Gospel Reflection for January 1, 2017, Mary, Mother of God

29 Dec

Sunday Readings: Numbers 6.2-27; Galatians 4.4-7; Luke 2.16-21

“Mary pondered all these words in her heart.” – Luke 2.19

Sunday’s gospel about the shepherds visit to Mary’s child and offers only a single sentence about her. That sentence turns on the word pondered, in Greek the word if symballein. Ballein means to throw. Literally the Greek word means to throw together, to wrestle with together. Cymbals have the same root, bringing together to make noise. For Mary to ponder is to interpret the events life is throwing at her. Her faith seeks understanding. Significantly in Luke’s birth narrative, Mary and Joseph can find no place to stay in Bethlehem. Mary gives birth and begins mothering her child in a stable or cave for animals. The sign the shepherds go to Bethlehem to see is the savior, lying in a manger, born among the poor, one of them.

What do you imagine Mary is pondering at age 15 when she give birth to Jesus? At 45 when Jesus starts his ministry? At the foot of the cross?

If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.

Merry Christmas!

22 Dec

merry-christmas

Jesus makes incarnate the heart of God, full of creative and merciful love that never stops calling us into the communions of family and church. We make a gift to you of the creative work of two of our sisters who taught and inspired us. Blessings on you and yours.


The Ox and the Donkey’s Carol
poem by Sister Alice Smith, CSJ ~art by Sister Madeline Schimanski, CSJ

ox-and-donkey-001The Christ child lay in the ox’s stall
The stars shone great
and the stars shone small,
but one bright star outshone them all.

The cattle stood in the cleanly straw,
and strange to them was the sight they saw.
The ox and donkey watched with awe.

The shepherds ran from the uplands wide,
the sheepbells tinkled, the angels cried
joy to the dreaming countryside.

The three kings bowed at the stable door,
their raiment trailed on the dusty floor.
They saw the sign they had journeyed for.

The kings came last in a lordly throng.
The shepherds ran in the space of a song,
But the beasts had been there all night long.
Noel     Noel     Noel

The Wisdom of Vulnerability

22 Dec
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

The Christmas story is full of vulnerability– God becoming a human baby, Mary saying yes to a child that will change her life, Joseph agreeing to raise a child that is not his. Even the Magi show great vulnerability in their star gazing and quest to find and worship Jesus.

Part of an Epiphany prayer in Women’s Uncommon Prayers reads:

If there had been three wise women…they would have asked for directions, arrived early, delivered the baby, cleaned the stable, cooked the dinner, and brought practical gifts.

The Magi’s visit may have lacked practicality, yet the visitors still earned their descriptor of wise. If we take a close look at their journey, their wisdom lives in their vulnerability and faith.

They leave the comfort of their homes and lives. They travel on a whim without assurance. Instead of giving into the darkness all around them, they look up to the heavens to see the light of a star. They show up. They come prepared with gifts. They understand that the child is not just king, but holy and divine, deserving of worship. And they are in tune enough with their dreams to take an alternative route home instead of reporting back to King Herod. Through the entire story, the Magi are open to God’s leading, humble enough to go where they are called.

How many of us, when given the chance, stay warm in our homes instead of venturing out to see God out in the world with our own eyes? When nights are filled with darkness, we often forget to look up at the stars for a sign, for light. We are so filled with cynicism and importance that our hearts can become closed off to the adoration and homage required of us to worship. How many of us fall asleep with a brain too busy to hear God in our dreams?

The Christmas season brings us back to the wisdom of vulnerability. We can choose to be like Herod, who wants to know about Jesus, is worried how his power might interfere, but is not willing to leave home to find out more. Or we can choose to be like the wise men, who are vulnerable enough to venture out into the darkness on God’s provision of a savior, not quite sure how it will all work out, but hoping the path will lead us to the one worthy of our adoration and worship. May this Christmas season fill your hearts and homes with the wisdom of vulnerability!

Merry Christmas!

Gospel Reflection for December 25, 2016, Christmas

20 Dec

Christmas Readings: Isaiah 9.1-6; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20

“While Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have to child. Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.” – Luke 2.6-7

In the Christmas story the angels know who Jesus is and give humble shepherds, and us, a sign. The sign is the baby, lying in a manger. A manger is a feed trough, so Jesus’ first crib hints that he will give his life to nourish ours. A manger is a place of low status, a place among animals at the margin of human society. The gospel writer Luke wants us to recognize with the shepherds that this child is good news for people like them who live in poverty.

Jesus begins life in a world without room for him or his parents because descendants of David have crowded Bethlehem to register in a Roman census. People hail Caesar as savior, give him the title Augustus, the divine, and pay his taxes. But it is the child lying in the manger who incarnates the love and life-giving power at work since day one in our evolution. In Jesus God becomes one of us and shows us God’s love.

How are you making room for the Christ child this year? How can we join Jesus in his work of saving the world?

If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.

Practicing Advent, Free of Fear

16 Dec
Photo via Flickr user Joathina

Photo via Flickr user Joathina

A dear friend of mine is a pediatrician who specializes in palliative care. That means, essentially, she helps children die well. It’s vocational work that is demanding of her body, mind and spirit. Because of the grueling hours and the deep sadness, she needed to find a hobby that would encourage her to sit still and rest in her time off. She started knitting. Specifically, she started knitting warm, beautiful sweaters for all the babies being born in her life. My son has one of these sweaters, and another will come soon once my second is born. At first she saw her knitting as a way to trick her body into being still and resting while still feeling productive. Creating something tangible also soothed her mind. Now, she realizes that, maybe most importantly, it is a spiritual practice. When she is not at work with children who are dying, she needs to be celebrating the children in her life who are healthy and thriving, welcoming them into the world. The knitting brings her balance and hope, one stitch at a time. It keeps her from slipping into fear and becoming paralyzed. It helps her show back up at work to sit with people in their sorrow.

Many people are speaking to the palpable fear washing over our society. Fear separates us from God and has the toxic ability to paralyze us. When I hear talk of this fear, I think of my friend, quietly knitting, creating, claiming hope, subversively choosing light over fear while continuing to work in the center of sorrow. She is practicing Advent.

We read in our Advent Scriptures the angels saying over and over again, “Fear not!” As I marvel at my friend’s courage and strength, we marvel at Mary’s ability to nod and courageously let go of fear and accept light and life.

Fear not, for a child is coming. Babies are precious and sacred in their ability to offer love and beauty, hope and life without asking for anything in return. They are fresh and new, full of possibilities we don’t even know. They help us dream, they invite us to wonder. Who are you little baby? The world is better because you are here!

God decided to become a baby. We often think of God as big and powerful and strong. God saw that more than big power we needed simple love. We need hope and light. God wants us to dream and wonder and sit in awe of things that are beautiful and precious. God came as baby Jesus, a little, cute, fragile baby that needed people to take care of him, nurture him, and love him to keep him alive. He is a light that starts out as small as a newborn baby and gets as big as we can dream it to be. We celebrate a how clever God is, to come as a baby, so that we know that God wants our attention, adoration and love.

That is what is so tragic about my friend’s work in pediatric palliative care. That is what is so hopeful about her knitting. She lives in the thin space where she experiences both God’s saving power that brings heaven to this place and God’s saving power that offers us life in the place to come. Creating as a knitter and working as a doctor helps her let go of fear and live in the light of Jesus, now and in the time to come. She is practicing Advent, and inviting me to do the same.

Fear not. A child is coming.

Gospel Reflection for December 18, 2016, 4th Sunday Advent

13 Dec

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 7.10-14; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-24

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, an upright man unwilling to expose her to the law, decided to divorce her quietly. Then an angel of the Holy One appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David, have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child. She is to have a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'” – Matthew 1.20-21

In our own lives we have to make the journey Joseph makes in Sunday’s gospel from the law and its requirements to acting and judging with compassion. Joseph’s story calls us to listen to the Spirit of God that lives within us in the deepest reaches of our psyches and never lets up on us, waking or sleeping, until we bring to life in our relationships what only we can do. Each of us is called to embody the promise of the Spirit in us, to become Emmanuel, and bring God among those we love and try to love. Each of us is called like Joseph to dream a future for the children of promise born among us today.

Who are children of promise in your life? How do you respond to children in need in our world?

If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.

Happy Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe

12 Dec

our-mother-who-art

You, Lady of dark visage,
Warm mother of the earth-in-sky,
Radiant as the sun,
Standing on the moon.
Scoop up your children of
Earth’s rich color who grapple
with the earthly chores
All for our comfort-and-joy.
Fold them into your mother’s embrace.
Hold them safe.
Teach us all to hold holy
Your Son-under-our-feet.
Amen.

Poem and artwork by Gertrud Mueller Nelson

Birthing God

9 Dec

The days are getting shorter still. The nights are dark and the days are gray. We bundle up, hunker down, light candles, and wait. Advent is upon us, yet again.

Our bodies signal to us to slow down, turn inward, and hibernate. Yet Rumi, in his poem “The Body is Like Mary,” invites us to resist the urge to shut down altogether. He asks us to acknowledge that we, along with Mary, are in holy labor. There is work to be done. There is beauty to share. There is life and love to offer. There is a God within who needs to be born:

The body is like Mary, and each of us has a Jesus inside…

God is really there within, so innocently drawing life from us with Her umbilical universe–infinite existence…

though also needing to be born. Yes, God also needs to be born!

I will have a child in the next few weeks. I will, once again, go through the painful and sacred process of labor to bring life into this world. Yet even while I wait, there is other birthing to be done in the twilight of Advent. In the quiet darkness, we can tap into the desire to create beauty through a loving touch, a simple gift, a safe space of active listening, or a piece of art.

Christ is in all of us. We are co-creators, offering God’s light to the world around us. In these moments of Advent, when quiet reflection leads to a gentle birthing, sprinkling love and light, we know that yes, Jesus is coming and yet yes, Jesus dwells within.

Gospel Reflection for December 11, 2016, 3rd Sunday Advent

6 Dec

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 35.1-6,10; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11

John the Baptist sends messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answers, “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind can see; the lame can walk; lepers are cured; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” – Matthew 11.3-5

In Sunday’s first reading the prophet Isaiah imagines the desert greening wherever God steps. The Israelite captives’ return from exile in Babylon brought healing joy and a new experience of God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. In his ministry Jesus gives life: sight, hearing, healing that reveals God as the giver of life and the lover of us all, again making Isaiah’s prophecy come true in his time. It’s Sunday’s first reading. God is faithful and keeps on giving life.

In the first week of Advent I visited my brother at the University of Minnesota Hospital. It’s where he got a living donor liver transplant from his son. It’s where my mother died of the same liver disease that damaged that vital organ in my brother. Mother was part of the research that in three years initiated transplants. Doctors and nurses are helping Isaiah’s vision keep coming true. We take part in giving life in many ways–giving birth, nurturing our children, caring for our planet, being good news for people living on the edge of sustenance. Like our Christmas trees God is ever-green, the encircling, sustaining life, and holy mystery in which we live.

As one of our local priests often started Mass, “In the name of our ever-living, all-loving, unfolding God.”

What do we hear and see around us that makes the words of the prophet Isaiah that Jesus quotes keep coming true? 

If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.

Spices from Heaven

2 Dec
Photo via Flicker user Mark Skrobola

Photo via Flicker user Mark Skrobola

Invisible spices are falling from heaven all the time. If your eye is not holding its hand out, or your mouth or heart not open, how will you ever get a full taste of something that will cure you of many things? –Rumi

Advent is a time when invisible spices fall from heaven. It is a mistake, then, to simply wait passively for Christ to come. Advent is a season of actively waiting, of intentional preparation. As we open our Advent calendars, hang our stockings, bake our cookies, light our candles, we are asking the Lord to come near. If our eyes hold their hands out, if we keep our mouths and hearts open, we will get a taste of what is to come.

Advent is an invitation to change our outlook and posturing, to get quiet but also get moving. To acknowledge that things are going fine, life is predictable and familiar, but deep down we yearn for God to show up. If our eyes, mouths and hearts are open, we can choose to see things like the wisdom of small children, snow days, unexpected invitations, or a needed connection with a friend as divine intrusion.

We need God to intrude into the ordinary, to become one of us. We didn’t ask for this. We didn’t know we needed it, until he came. And we need him to come again. Please, Lord, intrude again with your divinity. There are so many hurting, mourning, captive, broken-hearted. Jesus is coming to bring comfort and freedom. There is much we can do to prepare the way.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. -Ish 61:1-3

We are preparing for Jesus, God with us, to come. Jesus comes as a baby, but we know what is at the end of the line for him. He is coming to die. Christ the king is not about power, but love. How do you make room for more love during Advent? How do you wait actively, to prepare? How do you hold the hand of your eyes open to catch spices from heaven?

Come Lord Jesus. We need you now.

%d bloggers like this: