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?
A man who’d been disabled for 38 years laid on his mat by Bethzatha Pool. It was believed the first one who entered the Pool when the waters stirred up would be healed. Jesus saw the man and asked, “Do you want to be made well?” What a strange question to ask an invalid. Wouldn’t “Of course I do!” be anybody’s answer? Maybe not. It’s human nature to become accustomed to things as they are. The man had survived for 38 years with the status quo. When asked if he wanted to get well, he didn’t say “Of course!” He offered a reason (excuse?) why he hadn’t been healed already–he had no one to help him.
His was not the most desirable way of life, but a way of life nonetheless. Healing, wonderful as it might be, meant a brand new set of circumstances and challenges. If he was no longer sick, he would no longer receive alms. How would he earn a living? Nevertheless, something in the man’s response signaled to Jesus that he was open for healing. When Jesus instructed the man to get up, pick up his mat, and walk, the man immediately obeyed. If the man debated with himself about how healing could happen outside of the pool, his leap of faith could have been a faltering crawl that led nowhere. Fortunately, he seized the opportunity when it came. He did not debate with Jesus or himself. He gave Jesus’ instructions a try and it worked.
Reflection: What does it take for us to respond when Christ invites us to get up, leave our resting place, and move forward? Are you being called now to continued growth by moving in a new direction?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes”
Nehemiah, a wine steward, ended up as governor of Judah. He organized the rebulding of the wall of Jerusalem, overcame opposition, reinstituted worship in the Temple, and renewed the practice of the faith. Not bad for a captive who had lived in exile waiting on his captor for who knows how long. How did he do it?
The book of Nehemiah does not describe fantastic visions or dramatic miracles. What is demonstrated, over and over again, is Nehemiah’s unassuming faith and practical application of it. When he heard news that his beloved Jerusalam was in desperate straits, instead of railing against God, Nehemiah accepted responsibility along with his people for having brought exile upon themselves through disobedience. He dared to hope, trusting in God’s mercy. Nehemiah is an example of patience, prudence, and humility. He didn’t resent his humble station as wine steward. He didn’t give in to impatience or lose faith when his prayers seemed unanswered. He quietly fulfilled his daily obligations. His faithful service and lack of presumption may have been what inspired Artaxerxes to trust this prudent man and send him back to govern Jerusalem.
Step by step, Nehemiah handled the events and challenges that came along. By unremarkabale means he achieved remarkable things, because he relied on God, and kept on taking the next right action. We can also serve in important but unspectacular ways. God has plans for us, too. We can faithfully perform the tasks at hand. When opportunities present themselves, we can accept the responsibilities that come our way. We can be who we are. God can use us when we are true to our own nature.
Nehemiah longed for a solution to Jerusalem’s plight. When asked, he volunteered to take an active part in the solution. What situation would you like to see changed for the better? How can you participate in the solution?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters & Other Bible Heroes”
“…Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.” “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” Matthew 19: 17b; 21
Keeping the commandments is an entrance to living, not the determining factor of perfection. Not hurting others by murder, theft, or slander, respecting our parents—these are the bare minimum of peaceful co-existence. Of course, we all fall short many times, once we look more closely at the subtleties of cheating, gossip, and betrayal. But focusing on scrupulously keeping the letter of the law tangles us up and keeps us centered on ourselves, how we’re doing, and how others think we’re doing.
Do we want to feel worthy of eternal life or do we want to experience the reality of eternal life? If we truly want the perfection that comes from spiritual maturity, Jesus invites us to abandon ourselves to God’s care, not our own good deeds. Do we dare to trust God enough to sacrifice the things that makes us feel secure in order to love and help those in need?
The young man may have been challenged to let go of his riches because reliance on them blocked him from the growth he sought. We may not be called to get rid of all our worldly possessions but—if we want to experience eternal life in the here and now—we are called to surrender our illusions of security. We’re invited to let go of whatever blocks us from seeing our need God, because, let’s face it: apart from God there is no eternal life.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the courage to let go of my illusions of security and trust You.
Reflection for sharing: What possessions, talents, or personal characteristics make you feel secure? In what ways do you trust in them, rather than God’s love and mercy?
Poor Hosea! This prophet married a prostitute. Although he did it in obedience to God’s command, it had to make his life even harder than it already was. Hosea was commissioned by God to warn the Israelites about their unfaithfulness to God and the painful consequences. Despite an ultimate promise of hope, it was an unpopular message. Hosea felt the brunt of the people’s rejection. Who wants to be challenged? Besides, Hosea had married a faithless woman. No doubt the Israelites felt justified in tuning him out. In spite of what they thought, Hosea was obeying God (and quite possibly following his own heart.)
In Old Testament times, there were no audiovisual aides. Prophets often demonstrated the concepts God wanted to communicate by acting them out. By taking his wife back after she had committed adultery, Hosea demonstrated God’s faithfulness to us even when we turn away from Him. St. Paul also risked appearing foolish in order to speak God’s truth, affirming that God’s apparent foolishness exceeds human wisdom. Hosea remained true in the face of failure, rejection, and personal heartache. His was not an easy mission, but he accepted it.
What does Hoesea’s calling have to say to us? We are called to be witnesses to God’s power and love. We witness by the choices we make. This doesn’t mean we are called to remain in abusive relationships. It does mean that our vocation includes learning to give more weight to what God wants for us than what public opinion dictates. It means believing in the God of second chances for those willing to amend their ways. It means accepting second changes for ourselves and giving second chances to others. However, allowing people to walk all over us is not giving them a second chance. It is enabling them to continue their self-centered or self-destructive patterns. I suspect this is why Hosea took back his wife only after insisting that she commit to a period of abstinence. Being open to reconciliation within healthy boundaries is a life-giving opportunity in any relationship.
Hosea’s experience reassures us that God will always take us back when we turn to him. When we do, he will see us through any consequences we may have borugh on ourselves by our own poor choices. It confirms that our suffering is not without purpose. With God, Hosea’s personal hardship was used to benefit others.
Pain without purpose is misery. Pain with a purpose is redeeming. When we have weathered and come through our own storms, others know our words of comfort are not given lightly. We offer hope in a way that those whose lives have been untouched by pain cannot. We become living examples that heartache, broken relationships, physical pain and grief are not insurmountable with the help of God.
Reflection: When has the wisdom of God proven to be wiser than human understanding in your own life?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes”
Although strong women are mentioned in both Old and New Testaments, few are mentioned that held such a postion of leadership in a male-dominated culture as Deborah. Portrayed as a community leader, when she sent for Barak, a military commander, he came. She told him what God had commanded: Barak had been chosen to lead the Israelites to victory against their oppressors.
Barak refused to go unless Deborah went with him. Who can blame Barak for wanting a show of good faith on Deborah’s part? Deborah backed up her words with action. She trusted God’s message and her willingness to act on that trust empowered Barak and in turn inspired others to follow.
Deborah’s courage was not just shown in her willingness to stick her neck out on a battlefield. It was shown in her willingness to step out and be true to what she felt God was calling her to do, in spite of cultural restrictions.
Women aren’t the only ones challenged to step beyond the status quo. It’s tempting to tune out inner promptings that invite us to venture where we have never gone before. It’s OK to start small. Not all of us are called to a prominent role in society. Whether our choices impact the world or just our little corner of it, we can still make a difference. Willingness to act outside the norm–when it’s part of God’s plan for us–prepares us to act with more courage in the future and may inspire others as well.
Challenging the status quo doesn’t always involve dramatic situations or gain widespread attention. Are you being called to move beyond “the way things have always been” in some area of your life? Is anything holding you back from making that change? What can help you overcome that obstacle?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters & Other Bible Heroes” http://www.biblemeditations.net/books
Lord God Almighty, none is as mighty as you; in all things you are faithful, O Lord. You rule over the powerful sea; you calm its angry waves. Psalm 89: 8-9
A stormy sea is vast and powerful. None of us would be foolish enough to think we could control the waves. Still, no matter how violently the breakers crash or how high they tower, eventually the sea calms down again.
Lots of things are more powerful than we are. Nothing is more powerful than God is. When we feel small and helpless or weak and vulnerable, we can be grateful for God’s power and might. There’s no question that danger, damage, and destruction are real. It’s challenging to trust God’s faithfulness when the storms of life crash around us, but storms don’t last forever.
Hurricane Sandy ripped through the East Coast last year. Despite the devastation, God’s faithful presence remained. It was evident in the courage and love that abounded as neighbor helped neighbor, and as strangers provided hurricane victims with physical necessities and sorely needed comfort and encouragement. A sense of community emerged. Perspective was gained. Light was shed on the difference between inconvenience and true necessity. The storm passed and the rebuilding began.
When we are weathering stormy emotions, turbulent relationships or trying to rebuild our lives in the wake of tragedy, we can remember that God’s power is greater and He remains faithful.
Prayer: Lord, help us trust in your power and faithfulness.
Reflection for sharing: How can reflecting on God’s power reassure you when you feel most vulnerable?
Poor Leah! Jacob loved her younger sister Rachel, but her father duped him into marrying Leah instead. How humiliating! Jacob then married Rachel as well. While having more than one wife was common in that culture, making room for her sister, clearly the favorite, had to be bitterly painful for Leah.
But God, in his goodness and wisdom, blessed Leah, who was able to bear six sons for Jacob, while Rachel remained childless for a number of years. Leah’s fruitfulness secured her a position of respect, although she probably never felt cherished. Still, God allowed Leah to become Jacob’s wife for a reason, in spite of Jacob’s preference. It was Leah’s son, Judah, through whom the promised Messiah came, and Leah’s son Levi fathered the tribe God chose to serve in the tent of His presence.
If Leah hadn’t faced emotional challenges, perhaps she wouldn’t have had the strength of character needed to be the mother of tribes destined for such a huge role in God’s plan.
We’ve all felt the pain of rejection. Hurt and disappointment are normal reactions. We don’t have to pretend we don’t feel them, but we aren’t doomed to misery. The more we focus on what God’s plan for us might be, the less we need to concern ourselves with other people’s reactions to us.
Question for reflection and sharing:
What coping skills might have helped Leah deal with her challenges? How can those coping skills help when you or those around you experience rejection?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters & Other Bible Heroes” http://www.biblemeditations.net/books
As [Jesus] saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9: 36-38
Shepherds and harvests? That’s a mixed metaphor, but that’s okay. I have mixed feelings. Much as I want to help gather in the harvest, sometimes I feel more like a troubled sheep.
When I had to take high school Chemistry I felt worried and helpless. I wanted a lab partner who knew what they were doing so I could be a follower. Unfortunately, my lab partner knew even less about science than I did. How does a follower cope with having to lead? Luckily, the semester was saved. A neighboring pair of lab partners helped guide us when we were stuck. I did a little leading but a lot of following.
We can’t give what we don’t have. We first have to receive. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to gather in the harvest on their own. First he taught them and later sent the Holy Spirit to guide them. He also told them to pray for more workers to help them in their efforts. On the other hand, the disciples didn’t hoard what they received from Jesus; they shared it with others.
We all belong right in the middle, following those who know the way while sharing what we’ve learned with those who want and need it.
Prayer: Lord, teach me when to lead and when to follow.
Reflection for sharing: Where do you need support and guidance in your faith journey? In what ways can you share what you’ve received with others?
God is to be trusted… 1 Cor. 1: 9a
That’s an amazing statement on its own, but it’s even more amazing when you consider it was said by the apostle Paul. Paul had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, and ship-wrecked in the course of sharing the good news. None of this stopped him from trusting God or from reassuring others that God was trustworthy. It doesn’t make sense…not if you think trusting God means a life insulated from pain or trouble.
It’s been said that every problem brings a gift in its hand. Some of the most trying times in my past have brought me life-changing insights, gifts I might have overlooked if I hadn’t been reminded to look for the gifts. Others who look for and find the good in seemingly intolerable situations inspire us to do the same.
Paul’s vision enabled him to see beyond that, to see God’s hand working in the midst of the trouble. After being beaten and thrown into jail in Philippi, Paul and his companion Silas were praying and singing hymns when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundation. Thinking the prisoners escaped, the jailer was about to commit suicide until Paul let him know they (the prisoners) were still there. The jailer and his family became believers that very night.
It is safe to trust God even though trusting him seems the hardest when it’s most needed. That’s okay. We can admit our fears and concerns about a situation, and still make a decision to trust God with the outcome. Events may or may not unfold to our liking, but the shift in our attitude will surely help us negotiate whatever circumstances arise.
Prayer: Lord, I trust you; help me trust you more.
Reflection for sharing: What do you feel most powerless over? What can help you entrust that situation to God’s care?