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?
Each one, as a good manager of God’s different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. 1 Peter 4: 10
What’s your special gift? Don’t think you have one? Think again. Special doesn’t necessarily mean spectacular. It also means “of a particular kind; for a particular purpose” according to the Oxford American Dictionary.
There is only one you. Who you are is no accident. Your individuality is as unique as your fingerprint. If God wanted us all to be identical, He wouldn’t have created us with such diversity. What are your gifts? Take some time today to think about the things you enjoy doing. Those are usually the things we do well. Don’t worry about how important they seem to be. Every ability can serve a purpose in God’s loving plan—if we aren’t afraid to use it. I was once told I have a “brownie ministry.” Seemingly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, my home-baked brownies were a tangible sign of hospitality that added warmth to a faith-sharing session.
We’re all gifted and our abilities can help others, whether or not we’re called to be in the spotlight. We can feed the hungry whether we organize a fund-raising event, volunteer at a food bank, or simply prepare dinner for our children. A warm smile can help a newcomer feel at ease and welcome. A gift of patience might enable us to listen to someone who needs to talk when we’d rather not. The blessing of financial security might enable us to donate generously to one or more worthy causes.
We never have to do what we can’t do, but we all can do something to help others. Let’s start by exploring and appreciating our own God-given gifts.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gifts you’ve given me. Show me how you want me to use them.
Reflection for sharing: What gifts of yours have you been overlooking? How can you make use of them today?
There an angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] as a flame coming from the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire but that it was not burning up. “This is strange,” he thought. “Why isn’t the bush burning up? I will go closer and see.” Exodus 3: 2-3
When God saw Moses coming closer, He called to him from the burning bush. What if that had happened today? Moses might have been busy texting or checking his Facebook page and missed it.
Moses was watching sheep when God spoke to him. No doubt it was easy for him to notice the burning bush. There probably wasn’t much else going out in the pasture.
It’s more of a challenge for us today. So many things demand our attention and so many distractions are literally at our fingertips. How do we make room for God to speak to us in our busy lives?
It might start by us looking at our priorities. If God really is our Creator, wouldn’t it be wise to carve out at least a few minutes each day to connect with the Source of our being? Earning a living, family responsibilities, exercise, and chores: it’s a long to-do list for most of us. Spending time with God might seem like one more demand. It might be tempting to rattle off prayers or rush through our “quiet time” so we can check it off our list, but that misses the point. I’ve done it.
On time I tried to meditate but felt the pressures of the day nagging me.
Okay, God, I thought. I’m here. I’m listening. What do you want me to do?
I felt the answer in my heart.
I just want you to be.
Yes, but after that, what do you want me to do?
I just want you to be.
I know, but after that…
I don’t remember how long it took me to settle down and let go of the split-second timing my agenda seemed to require. I do remember coming away feeling relaxed and refreshed. Whatever I got done or didn’t get done that day, it all worked out okay—and I was in a lot better frame of mind.
Spending quiet time listening to God isn’t for His benefit, but for ours. Let’s not have our burning bush be the point where we are so worn out that we have no choice but to rest.
Maybe what He wants to tell us is we don’t have to try so hard.
Prayer: Lord, slow me down today.
Reflection for sharing: Who or what helps you settle down and listen?
“…The root of the righteous bears fruit.” Proverbs 12:12
We had a huge apple tree in our back yard when I was a kid. It was great for climbing. I used to sit up in the branches, pick an apple and munch it while enjoying the view from my lofty perch. The apples definitely came from the branches, not the roots. At least that’s what I would have told you back then.
Year after year, first the blossoms, then the buds, and finally the fruit would appear on those branches. The sturdy trunk supported them, but what supported the trunk? What kept that trunk from getting knocked over by wind when the ground was soaked with rain? The roots. I’m guessing that root system had to be very deep and extensive because that tree withstood hurricane gales that toppled a nearby cherry tree.
Thank God for our roots. Because they’re below the surface, we may not notice them, but roots nourish us and keep us anchored. What are we rooted in today? How can we strengthen that connection? How will a stronger connection to our roots enable us to bear fruit?
Prayer: Lord, keep us rooted in Your love today.
Reflection for sharing: God loves you just as you are, right now. How can taking in God’s love enable you to bear fruit today? What might that fruit look like?
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NRSV)
Love. Joy. Peace. We all want them. The irony is that many of the ways we try to get love, joy, or peace of mind work against us.
We try to earn love—or at least admiration and attention—by trying to impress others or make ourselves indispensable. It doesn’t always come off so well…especially if others are trying to do the same thing. We end up competing, feeling envious, or self-righteous—not very lovable qualities.
We pursue happiness only to find it elusive. After all, if the things we bought made us happy, we wouldn’t have to keep buying more things. If we think we can’t be happy until others to do what we want them to, we might spend the rest of our lives waiting.
It’s easy to think serenity would come if only life were problem-free, but when one problem gets resolved, sooner or later another pops up.
The paradox is that we open ourselves to the fruit of the Spirit when we let go of trying to force things according to self-will. When we can accept life as it is on any given day, peace and patience flow naturally. When we aren’t wearing ourselves out trying to earn love or happiness by getting our way, we are free to enjoy what we do have. Without self-imposed pressure, we can afford to be kinder, gentler, and all the rest. Life can be better by when we make room for the Spirit. Let’s get out of our own way.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and fill my heart.
Reflection for sharing: Which fruit of the Spirit are you most longing for today? What do you need to let go of to make room for it?
Do not restrain the Holy Spirit…1 Thessalonians 5: 19
Why on Earth would we restrain the Holy Spirit? One reason is fear. It can get scary when we’re not in control…not that any of us is really ever in control. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 8) So often we prefer the predictable, so we can be prepared. But if we’re already on top of what we’re doing, there’s no room for growth. We can’t go beyond what we already know. It’s only when we’re not in charge that there is room for growth.
Did you ever feel a nudge from within to do something outside your comfort zone? A thousand self-doubts, “what if’s” or “why me’s” can stop us dead in our tracks, even when the risks are minimal. When my daughter was in second grade, one day I got to school to pick her up a half hour before the lunch break. I felt a strong inner prompting to go into her classroom, even though class was still in session. I had no idea why. Even though I was afraid I’d look like an idiot for intruding, I walked into her classroom anyway. Moments before, the teacher had gotten a call about her own daughter, who had taken ill while away at college. The teacher wasn’t going to abandon the class, but she was much relieved to have an extra adult in the room. I remained with the class all day, playing it by ear, helping the teacher and giving the children a hand as needed. For once, I had chosen not to restrain the Holy Spirit or talk myself out of following that inner nudge. It was an amazing experience.
Prayer: Lord, help me follow where your Spirit leads.
Reflection for sharing: What doors might open for you if you stop restraining the Holy Spirit?
[The star] went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They went into the house and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshiped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him. Matthew 2:10-11
There used to be a downtown diner named “The Manna-Fest-Station.” It sold organic food and beverages and was a favorite spot of former hippies. I was reminded of that place when I was thinking about the Epiphany, which means manifestation. The Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Christ came—not only for the Jewish people—but also for all nations. This is marked by the visit of the Magi, wise men who, although foreigners, made the journey to Bethlehem to find Christ. When they found him, they worshiped him and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Although there might have been traces of incense mixed in with the aroma of organic food at the diner, there was no gold or myrhh. Still, a place providing healthy nourishment in the middle of a bustling, grimy city calls to mind the Nativity story. The baby Jesus was placed in a manger…in plain English, a cattle feeding trough. Later, when crowds asked the grown Jesus to give them Manna like Moses had done, Jesus said he was the true Bread from Heaven, come down to nourish us. Jesus came to feed hearts hungry for peace and love.
The wise men found what they were looking for because they were willing to travel outside their familiar territory. They even asked for directions and wisely accepted valid information and disregarded Herod’s manipulation. Above all, they were willing to follow the star that shone in the night sky. We are wise if we are willing to do the same, to venture outside our comfort zone, ask for guidance prudently, look for the light of truth when we see it manifested in the midst of darkness, and follow where it leads.
Prayer: Lord, lead our hearts to you.
Reflection for sharing: How can a deeper manifestation of Christ in your life nourish your heart today?
There the angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing; yet it was not consumed. “This is strange,” he thought. “Why isn’t the bush burning up? I will go closer and see.” Exodus 3:2-3 NRSV
We know that in Moses’ day, fire gave light, warmth, and protection. Still, it’s impossible to think of something being on fire and not being destroyed itself. But that’s what happens when we open ourselves to God and his word becomes alive in our hearts. We gain insight, we are warmed by God’s love and are able to share that love with others. It’s easy to be afraid that if we surrender ourselves to God, we’ll lose our individuality and somehow become cookie cutter Christians all stamped from the same mold. But the Creator is infinitely creative. No two fingerprints are the same, how much richer is the individuality of our soul-prints?
Think of a stained glass window. When the sun shines through it, its beauty is enhanced, but the colors don’t all turn sun-colored. The reds glow with a more vibrant redness. The blues shine a richer blue, and so on. When we allow God’s love to burn in our hearts, we won’t lose our uniqueness. We’ll reflect God’s light through the prism of our own true selves. The fire of God’s love won’t destroy us. So, like Moses, it’s safe for us to get closer and see.
Prayer: Lord, draw me closer to the fire of your love.
Reflection for sharing: When have you felt on fire with love? Did that fire nourish you or consume you? Why?
I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. Psalm 16:8
Plenty of things happen that can shake us—pain, misfortune, tragedy—but if we look around, we can find stories of people to inspire us…people who have endured painful circumstances, and somehow come out the other side with fresh resolve, a sense of purpose, and a deepened faith.
Take Eric LeGrand, for example. When the Rutgers football player was paralyzed by an injury during a game last year, the athlete’s life changed overnight. While enduring lengthy rehabilitation, LeGrand’s determination enabled him to progress in his recovery, achieving physical improvement beyond his doctor’s expectations. Moreover, instead of being swallowed by self-pity, LeGrand tuned in to the challenges that those around him were going through. Their situations helped him put his own circumstances into perspective. Now, the 21 year old inspires others. In a recent talk to eighth-grade students, Eric LeGrand encouraged them to avoid taking things for granted and to “believe in yourself, believe in the Man Above, and anything is possible.” By counting his blessings and sharing his experience with others, LeGrand may well have a greater impact and leave a greater legacy than he could have done by playing football.
Prayer: Lord, help me trust that You are near me at all times.
Reflection for sharing: Who inspires you with unshakable trust in God?