During Mass today, I noticed a father steal a glance toward the back of the church where the children’s choir stood. He stole a moment away from the priest and the altar to look back at where his little girl or boy was singing. Maybe he was glancing back to reassure his child of his support. Maybe he was just peeping back in pride. Maybe a little of both.
Distracted from worshipping God? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Jesus taught his disciples that welcoming a child is also welcoming Jesus, and God the Father. That fleeting glance away from the altar toward his child took only a few seconds, but was packed with love for that child, and, no doubt, for Jesus and the Father, too. I don’t remember today’s homily, but I do remember the message of love my heart received.
We were all little children, once upon a time. God loved us then and loves us now. Maybe he lovingly glances at us as we perform our jobs at work, or school, or home. Not to catch us messing up, but just because he can’t resist watching us. I’m sure that father at Mass today didn’t care if his little one hit a wrong note or two, or fidgeted, or scratched an itchy nose. Our best is good enough for our loving Father. Our imperfections can’t dampen his love.
Prayer: Father, thank you for lovingly watching over us.
Reflection: What would happen if you immersed yourself in awareness of God’s love for even just a moment?
For a child has been born for us, a son is given to us…and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9: 6 (NRSV)
Good news! A savior was born into our dark and hurting world—and what a savior! This son of God is given to us. We can’t earn or deserve this blessing—it’s a pure gift of love. That should delight and humble all of us.
God loves us beyond comprehension, warts and all. How amazing that someone who has tasted heaven should take on our humanity and subject himself to human limitations, indifference, and contempt—all because he loves us. No wonder he’s called Wonderful.
He is Counselor supreme. One with the Father, Jesus has all wisdom and wants to share it with us. Our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, speaks to our hearts, when we’re open to receive it and quiet enough to listen.
Jesus is not just holy man, but Mighty God. We may be up against circumstances, forces, and problems bigger than we are, but no problem is bigger than God. When we feel small and powerless, we can rely on his strength.
Everlasting Father: God’s son conquered death for us. He was willing to take on flesh, knowing he would sacrifice that flesh-life to share eternal, everlasting life with us.
Prince of Peace: The peace that Jesus offers does not depend on comfortable circumstances, but on our connection with him. His peace passes understanding. The world can’t give that peace or take it away.
We have good reason to rejoice today, for unto us is given everything our hearts could need: a wonderful, powerful, everlasting counselor who wants to fill our hearts with peace and love.
Which aspect of our Lord’s greatness do you rejoice in most today?
Glory to God in the highest. Joy to the world. Merry Christmas!
Troubled, weary souls have been around a long time. If mankind could have gotten its act together on its own, it would have done so by now. Instead, we continue to cry out to God. If we’re honest, like Baruch, we can admit that we need mercy because we have sinned against God. The fact of the matter is, if we could save ourselves, then “Jesus died for nothing.” (Galatians 2:21)
So we cry out from the depth of our troubled, weary souls. And we have hope because God has done—and continues to do—what we could never do for ourselves. We anticipate with joy celebrating the birth of Christ who brought us the gift of mercy and freedom from the bondage of self-defeating sin. That beautiful carol, O Holy Night, describes what we feel: “a thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming into our troubled, weary hearts and world.
Reflection: Where do you most need the thrill of hope today?
Some trust in their war chariots and others in their horses, but we trust in the power of the Lord our God. Psalm 20: 1; 7
Do we depend on a show of strength when our fragile egos feel threatened? What’s in our arsenal? A sharp tongue, a loud voice, or a raised eyebrow? Maybe an aloof attitude, a flair for the dramatic, or subtle manipulation help us feel less vulnerable. What would happen if we let God empower us to withstand criticism or rejection?
Maybe we wouldn’t have to respond in kind to intimidation or beat others to the punch. Maybe we could stop working so hard to keep up our defenses. I wonder what a chariot cost in ancient times? How much did it cost to feed and take care of a horse? How much does it cost us to nurse our grudges or put on a show of strength, or whatever it is we do to keep vulnerability at arm’s length? Do it yourself protection comes at a high price. Besides, it can let us down.
It’s safe to trust God. The enemies that threaten our fragile egos may be more powerful than we are, but none are more powerful than God. God’s protection doesn’t mean we’ll never be hurt by forces either outside or within us, but they can’t defeat us if we turn to God. He has our best interests at heart even when it doesn’t feel like it. We won’t be abandoned. He will answer us when we are in trouble.
I encourage you to read the entire Psalm and reflect on the passages that speak to you. Here are some questions to help you get started.
- What kind of answers do you expect when you call out to God?
- How might God answer your prayers in unexpected ways?
- What do you trust in for safety?
- When have you been vulnerable? What brought you through to the other side?
- How can awareness of God’s presence in your life reassure you in spite of challenging circumstances?
God saves us by love, not war. Hate can’t be conquered with hate. That only generates more hate on both sides. Responding to hate with love shows up hatred for what it is and refuses to justify it. Jesus didn’t respond to violence with violence. He was victorious without resorting to the enemy’s tactics. Love is more powerful than hate.
When twelve-year-old Maria Goretti’s neighbor forced himself on her sexually, she resisted. Enraged, he stabbed her 14 times. As he attacked her, she expressed concern for his soul. As she died because of her wounds, she forgave her attacker. Her forgiving love haunted him for years. While in prison, he converted. Upon release, he begged Maria’s mother for forgiveness and lived out the rest of his life as a Capuchin monk. Such is the power of love.
Who doesn’t want to lash out when we’re being attacked? Choosing not to respond to hate with hate takes amazing strength and courage. We can’t do it on our own, but only by the power of Christ’s spirit within us. Love doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings and it doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to be abused. There are times we need to defend ourselves and others. But, with God’s power, we don’t have to allow hurtful assaults to tarnish our nature. Responding to hate with love takes a miracle, but God is in the business of miracles when we trust him.
Prayer: Lord, teach us the power of love.
Reflection: How can you appropriate God’s loving power in the face of antagonism?
Each day announces it to the following day; each night repeats it to the next.
The law of the Lord is perfect; it gives new strength.
None of us can see our own errors; deliver me, Lord, from hidden faults!
Keep me safe, also, from willful sins; don’t let them rule over me… Psalm 19: 1-2; 7; 12-13
Sir Isaac Newton, a Christian, constructed an intricate working model of the solar system. Awed by the complex model, an atheist colleague asked, “Who made this?”
“Nobody,” Sir Isaac shrugged, “it just happened.”
Insulted, the colleague stated that was impossible; somebody had to have designed and made something so complex. Sir Isaac replied that the actual universe was so much more complex but his visitor was convinced there was no designer or creator.
Apparently, Sir Isaac agreed with the psalmist’s claim that the sky itself reveals God and his glory. The regular workings of the universe—the things we understand and the things we don’t—demonstrate God’s greatness. The laws of gravity, aerodynamics, and the like, are perfect. So is the law of love that Jesus said was most important: loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
Considering this perfect law of love, it’s no wonder the psalmist begged for deliverance from both hidden faults and willful sins. If we can’t resist the wrongs we do when self-will gets the better of us, how can we keep ourselves from the wrongs we aren’t even aware of? Our only hope is God’s grace.
Once a family member confronted me about a habit I had of belittling her. I never realized that my “joking” had been hurtful until she pointed it out. The fact that it wasn’t on my radar didn’t make the hurt I caused any less painful to her. I’m grateful she challenged me. With God’s grace, I had the opportunity to change. There have also been times when, although of aware of the right thing, I made a different choice…sometimes out of fear, sometimes because I simply wanted my way.
As perfect as God’s law is, and as much as we’d like to obey, we are human and will fail, both willfully and inadvertently. Who else but God can deliver us? The good news is we can trust his wisdom, his power, and his love.
I encourage you to read the entire psalm and reflect on whatever passage speaks to you today. Here are some questions to help you get started.
- How do you find God’s glory revealed in nature?
- In what ways can reflecting on God’s perfect law strengthen you?
- When have you been tripped up by self-will? When might you have hurt someone without being aware of it?
- Why is it safe to trust the God of glory to deliver you from your faults?
When the angel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, she had many reasons for saying no: her youth, her unmarried status, her unworthiness, her fear of the consequences. Instead, she accepted, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Instead of serving her fear, or public opinion, or false humility, she was willing to serve God. In surrendering to his plan for her, Mary served not only God, but other people as well. She brought Christ and his saving grace into a world badly in need of saving.
Mary could have ignored the angel’s words, or gotten busy with some activity to drown out the call. But she listened. She pondered and questioned how it could be, but she listened and accepted.
What are we busy with? Might our activity prevent us from hearing what God’s plan is for us? What might keep us from surrendering to his plan instead of our own? How is God calling us to be his servants? How might he want to use us to share his saving grace with the world…or perhaps with just one other person?
Mary didn’t have to know the future, all she had to do was say yes and follow, one step at a time. God provided all that she needed along the way, including a husband to provide for and protect her and the child. Everything unfolded as it was meant to. All Mary had to supply was the willingness to surrender her will to God’s. That’s all we have to do, too.
Prayer: Lord, I am your servant. Open my heart to your plan for me.
Reflection: What does God have in mind for you today?
In my trouble I called to the Lord; I called to my God for help. In his temple he heard my voice; he listened to my cry for help.
The Lord reached down from above and took hold of me; he pulled me out of the deep waters.
The Lord alone is God; God alone is our defense.
The Lord lives! Praise my defender! Proclaim the greatness of the God who saves me. Psalm 18: 2; 6; 16; 28; 30; 46
Who doesn’t want to feel safe—especially in these uncertain times? We’re going to feel vulnerable if we depend solely on our own strength, other people, or man-made institutions. None of these can guarantee perfect safety. With God we are safe. Trusting him doesn’t mean we won’t experience pain or trouble. It does mean we won’t be abandoned.
When I’ve been in over my head I’ve called out to God. He’s pulled me out of “deep waters” lots of times. I think my first mature, honest prayer was as a young social worker many years ago. I felt it was my responsibility to solve a crisis my client was facing. I wanted to rescue her—but I didn’t have the power or resources to do so. Up against my own limitations, I panicked. Drowning in my own anxiety, I cried out to God when I wasn’t even sure he was there. I was guided to take just the next step, and then the next. The situation slowly resolved itself. Somehow my client and I both go through that crisis…and it certainly wasn’t by my own strength.
If you’re like me, maybe you’ve been at the end of your rope too, sometimes due to external circumstances and sometimes due to inner turmoil. Although our loved ones may care very much, there isn’t always much they can do to help.
In some situations there is no one to turn to except God. When we do, we can trust that we are not alone–no matter how it feels. God is well aware of exactly what is going on and probably understands our limitations better than we do. He can rescue us from deep waters. We might get drenched, but we will not drown. Praise the greatness of the God who saves us.
I encourage you to read through the entire Psalm and reflect on whatever passages speak to you today. Here are some questions to start:
- Why is it safe to trust God for protection?
- When have you been in over your head? What happened?
- In what ways can God keep us safe if he doesn’t remove our problems?
- How has God saved you?
- How can you proclaim his greatness?
Advent is a season of waiting. We wait for the coming of the Messiah and celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We wait for Christ to come in glory at the end of time. If we’re wise, we spend time waiting each day to welcome him and the peace he brings into our hearts.
Waiting can be challenging, especially when we’re so darn busy! Much of our busy-ness is legitimate. Some is not. When we’re tired, or caught up in a flurry of activity, it can be hard to see what is truly important. We all get the same 24 hours each day. In any given day we can trust that we’ll have all the time we need to get done what God has in mind for us to get done.
How do our priorities line up with that? Everything seems important, but how important are all those tasks, really? Think about it. Jesus had the task of saving the world from sin. He knew he was going to Jerusalem to die. He had made up his mind to do it before he started the journey. (Luke 9:51) I wouldn’t be surprised if he was anxious to get it over with. But According to Mark, when Jesus got to Jerusalem, he went into the Temple, looked around, and then went to Bethany to spend the evening. He didn’t feel compelled to jump in and start turning over the money-changers booths the instant he saw them. He went to Bethany.
Maybe Jesus was tired and knew he’d need his strength for the next day. Maybe he wanted time to think about exactly how he would confront the people in the temple. Maybe he just wanted to enjoy being with friends before everything started going downhill. For whatever reason, Jesus didn’t plunge into action just because something needed attention. He didn’t push beyond his human limitations. He waited. So can we.
Prayer: Lord, enable me to trust your timing and wait.
Reflection: What’s on your agenda that you can let go of—at least until tomorrow?