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The Advent and Christmas Season are my very favorite times of the year—the longer we can stretch them the better I like it.  Christmas is the time at which we celebrate the birth of Jesus; it is representative of the instant when the One Holy Perfect God entered history as a person like me for the purpose of reconciling me to Him.

Having been in the hospital this week, I was reminded of an important lesson—one that has been creeping up on me over the past several years: Christmas in NOT the end but the beginning.  So many people rush to throw the tree out on December 26 in preparation for the new year.  Not me.  Christmas is the beginning; it is a time of renewal and joy.

How liberating.  Not only to assure myself of my relationship with the living God but also to free myself of the dastardly deadline.  I’ve always known it is okay to bake cookies in January, but limited stamina has made me take a good solid stare at whether or not I act in accordance with my stated beliefs. It is one thing to know that I do not have to be superwoman and quite another to say, “We’ll be fine, if I don’t bake everything we had last year” and then NOT bake.  Yes, our family will eat lasagna on Christmas Eve after opening our gifts.

Christmas is about family and friends; it is Jesus’ birthday party.

Now when I was a child—and I believe Christmas is most easily understood through the eyes of a child—my parents instituted a tradition in which each birthday child (my sister, my brother, or I) gave a small token gift to the other two.  The purpose of sharing one’s birthday was to head off jealousy.  It worked.  My siblings and I are most generous with one another.  To me, the gifts under our tree, and there are quite a few, are a very human way of sharing Jesus birthday.  It is not about how much we spend or don’t spend; it is about giving things people actually want or will like.

The Advent and Christmas Season is filled with symbols, and every ringing bell, every twinkling light, every cherished ornament reminds me of just how loved I am.  Every holiday movie, sacred or secular, is a reminder of God’s love.  Every “Seasons Greetings” or “Merry Christmas” is a part of the year’s largest joy.

I am not mad at people who see Christmas differently than I do, but  I will pray for anyone I want to any time I want to without anyone’s permission.  I am a child at Christmas, and I pray to remain one always.  “God bless us every one.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)  And if our tree is still up on February 15, what harm will it cause (other than providing a larger place for dust bunnies)? And yes, “The bell still rings for me” (The Polar Express).


The Christ Child is Within Us by Henri Nouwen

I think that we have hardly thought through the immense implications of the mystery of the incarnation. Where is God? God is where we are weak, vulnerable, small and dependent. God is where the poor are, the hungry, the handicapped, the mentally ill, the elderly, the powerless. How can we come to know God when our focus is elsewhere, on success, influence, and power? I increasingly believe that our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need.

If the church has a future it is a future with the poor in whatever form. Each one of us is seriously searching to live and grow in this belief, and by friendship we can support each other. I realize that the only way for us to stay well in the midst of the many “worlds” is to stay close to the small, vulnerable child that lives in our hearts and in every other human being. Often we do not know that the Christ child is within us. When we discover him we can truly rejoice.

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Light in the Darkness by Henri Nouwen

We walk in a “ravine as dark as death” (Psalm 23:4), and still we have nothing to fear because God is at our side:  God’s staff and crook are there to soothe us (see Psalm 23:4).  This is not just a consoling idea.  It is an experience of the heart that we can trust.

Our lives are full of suffering, pain, disillusions, losses and grief, but they are also marked by visions of the coming of the Son of Man “like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into west” (Matthew 24:27).  These moments in which we see clearly, hear loudly, and feel deeply that God is with us on the journey  make us shine as a light into the darkness.  Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.  Your light must shine in people’s sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

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Some people say:  “I never had an experience of the fullness of time. … I am just an ordinary person, not a mystic.”  Although some people have unique experiences of God’s presence and, therefore have unique missions to announce God’s presence to the world, all of us – whether learned or uneducated, rich or poor, visible or hidden – can receive the grace of seeing God in the fullness of time.  This mystical experience, is not reserved for a few exceptional people.  God wants to offer that gift in one way or another to all God’s children.

But we must desire it.  We must be attentive and interiorly alert.  For some people the experience of the fullness of time comes in a spectacular way, as it did to St. Paul when he fell to the ground on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:3-4).  But for some of us it comes like a murmuring sound or a gentle breeze touching our backs (1 Kings 19:13).  God loves us all and wants us all to know this in a most personal way.

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The experience of the fullness of time, during which God is so present, so real, so tangibly near that we can hardly believe that everyone does not see God as we do, is given to us to deepen our lives of prayer and strengthen our lives of ministry.   Having experienced God in the fullness of time, we have a lifelong desire to be with God and to proclaim to others the God we experienced.

Peter, years after the death of Jesus, claims his Mount Tabor experience as the source for his witness.  He says:  “When we told you about the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not slavishly repeating cleverly invented myths; no, we had seen his majesty with our own eyes … when we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).  Seeing God in the most intimate moments of our lives is seeing God for others.

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Note to readers:  I spent Tuesday through Thursday of this week in the hospital with lower GI problems.  It seems, at least for now, that I avoided surgery.  I am home, doing better.  All prayers are welcome.  God bless.




The Peace That is Not of This World by Henri Nouwen

Keep your eyes on the prince of peace, the one who doesn’t cling to his divine power; the one who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights and rule with great power; the one who says, “Blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness” (see Matt. 5:3-11); the one who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind; the one who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement; the one who dies alone, rejected and despised. Keep your eyes on him who becomes poor with the poor, weak with the weak, and who is rejected with the rejected. He is the source of all peace.

Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there, our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest the peace which is not of this world is hidden.

… I say to you, “Claim that peace that remains unknown to so many and make it your own. Because with that peace in your heart you will have new eyes to see and new ears to hear and gradually recognize that same peace in places you would have least expected.”

Excerpt from “Adam’s Story: The Peace That Is Not Of This World”, Henri J.M. Nouwen. © The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. First published in Weavings, March-April 1988.

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Is everybody finally going to be all right?  Are all people ultimately going to be free from misery and all their needs fulfilled?  Yes and no!  Yes, because God wants to bring us home into God’s Kingdom.  No, because nothing happens without our choosing it.  The realisation of the Kingdom of God is God’s work, but for God to make God’s love fully visible in us, we must respond to God’s love with our love.

There are two kinds of death:  a death leading us into God’s Kingdom, and a death leading us into hell.  John in his vision saw not only heaven, but also hell.  He says:  “The legacy for cowards, for those who break their word, or worship obscenities, for murderers and the sexually immoral, and for sorcerers, worshippers of false gods or any other sort of liars, is the second death in the burning lake of sulphur” (Revelation 21:8).   We must choose for God if we want to be with God.

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The marvelous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realisation in our day-to-day lives.   Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises.  Every time we forgive our neighbor, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true.

We must remind one another constantly of the vision.  Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are.  Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved.

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Question: Shouldn’t all Christians be pacifists?

Are the great visions of the ultimate peace among all people and the ultimate harmony of all creation just utopian fairy tales?  No, they are not!  They correspond to the deepest longings of the human heart and point to the truth waiting to be revealed beyond all lies and deceptions.  These visions nurture our souls and strengthen our hearts.  They offer us hope when we are close to despair, courage when we are tempted to give up on life, and trust when suspicion seems the more logical attitude.  Without these visions our deepest aspirations, which give us the energy to overcome great obstacles and painful setbacks, will be dulled and our lives will become flat, boring, and finally destructive.  Our visions enable us to live the full life.

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Essence Of Orange by Helen Losse

Just who left the seven oranges in the cold,
their fragrance wafting from a blue plastic bucket,

isn’t clear. But there they were:
Seven orange globes bright as dog toys.

The scent of citrus clung to my jacket as though
I’d hugged fruit to my breast all the way home.

Their essence followed me in the same way
the round brown eyes of the cocker spaniel had

followed Drake.  The dog appeared on his doorstep
during the first vicious snowstorm,

but he didn’t keep her then.  Not her nor her six
newborn puppies.  All those months the dog’s eyes

followed him back from the woods—
like a truth we deny or the essence of orange.

Later that winter, Drake saw Jesus in a pancake
and searched the woods for the dog.

He found her in April, brought her home—
pregnant again.  Drake named his dog Blossom.

From Seriously Dangerous

All of creation belongs together in the arms of its Creator.  The final vision is that not only will all men and women recognise that they are brothers and sisters called to live in unity but all members of God’s creation will come together in complete harmony.  Jesus the Christ came to realise that vision.  Long before he was born, the prophet Isaiah saw it:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the panther lie down with the kid, calf, lion and fat-stock beast together, with a little boy to lead them. The cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like the ox. The infant will play over the den of the adder; the baby will put his hand into the viper’s lair. No hurt, no harm will be done on all my holy mountain, for the country will be full of knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

We must keep this vision alive. 

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Note: Yes, children, your dogs will be there.


December 2013