Monday, December 31, 2012

It's Good to be King

 Matthew 2:1-12 describes Herod as king of his world; he reigns for his personal benefit. His power and influence spanned nearly a half century during which time he continued to build the great temple which pleased the Jews and the Romans, who were content that all was calm during his reign.

In a real sense Herod and Israel conspired together as they both pursued their common interests in which religious and political motives intermingled.   Each “scratched each other's back,” and bowed before legislative and religious laws. Despite more than “passing interest” in reports of a Messiah's birth, the chief priests and scribes and Herod turned a blind eye to what had happened.

 Both were unwilling to relinquish their world and accept the possibility that the Messiah has been born. It was more convenient if this was not true and they could keep their good thing going for a while longer.

While the Magi are not insiders, they were a force to be reckoned with, and not readily dismissed. Their arrival was more than a nuisance; it was an “international event”… the status quo was not prepared (willing) to accept the glory of God's heavenly kingdom whose power was love as opposed to Herod’s love of power....not now; maybe later; they had a good thing going and didn’t need another king much less a Messiah to spoil it.

Do we sometimes yearn for God’s Kingdom, while finding it hard to leave our comfort zone? After all, Herod’s kingdom was comfortable for the insiders who played the game. Is there a piece of Herod’s kingdom that resides in each of us?


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

We Need a Little Christmas Right This Very Minute


The news of 20 children and 6 adults whose lives were ended all too soon in an elementary school in Connecticut make it difficult to put words on paper right now.  The dashed hopes and fears of children and parents are more than we can process; It’s tempting to turn away to shield ourselves from the horror.

“How many things have we become used to in the course of the years, of the weeks, and months so that we stand un-shocked, unstirred and inwardly unmoved?  Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves.” So wrote Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, awaiting execution for being accused a traitor by the Nazis in 1945. Then, the great Advent question is when do we awake from our sleep and complacency?

The tragic events of the last 2 months make it clear that we are unable to muddle through alone. It’s no secret that we find it necessary to turn to one another. Isn’t this what God wants for us? In many ways we, like the virgin, nurture our fertile soil as we absorb our pain and suffering and that of those around us, and give birth to Christ as we share his love with one another.

Henri Nouwen writes that Elizabeth and Mary, as models for the Christian community, were filled with hope. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled but fulfilled according to His will and not according to our wishes. The Christian community is the place where we keep that hope alive among us. He tells us that we need to wait together like Elizabeth and Mary to be present to one another; to keep each other at home spiritually so that when the Word comes it can become flesh and have a whole new life in us.

Perhaps the words of David Steindl-Rast make it possible to understand how what began in Bethlehem two thousand years ago can apply to today’s recent tragic events: “By focusing our human efforts on cultivating tender connections and caring relationships we can give birth to a world conceived by the Holy Ghost.”

Our readings are in Luke 1:39-45(46-55)



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A "Dear John Letter" for Advent

Dear John,

Come on now! This is no way to usher in Christmas or as we now feel the need to call it, the Holiday Season. This is a time for cinnamon-flavored mull wine; the aroma of cranberry-scented candles and cute little Santa Claus Christmas (there’s that word again) cards. John, we’re not used to being told that our reasons for celebrating Advent is shallow. We’re not used to being called names like brood of vipers…(now that’s pretty nasty talk even for a kid from Brooklyn like me!)  We are not used to hearing that we are called to sacrifice in this Holiday Season (okay Advent), and not over-indulge after all it’s Christmas and “it only comes once a year.”

John, if you want to be helpful you might want to consider giving us some practical tips on how to prepare for Advent... like how to avoid Holiday weight gain, or how much we should tip the postman and letter carrier. Never mind grateful reflection on God’s goodness in being born in us again and again. Never mind, it’s God’s gift that transforms us and changes our lives…not now please. I’ve got to decorate the house…brood of vipers…give me a break!

Thank you,

You know who I am
Luke 3:7-18

Luke 3:7-18

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Our Time in the Desert

Adversity can play a key role in honing our ability to hear what is beyond the usual scope of our ordinary consciousness. Facing stressful challenges outside the norm of our usual experience can heighten our awareness of events that otherwise would go unnoticed.

“Samuel Johnson put it “Depend upon it sir, when a man knows he is about to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” It is precisely for such clarity and insight that people seek out desert experiences such as solitary retreats, in which we step away from many of the usual supports of life, family, friends, familiar surroundings and routine, in order to be open to God’s call.

Unlike John-the-Baptist in Luke 3:1-6 , we don’t always get a chance to choose our desert times and places. They sometimes are provided for us in the form of illness, change in employment, failures in relationships, death of a loved one and even, natural disasters. These deserts all hold new possibilities for hearing the word of God at ever deepening levels.

 In past month much of our conversations here in Monmouth County NJ have been focused on the ravages of Hurricane Sandy. In recent weeks our Bible Study and Men’s Group have referred to having had our “spiritual nerves” more sensitized and “closer to the top”.

We, God knows, didn’t choose Sandy but the environment around us shifted as the ocean’s surge and its deluge paradoxically created our desert and the opportunity to let our spiritual ears tune in to God’s voice, through our displaced neighbors near and far.