Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent Reflection: Luke 1:26-38

Third Wednesday of Advent – Luke 1:26-38

Today’s Gospel opens with the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary. This reading is one of the most familiar stories in the Gospels. The details in the Gospel accounts vary a bit but the basics of the story are similar in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. This Gospel is a story that can easily capture our imagination, no matter what our age.

One of the most powerful statements in this passage is the angel’s message to Mary: “the Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Take a moment and ask yourself: When in your life have you experienced the power of the Most High overshadowing you? When have you sensed God’s presence in an almost tangible way? What were the circumstances of your life at that time?

The gift is Jesus comes to us every day! However, we need to be open, alert and attentive or we may miss His coming completely. Personally, I prefer for God to “skywrite” for me—so I know that the message truly is from God. Most likely we will not have an angel of God appearing to us as Mary experienced. However, we may have a friend, family member or a stranger appear when we need them the most. This person may be God’s angel for me today. Today open your eyes and hearts! Expect and welcome the “angels” God will send to you!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent Reflection: Luke 1:5-25

Third Wednesday of Advent – Luke 1:5-25

Today we hear the story of John the Baptist’s conception: the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In this reading there are echoes of the angel’s announcement to Mary that she would bear a child. In this reading from Luke, an angel of God appears to Zechariah as he was praying in the sanctuary of God. The angel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will conceive and bear a son.

Zechariah is very troubled by the angel’s message. Who wouldn’t be? For many years Elizabeth and Zechariah had longed for a child and they had never received that gift. Yet standing before him was an angel telling Zechariah that Elizabeth in her old age would conceive a child! Not only would she bear a child, but the angel also prophesied that this child would be filled with the Holy Spirit! Their son would be a prophet and he would prepare the way for the “One” who would come!

Naturally, Zechariah was skeptical and he doubted the angel’s message. (He actually may have thought he was going mad!) Zechariah then asked the angel how this was to happen since both he and Elizabeth were long past child-bearing years. The angel did not appreciate Zechariah’s disbelief and skepticism. The angel told Zechariah that since he did not believe the angel’s message, he would be unable to speak until all these happenings came to pass.

If we received a message from an angel, how would we react? Most likely, we also would respond with great disbelief and perhaps wonder if we were crazy! Yet at times in our lives, God indeed does act in strange and fantastic ways. Perhaps when we are disbelieving, we should re-read this Gospel passage. Who knows? Today God may desire to act in strange and wondrous ways in our lives. The question for us is: Will we believe? Will we trust? Will we continue to walk with God? If an angel appears to us, may we pray with Zechariah and Elizabeth! They will “come to our aid!”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Reflection: Matthew 1:18-25

Third Wednesday of Advent – Matthew 1:18-25

Today we hear the story of how the birth of Jesus came about. This is a story we have heard countless times. There is the saying: “familiarity breeds contempt.” In this case, familiarity with this Gospel may prompt us to only hear the words and not listen intently to the message of this Gospel.

Do you ever put yourself in Mary’s place? Do you ever imagine what thoughts went through Mary’s mind when all this happened? Just imagine the riot of thoughts and emotions that must have flooded through her! What was she to tell her parents? And what was she to tell Joseph? The tale she had to tell was absolutely unbelievable!

How did Joseph initially react when he heard Mary’s fantastic story? Was he bewildered? Angry? Unbelieving? What did he think of Mary? Did he believe that she had been unfaithful to him? And then an angel of God appears to Joseph in a dream!

Being human, Joseph must have been overwhelmed and confused by all these strange happenings and tales. Yet despite the fantastic and unbelievable circumstances, Joseph had faith. He had deep faith and trust in God and in Mary. Joseph truly was a “man of God.”

How do we react when we are confronted with circumstances that throw us off balance or with situations that confound us or frighten us? Do we continue to trust in God? Or do we walk away from God?

Regardless of how we react, our “God who is with us” never leaves our side. Our loving God is with us in every moment (even if we don’t “feel” God’s presence). Just as God was with Joseph and Mary in this strange, difficult and confusing time, God also walks with us. And God graces us and gifts us with the strength, faith and trust that we need. The question is: are we willing to give God a chance? Will we stay open to God? Do we believe and trust our loving God?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Reflection: Matthew 1:1-17

Third Wednesday of Advent – Matthew 1:1-17

The Gospel today is the genealogy of Jesus Christ. The Gospel opens by naming the many people in Jesus’ lineage. The list begins with Abraham and continues to the time of Jesus’ birth. Many generations are listed. Some of the names are very familiar to us. However, we also may hear names of people that we know almost little or nothing about. Genealogy has become a serious hobby for many people. As human beings, we instinctively are curious to know where we came from and who we belong to---even if they lived a hundred years ago.

We are shaped and formed by our families. Most of us don’t choose our family; we are born into a family. We begin learning from our family the moment we are born - (or perhaps even when we are in the womb). Jesus also was shaped by His family. Mary and Joseph were His first teachers. They taught Jesus about God, life, love, how to act, how to pray and so much more.

Take a moment and ask yourself: what did you learn in your family? What are the gifts that you received from your family? What do you consider the greatest gift that you received from your family? What did you learn in your family that was painful or disappointing? No family is perfect, just as we are not perfect. What were the challenges in your family? How did you deal with them?

Today I invite you to take time and reflect on your family: your birth family and also the family you belong to at this time. What are the gifts they give you? What do you appreciate about your family? What might be disappointing to you about your family? What is the greatest gift you receive/d from your family? What are the gifts that you share with them? I hope God is one of those gifts!

Today may we give thanks for our families and the many gifts they have given to us!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent Reflection: Matthew 21:28-32

Third Tuesday of Advent – Matthew 21:28-32

This Gospel is a continuation of the reading we heard yesterday. Today Jesus presents the chief priests and elders with the parable of the man who had two sons. The father had vineyards. He asked the oldest son to go and work in the vineyards. However, this son absolutely refused to do so. However, later on in the day, he decided that he would go and work as his father had requested.

Later on in the day, the father also ordered his second son to go and work in the vineyards. This son agreed to do as his father asked. However, after he left his father, he decided he would not go to the vineyard. Nor did he tell his father that he had changed his mind!

Jesus told this parable because he knew that his listeners were trying to trap him. He bluntly tells the elders’ questions that tax collectors and prostitutes would get to heaven before they would! Can you imagine their reaction? How dare Jesus ask them that question! These were men who were faithful to the temple and to the Jewish customs and regulations!

Do we also “play games with God” at times? Do we ask God a question and hope for a particular answer? When we ask Jesus a question, is it a trick question? Or when we ask, do we wait expectantly and listen for God’s response? It is our choice! What will we do today? May we pray for open and listening hearts! God will answer!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent Reflection: Matthew 21:23-27

Third Monday of Advent – Matthew 21:23-27

The setting for today’s Gospel is the temple. When Jesus entered the temple, the elders and chief priests approached Him. They immediately began questioning Him. They asked Him who it was that gave Him authority to heal and preach?

Instead of answering their questions, Jesus turns the table on the elders and priests by asking them where they believed John’s baptism was from? Did they believe it was from heaven or did they think it was of human origin? The elders and priests were in a quandary. They realized that if they said they believed that John’s baptism was from heaven, Jesus then might ask them: “why didn’t you believe John?” However, if they told Jesus that they did not believe in John’s baptism, Jesus then would ask them why they did not believe that John was the man “sent by God to testify to the truth?”

Can you imagine the frustration, fear and anger the elders and priests experienced? They were in a quandary! No matter how they answered, they would be in an awkward position. The temple officials were silent for a time. Finally one of them answered and simply said: “We do not know.” In turn, Jesus responds by refusing to tell them where His authority came from.

What do we believe? Do we sincerely and honestly say we believe in Jesus? How deep is our belief in Jesus? Or do we believe simply because we were taught to believe? Or do we believe because we have had personal experiences of Jesus? The danger is: we may become complacent or even lax in our belief! Advent is a wonderful season to ask: What do I believe? Who is Jesus to me? What will be your answer?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent Reflection: John 1:6-8, 19-28

John 1:6-8, 19-28 – Third Sunday of Advent

The main character in today’s Gospel is not Jesus. It is John the Baptist. In the Gospel we hear John’s testimony to the “light.” In his preaching, John makes it clear that he is not the light. John’s role is to prepare the people for Jesus’ coming so that when he comes, they will recognize Him and believe in Him.

The people continued to barrage John with questions. They ask if he is Elijah or is he the Prophet that was to come? Finally, John quotes a passage from the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice crying out in the desert.” He simply says that he is the “herald,” the one who is to foretell the coming of the Lord.

The Jews continued to bombard John with questions: asking why he was baptizing people if he was not the One who was to come? The Jews would not let him rest. They asked why he was baptizing and preaching if he was not the Christ or Elijah? Finally, John clearly and simply tells the people that his role is to prepare the way for Jesus. He tells them that he, John, is not worthy to even untie the sandal strap of the One who is to come.

The people asking the questions of John were hungry to know more about the “Messiah.” They were hungry to have their questions answered. They wanted to have a sense of what would come. Of “Who” would come! They had been waiting for the Messiah for centuries! Perhaps they were beginning to wonder if the Savior would even come! They looked to Jesus to affirm their hope that the Savior would return.

What are the questions we have for Jesus? Are we hungry to know more about Jesus? Are we anxious for His coming? Do we recognize the ways He comes to us each day? May we open our eyes and hearts to Jesus this day! He may appear in surprising ways!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Reflection: Matthew 17:9a, 10-13

Matthew 17:9a, 10-13 – Second Week of Advent

Elijah, the prophet, is the central character in today’s first reading as well as in the Gospel. The reading from the Book of Sirach describes Elijah as a man who was bigger than life. He would be a great character for an adventure movie. The reading from Sirach also says that Elijah’s words “flamed like a furnace.” What a powerful image! He also brought down fire to the earth and did many other astonishing deeds.

Today the scribes are doing what they normally do: they were teaching in the temple. On that day they were preaching about Elijah, the prophet, and they were predicting that one day Elijah would return to the earth.

Jesus’ disciples did not understand this prophecy. They asked Him if Elijah would return to earth in the future. Jesus told them that yes, Elijah would return. However, Jesus continues by saying that Elijah already had come to the earth. However, no one recognized him. Elijah was rejected by the people!

In speaking of Elijah, Jesus is predicting His own death. He is preparing his disciples for what will come. Jesus tells them “the Son of Man will suffer.” However, the disciples assume that Jesus is talking about John the Baptist. As usual, Jesus’ disciples did not understand.

At times, we also do not understand what Jesus is saying to us. At times, it may be difficult for us to hear Jesus’ voice. The busyness and noise in our lives can make us deaf to what Jesus may be saying to us. Today may we open our ears, our minds and our hearts! May we listen attentively for Jesus’ voice! Jesus will speak. Will we listen? Today, may we listen with the “ear of our heart.”