Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That’s what Nathanael asked when Philip told him Jesus was the Messiah. When Jesus saw Nathanael, He called him “a true Israelite.” Nathanael was a devout Jew, sincere in his belief. He was skeptical about the Messiah coming from Nazareth because he was relying on his understanding of Scripture, which said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Nathanael had no way of knowing that Jesus had fulfilled the prophecy.
Jesus was attracted by Nathanael’s sincerity, not deterred by his honest doubt. Jesus wasn’t looking to surround himself with yes-men. Nathanael’s spirit didn’t need changing, just his mistaken understanding of God’s plan. Jesus called Nathanael a true Israelite. The nation of Israel bears the name of its ancestor. Israel is the name God gave to Jacob, who connived his way through life until he wrestled with God’s angel. At that turning point, God changes his name from Jacob to Israel, which means “he struggles with God.”
Nathanael is a true Israelite. He struggled with God and it was not held against him. This is great news for us. It means our struggles and doubts, no matter how secret, are not hidden from God; no matter how deep, the do not ruin our chances of being called, blessed, and used by God. Honest doubt brings us close to God because Jesus is the Truth. If our understanding of Scripture is limited, we are in good company.
Nathanael doubted that anything good could come from Nazareth. When have you seen something good come from an unlikely source? How can being open-minded increase your awareness of God’s gifts?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes”
Jesus was born and placed in a manger, a feeding trough. Inappropriate for the King of Kings but very appropriate for the Messiah who said, “I am the Bread of Life.”
The Lord who came to feed us with His body and blood made his debut in a humble place where animals were fed. In French, the word “manger” means to eat. Jesus’ first appearance depicts the presence of the life-giving Christ that nourishes our hearts and souls.
We may not be able to completely understand who Christ is, but that’s okay. We can still make room for him in our hearts and share the nourishment He offers, the gift of Himself. Let’s receive the gift with love and joy. In the spirit of self-giving with which the gift was offered, let’s open our hearts with joy and love to those around us.
While Joseph was thinking about breaking his engagement to Mary, an angel appeared to him in a dream. The angel reassured Joseph, telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, for it was by the Holy Spirit that she had conceived and that the child was to save his people from their sins.
The fact that Joseph was thinking about what to do shows that he was conflicted. According to Jewish law at that time, death was the punishment for adulterers. Joseph could have simply washed his hands of Mary, but he genuinely cared about her well-being, or he wouldn’t have thought twice about it. It seems that all his thinking got him nowhere. It wasn’t until Joseph was sleeping that he was able to tap into an intuitive truth, to be receptive to the message from God’s angel. Once given this insight, Joseph woke up and followed God’s plan for him. “…When Joseph woke up, he married Mary, as the angel of the Lord had told him to.” Matthew 1: 24
How often do we wrestle with our thoughts, torn between what our heads tell us and following our hearts? Sometimes God’s plans go deeper than what we can fathom with our intellects alone. We walk by faith and not by sight. What does it take to wake us up to what God has in mind for us? If we are wrestling with a problem we’ve been trying to solve with our unaided intellects, Advent might be a good time to allow our racing thoughts to simmer down. When we subdue the chatter of our own thoughts, we can better hear what God is trying to tell us.
In the quiet, we can awaken to a deeper consciousness and tap into a deeper wisdom. What might we be called to do once we wake up?
And [Jesus] said to them all, “If you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me.” Luke 9: 23
The phrase “Forget yourself” in the above passage has been translated in many ways: to deny, refuse, disown. One translation, according to the Amplified Bible, is “to lose sight of oneself and one’s own interest.” I like that.
God is always bigger than our mindset. He has to be or He wouldn’t be God. The Creator has to be bigger than His Creation. Therefore, if we want to follow God’s Son, we have to get beyond our own limited mindset. That means denying our limited vision of who we are and what we need to be about. As we stop focusing on our self-centered plans, we open ourselves to God’s plan for us. As we “die” to our personal ambitions, we become more available for God to use. We rise to awareness of God’s greater reality, a plan beyond what we can see from our limited vantage point.
I have Multiple Sclerosis. That, along with a chronic back problem, keeps me from doing a lot of things I would like to do in both my work and family life. I don’t like having limitations, but when I am able to accept them, I find that these “limitations” are actually opportunities. On more than one occasion, I’ve found that while home recuperating, I’ve been available to listen at great length to people who needed to talk. I’ve seen others given the opportunity to enjoy a sense of accomplishment by picking up the slack created when I’ve had to lay low. I’ve witnessed, over and over again, God’s plan being worked out beautifully, even though it was nothing like the script I’d written with myself in a leading role.
It’s a lesson I need to keep learning: to forget myself and my interests every day and follow the day the way God has in mind for it to go. How about you?
Prayer: Lord, help me forget my “self” by focusing more on You.
Reflection for sharing: What do you need to “forget” today? What can help you do that?
When the angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce that she would be the mother of the Son of God, Mary was deeply troubled. She asked how it could be, since she was a virgin. When the angel told her it would be by the Holy Spirit, Mary affirmed herself as the Lord’s servant, saying, “May it happen to me as you have said.”
I wonder how comforted Mary felt by the angel’s explanation. I wonder how much of that explanation she understood. I wonder how long it took her to come to the deep acceptance and joy she expressed when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. Did her awareness of the God she carried within her impel Mary to travel to her cousin’s house to help Elizabeth with her own pregnancy? Or did Elizabeth’s affirming welcome enable Mary to delight in what was happening and praise God for what he was doing through her for all people?
Sometimes it takes our hearts a while to catch up with what we believe—especially when we try to work things through by ourselves. Maybe that’s why God calls us to live in community, so we can support and encourage each other as we come to terms with what we could never comprehend on our own.
As the baby grew within Mary, perhaps her understanding grew as well, especially in the community of her friend and cousin. What can we do today to open ourselves to Christ’s presence growing within us? Maybe we could start by us reaching out in service to someone else.
Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses. Ecclesiastes 3:1
‘I want patience, and I want it right now!” Maybe you can relate to that prayer. I sure can. Patience is not one of my strong points. I pride myself on getting things done as soon as possible. What keeps me from being patient? I have to admit it’s my own self-will. I want things to happen according to my timetable—in other words, I want to control things. Why? So they’ll work out the way they should—in other words, so they’ll work out my way. Yep. Self-will.
Delays and interruptions throw off my schedule. But an interruption is just another way of saying something happened that wasn’t on MY agenda. If the writer of Ecclesiastes is correct, then that event happened at the time God chose. Things are unfolding the way they’re meant to unfold. God has it all under control. What a relief it would be to let go of my control and allow things to unfold in God’s time. Maybe I need to trust Him.
A friend once told me that she prayed for patience and many things that required patience started happening in her life. She wasn’t happy with all the opportunities to practice patience, so she changed her prayer. “Forget patience, God. Grant me acceptance.” Instead of praying for patience or acceptance, I think I need to ask God to help me trust Him more.
Prayer: God, help me trust that your timing is perfect.
Reflection: What do you need to trust will happen in God’s time?
John the Baptist had a job to do: announce the coming of the Messiah. John called people to prepare for it by urging them to change their ways and be baptized. John even baptized Jesus himself—at Jesus’ request. John was a most important prophet and yet he had the humility not to get caught up in his own importance. When Jesus’ ministry began attracting crowds, the attention he got upset John’s disciples. They were threatened. John was not. He had stated from the beginning that he himself was not the Messiah. John acknowledged his own happiness, stating that Jesus “must become more important, while I become less important.”
During this season of Advent, we are called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our own hearts. Like John, can we be content to allow Jesus to become more important in our lives? Can we surrender our will and our agenda—even for a few moments each day—to grow silent and listen for what God’s plans for us might be?
Why not use John the Baptist’s comment as an Advent meditation? We can fill in the blank with whatever worries, holiday preparations, or other distractions create roadblocks between God and our hearts today. We don’t have to eliminate them, but let’s shift our perspective on their importance to make room for God.
Reflection: Jesus must become more important, while __________ becomes less important.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. John 1: 5
Darkness seems to grow in December. Daylight hours dwindle as winter approaches. But as natural light diminishes, the light on our Advent wreaths grows brighter. Week after week, we add another candle as we look forward to celebrating the coming of the Light of the World.
Darkness seems to be spreading in our culture, as greed and violence take a prominent role in our daily news. But greed and violence have been around since the beginning of time. All the darkness in the world can’t snuff out the light of a single candle. In fact, candlelight shines all the more brightly in contrast against the night.
Jesus, the Light of the World, lights our way through any and all circumstances. There is no darkness too deep that His light cannot penetrate. When we turn to him, his presence helps us navigate those things that might block our way or trip us up.
Maybe instead of thinking of poinsettias at this time of year, it might be more appropriate to think of sunflowers. They turn to face the light of the sun as they grow. During the dark December days, let’s turn our faces to the Light of the Son.
Prayer: Light of the world, come shine in our darkness.
Reflection: Where do you long to see God’s light shine?