If you listened carefully to the readings from this weekend you noticed that they are all about being called? God calls Samuel in the middle of the night. On three occasions Samuel does not realize who it is that calls him. Neither does Eli, until the third time. Old Eli was a priest. Yes, they had priests back then! Christians did not invent that ministry! Ancient Judaism had priests long before Jerusalem became a holy city and long before Solomon built the temple and long before the Romans destroyed the Temple. And so, did the non-Jewish pagan religions. Priests offered sacrifices to the gods on behalf of the people at an altar. We stand in a long tradition. The third time Eli realizes it is God that is calling and so he tells the young boy what to do. And Samuel gives himself to God. God’s calling comes in unexpected ways. In ways that we do not recognize as the voice of God. These stories always make me reflect on my own calling into ministry. It is enough to make you stop and consider your own call. For myself it is a calling i don't easily forget. I accompanied someone to the oncology department of a hospital for their medical treatments. It was then that a deacon who served as a volunteer chaplain and whom I knew, came by a brought communion to the patients, prayed with them and encouraged them. Immediately it came in my mind: “that is something I want to do”. It was God calling me through that person. However, I took at least 4 years before I decided to study. Theology to become a chaplain/spiritual counselor. At that point I had no clue in which direction God would lead me. But it was clear to me that God called me to ministry. Before that I did not saw myself as qualified for ministry. But the Bible shows us that God calls people that are willing to be taught be him.
When you say yes to God, he will do the formation part. He forms your character for ministry, with the help from other people of course. If we could summarize the lesson of today's gospel reading, we can say that Jesus has called us by name to be his disciples. It is Jesus who calls us. So, it is Jesus who calls us. What does it mean to be called? The English word comes from the Greek word kaleo and means to command or request to be present, to come. For example, someone is called to testify in court. The Latin word for all is vocare from which we get the word "vocal", as in vocal cords, a part of the body we use to speak. From vocare we also get the word vocation, which means a calling to a particular profession. In the church, we use the word primarily to mean a vocation to religious life, to the priesthood, to the diaconate or to some other ministry. So Jesus calls us into his service. We are ordinary people that are called into his service. We are nothing special. We are simple people, just like his disciples. The disciples were simple fishermen of which there were many near the Sea of Galilee, ordinary people. They did not have a degree. They probably could not even read or write. They lived simple, ordinary lives.
He comes to us exactly where we are.
In today's gospel Philip finds Nathaniel and tells him that has found the Messiah and brings him to Jesus. It shows us that we are called to bring people to Jesus. As Nathaniel is approaching Jesus, Jesus states, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false!” WOW! This is quite a statement coming from God’s son!! Don’t we wish all Jesus is saying that about any of us? Nathaniel is called a man of integrity. However, Jesus' statement caught Nathaniel off guard, in his mind came the, immediate questions. Wait a moment? How do you know what I am like? How can you make such a statement without knowing me? Indeed, Nathaniel comes right out and asks Jesus, "How do you know me?". Jesus' response must have sent shivers down his spine: "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you!" It Flabbergasted Nathaniel again. But why? Because it revealed that Jesus was God! Very pious Jews like Nathaniel practiced a very curious habit; they would pray and study the Scriptures under a fig tree which was the symbol of Israel. Unlike the Pharisees who tried to be seen of men reading and praying they would find secluded places under a fig tree and pray and meditate on God's Word in private ... with no one around or to anyone’s knowledge! No one would have known he was there! Thus, it was clear to Nathaniel what Jesus had just said; only as God could Jesus had seen Nathaniel under that fig tree! Only an Omniscient God could do this or know this, and to have known he was there BEFORE Philip had called him! God sees the ones that are fit for his service. It does require a degree or special qualities. Only a good heart and faithfulness is what counts for God. And if he calls us, he leaves it up to us to say yes. God is not the kind to force us into his service. He calls. He waits. He calls.
Once God calls you it is extremely hard to say no to Him. He is a very persistent God. I can tell you that much! He waits. Some of us hear his voice and answer to his call. If we would describe it in radio terms, we would say that we need to tune in on His frequency to hear his voice. At that point we can hear him calling as he called Samuel, and if we have the courage we can answer: “Speak, Lord, for your servant listens”. Amen.
The baptism of Jesus is a moment of special grace in our story of salvation. Not only did he join us in our state of being, but also joint by the two other persons of the Trinity. The gospel uses the simple phrase that “the heavens were opened”. This is a powerful statement. Today’s gospel is the beginning of Jesus journey. And through that each of us is asked to travel, through our own baptism.
Each of us needs a sense of purpose in our Christian living. When we set out for a journey, we prepare for that journey. We need to make an idea what we need and by what means we travel. The same when we make a spiritual journey. Peter summarized the journey of Jesus’s life. “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” We are invited to make Jesus’s purpose our own.
The sacrament of baptism is always a joyful occasion. There is happiness when a child is welcomed in their family. And there is happiness when a child is welcomed in the Church. In being received into the church family, they become our brothers or sisters in Christ. They become adopted children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit. The joy of the occasion is visible when the parents and godparents come up to the baptismal font. They are proud that their child becomes a child of God through baptism. When the water is poured out on their heads it is a great moment. For the parents and godparents, not always for the child. Sometimes they cry. The child is anointed before and after baptism with special oil, the baptismal shawl is placed around the child and the baptismal candle is lit. The whole occasion is somehow uplifting in a way that is unique to that sacrament. A big decision is being made on their behalf without their knowing anything about it. Just like other decisions are made for them by their parents when they are little. In the Gospel Jesus rebukes his disciples when they prevent children from coming to him. ‘let the children come to me and do not stop them, for too such as these the kingdom of God belongs.’
Parents continue to bring their children to Jesus today whenever they present them for baptism. They become followers of Jesus through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate the feast of the baptism of Jesus. It is a good day to reflect on our own baptism and what it means to us. It is also good to reflect whether we fulfill our Baptismal to become true followers of Jesus. In the way that we follow his guidelines and not human guidelines. For Jesus his baptism was a turning point in his life. It was a day of new beginning, as it should be for us. On that day he began his public ministry during and gave himself to God and people. He did not come to be served but to serve. This is a great reminder for all in ordained ministry. He came to give his life as a ransom for many. As he set out on that journey for all of us, he was confident of the favor of his Father. ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you’. And through our Baptism in Christ, our Heavenly Father speaks these words about us. Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, who descended upon him life a dove. Though Jesus was baptized as an adult, the meaning is the same for all of us, whether we are baptized as a child or adult. It is a day of new beginning for us. On that day we were launched on the great adventure of becoming disciples of Jesus Christ in our own special way. In our Baptism God gives us also the assurance that his favor rests on us. And just like Jesus the Holy Spirit empowers us to fulfill our journey in life. On that day we became a member of Jesus’ family of disciples, the church. It is a joyful moment that contains the power shape our lives in a completely new way. It reveals God’s purpose for our lives. For the rest of our lives, we try to fulfill that what we received on that day of new beginning. We try to follow Jesus on our journey. And just like Jesus fell under the pressure of the cross, so we will fall under the pressure of our own burdens in life. But with His help we will rise up again and continue on our way to our heavenly homeland.
We are baptized as children and confirm that as an adult. As adults we are able to say yes to the Lord with all our heart and mind. It is not until our adult years that we can hear Gods calling as the prophet Isaiah did. ‘O come to the water all you who are thirsty, Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.’ The Lord won’t stop calling us, but it is up to us to hear his voice and answer him: “Yes Lord, here I am”. The word of God will be fulfilled sooner or later. Our response to the Lord’s call, can be slow and take time. But his call remains powerfully creative and will fulfill the purpose he has in mind for us. Amen
Today we find ourselves in the landscape of Matthew, in story where the shepherds and the manger has been gone to the background. It is a story that features some strangers from Persia that are being called “Magi,”. Maybe astronomers, inquirers or what we would call scientists maybe! They followed the light to find the newborn king…the Word incarnate, the logos, “the Christ.” But also, the story of Herod who gets in their way and that of the holy family.
It is typical the story of our world. This is the story of human leadership that lead the nations. It is a story of an increasing darkness and danger. It features the selfishness of those that in power. Especially that of all human tyrants in the person of Herod. For Israel, Herod and his family represents a vasal and failed king. He is a king that complied with the enemy of the Jewish people. You can compare it with the those that complied with the Nazi’s in World War II. No wonder that the Jewish people were looking for the real King to appear. Those familiar with the biblical narrative will recognizing in Herod all the negative attributes of the tyrants throughout the history of the world. We have names as Stalin, Hitler, oppressive regimes like those in China and Iran. Sadly, enough the list is endless unfortunately. The people in Jesus’s days would recognize the events in Jesus’s life as the history of Israel. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, the City of David, spends time in Egypt, where God rescued the people from slavery.
The last evil and obscure verse we read at the end of today’s Gospel. “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’” Rachel is a reference to one of Jacob’s wives, believed to be buried in Bethlehem; and Ramah was the place of mourning for the Exile. The lectionary gives us this genocide of the innocent in the Christmas season. It should make us think how those in power value human life. Be it in a war, children in poverty or the innocent child in the womb. Matthew offers a subtle distinction which can be easily overlooked. Instead of blaming God for this evil to happen, Matthew refers to an Old Testament prophecy, “then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet.”
A subtle change where Matthew changes the words of the prophecy to take the blame away from God. This evil occurs because of human beings, not because of God. Like it is with so many things in our world, including this terrible virus we are battling. The message Matthew gives suggests that not God summons evil to accomplish divine purposes, but that the scripture knows the tragic human destruction throughout history. But nevertheless, not even this evil as cold and merciless as the murder of innocent children, can destroy God’s ability to save.” We ought to join Rachel, who represents everyone, who mourns the loss of children to such a tyranny. Because of that the Son of God, the Light and Life of the world, is sent into exile. The terrible rage of Herod proves his helplessness, in the light of tyrants like Herod past, present and future. The child survives, returns, and lives on to this day! We also learn also about the Light in its unending battle to transform darkness into Light. The Light cannot be destroyed, but it can be forced to withdraw for a while. The light can be shut out by darkness. In our times we are surrounded by darkness in many ways. There are many Herod’s, great and small, in our days as well. But this darkness is not only outside of us but also within us. We must also contend with the Herod in our own souls. We are also capable of shutting the Light out that lives inside of us and cannot see the lights in others.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes it in the words, “Christ lives in me.” Mystics throughout history have referred to that light inside of us. All of them agree that this light appears by grace. It has a divine origin and is given to us by our Creator God. At Christmas we are to celebrate this coming of the Light. It is not just a nice narrative, but a calling as well. We are called to let this light being born within each one of us. The Christ we promise in our baptism to seek and serve. It is our duty as Christians to love as Jesus loved and love our neighbor as ourselves. The Holy Innocents, the victims of Herod’s holocaust, died for the Light of the world, Jesus Christ. Of course, they were not aware of that. They were the first martyrs of our faith who were mourned over by their parents. And you can imagine that these parents must have asked themselves: “why, why, why”. This Second Sunday of Christmas means to ask us, whether we will keep the children alive. Will we allow the light to be born inside of us? Will we let Christ come close to us and not shut him out as some kind of little Herod? Can we join with those Holy Innocents to bear witness against the Herod’s of our own time?
Let us pray that the eyes of our soul, or of “our heart”, as Paul calls it be opened so that we can regain new hope and bring that hope to the world. May the prayers from those that went before us and of all the innocent children come alive in us this day. And may those prayers encourage us to fight for justice and oppose the Herod’s of this world. Amen.
Since it is a New Year, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful New Year? I pray that the Lord Jesus may enrich your lives during the New Year with an abundance of Divine blessings. Hopefully it is gonna be a healthy New Year too. And we speak out the hope that we can leave the pandemic behind us and go back to normal.
The Church also observes the 53rd World Day of Peace on this day and invites us to pray specially for lasting peace in the world throughout the New Year. Today’s first reading gives us the beautiful Divine blessing from the book of Numbers for the New Year. Today’s Gospel describes how the shepherds spread to all their neighbors the Good News surrounding the birth of Jesus which the angel had revealed to them, and how Mary and likely Joseph as well, treasured “all these things” in her heart. The Gospel also tells us that on the day of his circumcision, the Child was given the name Jesus that had been chosen by God Himself. That is why we, Anglicans, celebrate the feast of the circumcision on this day.
God honored Mary by choosing her to become the mother of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, when He took on human flesh and became man, as stated in the Bible. She made room for the creator God and we are called to do the same. We need to make room in our lives for God. And which day would be better for that then on this first day of the New Year when we traditionally start our New Years resolutions. Let us make the New Year meaningful by living every day as the First Christians live…in love and charity. We have some great examples: Mary, Joseph, the apostles and the Saints. Let us sanctify every day of the New Year. Let us offer every morning, all the activities of the day for God’s glory. We also need to seek Gods guidance and protection always.
“I have a dream’” said Martin Luther King, Jr. We should all have a noble plan of action (dream a noble dream), for every day in the New Year. We need to remember the proverb: “Cherish your yesterdays, dream your tomorrows, but live your today.” We must be always engaged, doing good for others and loving the men and women we encounter in daily life, for they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. This becomes easier when we make God the center of our life and realize His presence in all the people around us. Let us light a candle instead of blaming the darkness around us. Former Secretary General of the United Nations left us his beautiful spiritual diary “waymarks”. He wrote: “Lord, for all that has been, Thanks! For all that will be, Yes!”– and this as well: “Give me a pure heart that I may see Thee, A humble heart that I may hear thee, A heart of love that I may serve Thee, A heart of Faith that I may abide in Thee.”
We can start daily with a short prayer: “Good morning to you Lord and thank you for giving me another day. Grant me your Holy Spirit to do the things you want me to do”. We transform our daily work into prayer by offering it to God early in the morning. Have a Happy New Year and may we offer it to our Heavenly Father. Amen
Today we celebrate the First Sunday after Christmas. In the Catholic tradition this day is traditionally the day that the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrates. And today is also the feast of the St. John, the evangelist. So, it is very appropriate that today we hear the beautiful opening from his Gospel. If you are familiar with theater then you know it gradually builds up the tension with light, words and the whole scenery that makes it a great experience. There are similarities with the Christmas story, when you think about it. In the Christmas narrative it is also gradually build up, just like in a theater. In a way we can compare it with the stage for Christmas.
And as you know Christmas is not over yet….it is just beginning. We started the 12 days of Christmas which started on Christmas day and ends on the feast of Epiphany of the Lord. On Christmas we heard once again the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem and the whole scenery that surrounds the birth of Christ. God came to us as a helpless baby in a manger. Today we learn who this child really is: “the word of God”. We learn that this child is the Word who “was with God” and “was God”. This word participated in the creation of “all things”. When John writes the introduction of his Gospel, he is referring to this Word or Logos in Greek. Logos means in classical Greek both "reason" and "word." Maybe "thought" is the best equivalent for the Greek term. Because it indicates, on the one hand, the faculty of reason, on the other hand, the thought outwardly expressed through language. The two ideas thought and speech, are absolutely blended in the term logos. In both philosophy and Scripture, these concepts of thought and its outward expression are connected.
The concept of the Logos has had a crucial and far-reaching influence upon philosophical and Christian thought. The term embodies the unfolding idea of man's conception of God. Understanding the relationship of the Deity to the world has been the goal of all religious philosophy. The Greek word logos has been used with a certain degree of agreement by different thinkers. In that way it expresses and defines the nature and form of God's revelation. Logos is broadly defined as the Word of God, or principle of divine reason and creative order. In the Gospel of John this idea relates to the second person of the Trinity incarnate in Jesus Christ. The “Word” or Logos is a reference to Jesus Christ.
A word is the visible expression of a thought. In John’s gospel, Jesus is the very thought of God in human form. This baby is the word made flesh. As we know, John’s gospel contains none of the traditional stories associated with Christmas. No angels, no shepherds, no Magi. Neither Mary nor Joseph appears. John’s gospel goes directly to Jesus himself and his identity. The Divine word comes to us in that baby the manger. John’s gospel echoes the book of Genesis. “In the beginning God, in the beginning was the Word….” John intentionally places the opening of his Gospel along-side the opening words in the book of Genesis. In the first words of beginnings in Genesis shows us creation unfolding from Gods hands. In the Gospel of John, these new words signify a new creation emerging from the same source, the same hands. The Word present at creation is the Word now become flesh to live among us. John makes it clear that this word was not only with God. NO! This word is God! In Jesus of Nazareth, God has come to share in our humanity.
Until this point in history God was merely above the human experience. God created the universe and human life and spoken to Israel through law and prophets. God was always transcendent and imminent in the Ark of the Covenant. After the Ark got lost it seems that God became silent. But now there is a change coming. The Ark and the word of God is back in Jesus, through Mary. She is seen as the new Ark of the Covenant because she carries him who is called the word of God. That Word has come to make God known and to bring life to all people by revealing God. In Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God is made known. God broke the silence, and this gives renewed hope to all who find themselves in places of silence, the silence of illness, loneliness, rejection and excluded from the margins of society. The word is there for the people that live under oppression. The church is called to be a voice of hope in the world. She is called to serve among those who experience alienation and hopelessness. We need to look at the world through the eyes of our Savior. He loved the world so much that he wanted to become a part of it. Our calling is to bring the joy of Christmas into the lives of those who know no joy. We ought to be God’s messengers of Good News. We are heralds of good news to a world that lives in darkness.
We need to bring good news to the poor, the hungry, the elderly, the infirm, the lonely, the sick, the mentally disabled, the mentally sick, and the dying. These people can teach us the true meaning of Christmas. Through them we can see the child of the manger going to the cross and he is begging us to carry that cross with him. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulder and we should help him. We must lead the world from Christmas to Good Friday into the light of Easter. The eternal word became flesh for all of us. Across the centuries many have tried to become God, but only once did God become a man. This miracle ends the separation of humanity and God. God entered humanity so we could enter a new relationship and intimacy with God. Jesus has come to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us and to suffer all of life with us. He makes us know the true God, who is our refuge, our stronghold, our wisdom and help always. God loves us regardless of where we are in life.
In this Christmas time we need to truly receive the Word of God into our lives. We should give God the chance for his word to transform us into the people he wants us to be. God wants to transform us into compassionate, caring and loving people. We must allow him to take all our sorrows and pains away and to turn them into joy. We are invited today to open our hearts and lives to the greatest gift of Christmas – the gift of the child in the manger who Jesus, the word made flesh. He is the true reason for the season. May we find true joy in Jesus Christ our Lord this Christmas season. Amen.
On this night we hear traditionally the great words of the prophet Isaiah, giving the Jewish people a message of hope. He predicted the coming Messiah about 700 years before Jesus. The prophet Malachi prophesied the coming Messiah about 500 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The Book of Malachi, also called The Prophecy of Malachias. It is the last of the 12 Old Testament books that are called the Minor Prophets in the Jewish Canon. The author is unknown, but the name given to it is likely a translation of the Hebrew word meaning “my messenger.” So, the people waited quit a time for the Messiah to arrive. When he arrived some of the people could not believe in him as we know from Jesus’s life. It were dark times, in Jesus’s days, under the cruel and oppressive rule of the Romans. Once again, the Jewish people had to submit to a foreign ruler as so often in history. We also live in dark times for several reasons. But not in the last place with this worldwide Pandemic going on. We need hope too! The Jewish people kept on believing in Gods promise and so should we. We should not give up but be hopeful. There is light on the horizon. God is always with his people. But things happen in his timing and not in ours.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned”. The Star of Bethlehem shines toward that great light being born Jesus Christ. And since this week we know a little what the signs that the Magi must have seen. We saw that beautiful conjunction of planets. A wonderful sign of hope in these dark days. Quite the same as the people in the days of Jesus. God would bring new hope to the world. He brought Jesus to give people new hope. We also live-in darkness, in a certain way. Many things are troubling us: financial troubles, sickness and death from our loved one, worrying about our children or grandchildren and so on, and not in the last place that worldwide pandemic. We want this pandemic to be over with and we want it to be over with now. Though we tend to get impatient, we must hold on and keep our faith. Because there are signs of hope. There is light on the horizon in the form of the vaccine. That gives us hope that we can leave the worst of Pandemic behind us. And hopefully things can get back to normal.
There is always hope and if you have no hope you do not know what lies beyond hope. This night we get new hope through Joseph and Mary, simple people from the simple town of Nazareth. Tonight, we hear once again the story of their journey to Bethlehem. You might know that there were two Bethlehem’s in Jesus’s day. One close to Jerusalem and one close to Nazareth (not too far of a walk). But for the narrative on this night, it does not really matter. Joseph and Mary were traveling to Bethlehem. We hear that they arrive but that there is no place in the Inn and so Jesus is born in a manger. The word manger comes from the Old French mangier and from the Italian “mongiare” (both means to eat). It also derives from the Latin mandere (meaning "to chew"). In the gospel it has not only a physical meaning but also a spiritual one. Here is the child that would become the bread of life. Luke tells us that Jesus was laid in a manger. In tradition it has been told that Jesus was born in a was a stable. But it is also likely that it refers to the part of the house that was used to keep the animals. Because Luke names the manger and Matthew names the house (that the Magi entered). So, it could be a part of the house where the animals are kept. Anyway, whatever the case, Jesus was laid in a manger.
When the Gospel says that there was no place in the inn, we must understand the culture of the time. Most likely Joseph had family in Bethlehem and under normal circumstances they would be able to stay in the guest room. But this night is far from normal. There was room, but not for Joseph and Mary. She was about to give birth to a baby and according to the book of Leviticus that would make her unclean. If they let them in, they all become unclean, according to the customs of the time. Sounds weird in our ears but it is what it was back then. So, they must stay in the room where normally the animals are kept. Jesus is born in a very humble and simple way. Joseph and Mary, simple people from a simple town, would always been remembered because of this special birth and the sacrifice they made. This narrative shows us that God works through human beings and he is always wanting to cooperate with us human beings. However, God will never interfere without our consent. We have a free will and within that realm we need to say yes to him with all our being. God can still do great things for us, but we must let him do it. If we want him to open doors for us, we need to let go of the doorknob. He works through other human beings. In this case through Mary and Joseph. In our world those that care for others: Our parents, our grandparents, friends, the doctors, the nurses, scientists, the social workers, the first responders, the spiritual care takers and so many others. And we are incredibly grateful for all these wonderful people.
We on our part should take courage and not be fearful. Fear is a bad adviser. We should cautious but not fearful. God can take away our fears if we put our trust in Him. God knows our struggles and fears. He wanted to be one with us. That is why he was born in that manger in Bethlehem. He was born for those that live in the margins of society, the sick, the disabled, the homeless, the elderly and many others. The Jewish people kept holding on to Gods promise. A promised that was fulfilled in Jesus’s birth. We celebrate that a child is born to us. This helpless child will grow up and will be a great light to people in his time. He showed the image of God but still went through the same experiences as all of us. Being loved, rejected, disappointed and so on. But a child that is Gods beloved Son. And in him we became Gods beloved children. The light of Christ came into the world. God identified with humanity, by taking the image of a man. He came down from heaven and became one of us. He became the light of the world. And today we are called to bring light bringers as well. We hear the angel of the Lord appearing to the shepherds. When that happens, the brightness of the Lord shone round them.
We too must listen in the stillness of our hearts. Like the shepherds, we must hasten and look for the Christ child. Even if we are surrounded by darkness, the light of God will shine for us. On our part we need to bring this light to the world. We need to bring Christ to the world. We are his hands, feet, ears and mouth in the world. We must proclaim the Gospel of Christ in word and deed. Today, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, we pray that Christ may born within us and enlighten the world. In the Spirit of the Child of Bethlehem, I wish you a Merry Christmas! 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.
In the readings of this Sunday, it is all about hope and joy. That is why the Church calls it Sunday Gaudete. The words comes from the Introit for Gaudete Sunday, which is taken from Phillipians 4:4-5: Gaudete in Domino semper, or "rejoice in the Lord always." On Gaudete Sunday, having passed the midpoint of Advent, the Church lightens the mood a little, and the priest may wear rose vestments. The change in color provides worshippers with encouragement to continue their spiritual preparation for Christmas.
The readings also shine out that joy and hope. It refers to Israel as a joyful bride coming to the bridegroom for the oriental wedding. St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, continues this theme of hope and joy, in his vision of the Early Christian Communities. In St. John’s Gospel we find that joy as well, but it is a responsible joy, when a person heeds to the call that God has for his or her life. Isaiah tells us that the anointed brings good news to the oppressed. This is what Jesus takes to himself and his purpose in life. This should be the case in every Christian as matter a fact. We that are in Christ need to share in that responsibility as well. We are called today for that spiritual joy in which we are waiting for the coming of the Lord. In that way we enter into communion with the creator God. But it also should show the willingness to be co-workers for the kingdom of God. We need to realize the goals that God has for the world. In these challenging times we need more than ever be Gods hands and feet, ears and lips, in the world.
We need also be joyful for the blessings that God bestowed on us. There are many examples of how God worked and still works in our lives. In this time of Advent, we are called to help those in need. If we do so we truly share in mission of Christ. Just like Jesus did, we too must show our commitment to people that live on the margins of society. We should not be afraid of the pain and suffering of the people on the margins but come through and touch them with the “Good News” of Christ’s Gospel. Authentic joy is not only to be found in our personal life but also in our care for our neglected neighbors. The two can go hand in hand with our own lifestyle. This is the commission for everyone that builds their life on Jesus. Just like a child we need to seek for answers that really matter for the rest of our lives. We will never possess the total truth, but it is a lifelong quest. The tells us God is truth — and God always transcends our small lives. We will never being able to grasp God fully with our hearts and minds. But still, we have to keep on searching for that highest goal. It brings us closer to God and others.
We have to keep asking ourselves Who and what drives us in our lives and how we position ourselves in front of that. We need to ask ourselves about our own identity and keep on reaching higher. The religious authorities ask John about his identity and why he does what he does. He is clear who he is not, namely the Christ. He did not claim any titles for himself or put himself in a position that was not his. He was humble and referred to the coming Christ. Later on, in the same Gospel he will refer to himself as “friend of the bridegroom” who rejoices when hearing the bridegroom’s voice. Today John himself is a very important voice. Namely, the voice crying in the wilderness. He is the preparer of the way of the Lord. His job was to open people’s eyes to the person standing among them. If people ask us about who we are, we always need to refer to the One that transcends us. What people say about us is not important. What God says about us is much more important. John the Baptist can be of great help to us. He articulates for us who each one of us is in the eyes of God. He calls us to be who God is calling us to be. We are preparers of the way as well. We are not the light. We know there is much darkness inside of us that needs to be overcome. However, like John, we are a witness to the Light which is Christ the Lord. Even though not perfect, we are, called to be a witness to Christ.
John the Baptist says:’ “there stands among you, the one who is coming after me and i am not worthy to untie his sandals.” Jesus Christ stands among us but is unknown to many. We need to do more to make him know to people, through our own lives. We need to be a witness of the “light that shines in the darkness. John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness. He invited people into a relationship with God and that is what we need to do. We need to spread faith in Christ, both in word and deed. We need to be the medium through which God can communicate to this broken world. When we realize our calling to be witnesses to the light, it changes our own lives as well. Advent is a good time to reclaim our true identity and be a witness to the light of Christ. Only in that way Jesus can be born again….in the manger of our hearts. Amen
Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent and we are called to prepare the way of the Lord. Our bishop referred in his pastoral letter for Advent that we need to prepare the way of the Lord, especially in these challenging times with a world wide pandemic going on and all the restrictions that come with it. Just like John the Baptist does in today’s Gospel reading as predicted in the prophesy of Isaiah in the first reading. He prepared the minds of people for the age of the Messiah. He was the herald of the good news and points out to the coming of Christ: “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the holy spirit”. Jesus found his first disciples among the disciples of John the Baptist. John taught the value of self-control and of prayer. He teached them to listen to listen to that quiet inner voice within their hearts….Gods voice.
The high point of John’s short ministry was baptizing Jesus an pointing out to him. He encouraged his own followers to join the Jesus movement, which some of them did. It was through the Baptist that Andrew and his brother Peter, and Philip and Nathanael became apostles. We are also called to be like the Baptist. Each one of us can help others to come to Christ. If we are committed we can bring others to faith. But this works only if we lead by example. There is no better way of preaching the Gospel than through the example we set. We probably know the phrase: Preach the Gospel, and Since It's Necessary, Use Words. I love that phrase that is contributed to Francis of Assisi. In all kinds of way we have the possibility to influence others in their journey of faith.The words that we speak and the actions that we do shows other people how people of faith live their lives. We can help others to share our values. If we don’t live the Gospel we confirm what their suspected: that this world is a selfish place!
We need to show the world that being people of faith is visible in the way we are towards other. To fulfill the commission of Jesus “love one another, as I have loved you” and “go and preach the Gospel to all creation”. In practical sense: “feed the hungry, clothe the naked” and so forth. Bring people to Christ and maybe it brings some to ordained ministry. The future of our church depends on it. If enough people open their hearts to God’s work, like John the Baptist and the first disciples, then news ways will be found to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Isaiah speaks about power of the Lord in a different way as we are used to in this world. God is like a shepherd feeding his flock. He gathers them in his arms and gently leads them. This is a very tender power, a life-force of faithful and enduring love, a love that gathers and nurtures and reassures. This is the God whom John the Baptist invites us to rediscover this Advent.
It is the God that comes to us in Jesus Christ. John the Baptist points to him as “he that is mightier than i”. Jesus is the powerful one, in the sense that Isaiah defines power. He gives full expression to God’s tender love. He is the “Pastor Bonus”, the Good Shepherd. He that brings healing to the broken, strength to the weak and rest to the weary. It is this grown up Jesus, the risen Lord, coming to us in that baby in the manger, that we celebrate with Christmas. John the Baptist calls us this Advent to prepare the way for that Jesus. The Good Shepherd in whom mercy and faithfulness have met, justice and peace have embraced, as the psalms tell us. This is the God One we seek this Advent, this is the One the world needs more than ever. Only he can give a greater depth to all our other encounters and only his kingdom will ultimately create a better world. Amen.
This weekend as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, the Church starts the new liturgical year B. In that way it is appropriate to wish you all a Happy New Church year. We start the season of Advent in which we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord with Christmas. We looking forward to the coming of Jesus in our world in his first coming but also in his second coming. In a very special way he is coming to us every week in the Holy Eucharist. Advent means literally: arriving, coming or emerging. And this world is eager for the arriving of a Lord. A world that is suffering from a pandemic, a world that is dark, corruption around us, famines, war and hate. We are truly in need of a savior.
One of the themes that we can start our preparation with is found in today's first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Namely, that we have to return to God, confess our sins and hope for better days. And hope is what the world needs, always in these dark days before Christmas but especially this year as the whole world suffers from Covid 19 and it's restrictions. We need hope that there will be better days ahead of us. That we can return to normal soon again. Isaiah is eager for God to come down, as we are:. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down….to make your name known to your adversaries”. In a way that is always the case. Gods adversaries is everything that goes against his plans and that includes our own shortcomings. Our shortcomings make us like an polluted garment, Isaiah tells us. And in the Gospel Jesus warns us against to walk too much inline with worldly things and it's rulers, for the end is coming sooner than we expect. Nothing will last forever and we need to be ready.
Everything that is contrary on God is his adversary and will disappear eventually. And that includes human made systems and leadership. Therefore we need not to put our trust in “human leadership”, that failed hopelessly throughout the ages, and keeps on doing so. We need to trust in God almighty only. At the end He is the only One that you can truly rely on. He will never leave or forsake you. If your complacent with the world you will lose at the end. We need to prepare for Gods coming in the flesh and submit to his plans.
Advent invites reassessment of where our ways are leading us. This reminds us that the world as we know it will one day end. When that is we don't know but we know that every individual will pass on someday. That might be scary but on the positive note we know that Jesus prepares a place for us. And But the positive side of this is that a new Spring day is dawning over the horizon, when Christ will come again into our lives with power to save us.
All of us travel once in a while. And not matter which form of travel you use to your destination, people that await you are eager for your coming. And if everything is well you as well. There is often excitement, ready with the broad smile of greeting to embrace the returning traveller. So looking for someone’s coming goes both ways. I believe the same it is the same with Jesus. We too wait for the Lord’s coming with eagerness, because we long for his presence…and Jesus is eager for our presence.
The waiting is important because, during our life’s pilgrimage, we are incomplete. As Augustine once said, “You have made us for Yourself, o Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” At some deep level of our personhood we are in need, a need that only God can fill. This is a time to open our hearts and invite the Lord to bring us to completion. We begin Advent, yearning for his coming. Today’s first reading puts this yearning into an image, that “We have all withered like leaves… blown by the wind.” The whirling, withered leaves of autumn are a familiar scene these past few weeks.
Isaiah proposes the dead leaves as symbols of all that is dried up and withered in our lives. But he also calls us to look for a better day. God is still in charge of creation, and our personal lives are under his loving care. We pray this Advent, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and make our own the words of the psalm, “Visit this vine and protect it, the vine your right hand has chosen.” It is a central plank of our faith that the Lord never abandons His people.
When people are waiting for their loved ones to arrive from travelling abroad it is an alert, active waiting – keeping an eye on the time. In today’s gospel Jesus says, “Be on your guard, stay awake.” He wants us to focus on our task here and now. We are to grow more mature in our relationship with others and with him, paying attention to prayer, and living with his message in our hearts. That’s what waiting for him should be like. And while we wait, we can enjoy his gifts, as promised.