“But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God” (Luke 1)
God knows us better than we know ourselves. He can see what lies in the inner part of us. He knows what needs to happen in order for us to life a truly spiritual and fulfilled life. His grace makes us the people we are intend to be. He wants us to be renewed from the inside and the outside. He can do it if we give Him the chance to complete his work in us.
There are times when we feel it will never happen. We are distraught by all the imperfection in our lives. We are torn by all the stress, conflict, grief, pain and sickness around us. We often ask God why He is allowing all of that. And that is okay. God does not mind! But we should not become restless or lose hope. There might be even people among us that turn their back on the Lord, because his promise is too good to be true.
But God will bring them back in due time. And those that stay have a role in bringing them back. We know that God is faithful but first need to remove the obstacles in and around us, in order to make us the person we are meant to be. God is allowing some obstacles in order to makes better people. God believes in us and knows we are worth refining. He believes in us and loves us. He sees the goodness that is hidden within us. He knows what we are able to become, when we lose the things that no longer needed. God loves us so much that he wants to refine us and make us perfect in his eyes.
As we await the birth of our Lord Jesus, we are reminded that Jesus is the fulfillment of the New Covenant. Those who seek Jesus shall find rest in Him and He shall refine us, as he did with his disciples. By His gospel, He shall purify and change us and we shall be renewed in the Spirit. He will take away the impurities that are found in us. He will refine us, as he refined Zechariah. He will remove any doubt and unbelief until we shall proclaim his great glory! Amen.
“Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said: “Pardon, my lord!
As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD.
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.”
She left Samuel there” (1 Samuel 2)
There are a lot of similarities between the Hanna, the mother of Samuel, and Mary. Both gave birth to very special sons. Both became great in the service of God and people. Both mothers made a difficult sacrifice of love, when they gave up their son, so God could work through them. In both cases they also experienced a lot of joy from the Lord. With Hannah we see the same joy as Mary expresses in the Magnificat.
Although Hannah prayed for a long time to receive a child from God, as she was barren, she did not hesitate to sacrifice this precious gift back to God. So Samuel became one of Israel’s greatest priests. It was he who anointed King Saul, as first king of Israel, and later anointed David to replace him. And there is another result that came forth from Samuel. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, came forth from the line of David! The same king that was anointed by Samuel. Mary did the same as Hannah. She sacrificed the precious gift of her womb right back to God. First of all when he started his ministry and more important when he gave his life on Calvary. We would not have been where we are if Mary wouldn’t have made that sacrifice. The message we take from scripture today is that we should not keep for ourselves the gifts that God has given us? Through his grace we receive talents that helps us to take care of ourselves and our families. We should use these talents to live the best life we can and in that way praise God with our lived.
He gives us family, children, friends to enrich our lives. But how generous and thankful are we with these blessings? We are called to, in all freedom, to be generous towards God and neighbor. We are called to have a great faith that opens our hearts to the gift of God’s love. We also need to share our gifts with others and in that way show our love and care for them. Blessings are a great blessing and are being multiplied when we share them with others. The things that are a blessing to ourselves, is also a blessing to others. We cannot even imagine how our gifts can bless the life of someone else. The question will be whether we are willing to sacrifice our talents, time or material blessings with others, for the sake of kingdom of God? Through the influence of our parents, family, friends we became what we are now. In that same way we can be of influence to others.
If we want to find joy in the God of our salvation so that we can give that same joy to people around us. Maybe future generations will call us blessed too. We will we get to know the great things that God can for us, like he did with Hannah and Mary. Mary’s Magnificat can be our song too. In order to make it our own we need to leave our own plans and agendas behind. If we give our time and assets to the things that benefit the world around us. The more effort it takes to live a life of sacrificial love, the more you entered into a life of faith, that walks in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. He will bless your footsteps and the world through your actions. Amen.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my
womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1)
In the scripture passage of today we can see Elizabeth’s joy when Mary visits her. Elizabeth rejoices in the visit of Mary and asks her “why the mother of her Lord is visiting her’. It is the Spirit of God that makes her so joyful. God is at work even in troubled times, that is the message. That’s why Elizabeth is so joyful. We must pick up that same happiness when God is showing up in our lives.
Children love to do things together. It makes them happy and joyful. So Pick up the children, love them and do joyful things with them. Children are the hope for our future. Teach them about a loving God that gives himself for us. Show them the importance of self-giving love just like the two women in the Gospel. The Gospel shows us the unseen gift in Elizabeth’s womb. Not only the women are joyful but also the baby in Elizabeth’s womb responds joyful. The baby in her womb leaps for joy when Mary arrives. Elizabeth recognized that Mary was bearing the Messiah. In this story we witness how the power of the Holy Spirit works among God’s people.
As workers in God’s vineyard, we need to be like Elizabeth. We too should be joyful through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Our hearts can also leap with joy when the Spirit draws us to the things that are divine. With the coming celebration of Christmas we have reason to rejoice. Advent is an anticipating waiting for God coming into the world. The Christ is about to dawn on the horizon at the Feast of the Nativity. What a wonderful gift, which gives us all the reason to rejoice. Amen
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:26-38)
It’s hard to believe that Christmas is upon us once again. And it is not the Christmas we used to because of the pandemic going on. But Christmas is the time of hope. New hope is dawning on the horizon.
Christmas is always a very special time of the year. And I don’t mean in the cosy and sentimental way. Not sentimental “peace on earth” and “presents” but because God became one of us and save us. It tells us that we are all beloved children of God. We can be imperfect and God still loves us. Because a child is born to us. That child is just a helpless as we are. But he will grow up and become powerful in word and deed. But still he went through the same phases we have to go through. Being loved by it’s parents, being cared for, he grew up and faced the world in all its greatness and sadness. That child would be loved and rejected. But a child that is Gods beloved Son. The story of the Annunciation calls to our attention God’s wondrous action in human history. God chose a simple woman, in a simple town, to give birth to his Son, so that all humanity would know God’s salvation. Mary, was able to cooperate in this great plan for our salvation. Thus Jesus was born as one of us. This is the mystery we prepare to celebrate at Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation. In the model of Mary, we can be people of faith who recognize God’s saving plan for us and are able respond with obedience.
Today we focus on Mary. This teenage, unmarried mother, about ready to give birth to a child. Of course with Joseph at her side. The story of today brings us back to that moment of conception. She is a simple Jewish woman in Nazareth. Scholars believe Mary was just a teenager when the angel Gabriel visited her with a message from God. She was a simple girl that lived among the lower class of Israel. She was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. She was waiting the rite of marriage, which is a kind of formal home-taking ceremony. But she was in for a surprise. She was to fulfill what God had in mind for her and the world! God had faith in this young woman and she was in His focus. God has his focus on us as well. The only question is whether we are opening our hearts to him, like Mary did. God knew what He was doing and outlined it for Mary through His angelic messenger Gabriel. The baby she was going to carry would not be merely human but also the Son of God! As Christians.
He is ready to put His action plan for your life into gear if you are ready to move forward with His plan. Are you ready for action? Mary’s statement is one of the most courageous ever recorded.” God wants disclose the plan he has for you and me but he is not going to force us to accept it. He loves us but respects our free will. We can find an example in Mary today. Gabriel appears to her and says to her, “Greetings, oh favored one, the Lord is with you”. Mary was a young woman, some say seventeen, some say as young as fourteen. Here is the angel Gabriel standing before here, to ask her, if she wants to be the mother of the Son of God. He is not saying: “think about it and I come back next week for an answer”. No! He wants her to respond on him with undoubtedly yes. What does Mary think? Is she afraid or upset maybe? She is just a simple girl, in a simple town. She is not even married yet. And her is this angel in front of her. What will the people in this small town say? We know all how small towns are like, and Mary knew it surely as well.
She steps back, thinking, reflecting. If she says yes what will this mean for her and her family. She knows it is going to be difficult. So she recounts the angel with the words: “How is it possible? I know not a man”. Was it in easy way out or just a concern for this young woman? Who knows! But the angel has the answer ready already as if he expected the question already. “Do not be afraid, for the Holy Spirit will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy…the Son of God”. And then Mary speaks the famous words: “ be it done according to your word”. She could have said: “ I am honored, but now i don’t want to do it”. But luckily she did not and in that way makes incarnation possible. And in a way the same is asked from us. It is our faith and obedience that brings God to the world, even when we are scared, just like Mary (and Joseph). Because God calls each and every one of us. He says, “The Child is yours and I put him under your protection and care. I want you to bring him into and to the world. You need to reveal this child to the world. There is not much difference between the faith of Mary and Joseph and ours. Mary was a simple girl and not a super human, neither was Joseph, at that point. They had their fears and concerns but trusted in God all the way. That is the faith that we should have as well.
This is not only a story from long ago but also here and now. It happens now in 2020 when God calls us to bring his Son to the world. He send his angel to us and hopes that we say with Mary: “Be it done to me according to Your word.” Amen.
There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren and had borne no children. An angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Though you are barren and have had no children, yet you will conceive and bear a son. (Judges 13)
The Jewish people had a strong believe that God breaks into the world and set things right. We all know the examples in the Old Testament: He delivered the Israelites from the slavery in Egypt, He send manna in the wilderness and gave them water to drink. God, was very active in the ordinary lives of the people and showed his care for them. This kind of faith we see in the scripture verse of today. In the book of Judges we read about Manoah’s wife who was barren. But God steps in and gives the couple new hope.
A child is given to the couple, and Samson is consecrated to the Lord. In the Gospel we this story echo’s in the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth. They can have no children but God steps here in as well and John will be born out of them. And just like Samson…in the Gospel we hear that John is also consecrated to God. More than that…he is the herald that announces the coming of our Savior. Just like the people in ancient times, our lives are far from perfect as well. We might be struggling on many levels, especially now in this pandemic. Perhaps we feel barren in a spiritual sense at this time. Maybe we find it hard to believe in Gods promises right now. But we can be confident that he wants and will break in and set things right!
Zechariah had his doubts too. He questioned the angel and was not being able to speak for a while. Until he reflected on what God was saying. Until he spiritually grew into maturity and understood what God was saying. Zechariah’s muteness is a great lesson for us. We need to be silent, not literally muted, and listen to what God wants to tell us. God wants to break into our lives and show us his plan. He wants to make things right. He wants to fill us with his Holy Spirit and make us spiritually alive and fruitful. In that way we become the people he wants us to be. Amen.
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.
When life is tough and difficult we easily can get discouraged. We worry about the future. And the biggest worry is the thought that God might not care about what we are going through. Every Christian will have these thoughts at times. Doubts and lack of faith can make us feel distant from God. We might even get upset with God and accuse him that he abandoned us. That is a completely human reaction in times of trouble. And more important….God can handle it. In the Old Testament Job had this reaction and even Jesus on the cross (for a short time) felt that God abandoned him. But Jesus did something important as well. He trust his soul in the hands of God…with the faith that a child would have in his parents to take care of their needs.
What is holding us back from surrendering all our cares to God and trusting ourselves in his hands? It is most likely a lack of faith or fear. We have at times bad experiences with other people so we think God is the same. But he is not. When we come upon hard times we should be solid in faith. We should be able to look back at the great things God has done in our life. We need to cast all our trust on Him. When God prevails in our life, He will come to our aid in due time.
That is what the Bible verse of today teaches us. “ Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land”. He has the Messiah planned for a long time and it will come to pass. So will he rescue us also in his timing. Remember that many of Jesus’ followers were people like you and me. They were not perfect, on the contrary they make a lot of mistakes. Yet their faith in Him enabled them to live a life of peace. They learned to trust God completely and understood that God always keep His promises. They knew that God fulfilled the prophecy and raised up a righteous shoot to David: Emmanuel, “God is with us.” Amen.
Thursday – Third week of Advent
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1).
When we read the opening sentences from Matthew’s Gospel, we are overloaded with information about the genealogy of Jesus. Other than a strictly historical genealogy, the meaning of it is more important. St. Matthew wants to emphasize that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah from the house of David. Jesus fulfills the prophecies of old and is indeed the Son of God.
We are familiar with some people in the genealogy that Matthew mentions, others are more unknown or have even a questionable past. Most of the stories behind the names are lost to us. But every name in the list is important for our salvation. Their lives, no matter how well known or questionable, is connected to our salvation in Jesus Christ.
It is important for us to understand that it is the same for our own names and genealogy. Jesus’ genealogy reminds us that all lives matter. As Christians, our names and life stories refer to Jesus Christ. As we move closer to Christmas it is good to reflect on this story, but also on our own story. We need to ask ourselves about our relationship with God, the world, family and others. When others look at my life, do they experience God’s grace? This last week before Christmas gives us an opportunity to reflect on our lives and the meaning it has to others.
May our stories matter to bring other people to Christ. Let us pray for grace to fulfill that important task given to us by the Coming Lord. Amen.
“Not by appearance shall he judge nor by hearsay shall he decide but he shall judge the poor with justice and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.” (Isaiah 11)
Maybe we do it all once in a while: judging other people. However, this form of prejudice is not compatible with following Jesus. Of course, we all know that but still it has been a part of the Church throughout the ages. Prejudice makes us spiritually blinded. It makes us measure people not by fact but what we hear. We need to realize that God values people that are rejected by the world.
As we approach Christmas we need to look into our hearts and determine what our motivations are. We need to ask ourselves whether we lifted people up or brought them down. Did we love them for what they are? Our neighbors and the beloved children of God! Did we treated them right even if there were disagreements or difference in choices they made for their lives? If there was pride and arrogance in our own spiritual live, we need to ask the Lord for grace and forgiveness for that. We need to ask God for forgiveness for the sin of prejudice and partiality. We have to ask God to make us more loving towards our neighbors. Prejudice can only be overcome with Gods grace.
We need to become more Christ alike. As the Prophet tells us today: “not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted”. So, let us try to walk in the footsteps of Jesus but “judge with justice”. As often as we good to one of his brothers and sisters, we have done it for Him! We have to treat people as Christ did and glorify through our actions. Let us pray that we may be receive the grace to live our lives in this way. Amen
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “What is your opinion?
A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” (Matthew 21)
Today we are talking about working. The Gospel gives us the parable of the two sons, who were asked by their father to work in his vineyard. One decides to go after initially saying no. The other says yes but does not go. So, Jesus poses the question who of the two did the will of the father.
This parable is about actions over words in a more general level. But it also refers to the particular situation in Jesus’s time. It is about the religious leaders that rejected both John the Baptist and Jesus. They are self-righteous and believe they are doing Gods will. On the other side there are those that are despised by the religious leaders. The tax collector, prostitutes and other public sinners that believed in the Gospel message. They are like the first son who said ‘no’, but later regretted and obeyed the father’s command. The religious leaders are like the son who said ‘yes’ but did not obey his father. This is something we still see back in the Christian faith. Those that are self-righteous and think their better than anybody else and the ones that are humble enough to see their imperfectness. That is why Jesus warned His listeners “not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice” (Mt 23:2-3).
The question for us is which of the two sons we want to be. You must answer that for yourself. But in a way they both offended God but the second one was humble enough to admit his shortcoming. But there is a third son. That is Jesus, who obeyed the father’s command all the way. This is the one that we should follow. If we say yes to God, the next step is to obey Him. It is easy to say ‘yes’ to God. But this is of no value when we have no resolve to obey His will. It is also easy to say ‘no’ to God, to disobey His commands. Many times, we act like both sons in the parable. In baptism we are adopted children of God. We are called to follow the example of the true Son of the Father, Jesus Christ. In that way we will also be true sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. Amen.
Where was John’s baptism from?
Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” (Matthew 21)
Standing up for the truth sounds easy but it is not always the case. When people agree with you it is easy but when people oppose you it can be a struggle. You might even lose friends and family over it. When we fear the disapproval or rejection, we easily tempted to avoid confrontation. Jesus taught that truth frees. It is important to say and do what is right and good.
When the Israelites began to enter the promised land, they met resistance and opposition from the people around them. In the Old Testament you can see that the prophets where rejected repeatedly. When John the Baptist started his ministry, the religious leaders and rulers also resisted his word. He also suffered persecution from their hand. Jesus was also met with resistance, rejection and hostility from them as well. They rejected him because their view of religion did not match with the message of Jesus. Their hearts were heartened and could not look to the latter of the law instead of the letter of the law.
They questioned authority plainly because they just cannot see it.
In the Matthew’s Gospel Jesus sees through their trap. He responds with a question they themselves are afraid to answer. They do not answer the question because they could not face the truth. It would undermine their own authority and power. And so often with people in leadership. They want to cling on to their power position. They did not accept John the Baptist as prophet and neither Jesus as Messiah. The coming of God’s kingdom on earth without a doubt leads to conflict. It is a conflict of allegiance to God’s will to my will or the will of the world. God’s justice over the world’s way. How do we respond to Jesus’ claim to be Messiah? Do we submit to his reign? Do we put him above religious and worldly leaders? I hope we all do choose Jesus over all of that. Then Jesus promise will be fulfilled. Namely, that those who seek to live according to God’s truth will find true joy, freedom, and happiness…. here and now and in eternity. Amen.