It is grace and it is the Lord’s doing

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We are in the final week of Advent and Christmas is upon us this Thursday. The Gospel Reading for this Fourth Sunday of Advent is what we call the Annunciation, as recorded in Luke 1:26-38, in which Mary received word from the angel Gabriel about Jesus’ birth. The angel greeted Mary with these words: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you”.

The text says that Mary was puzzled and wondered about this greeting. The words, “The Lord be with you” are familiar in our liturgy. They are words of comfort and reassurance. The angel essentially said to Mary, “all is well”. Indeed, in the greeting he added, “Do not be afraid”.

We are receiving the same reassurance as we commemorate the arrival of Jesus into our troubled world: Do not be afraid; all will be well with Jesus in our midst.

The Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55, is Mary’s response in which she declares: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on His servant…the Almighty has done great things for me…” This affirms that the Lord is in control; what is unfolding is of the Lord’s doing, not human.

In the Epistle Reading for this Sunday (Romans 16:25-27) Paul writes of the revelation of the mystery that was hitherto hidden or secret. God is a god of mystery beyond the cliché that God works in mysterious ways. We cannot figure out God, there is always a sense of the unfathomable by human understanding. Indeed, this whole story of salvation in Jesus Christ is a mystery.

Look at the First Reading (2 Samuel 7:1-11,16) where David desires to build a house for the Lord (a temple). Yet the Lord says, “no; you won’t build me a house! I will establish a house for you; a dynasty and a special people”. It is the Lord doing, not humans.

And so, like Mary, we are perplexed at this mighty doing of the Lord, and like the psalmist in this Sunday’s Psalm 89:1-4; 19-26, we can only sing of “Your love, O Lord, for ever” and our mouths will proclaim God’s faithfulness from generation to generation.

There is reassurance in the Annunciation and in the Coming of Jesus, that God’s “love is established forever” (Ps. 89:2). We can even summarize this mystery in the words of Ephesians 2:7-9: “In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in hid kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”.

It is grace, and it is of God’s doing.

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Are we at peace as we wait patiently?

Pax Christi

The lessons for the Second Sunday of Advent continue the theme of patient waiting.

2 Peter 3:8-15a says, “we wait for new heavens and a new earth…” and while waiting “we strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish…”

Are we at peace; that is the first question we ask ourselves this Sunday.

In the Collect we pray for grace to heed the warnings of God’s messengers the prophets, to seek repentance, forsake our sins and prepare the way for our salvation, which is precisely what we are patiently waiting for. Prophecy comes to us in many different ways. Indeed, we do get a message from the signs of our times. The second question on this Sunday is: Are we heeding the message of the signs?

The Epistle Reading (2 Peter 3:8-15a) says, “the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire”. This is not literal, but there are signs around us giving us a message about our state of affairs.

In our striving to be found at peace, the prophet Isaiah, in the First Reading – 40:1-11 – calls for every valley to be lifted up and every mountain and hill to be lowered, uneven ground to be evened out and rough places made smooth. The third question for this Sunday is: what mountains, hills, valleys and rough ground are in our lives?

Indeed, our mountains and hills, valleys and uneven ground are the very reason we are not at peace.

Right now, there are protests around the nation because of mistrust with the dispensation of justice. There is a lot of dissatisfaction and frustration with our economic system and the disparity it creates. Around the world – in the Middle East, in Europe, particularly Ukraine, in many parts of Africa – there are political conflicts. Our military machine has not brought us peace; rather it has perpetuated the cycle of violence.

May we truly pray for grace to heed the warnings of prophetic message around us, repent and forsake our sins, and patiently wait for our redemption from every evil that grips us. I would like to conclude with my favorite quote of Joanna Macy who said: “all aspects of the current crisis reflect the same mistake, setting ourselves apart and using others for our gain”.

Let us, this Advent Sunday, begin with that sin.

Meditation for this week

Learning from lilies

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In this season we are on the move; driving or driven. It is a hectic season. First, Thanksgiving last Thursday, then Black Friday immediately after, then Cyber Monday yesterday and today, Giving Tuesday and we will be moving until Christmas. Woven into all this hassle is the Season of Advent.

We are telling and writing our story in this season. This far we are already saying Black Friday proved that we – naturally – have an over production but lack the matching consumerism – retailers were disappointed because sales were 17% below last year’s record.

For some people this season reminds them of unhealed wounds and pains, broken relationships and scars from the past.

But, Advent is a season of light – lights actually. In the midst of the darkness of winter and, for some, dreary weather, there will be lights. It is a season that shows us the contrast between darkness and light.

I am thinking right now of one of our stories that Jesus told in Matthew 6:28-34 and illustrated with lilies.

We are all familiar with lilies – some of you may actually have some in your gardens; they are easy to grow. This is what I found out about lilies:  a) “True lilies belong to the genus Lilium. They grow from bulbs made of fleshy, overlapping scales with no protective covering” b) “These hardy bulbs require only minimal care. Each has the capacity to grow eventually, into a large cluster of flowering stems” and c) “Large showy flowers develop at the tip of each stem. These flowers may be trumpet-shaped, bowl shaped, or bell shaped with reflexed petals. They may nod downwards, face outwards, or turn upwards – and they come in a wide variety of colors. Many are also delightfully fragrant”.

What a contrast:  Their beginnings as unattractive fragile bulbs in dirty soil but with the capacity to grow into beauty.

As we are confronted with the darkness of prejudice and racism, mistrust and suspicion, and the failure of militarism to ensure peace, or the inequalities of our economic system, we are also reminded that, like the lilies, light transforms this darkness into beauty and fragrance.

 

Prayer:

 

Lord; bring light to our darkness and transform our hatred, mistrust, suspicion and self-service into love, reconciliation and our common well-being and that of our world. Look with compassion all those in affliction – of any kind. We lift up to you the following:

 

Amen.