Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Spiritual Development

"Perhaps the best description of the spiritual life is the sum total of responses which one makes to what is perceived as the inner call of God. However, the spiritual life is not locked up inside a person. It is a growing, coherent set of responses integrated into the complex behavior patterns of human life. To think of the spiritual life as something apart from the rest of one's individual life is to flirt with ancient and persistent errors. When the individual has decided to respond to the call of God experienced within, and strives to make this call the center of activity and choice, he or she may be called a truly spiritual person. The call then becomes the integrating factor for the one who has responded; the spiritual life becomes the work of a lifetime. The experience of travelers on this road is best described by St. Bernard in the words: 'How good You are to those who seek!'"
~Benedict Groeschel

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Reminiscing

I really like some of the thoughts/reflections that my wife and her cousin/grandmother shared recently related to Christmas (very recent and also very distant):

Elsa (my wife):
Christmas is still here...and peace

“It's the day after Christmas and still it continues as time with family brings that holiday cheer that is longed for despite the busyness of preparation. I have stopped for a moment to feed a tiny babe and in so doing realized that peace is here. All the joys of the holiday have come with laughter, sleeping in, eating good food, feeling the warmth of a cozy house and enjoying conversations with grandparents that will leave deep and long lasting memories of who Jesus is and why he came and why it was essential that he come as a babe to a virgin. It was even a surprise to enjoy a breakfast pizza around a table discussion/devotional time where Grandpa used pizza pieces to share a visual layout of the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant and the three objects within the Ark that foretold of Jesus' coming. Sometimes you just can't predict how a tradition will be made but after this year, I cannot imagine celebrating the day after Christmas without a breakfast pizza.

Traditions seem to be what make Christmas and other holidays so meaningful beyond the very essential parts of what is being celebrated. My grandma, who sends emails containing the events of her day and also memories of her life, recently shared some of the traditions they had when her children were young. My cousin, Becca, shared one of grandma's emails on her blog for Christmas (see below). I love her thoughts on Grandma's story. Oh, to stop at nothing to get to Christ. We may rush and get distracted in the preparations like Martha but to stop at nothing to sit and hear the message of Life like Mary, is what we can come to when Christmas arrives.

So, peace has come and I am reminded that it is what we celebrate that matters. I find rest in that and joy and hope that it (Life) will be the shining light that leads the year ahead.”

Becca/Grandmother’s story:
the christmas road

“My grandma sends a devotional email to her family almost every day. Recently she wrote about another Christmas memory:

Merry Christmas, dear family. We had a little coating of snow last night. Reminds me of years ago when snow was always expected and accepted at Christmas. Dad and Ed H. would plow roads through the fields where the snow wasn't so deep in order that we could worship on Christmas at Immanuel. Think of all the fences they had to cut and then repair later.

Just picture that! New roads just for Christmas! Plowed through farm fields three miles away.

I love the community picture this paints, neighbors working together all going to a white steeple church in Southern Minnesota to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. Weather didn't stop them...they busted up fences on the way. What a glorious example they were to their children, getting them to church, raising them in the faith, believing with might that God is indeed with us.

Haste! Haste! To bring him praise!
The babe, the son of Mary.”

Friday, December 25, 2009

Joseph & The Power of Obedience

“Being the ‘strong silent type,’ Joseph says little in the Gospels. Yet he does much just by being there and by being himself: Joseph the just; Joseph the worker; Joseph the foster-father, the reliable, the available.

Like most men in most cultures, Joseph speaks by his daily work. In this ordinariness, Christ is present, a man as human and even as ordinary as Joseph, a carpenter.

Like Mary, who quietly pondered in her heart (Luke 2:19), Joseph stands there in the manger scene, in silent readiness. That is how Christ comes to him, to Mary, to us.

Christ had invaded Joseph’s life most intimately just when it seemed God had abandoned him to tragedy: His beloved Mary was pregnant, but not by him.

Joseph suffers in silence. Noise, fussiness, rebellion and busyness cover over inner hurts; perhaps that’s why there are so many of these qualities in our world.

Joseph responds to his crisis both justly and charitably; in him ‘justice and peace meet together.’ He resolves to ‘put Mary away,’ i.e., to break the solemn engagement rather than live a lie. That is justice. But for Mary’s sake, ‘privately.’ That is charity.

Then the angel came to him, as he had come to Mary earlier and would come later to the shepherds. Only the gentiles, the wise men from the East, had no angel. But they had the stars to guide them, and they too were God’s messengers leading to Christ, as St. Paul says natural reason can do (Rom. 1:19-20).

The angelic message, as usual, begins with ‘fear not.’ For the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and Joseph was a wise man. But it is not the end. Fear exists to be overcome with love (1 John 4:18).

The angel, God’s news broadcaster, announces the good news, the ev-angel-ium: that this apparent tragedy was God’s work. God, not man, certified by His angel that this revelation, this Word of God, this Christ, was from God, and not man, from a divine father, not a human one.

Joseph provided for Mary and Jesus: travel to Bethlehem, shelter for the birth and later safety in Egypt from murderous Herod. But Joseph could not afford a horse, only a donkey. He could not get a room in the inn, only a cattle stall. He may have thought himself a failure as a provider, as many a man feels today if he cannot afford to give his family ‘the best.’ But he has not failed; he can be ‘the best.’ Look how Mary and Jesus turned out under Joseph’s providence.

But his work was for them, not for him. He was no work addict. He is not always in his carpenter shop; but he is always there for his family.

Even Satan cannot defeat this simple man. Satan inspires Herod to slaughter the innocents, as he inspires our modern Herods to the holocaust of abortion. But Satan fails because Joseph obeys God’s angel and provides for his family: two deeds of ordinariness that are more powerful against the very forces of hell than anything else in the world. Take away all the Nobel Prize winners and humanity would still survive. But take away obedience to God and loyalty to family, and even with a million Nobel Prize winners, humanity is doomed. And these are precisely the two traditional values most imperiled in our time.

When the threat passes, Joseph takes his family home. Home — that holy word, symbolic of heaven. Homecoming was cruelly delayed but Joseph was patient and did not run ahead of God, whatever the circumstances. Travel to and living in a foreign land were no vacation then; rather, they involved real hardship. But to run ahead of God onto our own path is to run out of the only real safety (however dangerous it appears) into danger (however safe it appears).

If Joseph had been less obedient, Mary and Jesus may not have survived. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church, but the same divine Providence which wills that end also wills the means: our faithfulness, our free choice to trust and obey, like Joseph.

Joseph appears briefly 12 years later when Jesus is lost and found in the Temple. Surely he shared Mary’s pain of loss and joy of finding, as we do whenever we lose Christ in disobedience and find Him in reconciliation. We too find Jesus in the Church, where He is even now ‘going about His Father’s business.’ …Joseph was a sinner. …Joseph shared our guilt. No sinner was ever so humanly close to Christ as Joseph was.

We hear absolutely nothing more about Joseph. The rest of his life is as silent as Christ’s silent, Joseph-like years. These years are like the hidden troughs of a wave which propel it forward: The visible froth on the crest is only the effect. Never think God has put you on the shelf; He has only planted you in the ground.

The last thing Scripture says about Joseph is that Christ was subject to him and Mary and grew in soul and body (Luke 2:51-52). Obedience is food. Christ grew by obeying. Later He said ‘Doing the will of Him who sent me and bringing His work to completion is my food’ (John 4:34).

Christ practiced first toward Mary and Joseph the substance of what He preached, the way of obedience, the simple secret of all sanctity, Mary’s ‘fiat,’ the will’s ‘yes.’ ‘Son (of God) though He was, He learned obedience through suffering’ later at Calvary, because He had first learned it earlier in Nazareth. The perfect fruit was plucked on Calvary only because it had grown and been nourished under Joseph’s and Mary’s care. That is what parenting is: spiritual gardening.

Thus Joseph, like Mary, shares in the work of redemption. And so do we. That is the ultimate dignity of daily work and obedience. It saves the world. Our acts of love to God and neighbor can save souls from hell, souls we have never met in this life. (What a merry meeting it would be to encounter them in the next!)

Like the angels, we are unseen actors behind the scenes of the play, helping with the stage sets or the lighting, unspectacular but necessary roles in the great drama of salvation. And that is the significance of our daily work (and that of St. Joseph the Worker). It is the sacrament of the ordinary.”
~Peter Kreeft

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wise Men Still Seek Him

“‘WISE MEN still seek Him,’ reads the bumper sticker.

Fools think they are wise, so they do not search. The three wise men go on a pilgrimage, on a search, because they know they are not wise.

Just as saints know they are sinners but sinners think they are saints, good people do not call themselves ‘good people’ and wise men do not call themselves wise.

Thus, the wise seek. And all seekers find, according to our Lord’s own promise. But only seekers find. If the wise man in us will travel far from home, comfort and security, then we may arrive at Bethlehem.

As Pascal says, there are only three kinds of people: those who have sought God and found Him (these are reasonable and happy), those who are seeking God and have not yet found Him (these are reasonable and unhappy), and those who neither seek God nor find Him (these are unreasonable and unhappy). Everyone in the second class makes it into the first; all seekers find. But only seekers.

…The wise men have seen His sign. They were eagerly looking, ready and alert like the shepherds, ‘keeping watch by night’ over their flock of responsibilities — the heavens. The stars were their sheep. The earthly shepherds were surprised by angels from heaven, while the heaven-gazing wise men were surprised by a baby in a cow barn.

Like the shepherds, they came — a long, dangerous journey. But nothing is more dangerous than missing Christ. Life itself is a journey, a pilgrimage. The image of the road is perhaps the most powerful in all our literature, especially all our great epics: ‘Gilgamesh,’ ‘The Odyssey,’ ‘The Aeneid,’ ‘The Divine Comedy,’ ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ For man, as distinct from everything else, life is a search for our true identity. Man alone has an identity crisis. And that true identity is found only in God, for He alone, as our Author and Designer, has the secret of our identity in His eternal plan. ‘Your life is hid with Christ in God,’ says St. Paul, and ‘our citizenship is in heaven.’

The wise men come to worship, just as the shepherds do. That’s why they are wise; not because they know the means, the way, but because they know the end; not because they lift their heads to the stars but because they bow their knees to the Baby. Wisdom is not the pride of cleverness in knowledge, but the humility of holiness. ‘The fear of the Lord, that is the beginning of wisdom.’

Different from the shepherds in every way but one — rich, not poor; Eastern, not Western; clever, not simple; from afar, not from near; unearthy, not earthy — yet they are like the shepherds in ‘the one thing necessary’: Like Mary, they sit at Jesus’ feet. They know the end of their pilgrimage. They know the ultimate purpose of human existence; adoration of God and love of man in Christ, the God-man. Whether we are like the shepherds or like the wise men therefore matters not at all. ‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free.’

They bring gifts. They open their treasures. Some of us have rich talents to bring to Christ; others, like the shepherds, have only themselves, their poverty, their work. What matters is not what we give but whether we give, how much we give (all, like the widow’s pence), and how we give (freely, ‘for God loves a cheerful giver’).

Remember: Life too is a gift. God gives us our lives, our very existence, and then His life in substitution when we forfeited ours by sin. Our fundamental response to God must be like His to us: the gift of self.

For that is the inescapable law, since it is the very nature of ultimate reality, the Blessed Trinity itself. The Father eternally gives Himself to the Son, and the Son in return eternally gives Himself to the Father, and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from them as this mutual gift of love, so real that He eternally becomes a distinct Person. Marriage and childbearing are holy because they dimly reflect this ultimate reality on a biological level.

…‘They returned praising God,’ for they came seeking God. As St. Augustine says in the last, great sentence of his ‘Confessions’: ‘They that seek the Lord shall find Him, and they that find Him shall praise Him.’”
~Peter Kreeft

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Shepherds

“They are peasants: simple, hard-working, honest people. Under our layers of modern sophistication and education, we are all peasants. It’s the peasant soul in us, the child in us, that hears angels, that is hailed by the heavenly glory, that dares to hope and wonder with awe.

The shepherds are outdoors, exposed to God’s sky, not protected by human artifice. Even when we’re in an office, surrounded by technology, the shepherd-self in us is always in this situation. No place is safe from God’s invasion.

They are ‘keeping watch by night.’ In the darkness they wait and watch, like the little child at the center of our souls. And it’s in the darkness that the heavenly light dawns. In the silence is heard the angels’ song. Kierkegaard said, ‘If I could prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed, no one would hear it; there is too much noise. Therefore, create silence.’

The shepherds are ‘keeping watch over their sheep,’ as our soul watches over its body with its flock of desires, responsible for the care and direction of our herd or instincts. It’s as we go about this humdrum daily business that supernatural grace comes to us through the ministry of angels. We do not usually see them, as the shepherds did, but they are there. In heaven we will recognize them, and their role in our lives. ‘So it was you all the time! It was you who were there...then...’

‘The glory of the Lord shone round about them.’ This is the shekinah, the heavenly light that had appeared visibly over the Ark of the Covenant and on Mount Sinai. We can still see it, but only with the inner eye of faith. Only if we believe, do we see.

‘They were afraid.’ We fear the unknown, the opening skies, the passages between worlds, like birth and death. Even when the angel says, ‘Fear not,’ the event is no less momentous, the awe is now joyful, not fearsome; but it’s still ‘awe-full.’ It is ‘good tidings of great joy.’ Joy can be as awesome as fear. The Good News, the incredible event of the Incarnation, is the most joyful and the most awesome news we have ever heard.

The angel tells the shepherds that this event is ‘to you.’ Not just to ‘mankind’ in general, but to us, these ordinary individuals — Almighty God comes to our fields, stables, offices and homes. This is no prerecorded message; this is God calling us up personally.

The shepherds’ response is immediate and practical: ‘Let us go to Bethlehem.’ The angel’s message has power; it moves people to go. When Cicero addressed the Roman senate, everyone said, ‘How beautifully he speaks!’ But they remained in their seats. Yet when Demosthenes addressed the Greek army, they leaped up, clashed spear upon shield and said, ‘Let us march!’

The angels are like Demosthenes. Scholars, seeing angels, say, ‘Let us interpret this.’ Shepherds, seeing angels, say, ‘Let us go.’ Karl Marx was profoundly right when he said, ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the thing is to change it.’ Both bad religion (Marx’s) and good religion (Christ’s) change the world.

Unlike the wise men, the shepherds have no gifts to bring Christ. They are poor beggars — like us. ‘Just As I Am’ is our song. They come with dirt under their fingernails and in their souls. They come to receive, not to bargain; to wonder, not to understand. They run to Bethlehem to fall on their knees — that is, to fulfill the ultimate purpose for which we were all created.

Like us, the shepherds need to come only a short way to meet Him, from the fields to the stable. But He came an infinite distance to meet them; from heaven to earth, from eternity to time, from infinite joy to squalor, suffering and death. He desired that meeting with all His heart. For that meeting the very stars that sang on that holy night were created as mere stage props. What the simple shepherds do is the highest and holiest thing any saint or mystic ever does, on earth or in heaven.

It is the thing we shall be doing for all eternity: loving and adoring God. We had better learn from the shepherds and start practicing now.”
~Peter Kreeft

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Prayer

“Loving Father, help us to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world.

Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen!”
~Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, December 21, 2009

I Celebrate the Day

“And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior?
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever?

And so this Christmas I'll compare the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life”

~excerpts from a song by Relient K

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Enjoying God

"Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him."
~C. S. Lewis

"When we set aside the flurry of activity that so often comes in December, we can almost hear the message of the angels. They invited the shepherds not to be afraid, but to give glory to God. Lewis tells us that when they did this, the angels were inviting them to enjoy God.

Aren't we too, being invited in this holy season to give glory to God? God doesn't really need our praise and glory, but He knows that we need to lift up our hearts. We need to lift up our eyes unto the hills, from whence our help comes, and see the glory that will be revealed to us.

Narnia can help us to do that. Narnia contains many pleasures and they all come from God. The gifts of Father Christmas to Peter, Susan, and Lucy are some of those pleasures. The crowning of the four children to be Kings and Queens of Narnia are another. The arrival of Reepicheep, the talking mouse, in Aslan's country is a third. God gave Lewis the vision. In enjoying his vision we are enjoying God.

Even in the midst of suffering, we need this reminder. St. Paul tells us, 'I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us' (Rom. 8:18). When we give glory to God, it reminds us of the glory that will be revealed to us. And we find joy in this glory. That's one reason why the message was 'good news of great joy' (Luke 2:10), not only for the shepherds, but 'for all the people'--including us.

Glory to You, O Lord. Praise to You, O Christ. Glory to God in the highest. Amen."
~Joel Heck

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.
Luke 2:14

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Hymn Verse

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.
~Phillips Brooks (from O Little Town of Bethlehem)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Be Grateful

"When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?"
~G. K. Chesterton

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

God Acting Drastically

“Perhaps… it would not hurt to be reminded that the Incarnation was, in fact, an act of colossal intolerance on the part of God, by which I mean to say that it was an act of immeasurable love. He loved us so much that He would not let us die in our sins. He was intolerant of our slavery and was born among us for the express purpose of doing something rather drastic about it.

I realize that to use the word intolerance is a risky business, for it cannot help but conjure up visions of religious and racial hatreds or the specter of grim moralizers judging their neighbors (and who has not felt the sting of those tongues?). Moreover, it may well be asked if such a tainted word can be properly used to describe a characteristic of God. He is, after all, rich in mercy and slow to anger. But it must be remembered that both the Old and New Testaments speak of times when the Justice of God must act–for He will not permit evil to devour everything.

The early Christians were not squeamish about political incorrectness. They knew firsthand that sin meant death to the inner and the exterior life of man. Most of them were converts from paganism, for their world was almost entirely pagan. They had known the effects of falsehood at work in their own minds, hearts, and flesh. They knew that they had been rescued by God's intolerance of their bondage. They exulted in the glorious, shattering good news that Christ was real. He was not a mere theological abstraction or just another deity in all idol-crowded world. He was the one true God, and He was life! That awareness has waned in our era, partly because most people no longer feel endangered by the world of evil, by the possibility of personal slavery to invisible forces or servility to their own fallen nature…”
~Michael O’Brien

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Gift of God’s Love

“God is love. God is a lover, not a manager, businessman, accountant, owner, or puppet-master. What He wants from us first of all is not a technically correct performance but our heart… [C. S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity] ‘We may think God wants actions of a certain kind, but God wants people of a certain sort.’

The point is amazingly simple, which is why so many of us just don’t get it. Heaven is free because love is free. It is ours for the taking. The taking is faith. ‘If you believe, you will be saved.’ It is really that simple. If I offer you a gift, you have it if and only if you have the faith to take it.

The primacy of faith does not discount or denigrate works but liberates them. Our good works can now also be free―free from the worry and slavery and performance anxiety of having to buy Heaven with them. Our good works can now flow from genuine love of neighbor*, not fear of Hell. Nobody wants to be loved merely as a means to build up the lover’s merit pile. That attempt is ridiculous logically as well as psychologically. How much does Heaven cost? A thousand good works? Would 999 not do, then? The very question shows its absurdity. That absurdity comes from forgetting that God is love.

God practices what He preaches. He loves the sinner and hates only the sin. The father of the prodigal son did not say to his repentant son: ‘You are welcome home, Son, but of course you must now pay me back for all the harm you’ve done and all the money you’ve wasted.’ He didn’t even say, ‘I hope you’ve learned your lesson.’ He simply fell on his neck, kissed him, and wept.

The righteous older brother was scandalized by this apparently unjust justification of the sinner―just as the day-long laborers in another of Christ’s strange and wonderful parables were scandalized when the master of the vineyard gave the same wage he had given them to the late arrivals. So too the people who heard Jesus forgive the repentant thief on the cross were probably scandalized by the words: ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise.’ They probably thought, ‘But what about all his past sins? What about justice? What about punishment?’ The answer is found in I John 4:18: ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment.’

God cannot be outdone in loving us lavishly. No one can even imagine how loving God is: ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’ (I Cor. 2:9). The prodigal son did not find himself in the servants’ quarters but in the banquet hall. He had hoped his father might consent to take him back as one of his hired servants, but he was dressed in festal robes and fed the fatted calf.

The whole point of justification by faith is God’s scandalous, crazy, and wonderful gift of love.”
~Peter Kreeft

*Because we receive a new kind of love from God (agape), we can love our neighbor in a new way.

Monday, December 14, 2009

a season waits

black pearls in the snow
little fingers play
melodies of carols and bells

desolate, windswept, empty fields
below white winter's blanket
burrowers hide away their gift

wanderers kneel beneath forever trees
unveiling season's hart

a cardinal's reprise on the wing
weeps and looks for a star
emblem of kings
~Elsa (my wife)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Zechariah's Prophecy

"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.
He has visited His people and redeemed them.

He has raised up for us a mighty savior
in the house of David His servant,

As He promised by the lips of holy men,
those who were His prophets from of old.

A savior who would free us from our foes,
from the hands of all who hate us.

So His love for our fathers is fulfilled
and His holy covenant remembered.

He swore to Abraham our father
to grant us that, free from fear,
and saved from the hands of our foes,

We might serve Him in holiness and justice
all the days of our life in His presence.

As for you, little child, you shall be called
a prophet of God, the Most High.

You shall go ahead of the Lord,
to prepare His ways before Him,

To make known to His people their salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,

The loving-kindness of the heart of our God
who visits us like the dawn from on high.

He will give light to those in darkness,
those who dwell in the shadow of death,
and guide us into the way of peace."
~Luke 1:67-79

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Time

"But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round--apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And, therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good; and I say, God bless it!"
~Charles Dickens (from A Christmas Carol)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Great Enters the Little

[The influential French writer] “Montaigne became kittenish with his kitten but she never talked philosophy to him. Everywhere the great enters the little―its power to do so is almost the test of its greatness.”
~C. S. Lewis

“God so often surprises us by doing big things in little places, by resisting the proud and exalting the humble, by choosing ordinary people to do great things, and, in general, by doing the unexpected. What more humble circumstance could we imagine than an unmarried, pregnant teenage girl, with her betrothed husband, hurrying nearly a hundred miles from little Nazareth to little Bethlehem? What could be more humbling than enrolling in a census late in a pregnancy, settling for less than ideal accommodations, and giving birth far from the centers of power? The Great enters the little. God becomes a baby. Think of it. The Creator of the universe stoops to become a child.”
~Joel Heck

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Take Hold

I was working feverishly on my Christmas sermon--the hardest time in any minister's year to find something fresh to say--when the floor mother appeared at the study door. Another crisis upstairs.

Christmas Eve is a difficult day for the emotionally disturbed children in our church home. Three-quarters of them go home at least overnight, and the ones who remain react to the empty beds and the changed routine.

I followed her up the stairs, chafing inwardly at the repeated interruptions. This time it was Tommy. He had crawled under a bed and refused to come out. The woman pointed to one of six cots in the small dormitory.

Not a hair or a toe showed beneath, so I addressed myself to the cowboys and bucking broncos on the bedspread. I talked about the brightly lighted tree in the church vestibule next door and the packages underneath it and all the other good things waiting for him out beyond that bed.

No answer.

Still fretting at the time this was costing, I dropped to my hands and knees and lifted the spread. Two enormous blue eyes met mine. Tommy was eight, but looked like a five-year-old. It would have been no effort at all simply to pull him out.

But it wasn't pulling Tommy needed--it was trust and a sense of deciding things on his own initiative. So, crouched there on all fours, I launched into the menu of the special Christmas Eve supper to be offered after the service. I told him about the stocking with his name on it provided by the women's society.

Silence. There was no indication that he either heard me or cared about Christmas.

And at last, because I could think of no other way to make contact, I got down on my stomach and wriggled in beside him, bedsprings snagging my suit jacket. For what seemed a long time I lay there with my cheek pressed against the floor.

At first I talked about the big wreath above the altar and the candles in the windows. I reminded him of the carol he and the other children were going to sing. Then I ran out of things to say and simply waited there beside him.

And as I waited, a small, chilled hand crept into mine.

"You know, Tommy," I said after a bit, "it's kind of close quarters under here. Let's you and me go out where we can stand up."

And so we did, but slowly, in no hurry. All the pressures had gone from my day, because, you see, I had my Christmas sermon. Flattened there on the floor I realized I had been given a new glimpse of the mystery of this season.

Hadn't God called us, too, as I'd called Tommy, from far above us? With His stars and mountains, His whole majestic creation, hadn't He pleaded with us to love Him, to enjoy the universe He gave us?

And when we would not listen, He had drawn closer. Through prophets and lawgivers and holy men, He spoke with us face to face.

But it was not until that first Christmas, until God stooped to earth itself, until He took our very place and came to dwell with us in our loneliness and alienation, that we, like Tommy, dared to stretch out our hands to take hold of love.
~Henry Carter

Monday, December 7, 2009

Children at Christmas

“It is good to be children sometimes,
and never better than at Christmas,
when its mighty founder
was a child Himself.”
~Charles Dickens

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Daily Gifts

"It's not too early to give some things away this Christmas. Not just on Christmas Day, but during all the days leading up to December 25. We could call these daily gifts 'our Christmas projects.' Maybe one per day from now 'til then. Here are a few suggestions.

Mend a quarrel.
Seek out a forgotten friend.
Dismiss suspicion.
Write a long overdue love note.
Hug someone tightly and whisper, 'I love you so.'
Forgive an enemy.
Be gentle and patient with an angry person.
Express appreciation.
Gladden the heart of a child.
Find the time to keep a promise.
Make or bake something for some else--anonymously.
Release a grudge.
Speak kindly to a stranger.
Enter into another's sorrow.
Smile. Laugh a little. Laugh a little more.
Take a walk with a friend.
Kneel down and pat a dog.
Read a poem or two to your mate or friend.
Lessen your demands on others.
Play some beautiful music during the evening meal.
Apologize if you were wrong.
Turn off the television and talk.
Treat someone to an ice-cream cone (yogurt would be fine).
Do the dishes for the family.
Pray for someone who helped you when you hurt.
Fix breakfast on Saturday morning.
Give a soft answer even though you feel strongly.
Encourage an older person.
Point out one thing you appreciate most about someone you work with or live near.
Offer to baby-sit for a weary mother.
Give your teacher a break: be especially cooperative.

Let's make Christmas one long, extended gift of ourselves to others. Unselfishly. Without announcement. Or obligation. Or reservation. Or hypocrisy.

This is Christianity, isn't it?"
~Charles Swindoll

Friday, December 4, 2009

He Will Prevail

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.'"
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Too Amazing to Comprehend…

“The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.”
~C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Do not wait to love God

"No man can live without joy; that is why anyone deprived of spiritual joy must go over to carnal pleasures."
~St. Thomas Aquinas

"Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved Thee! For behold Thou wert within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee. I was kept from Thee by those things, yet had they not been in Thee, they would not have been at all. Thou didst call and cry to me and burst open my deafness: and Thou didst send forth Thy beams and shine upon me and chase away my blindness: Thou didst breathe fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for Thee: I tasted Thee, and now hunger and thirst for Thee: Thou didst touch me, and I have burned for Thy peace."
~St. Augustine

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Listening and Praying

“We rise from our prayerful recollection and proceed about our duties, made a bit more hectic by the holiday rush. We are swiftly moving along… The streets are crowded. Then something we see or hear brings us back to our recollection. A phonograph record is playing in a store: ‘Come, let us adore.’ We stop and listen; we listen within ourselves. Then in the bustle of the crowd, totally unperceived by others, we adore. A little later as we are leaving the store, an old woman slowly hobbles along ahead of us blocking the way. We look. She is obviously lonely, a touch of threadbare, a bit confused and frightened by the crowd. We take an extra ten seconds to hold the door for her and to smile. Her face brightens. We respond to her thanks with, ‘Have a nice Christmas.’ A sadness touches her face. She says: ‘Same to you.’ A feeling of pity knocks at the door of our heart. Although she has already disappeared in the crowd, we pause for a second: ‘God, help her, bless her, take away her loneliness…Come, let us adore.’ And so we have listened and so we have prayed. It may not seem like much of an event, but life is really made up of small events, of seconds. We will never learn to live the years prayerfully unless we learn by prayer to live the seconds deeply and well.

The experience described above is a simple one of listening and praying with mind and heart. It is important to recognize that the experience did not depend on the decision to do some act but rather on the decision to listen, to be attentive and to respond. We would probably become exhausted and frustrated if we started out with the resolution, ‘I am going to pray in the department store today because it is Advent.’ Such prayer would be a tour de force and would soon fizzle out. We only need to make the much more simple decision to listen and to respond with mind and heart. Life and its experiences will do the rest.

The example given above is a simple and appealing one. This is the way to learn to listen at the beginning. But we [must] move on to more challenging experiences―to listen to love and to hate, to joy and to sorrow, to peace and to rage. We must respond prayerfully to injustice, to sin, to death, to all the things that a thinking Christian must deal with creatively in life. The stakes are high because as Christians we believe we must deal with all the currents of life prayerfully and in the inner world of mind and heart. The Master has counseled His disciples to pray so as not to faint along the way.”
~Benedict Groeschel