“I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.” Luke 1:38
How appropriate that the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary falls on New Year’s Day! Both events signal the chance for a fresh start. Our resolutions—so firmly made—might include losing weight or quitting smoking but we know that while such life-enhancing changes start with a decision they become reality in daily living.
Mary was asked to become the Mother of God and accept everything that would be involved in living that out on a daily basis. Mary’s “yes” signaled a fresh start for the whole human race, enabling the Messiah to be born as one of us. As we think about the fresh starts we’d like to make in the coming year, let’s also reflect on the fresh start we’ve already been given.
Prayer: Loving Father, like Mary, may we also allow Christ to grow within us.
Reflection for Sharing: What fresh start are you longing for? How can Mary’s example encourage you?
A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” Eternal Father,” Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let’s think about what Isaiah had to say about the child who would be born to us. He said the son given to us would be our ruler. Who is it that we are inviting to rule our hearts?
He is a wonderful counselor, that is, an exceptionally excellent advisor. If we are confused or uncertain, our Wonderful Counselor can guide our hearts.
Our God is Mighty and can provide us with all the power we need to follow His plan for our ultimate good.
Our Eternal Father loves us so much He chose to share our humanity by being born of a human mother. Because He is also Eternal, He will be with us always.
The ruler of our hearts rules as a Prince of Peace. If we long for serenity, we can find it as we surrender to His loving will, because Jesus told us that His peace was His gift to us.
Prayer: Welcome, Lord Jesus. Come and rule my heart.
Reflection for Sharing: Which image of Christ most closely answers the longing of your heart today—Wonderful Counselor? Mighty God? Eternal Father? Prince of Peace?
I assure you that whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Mark 10: 15
Jesus entered this world as a helpless baby. As an adult told his followers that it was essential to receive the Kingdom of God like a child. As we prepare to welcome God’s kingdom into our hearts, we’re invited to take a lesson from children.
Little children are trusting—they have to be. They’re dependent on others for their food, shelter, and safety. Everything they have is pure gift. As St. Paul points out in one of his epistles, what do we have that hasn’t been given to us? For example, we may work hard to earn a living, but Who provided the job? Maybe we can remember the joy, relief, or satisfaction we felt on the day we were hired. Maybe we aren’t paid for the work we do as a homemaker or caregiver, but our needs are provided for and rightly so. We may have talents and use them in helping others, but Who gave us our abilities and the opportunities and encouragement to develop those skills? As Jesus said when he spoke of himself as the Vine, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” That is especially true when it comes to securing our place in God’s kingdom. It is a free gift. No one earns it. All we need to do is accept it. Even a child learns—however gradually, day by day—to live under house rules.
Children are genuine. They speak their mind and ‘tell it like it is.’ We can be genuine with God in prayer, too—the psalmists were. They didn’t confine their prayers to praise and thanksgiving, although they did plenty of that. They cried out to God in pain, frustration, fear, anger, and those prayers were just as valid, perhaps even more so. Children run to their parents when they are hurt for comfort, and appeal for justice when something unfair happened on the playground. They enlist help when the task at hand is beyond them, they don’t berate themselves for not being perfect. They aren’t afraid to learn by trial and error.
Children don’t worry about the future but live in the moment. Let’s stay in the day trusting that the same God who gave us everything we needed today will be there again for us tomorrow.
Prayer: Lord, may my trust in your love help me live as your child today.
Reflection for sharing: In what ways would I like to become more child-like? How can I act on that desire today?
A voice cries out, “Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord! Clear the way in the desert for our God! Fill every valley; level every mountain.” Isaiah 40:3-4
When urging people to prepare themselves for the Lord’s coming, John the Baptist quoted this passage from Isaiah. How can we clear the way in the desert of our hearts for the loving Prince of Peace? Isaiah tells us to fill every valley and level every mountain.
What are the valleys within ourselves that need to be filled in—in other words, built up? For some of us, the low places may be actual depression. We owe it to ourselves to seek the physical and psychological treatment and spiritual sustenance that can lift an oppressive sense of hopelessness. Some of our valleys might be a tendency toward negativity, a critical nature that we’ve developed in the misguided hope that it would ward off disappointment. Maybe it’s an underlying voice in our heads that tells us we’re nobodies, we’re not good enough. Maybe its fear. Or an emptiness that we’ve tried to fill with the shifting sand of more things, external approval, busy-ness.
On the other hand, we may need to trim down mountains of pride, places within us where we are swollen with a sense of our own importance, arrogance, or self-centeredness. It might be a relentless focus on our own goals to the exclusion of the needs of others, or mental blinders to the big picture and what God may be calling us to do. It might be self-righteous judgment of others from our imagined mountaintops of intellectual or spiritual superiority.
The landscape of each heart is unique. We are the only ones who can discern what roadblocks stand between our deepest selves and the coming of the Lord. Let’s take some time today to see what those roadblocks are and how, with God’s help, we can clear the path.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, help me clear the pathway to my heart.
Reflection for Sharing: What mountains within you need to be leveled? What valleys need to be built up? What can you do today to begin to address the bumps in your spiritual path?
Fling wide the gates, open the ancient doors, and the great king will come in. Who is the great king? The Lord Almighty—he is the great king! Psalm 24: 9-10
During this time of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the coming of our Savior into the world, let’s also prepare for His coming into our hearts in a new and deeper way.
In Bethlehem, the doors were all closed to Mary and Joseph, they ended up in meager surroundings, the only place they were finally let in. Psalm 24 encourages us to fling wide the gates of our hearts to welcome Christ. We are told to open the ancient doors, doors that may have been closed so long they are now rusted shut. We might need patience, outside assistance, or even a little lubrication to get them open. Maybe they will squeak and creak as we open them or stir a lot of dust. That’s okay, we can open them anyway. The dust will settle, the creaks will fade, and the King of our hearts will enter and fill us with his powerful presence and gift of peace.
Prayer: Come in to my heart, Lord. I open it to You.
Reflection for Sharing: What is keeping the doors to your heart shut today? What do you need to open them? How can you get whatever it is you need to help you open them?
The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. Psalm 23:1
Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by life. We wake up in the morning dreading a particular task or a difficult conversation we have to face that day. It’s easy to feel like we are not enough. It’s easy to feel like we are clueless as to how to handle some problem facing us. And those feelings may be real and valid at times. But feelings aren’t the whole story.
Maybe we don’t have all the answers. Maybe we don’t have the strength we feel we need to shoulder our responsibilities. But we are not left to our own devices. God is our shepherd. Like a shepherd, he guides us to where we can get nourishment, and protects us from dangers we aren’t able to cope with and may not even be aware of. A shepherd brings back the wanderers and even prods the stragglers who lag behind, to keep them moving toward where he knows they need to be for their own well-being.
And because our shepherd is all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving, He provides everything we need. This has been my mantra for the last few weeks as I walk, day by day, through a brand new challenge in my life. When I feel inadequate, I repeat this affirmation. It has not failed to give me the reassurance, comfort, and courage I need to do the next thing at hand and trust the end result to my Shepherd.
Prayer: Lord, I trust you. Thank you for giving me everything I need today.
Reflection for sharing: How do you need God to shepherd you today? What needs do you think God sees for you today? Can you affirm that, just for today, you have everything you need by God’s grace?
The Sovereign Lord has filled me with his Spirit. He has chosen me and sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to announce release to captives and freedom to those in prison.” Isaiah 61: 1
Good news for the poor, the broken-hearted, captives and prisoners: that should cover all of us.
Poor: Lack of material wealth is only one form of poverty. There is a poverty of spirit that money and luxurious living can’t fix.
Broken-hearted: Who among us hasn’t had their heart broken at one time or another? Maybe your heart is breaking today over personal sorrow, the suffering or loss of a loved one, or the end of a relationship.
Captives: We can be taken captive by the bottomless pit of desire stirred up by ever-present advertising. Slick and subtle promises of happiness tempt us to drive the right car, achieve the right “look”, acquire the latest gadget technology has to offer. When they fail to give us lasting contentment, we seek it by shopping for the next item.
Those in prison: How many of us are prisoners of addictions? While not necessarily as well-known as addiction to drugs, alcohol, or gambling, compulsive behaviors – like overeating, spending, co-dependent relationship patterns and more – can still be detrimentally overpowering.
There is good news for all of us. There’s a way through the struggles. More importantly, we are never alone with our burdens – even when it seems like we are. God’s grace will provide everything we need to get through any given day, the courage to break out of unhealthy patterns, the humility to ask for or accept help when it is appropriate. The good news is not ivory tower protection from real life issues. It is the ability to develop character and meet life on life’s terms with God’s help.
Even more. As we walk through our problems and come out the other side, we gain compassion for others who are walking through problems. We have something to offer them: the hope that comes from our own experience. Our problems turn into assets as we share with others the encouragement and strength we have received. That is definitely good news.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for giving me everything I need to get through _____________.
Reflection for sharing: In your experience, how has a past misfortune become an asset? How can you make use of that asset today?