don’t wait!  Don’t wait to seek a personal encounter with the living God, the Creator of all that exists, through his son Jesus, the Messiah, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Seek your encounter with him today, as well as the release of the power of the Holy Spirit that you received in your baptism.

Life with a personal Jesus at your side and in your heart, along with the power of the Holy Spirit, is superior to a life with God when he may seem distant and removed.

Praying for the Right Words

Have you ever strained for what to say to a person at a critical moment?

The moment could involve consoling words to a friend who has lost a spouse, child, or other person dear to them.  It could involve how to respond to an unjust accusation to your character or a challenge to your competence at work.  It could include the need for encouraging words for a friend who is depressed.  In such moments, do we ask God to give us the right words?

The Book of Esther tells the dramatic story of Esther, the beautiful adopted daughter of Mordecai, who becomes Queen to King Ahasuerus in Susa.  Haman, the king’s chief administrator, becomes offended by Mordecai’s refusal to honor him.  Because Mordecai is a Jew, Haman deceitfully persuades the king to issue an edict to kill all of the Jews in his kingdom.  Mordecai instructs Esther that it is her duty to bring this plot to the king’s attention, but she risks the king’s wrath, if she approaches the king without his first extending a request for her to do so.

Esther prays, “Give me courage King of gods and master of all power. Put persuasive words into my mouth when I face the lion;” As Esther approached the king, “raising his face, afire with majesty, he looked on her blazing with anger. But God changed the king’s heart.” (Esther 4:17s; 1d-1e; JB) He sprang from his throne, embraced her and asked what she wanted.  She was eventually able to disclose Haman’s plot and the king reversed the edict Haman had arranged.  The Jews were saved from execution and Haman was hanged.

A few years ago, I came home and my wife said a former secretary from my work at Mobil had called and wanted me to call her back.  “She didn’t sound well,” my wife said.  I was astounded.  It was more than thirty years since she had been my secretary!  What could she possibly be calling for? 

I called her back.  She was indeed very ill.  She had had cancer, followed by a stroke, and was now confined to a wheel chair.  She thought she was dying, and she wanted to thank me for encouraging her to go back to school to finish her college education so she could move into higher level jobs.  She did complete her degree in an evening program, and later enjoyed a successful career at Mobil moving through several positions.

As I was talking with her, I was prompted to pray for her, but I was resistant.  I started to have a second conversation in my mind with the Lord.  Since I am used to praying in the name of Jesus, I asked the Lord, “How do I pray for her?  She is Jewish.”  The thought came into my mind, “Pray in the name of the Father.”  So I asked if she would like me to pray with her.

She said yes.  So, I prayed in the name of the Father to bring her comfort and healing.  I finished by saying , “Mary, I am going to continue to pray that you will be able to get out of that wheel chair and walk again on your own, and when you do, I want you to call me back and let me know. 

A few months later I received a call.  “Mr. Dalgetty, you told me to call you when I was able to get out of this wheel chair and walk.  Today, I took my first steps!”