Archive for December, 2010

Don’t Fear: God is with us.

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

On this 4th Sunday of advent, the readings give us an excellent understanding of three subjects: the announcement of Christ’s coming by the prophet Isaiah, how Mary conceived and gave birth to the son of God, and how each of us is called to live while on earth.

In the first reading (Isaiah 7:10-14), the prophet Isaiah is trying to persuade King Ahaz to keep his faith and to trust God. Ahaz is distressed because he’s being threatened by the Assyrians and is trying to figure out the best course of action. As you and I are always including God into every major decision and every aspect of our lives, Isaiah suggests that he ask God for a sign, but Ahaz, says, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!”

Isaiah lets Ahaz know that the Lord will give a very special sign: “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” The word Emmanuel, means God is with us. When you and I are stressed or distressed as Ahaz was, it’s comforting to know that God is with us (Emmanuel.) Just ask, seek and knock.

Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 1:1-7) is an invitation for the Romans to “belong to Jesus Christ.” Jesus came to earth not only for the Jews, but for the Romans and all of the gentiles. In the letter, he reminds the Romans that the Good News of Jesus Christ was “promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” He’s telling them that this is the God who was promised to us by the prophet Isaiah. See, God does what he says that he’s going to do. We just learned of that announcement made by Isaiah.

It wasn’t until Christ’s resurrection, however that the early Christians realized what the prophets’ promises meant and that Jesus was God’s son. Paul is preaching the Gospel about the descendent of David who was “established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness through resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Paul closes out today’s reading by inviting the Romans to “belong to Jesus Christ” and with the challenging reminder that each of us is “called to be holy.” Not just the ordained, but lay people too! You and I belong to Jesus Christ and we too are called to be holy and to live holy lives.

Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 1:18-24) gives us the explanation of exactly how Jesus’ birth came about. We learn that Mary “was found with child through the Holy Spirit” and that “Joseph her husband was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame.” This is key because according the laws in place at that time, Joseph could have had Mary stoned to death.”

Can you imagine how Joseph felt when he found out that his new bride was pregnant? They weren’t even living together yet. Thankfully, Joseph received a special visit from an angel who appeared to him in a dream and said,

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Matthew shows the continuity from Isaiah to the present times by including Isaiah’s words,

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

God does what he says he’s going to do. While on earth, Jesus gave us the commandment to love one and other. Love everyone! It’s especially important that we love the people who are the most difficult to love. They are probably the most difficult to love because they are the ones who are in the most need of your love. As the song goes, they will know that we are Christians by our love.

As we prepare ourselves to return to Jesus or for his return to earth, let’s be walking, talking examples of Christ on earth by truly loving everyone as Jesus loves us. This kind of love is contagious. Let is spread.

We now understand “A virgin shall conceive” to mean that Mary conceived without having had a sexual relationship with a man. Emmanuel is now understood to mean that God will become incarnate. God has come to earth in human form in the body of Jesus. This message is very important to the Jewish audience because it shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Israelites. A savior will be born and he will be a descendant of the house of David.It’s critical that Joseph welcomes Mary into his home and names him Jesus because this fulfills the scripture as Jesus being from the house of David. It is Joseph’s family who are of the house of David. The name Jesus means “God Saves.” Jesus is God and came to earth to show us how to love and to save us from sin.

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Recognizing the Glory of God

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

On this 3rd Sunday in Advent, we receive messages of hope and patience, and a proclaimation of Christ’s divinity from Matthew.

Isaiah (35:1-6a, 10), is sending a much needed  message of hope to a people whose homeland has been conquered by the Babylonians and the Assyrians, whose temple has been destroyed and whose citizens are in exile in Babylon.

Isaiah says to those whose hearts are frightened: “Be strong, fear not!”  How often do we need to hear and believe these very words ourselves? I find it reassuring to repeat this message to myself each and every day. Isaiah gives them clear signs of how to recognize the glory of the Lord,

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,

the ears of the deaf be cleared;

then will the lame leap like a stag,

then the tongue of the mute will sing.”

In the Letter of Saint James (James 5:7-10), he is preparing the people for the coming (return) of Jesus Christ. At that time, people expected Jesus to return during the lifetime of Jesus’ contemporaries.  Because we all get antsy when we’re waiting for someone to arrive, James is reminding us all of the virtue of patience.

He also sends us a direct message as we prepare for Jesus’ arrival on Christmas, “Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged.” Especially during the busy holiday season, many of us are exhausted and begin directing our frustrations outward toward others. James is gently reminding us to stop complaining, be grateful at all times and that there is only one who is supposed to judge and “the Judge is standing before the gates.”

In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 11:2-11), John the Baptist is in prison and sends his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”   Because John was in prison before Jesus’ public ministry, he’s dependent upon his disciples for proof that Jesus is “the one.”

Jesus responds to the disciples using the signs that were proclaimed in today’s reading from Isaiah.  Jesus says,

“Go and tell John what you hear and see:

the blind regain their sight,

the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

By responding using the sings that Isaiah wrote about, Jesus is sending a loud and clear message to John (and to us) that he is in fact the one. Matthew is claiming Jesus’ divinity.

As we approach Christmas, you and I can remind ourselves to be patient in all that we say and in all that we do as we wait for Jesus’ coming.   We pray for the grace to remain nonjudgmental at all times for we know that there is only one who is to judge.  We remain confident in the knowledge that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again!

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Hope is 1/3 of Our Strategy

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The three theological virtues associated with salvation are:

•   Faith – steadfastness in belief

•   Hopeexpectation of and desire of receiving; refraining from despair and capability of not giving up

•   Charity/love – selfless, unconditional, and voluntary loving-kindness such as helping one’s neighbors.

On this second sunday of advent, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Christ and our meeting with him upon his return or our death, the readings bring us messages of hope.

Hope is many things.  When one is hopeful he/she:

•   has the feeling that a desire will be fulfilled (What do you desire most?)

•   is centering expectations on someone or something (Who is the center of your life?)

•   has expectations and wishes (What do you expect on earth? After the death of your body?)

•   is optimistic (what is the source of your optimism?)

Christians are hopeful because their lives are based upon the expectation that they will spend eternity in heaven with God. As we receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts and take-on the mind of Christ we are walking, talking examples of optimism personified. We also understand that we can create heaven on earth because we were told, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”

It’s important that you and I are filled with hope so that we can dedicate our lives to loving and serving the people around us who have resigned. I am not talking about people who have left their jobs for a new position.  Resignation is an acceptance of despair, it is the act of giving up.  We hear it daily in language like, “why bother?”, “what’s the use?”, “Why complain, no one cares anyway?”

You and I know why we must never give up. It is our responsibility to share that good news with others. We should always bother continuing because although what’s ahead of us might appear difficult, nothing is impossible for God.  It is okay to bring your complaints to God for God cares and is always listening. There are answers to every problem that we face.  Faith allows us to believe that God will always provide for us. Hope allows us to be optimistic while remaining faith-filled.

In today’s reading from Romans (Romans 15:4-9), Paul tells us that “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  He’s telling us that the scriptures are not just historical documents which describe our ancestors’ faith,  but they are the living word and are addressed to and meant for us. Frequent reading of scripture allows us to remain true to Christ’s word and always optimistic.

In this short passage, Paul gives the Romans a beautiful blessing that includes a message of harmony and hope:

May the God of endurance and encouragement

grant you to think in harmony with one another,

in keeping with Christ Jesus,

that with one accord you may with one voice

glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am genuinely hopeful that you and I will be in harmony with each other and with every single one of our neighbors on earth and that together we will love each other and glorify God.

When we’re filled with the genuine optimism that comes from being blessed with God’s love and grace, we’re able to light a spark of hope within everyone around us.

Christians have a strategy. Hope is a third of our strategy. Hope complements our faith and our love.

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