by Jerry Webber
Bella Vista, AR, USA

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Day - December 25

Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Today on Christmas, I’ll share with you Thomas Merton’s words. In Seasons of Celebration, he writes about the birth of Christ. Merton is particularly moved by Christ as light, and our human need not only to receive the light within us, but more, to allow the light to shine through us. This is what Merton says:

Christ is born. He is born to us. And, he is born today. For Christmas is not merely a day like every other day. It is a day made holy and special by a sacred mystery. It is not merely another day in the weary round of time. Today, eternity enters into time and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity. Today, Christ, the Eternal Word of the Father, who was in the beginning with the Father, in whom all things were made, by whom all things consist, enters into the world which he created in order to reclaim souls who have lost their identity. Therefore, the Church exults as the angels come down to announce not merely an old thing that happened long ago, but a new thing that happens today. For, today, God the Father makes all things new, in his Divine Son, our Redeemer, according to his words: Ecce nova facio omnia. . . .

At Christmas, more than ever, it is fitting to remember that we have no other light but Christ, who is born to us today. Let us reflect that he came down from heaven to be our light, and our life. He came, as he himself assures us, to be our way, by which we may return to the Father. Christ gives us light today to know him, in the Father and ourselves in him, so that thus knowing and possessing Christ, we may have life everlasting with him in the Father. . . .

Having realized, once again, who it is that comes to us, and having remembered that he alone is our light, let us open our eyes to the rising Sun, let us hasten to receive him and let us come together to celebrate the great mystery of charity which is the sacrament of our salvation and of our union in Christ. Let us receive Christ that we may in all truth be “light in the Lord” and that Christ may shine not only to us, but through us, and that we may all burn together in the sweet light of his presence in the world: I mean his presence in us, for we are his Body and his Holy Church. . . .

Christ, light of light, is born today, and since he is born to us, he is born in us as light and therefore we who believe are born today to new light. That is to say, our souls are born to new life and new grace by receiving him who is the Truth. For Christ, invisible in his own nature, has become visible in our nature. What else can this mean, except that first he has become visible as a man and second he has become visible in his Church? He wills to be visible in us, to live in us, and save us through his secret action in our own hearts and the hearts of our neighbors. So, we must receive the light of the newborn Savior by faith, in order to manifest it by our witness in common praise and by the works of our charity towards one another.

[Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration, pp. 102-105.]

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve - December 24, 2019

Luke 1:67-79

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn[a] of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

• Luke introduces this prayer of Zechariah as a “prophecy.” The Church has traditionally called it the “Canticle of Zechariah,” that is, a song. Furthermore, the Church has traditionally prayed these words of Zechariah as the conclusion to the liturgy of morning prayer in the office of daily prayer, where it is called the Benedictus.

• The song is Zechariah’s prayer of praise to God and expression of gratitude for his song John. It is, however, also a fitting prompt for our own prayer.

• Today, on Christmas Eve, find a moment to slow yourself from all the things that are tugging at you for your attention . . . the food, the family, the last-minute runs to the store . . . and give a few moments of dedicated space to these words. Read the passage two or three times slowly.

• Notice the lines that stir you. You might write them in your journal. Stay with the words or phrases that seem to have the most energy for you. Work with them. Let them speak to you about your life . . . about your hopes . . . about your dashed dreams . . . about your fears . . . about what you hold closest to your heart.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Fourth Monday of Advent - December 23, 2019

Luke 1:57-66

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

• The nativity of Jesus includes the story of the son born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. This miraculous birth – the one who would be known as John the Baptizer – gives much attention to the name of this newborn. His mother and father both independently confirm that his name will be “John.”

• Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in a day when names conferred an identity upon a child and shaped that little human’s destiny. Today, we are much more likely to take names from the world of entertainment or sports.

• How do you feel about the name given you at birth? Does your name fit you? Does it say something about your destiny? Have you researched the meaning of your given name to know its origins?

• I believe we each carry another deeper, more personal, God-given name within us. Part of our life’s spiritual journey is discovering the name God has given to us, for that name reflects our true inner being and say something about the spirit in which we were created to live life. Do you have any sense of what your name might be? What life-experiences confirm your hunch?

• I also believe we only learn this name across a lifetime, as the richness and fullness of who we are in connection with God becomes known to us. This is the work of the spiritual journey, a journey into becoming the people we were created to be.

• And it is helpful to recognize that not only do you have this inner “name,” but that every other person on the planet has a God-given name. How might you honor the God-given name of those around you? Those you meet today? Those you see in the run of life, but don’t know?

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 22, 2019

Matthew 1:18-24

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

An old rabbi’s tale says that a common man, walking down a road one day, encountered a stranger. When the man asked the stranger about his plans, the stranger identified himself as the Messiah and said he was going into the town to reveal himself to the people there. The common man gasped, and begged the Messiah not to show himself. When asked why, the man replied, “The people are not expecting you. No one is ready. And if you appear now, they will all miss you. Wait until the people anticipate your coming.”

One version of the story says that for the rest of his life, the common man hardly slept or ate at all, as he vigilantly kept watch for the Messiah’s appearance.

Constant vigilance is difficult. Living in perpetual readiness is exhausting. I’m wondering today, in the context of Matthew’s Gospel, if God has searched and searched for any persons who anticipate Messiah’s coming . . . and found only two: Joseph and Mary.

Luke reports Mary’s story, while Matthew tells the tale from Joseph’s side . . . visions, dreams, and visitations from heavenly messengers, leading to the birth of the Promised One, Emmanuel, God-with-us. As one of my friends likes to say, the incarnation simply means God con carne – God with meat (flesh) on – living among us.

Joseph and Mary open the door of their lives, willing to receive this gift, willing to bear this promise within themselves, willing to accept the cultural ridicule that would surely come their way. In the context of the rabbi’s tale, these two simple souls are the model of readiness for Messiah’s coming.

• As Christmas Eve and Christmas Day nears, identify within you pockets of hope and anticipation. Where does God’s dream still reside within you?

• Also, identify within you pockets of cynicism, doubt, and pessimism . . . perhaps related to a relationship . . . a larger community issue . . . or a matter of justice in the larger context of the nation or world.

• Bring whatever you notice within you into your prayer today.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Third Saturday of Advent - December 21, 2019

Luke 1:39-45

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

• As Christmas draws near, anticipation builds. The passage is full of “blessing” and promises nearing fulfillment.

• Luke’s Gospel, more than the other Gospels, gives voice to the women in the story. Even in our day, we realize that not everyone in our world is given an opportunity to speak. Not all voices are honored.

• Today, be in touch with your voice. What would you say is your true voice? From where did that voice come? What does that voice sound like when you truly “speak” into the world (whether with your words, actions, life, or stance)?

• Think about some people you know or are around regularly who have little voice or power. What is it like for you to be around those persons? In what ways do you encourage their voice? If you were honest, are there ways in which you stifle their voice?

Friday, December 20, 2019

Third Friday of Advent - December 20, 2019

Isaiah 56:1-8

Thus says the LORD:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.

Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

• God’s salvation is always tied to justice. The readings from Isaiah that have guided us through Advent have consistently dealt with justice, that is, with doing what is right to others.

• In our contemporary, adversarial discourse, many see “justice” as a code-word associated with radical movements or certain political positions. In fact, it is a solidly biblical word, the cornerstone of much Old Testament spirituality. You could easily substitute the word “love” for justice . . . loving God and others with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Justice is the tangible, outward expression of love wherever there is human need. Justice is the actional element of love.

• As you read and meditate on Isaiah 56, consider your own notions about justice. What is justice to you? What negative notions of justice live within you? What positive notions of justice live within you?

• Isaiah – and other Hebrew prophets – leave no doubt that we are all called to love others by living justly. In what tangible ways do you seek justice in your own world? What acts of justice are part of the normal run of your life? Notice what arises to the surface of your awareness, then bring it into your prayer.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Third Thursday of Advent - December 19, 2019

Isaiah 54:1-10

Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
burst into song and shout,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
than the children of her that is married, says the LORD.
Enlarge the site of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
and your descendants will possess the nations
and will settle the desolate towns.

Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the LORD of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the LORD has called you
like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
like the wife of a man’s youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing wrath for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,
says the LORD, your Redeemer.

This is like the days of Noah to me:
Just as I swore that the waters of Noah
would never again go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
and will not rebuke you.
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

• Like so many Advent texts, especially those in Isaiah, this passage proclaims a reversal of life-situations. In the original context, this was likely the impending reversal the Israelites in Babylonian captivity would experience. They have been “barren” and “desolate,” but would soon have opportunity to return to their homeland after generations in exile.

• You and I have experienced reversals that were not of our own doing . . . times when we were empty, barren, or despairing, then something happened to turn life around for us. Suddenly, not of our own making, we had a new future, fresh opportunities, a beginning we could not have conceived.

• Consider your own reversals today. What have you experienced of a God-reversal? If a word or a line in the Isaiah 54 passage stands out to you or represents that reversal for you, pluck it out for yourself. Spend some time in prayer and meditation around the reversals you have experienced.

• Is there a person or group around you at present who desperately await that kind of reversal today? Who do you know – people or groups – in “captivity” or who are in some state of exile? How can you pray for that person or group today? How can you turn your prayer into action on behalf of that person or group today?