Friday, December 25, 2015



Christmas is a time when the whole world seems to reach out in hope. Whether people are truly Christian believers or not, there is a heightened sense of longing for the world to be more than it is––even a sense of expectancy that maybe it can be. 

"Silent night, holy night..." Those are words that express what it is we are looking for.  And it's no wonder we feel the need for such. . . our lives are so contrasting.  

Our culture has almost forgotten what silence is. It seems we are always in the middle of noise or hurry or crowds. The roads are jammed with impatient people––I know because I'm one of them. We're always in a hurry, trying to pack ten hours into an eight hour day.  It takes effort to get away from noise; there is always a radio or a television playing; even on the phone we are subjected to someone else's taste in music. Many people cannot jog or mow the lawn without a headset over their ears. And those are the sounds we invite. 

Perhaps we seek those sounds to drown out other sounds that we do not want to hear––the cries of other people or the clanging emptiness of our own hearts. We push away the sounds of threatening voices. Silence would be nice, but in the end it's too threatening. 

But if silence is something we have forgotten, holiness is something most of the world has never known. Holiness is threatening. I think it must be one of the things we try to escape through our noise. 

Holiness reminds us that things could (and should) be different. Holiness shines a burning light on things like revenge and lust and jealousy and greed––the things that are so common in our world, and even in our individual lives. We do not like the threats of terrorism and war, the reports of homes breaking up, the driving urge to do whatever it takes to get bigger and better things than the guy next door, but we like even less dealing with whatever it is in us that causes those things to happen.  And so we run from holiness. 

Yet the hunger for the silent and the holy will not go away. Our souls need the silence; our very existence needs the holiness. When the promise comes close, we respond––if only for a moment. Could it be? Can we really have that in this world? 

Christmas tells us yes. God knew we needed the silence and the holiness, so he sent his Son––as a baby. A baby has a way of slowing things down. A baby motivates us to cut some of the noise. A baby lets us see innocence in a fresh way, which isn't a bad way to understand holiness. If the characteristics of the cradle could stay with us, the silence and holiness and peace that the world needs just might make it. 

But Jesus did not stay a baby––and Christmas comes and goes. Jesus grew into a man who showed the world how badly we need the silence and the holiness; and the world goes on, coming close to it once each year, yet not able to embrace fully all it means that God sent his Son in the silence and in holiness so we could know what it is to be silent and holy in our own hearts. 

How about you this evening? Is this "silent night, holy night" a mere exercise in fantasy?  Is it a time only to come close to what God wants for us––to what he has given us in his Son––only to go back into the world of clatter and moral chaos when the candles are out and the carols are over? 

Silent night, holy night is not merely a mood. It is not just a nice story to make us sentimental once a year. Silent night, holy night is a promise. It's a promise from God that it really can be that way in the life of each person who lets the Baby of Bethlehem come inside to grow up into all the fulness of Christ. 

Are you hungry for quietness down in your very soul? Is your life crying out for something clean and good? Then on this silent night, holy night, let God do in you what he did on that night so long ago. Let your heart be a manger, and let the one be born in you who came to save his people from their sins.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

When God Comes

December 20, 2015 –– 4th Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:1–4a / Hebrews 10:5–10 / Luke 1:39–45

God was sending his Word into the world. It might seem the best way to get everyone’s attention would be through the Emperor––or at least the Governor. Even a governor had the power of life and death in his hands. But God didn't send his message through them. Maybe a religious leader would be best. Shouldn’t God work through the high priest? Well, he didn’t, but our temptation is so often to do the opposite of what God does: to look to those who are on top, not at those who are on the bottom; to those who are prosperous, not to those who are in need. Today’s Scriptures remind us that when we’re looking for the biggest and the best and the most, God still comes––but we can miss it. God is incredible at using what we call “insignificant”.

God’s Word came through Mary. If we really think about it, God often frustrates our expectations. Even though Mary is connected to the house of David, she is living in Nazareth and not Bethlehem (and neither of them were “significant”). Even though Mary is engaged to Joseph, she is not yet married and, being a godly woman, had no out-of-bounds sexual relations. Yet the angel says she is going to bear a son. Mary is astounded: How will this be, since I am a virgin? But God always acts consistent with his character: he chooses a pure vessel, for the child to be born will be called holy––the Son of God.

But even though Mary is a pure vessel, she is a “nobody” in her world. On top of that, Mary’s situation was not “pure” in public opinion; she was suspected of adultery, and Jesus probably grew up with his questionable birth in the minds of his hometown neighbors.

From our way of thinking, God does wild and crazy things. He encouraged Mary through Elizabeth––this relative who was an old woman well past child-bearing age, whose unexpected pregnancy was possibly an embarrassment. (It was certainly an inconvenient interruption in Zechariah’s life, at least initially.) This is because God so often does almost nothing according to expectation…. except to prepare us to expect the unexpected. The angel tells Mary nothing will be impossible with God. So when Mary travels to see Elizabeth, and the developing child in Elizabeth senses the newly conceived embryo within Mary, an inspiration of the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary and she exclaims the words we have come to call the Magnificat––an extended celebration of the way God turns the world upside down:

He has shown the strength of his arm,
  he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
  and the rich he has sent away empty.

This is one of the most basic things about what happens when God comes. Our own expectations need to be released so we can focus on one thing: an openness for God to be God.

God wants to come to each one of us, and yet his coming is not always obvious. The Chinese bamboo tree does absolutely nothing––or so it seems––for the first four years. Then suddenly, sometime during the fifth year, it shoots up ninety feet in sixty days. Would you say that bamboo tree grew in six weeks, or five years? Our relationship with God can be like the Chinese bamboo tree. Sometimes we put forth effort…. we invite God to come in fresh ways…. we pray more and do other spiritual disciplines we’ve been taught, and nothing seems to happen. But when we learn to enter the spirit of Advent––the seeking, the repenting, the waiting….little things that our culture disdains––then there will be those moments when God’s presence breaks through the fog that enshrouds this world.

We need God to come. We need God to do what we cannot do. We need to accept humbly that by ourselves we are mostly helpless and hopeless, but believe that nothing will be impossible with God. God loves to come to unlikely people. Like Mary, we need to have open hands and humble hearts when God comes. This is how God works again and again. It happened in Bethlehem, a little insignificant village. It happened in Elizabeth, an old woman who everyone thought was well beyond any productive years. It happened through Mary, a poor yet pure virgin girl who could believe and trust and surrender.

And so God comes. “He does not come with military divisions; he comes instead with a wounded heart that…. proves to be the true and wholly other power and might of God” (Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI).

We are invited to believe that God comes in what we tend to think as the insignificant––even the disdainful. And because God is God, he comes the way he wants to––not the way we would choose. A shattering phone call…. a disturbing email…. an overwhelming interference with our plans…. these kinds of things may be the first stage of God coming in an incredible way.

The Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem has only one entrance, and you cannot pass through it without bending down. This door is supposed to remind pilgrims that in order to penetrate the deep meaning of Christmas it is necessary to humble oneself and become little. Can we dare to be “little” enough to recognize God’s coming? Don’t let what the world thinks is impressive distort your expectations of God. Look for God to come in ways are often dismissed and overlooked. Be open for God to be God. What “insignificant” (or even “awful”) thing in your life is God wanting to explode into power and glory (even it’s only in your soul)?! This is a great week to give God your “littleness.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

God is always at work for our salvation!

Wednesday: December 9, 2015 –– 2nd Week in Advent 
Isaiah 40:25–31 / Psalm 103 / Matthew 11:28–30
God is always at work for our salvation!

All three readings today point to one incredible truth: God is always at work for our salvation!

The essence of Christian Faith is believing this, but…. “believing” is a loaded word.

Many “say” they believe, but show no evidence of realizing their sins as the psalmist does. I cannot imagine the psalmist writing these words and then being casual about sins in his life.

Many “say” they believe, but show no evidence of the rest of spirit that Jesus promises in the Gospel. We want to think that a strong faith will give us temporal “relief” from our unpleasant circumstances. This is neither what Jesus taught nor modeled.

Many “say” they believe, but show no evidence of the daily strength described by Isaiah. Again, our tendency is to focus on our physical circumstances. We too easily lose sight of the ultimate (and most important) issue: God is always at work for our salvation!

When we feel any desire for God there is an implicit reality that Christian Faith assures. It is the message of today’s Psalm: God welcomes us because he takes care of our sins. God is always at work for our salvation!

When we feel tired and overwhelmed, we can trust God for the ability to take the next step––to do the next thing. We are not alone. Jesus is our teammate in the “yoke” that we are to bear, and he personally fashions that yoke for each of us according to our need––even if our temporal circumstances seem too hard and we do not understand. God is always at work for our salvation!

We can dare to trust that we can be so renewed in spirit––sometimes consciously so that we feel able to run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. We are invited to the Church’s gift of Reconciliation. We are invited to come to the Table and eat and be replenished. We are invited each day to take into our minds and hearts the Scriptures. Every day we are called to the reality of holiness. God is always at work for our salvation!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Attitude of Holiness

Tuesday: December 8, 2015 –– Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Luke 1:26–38
The Attitude of Holiness

May it be done to me according to your word. Mary’s response to the angel is an indicator of her holiness and one of the best models for us if we hunger for holiness.

Eve succumbed to the temptation to put herself above God’s Word. This is the watershed of spiritual life. God is life, and the only true life for us, as the pinnacle of God’s creation, is to embrace and bear the Word of God. Mary did this totally and she is our model for all it means to  have spiritual life and be holy.

There is a psalm antiphon in The Liturgy of the Hours that says: Surrender to God and he will do everything for you. This is what marked Mary’s life. This is God’s call for each of us.

Mary surrendered to God and said “yes” even when she didn’t fully understand (How can this be…?). It is so easy for us to demand that our own “wisdom” be satisfied before we consider submitting to God. Even worse, we can so easily insist on an “obedience” that is convenient, easy, and pleasant.

God’s Word was able to come into our world as one of us, on the human side, because Mary said yes––May it be done to me according to your word.

Let’s not insist on our own understanding. Let’s not resist the Word of God when it’s not easy. Let’s follow Mary in holiness. Let’s pray every day, May it be done to me according to your word.

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