Provisions for the Journey to Bethlehem
Brief reflections on the
week’s Scripture readings,
For the First Week of Advent 2019.Printer Friendly
This Advent, let’s hone our awareness so we can always be surprised by God’s presence in our world!
Sunday, December 1: Jesus said to his disciples: "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.” (Mt 24:37-44)
The readings for the first week of Advent include lots of warnings interspersed with images of peace. One can get whiplash from reading Isaiah, so quickly does the prophet move from dire predictions of doom to idyllic scenes, as we see in the Old Testament reading today. But it is Jesus’ words in the gospel that give me pause. Don’t you think some of the people in Noah’s time might have thought, “Gee, it sure is raining a lot!” Don’t you think at least a few were worried? Was it that they really “did not know until the flood came” that something was amiss? Or did they just ignore the signs? Did they go along with the status quo because thinking about the future did not matter as much as the fun they were having eating and drinking, the prosperity they were enjoying in the here and now?
Today’s Provision—Pay Attention: No, I am not turning into some kind of apocalyptic preacher here, nor I am making political commentary. J We know there have been hundreds—thousands--of predictions that the end is near, all the way from St. Paul’s time up to the current day. What I find most fascinating is our stubborn human tendency to think, “It won’t happen to me. It won’t happen in my lifetime.” Like the man who tears down his perfectly good barns to build bigger ones (and thinks he is planning well for the future!), we often fall into the trap of thinking only about ourselves and maybe a generation or two forward. It’s easy for us to get lulled into indifference. I remember a sign I saw once outside a church: “Life’s short. Have fun. Eternity is long. Be good.” What are the signs I am ignoring—in my church and my country, yes—but more so, in my own life?
Monday, December 2: When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion approached him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully." He said to him, "I will come and cure him." (Mt 8:5-11)
There are two interesting things in this exchange between Jesus and the centurion that we might overlook. First, the text tells us the centurion addresses Jesus as “Lord,” a title of respect and honor. This is a Roman centurion addressing an itinerant Jewish preacher! We hear in Luke’s version of this story that he is a really good guy, but for him to call Jesus Lord is a big deal (and we haven’t even gotten to the “not worthy” part!) I imagine the assembled crowds were amazed. Then the centurion tells Jesus his servant is lying at home, paralyzed. Jews were forbidden to enter the home of a Gentile and yet Jesus agrees right away, “I will come and cure him.” The formalities of rank and the rigors of the law won’t stand in the way of these two men showing respect for one another in their shared goal of bringing healing to an ailing servant, someone who likely enjoyed neither respect nor honor. What can we learn from this?
Today’s Provision—Be Aware of Roadblocks: We all have them. Things that get in the way of us working together toward a common goal. “I really don’t like working at the soup kitchen. What difference does my little volunteer stint make in the big picture, anyway?” “Oh, what can I do as a middle-class white woman in the face of racism?” “The law of my country says this, and I don’t want to risk breaking the law!” “I’m just a peon. What business do I have working for change?” Pay attention to the reasons and excuses you find for discounting your gifts or ignoring a call, and pray for God’s help in moving the roadblocks out of the way.
Tuesday, December 3: Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I give you praise, Father, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Lk 10:21-24)
At the retreat house where I work, there is a picture hanging in one of the stairwells entitled, “The Laughing Jesus.” We don’t hear in Scripture about Jesus laughing. We know he is moved to deep compassion and to tears. We hear he can get angry and be impatient, and we see some instances of a wry sense of humor. I personally like to think Jesus smiled most of the time. In Luke’s Gospel today, we hear Jesus rejoices. The Greek word means exultant, astoundingly happy. In a word, Jesus is “stoked.” And he’s stoked because God has given power and wisdom to the simple people. Not to the leaders who think they have it all figured out and are tied in knots because they are afraid they will lose their standing. Not to those who know all the ins and outs of the law. To the common folk, those who understand what living in the real world is all about. The people of God.
Today’s Provision—Make Jesus Rejoice!: It’s not time for the Epiphany yet, but see if you can be aware today of the little epiphanies that happen all around us. Remember, an epiphany is usually something that comes about in the course of an ordinary day. See what wisdom you can learn. Make Jesus rejoice today!
Wednesday, December 4: “…it will be said: “Behold our God…This is the LORD for whom we looked…” (Is 25:6-10a)
In Herman Hesse’s classic, Siddhartha, the title character, as an old man, meets his childhood companion with whom he had set out years ago in search of perfection. Siddhartha has settled into a simple life, but his friend is still searching. Siddhartha says to him, “When someone is searching, it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for…searching means having a goal. But finding means being free, being open…” We can have an image of what or who God is supposed to be, so much so that, while we are searching out “the Lord for whom we looked,” we miss God appearing in unexpected ways; for instance, as a little baby born in a stable! If we search too hard for God, or worse, put God in a box, we will miss our “God of surprises” who is present to us each and every day.
Today’s Provision—Have “Eyes to See:” If you are locked into one image of God, spend some time with Scripture--the wonderful images of God in the lush language of Song of Songs; the poetry of the Psalms. Think of God as portrayed by Jesus in parables in Luke. Open your eyes and look for God in the world around and in those you meet.
Thursday, December 5: “The LORD is God, he has given us light.” (Ps 118)
There is an ancient form of praying called breath prayer. While we might associate it more with Eastern philosophies and practices, it has been part of the Christian tradition from its earliest days, and before that, a regular part of Jewish practice. This short sentence from Psalm 118 is a perfect verse with which to try it out. On the inhale, say “The LORD is God,” and on the exhale, “He has given us light.” Don’t take deep breaths--you will get light-headed. Breathe normally and do this prayer exercise for a few minutes. Relax into the rhythm. If it helps, imagine that you are breathing in God’s light, and then as you exhale, you are sharing that light with the world.
Today’s Provision—Stop. Breathe. Be Present: You might consider cutting out this little exercise and keeping it handy to use in, oh, maybe about 15 days or so! I always encourage people to find “bursts of silence” amid their busy days. Yes, going away to do a yearly silent retreat, taking a day once a quarter to spend in contemplation, taking time in quiet each day—all these things are so important for our spirits, but we can easily find excuses to put them off. You are sitting in carpool line or in traffic, going nowhere. Turn off the radio, put the phone away, and breathe this prayer. You are waiting at the doctor’s office. Put down People magazine and breathe this prayer. There is a break between classes. Look out a window and breathe this prayer. Share God’s light wherever and whenever you can!
Friday, December 6: “Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding, and those who find fault shall receive instruction.” (Is 29:17-24)
“Those whose spirit strayed shall know discernment, and the grumblers shall learn their lesson.” (Translation by Robert Alter). Oooh, I like this translation, especially the part about the grumblers learning their lesson…until I realize: I am sometimes the grumbler who needs instruction! This chapter in Isaiah is all about God turning things on their heads, the radical transformation that is about to appear! All those things we thought were givens, all those things we claim to “know” about God and the Messiah and the Kingdom…all those people we’ve deemed unworthy. Every so often, it’s a good idea to step back and look objectively at our beliefs and assumptions. As St. Augustine reminds us, if we think we have God figured out, then we can be assured--it is not God!
Today’s Provision—Be Aware of Assumptions and Judgments: The Lord is merciful and all of us who err in spirit or find fault with others will acquire understanding, but sometimes the lessons can be difficult. We’ve all read stories about people whose long-held prejudices are challenged when confronted with, for example, the reality of a beloved child who comes out as LBGTQ, or who converts to another religion or way of life to marry; or when we look harshly at the poor or those on welfare, only to find ourselves suddenly unemployed, without any prospects. This is not about saying a pious prayer, “There but for the grace of God go I,” because that in itself implies judgment and begs the question, “Where is God’s grace for the other?” It is about looking objectively at how open we are to change, how willing we are to listen to the other, how ready we are to have our assumptions and expectations turned on their heads. This is exactly what Jesus Christ did, and it is exactly what we as Christians are called to do in his name.
Saturday, December 7: "The LORD binds up the wounds of his people, he heals the bruises left by his blows.” (Is 30:19-21. 23-26)
I stumble over this verse each year. It makes me so uncomfortable, the image of God binding up the wounds he has inflicted, like some abusive spouse trying to gain control over the other. But I am reminded of Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 10: “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD ask of you but to fear the LORD by walking in His ways, to love Him, to serve the LORD with all your heart and soul, and to keep the commandments, which I am giving you this day for your own good?” Oh yes…for my own good. And yet, how often I think I know better! How many of my wounds come from my knowing better?
Today’s Provision—Allow God to Heal You: Mature faith tells us it is not God that causes our misfortune. AND, much of the suffering we encounter in life is not due to any shortfall on our part; Jesus tell us as much (Lk 13:1-3). If anything, it’s the expectation that we shouldn’t have to suffer that causes a lot of our suffering. There’s a saying, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” No matter what the cause of your pain—self-inflicted or due to the realities of life--allow God to enter into your pain, to suffer with you, to heal you.
Elaine Ireland has a passion for working with parents and anyone who struggles to maintain a sense of God’s love and peace amid the day-to-day challenges of life. She has a master’s degree in Spiritual and Pastoral Care from the Pastoral Counseling department at Loyola, Maryland, with a focus on developmental psychology and spiritual guidance. Rooted in Ignatian spirituality, she is a writer, retreat and workshop leader, and presenter on topics such as pastoral parenting, “letting go,” and finding the spiritual in the midst of everyday life. She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland with her husband, Mark and children, David and Maggie.
We hope you enjoy "Come and See!" and we welcome your input. Please contact Elaine Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments, and responses.
© 2009 - 2018, Elaine H. Ireland - Images@FaithClipart.com