An Inconvenient Miracle

This last week before Christmas is always a hectic one.  There’s shopping to be done, cards to be sent, cookies to be baked and delivered, and the relatives to be picked up from the airport.  It’s great seeing our loved ones for this wonderful holiday.  Sharing Christmas with friends and family is one of God’s great blessings.  But anyone who has flown during Christmas week knows how frustrating it can sometimes be.  You need to pray for patience—and lots of it.  There will be long lines at the ticket counter and at the TSA checkpoint.  There could be delays in boarding and lengthy waits to take off.  And there might be other, more unexpected interruptions in our well-made plans as well.  For example, several years ago a young man was on his way home for Christmas.  Flying from Chicago to Miami, he had a layover in–where else?—Atlanta.  As he sat in a coffee shop eating a sandwich and waiting for his flight, a young woman came out of the ladies’ room carrying a tiny baby in her arms.  She walked up to him and asked, “Would you hold my baby for me?  I left my purse in the restroom.”  Surprised by her trust, he did as she asked.  But instead of retracing her steps to the bathroom, she darted out into the holiday-packed concourse and was immediately lost in the crowd.  The young man couldn’t believe his eyes.  He rushed out into the mass of people, calling after her but there was no sight of her anywhere.  Now what should he do?  Put the baby down and run?  He took a few deep breaths, looked down at the tiny face peering back at him from the blankets and went back inside the coffee shop.  The manager called the airport police and in a little while they’d found the baby’s real mother.  You see, the woman who’d left him holding the baby wasn’t the mother at all.  She’d snatched the child from the real mother less than an hour before.  Maybe it was to satisfy some motherly urge to hold a child.  Maybe it was something else.  No one really knows.  But we do know that the young man breathed a huge sigh of relief when the real mother came to claim her child.  After all, what was he going to do with a baby?

In a way, each one of us is in the same situation as the young man.  Each Christmas, God Himself walks up to us and asks, “Would you hold My baby for Me, please?”  And then He thrusts the Christ Child into our arms.  And we’re left with the question “What am I doing to do with this baby?”  How can we hold Him?  With these poor hands?  With these weak arms?  Against our own sinful heart?”  Exactly.  Just as the Child was born into the humble manger in Bethlehem, He finds His home in our own humble embrace.  That’s why He came into the world—to feel our arms around Him, to find a home in our hearts–o be with us.  We call Him “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.”  So what are we to do with this Baby?  But maybe I’ve gotten the question wrong.  Maybe it’s not about us at all.  Maybe it’s all about Him and what He will do with us, if we only allow Him.  After all, who can help but be transformed when holding a baby?  So imagine for a few moments, in the middle of this hectic week, that you are holding the Christ Child in your arms right now.  Feel His warmth against your heart.  Smell the top of His tiny head–that delicious baby smell that they all share.  Listen to His breathing, His gurgles and coos.  Now, look at Him.  Look into His face.  Small.  Perfect.  Look into His eyes.  Brown and blinking and looking back at you.  Seeing you as no one else could see you.  Loving you as no one else can love you.  The Christ Child came to save the world, but right now, at this moment, in your arms, He is saving you.  And that is the dearest Christmas gift of all.

“Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.” 

—2 Corinthians 9:15

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The King Is Coming

The King is coming.  We need to be ready for Him.  But there are so many problems that need our attention.  Our country seems more divided than ever.  Race relations are tense and don’t seem to be getting any better.  There’s a growing wave of sexual harassment in politics, media, and entertainment with no end in sight.  Our government doesn’t seem to be able to get much done these days.  We’re still sending our military men and women to wars overseas and, at home, our police officers are targets of violence.  Terrorists of all kinds seek out innocent victims in schools, churches, shopping malls, and on our public streets.  So many problems wherever you look.

The King is coming.  We need to be ready for Him.  There would be so many more of us here to greet Him, but we’ve allowed abortion to claim almost 60 million lives in America since 1973.  Our culture sees the gift of life as an inconvenience that can be “fixed” by visiting a clinic for a “procedure.”  Yet the wounds of this loss plague families for a lifetime.  Abortion deadens our hearts to all kinds of suffering and abuse.  When we don’t protect the most innocent and helpless among us, we shouldn’t be surprised by all the other abuse and violence in our country.

The King is coming.  We need to be ready for Him.  The Church that He left us for us is in need of repair.  Fewer people fill the pews and many of our young people no longer believe in faith of any kind.  There are thousands of denominations with new ones emerging and older ones dying off.  Scandals plague His holy places and disillusion the faithful.  Confusion and contradiction in teaching the Gospel sows more discontent and discouragement.

The King is coming.  We need to be ready for Him.  So many of us are imprisoned—some in jails, while many more are locked up by addictions.  Drugs and alcohol put millions behind bars and are the sentences served by their families, too.  How many children are punished by their parent’s addictions and are forced to live in poverty and uncertainty while one or both of their parents are absent?  Communities are plagued with the crime that drugs bring with them.  Our resources go to building more prisons while treatment centers disappear.

The King is coming.  We need to be ready for Him.  The elderly among us are often lonely and isolated as families move around our country.  They can struggle financially, but even more, they can struggle with feelings of being forgotten.  Many live in nursing homes and receive few visitors.  With loneliness comes depression and worsening physical health.  It’s no wonder that suicide is a growing problem among elderly people who have found loneliness too hard to bear.

The King is coming.  We need to be ready for Him.  How we speak with one another reveals a lot.  It shows our respect (or disrespect) for other people.  It reveals our prejudices.  It displays our wisdom (or ignorance).  It uncovers our ability to discuss issues and opinions that differ from our own.  Unfortunately these days, many of us are quick to disrespect others, to yell at them, or even to become violent, just because of someone else’s speech.  We seem to have lost the ability to listen, to question, and to dialogue with others.  This leaves us without a way to come together for understanding and compromise.  We’re just making noise, and becoming impoverished as a country.

The King is coming.  We need to be ready for Him.  He came to us first as a helpless baby, born in poverty, to a young couple just beginning their lives together.  He’ll come again as the King of Kings, at the end of time.  Yet He also comes to us each day, into hearts who embrace Him and seek Him out.  Advent is a time of anticipating His return, and remembering His birth.  It’s also a time in which each one of us is called to examine our lives and to ask the King what we can do to make the world ready for Him.  What can I do to prepare a way for Him?  How can I be a light in the darkness?  How can I be ready for the King?

When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace, and harmony.”

                       —–Pope Pius XI

                                (1857-1939)

Waiting

It’s the first week of Advent.  The first candle on the wreath is glowing with the hope of Christmas. Folks are busy with their shopping and decorating and baking.  It seems like it was just Halloween and now everywhere you look it’s Christmas already.  But Advent comes first, and it invites us to slow down and reflect on what Christmas means.  Advent says:  slow down, don’t rush, remember the reason for all the celebrating.  It’s hard for us to do that.  The world doesn’t want us to remember the meaning of Christmas.  It wants us to forget the salvation story.  The world craves busy-ness, not our silence, not our reflection.  And so, in her wisdom, the Church offers us Advent as a path away from the world, and deeply into the story of the Holy Family.

Our Lord could have saved us in any way that He wished, using any means, at any time in history.  He chose to make a covenant with Abraham and to foretell the Messiah through His prophets.  In the fullness of time, a little girl was born.  She grew in holiness and God chose her to bear His Son.  When she was greeted by Gabriel, she said, “Yes,” to God’s plan. Her husband Joseph joined in her faith and they began to make a home and a family for their Savior.  They waited, and they prayed, and they lived in hope.

And that’s where we find ourselves this week.  We can choose to become immersed in the story of our salvation, or we can choose to be distracted by the noise of the world around us.  Looking at Mary and Joseph as they journey through that first Advent can teach us a great deal.  From the moment the angel first appeared to Mary to announce to her the coming birth of Jesus, she knew that God was truly in control of everything.  His plan was unfolding in her life just as it had been planned and prophesied for ages.  Joseph was given a dream which revealed to the truth to Him, as well.  Both of them became willing cooperators with God.  When we give our lives to God and embrace His plan for us, we allow ourselves to be used for His great purpose.

Joseph and Mary learned how to wait.  Any expectant couple knows how this feels.  You realize you’re no longer in control of things and sometimes it’s very frustrating.  But it’s a very valuable lesson to learn — not to live in the future, but to savor each moment of the present and leave tomorrow up to God.  Waiting allows us to remember that every second is a gift from Him.  We can choose to be impatient, or we can choose to be grateful for the time we’ve been given.  Are we using our time to help others, to give glory to God, to become more like Jesus?  Or are we living only for ourselves?

Advent opens our hearts to the infinite.  The Incarnation tears the fabric of time as God enters history to become a human infant.  Our Creator becomes one of us in everything but sin.  God reveals His immense love for us by becoming a child.  He is a member of our human family, as helpless and dependent as any other infant.  God reveals to Joseph and Mary the grandeur of His nature in the tiny, grasping fingers of a baby.  The salvation of the world allows Himself to be loved as an infant is loved.

As we wait for His birth, we learn to think of time differently.  We see how eternity can become a baby.  We recall how the people of God waited for their salvation for generations.  Yet when the King arrived, He was a helpless baby, not a warrior or a political leader.  We learn again and again that we are not in control of God’s plan for our lives.  We see the unexpected at every turn.  We know that our waiting is part of that plan, no matter what will happen next.  We have the hope of hopes coming soon as the Savior of us all.  And so, in these weeks, we wait with Mary and Joseph, trusting in the unfolding plan of God and treasuring every moment as a gift.  We think about that little family, so long ago, and we pray to be more like them.  We invite the Lord to calm the noise of the world around us during this busy season and to help us remember how to wait, and to hope in Him.

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes…and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”

             —–Dietrich Bonhoeffer