For I am the Lord, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, Fear not.
I will Help you.
Is. 41, 13
You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
Who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
Say to the Lord, My refuge and my fortress,
My God in Whom I trust.
Psalm 91, 1-2
“I am coming to dwell among you.”
Zechariah 2, 14
Last week we had guests for dinner–good friends we hadn’t seen in a while thanks to those daily life events that sometimes get in the way of what we would like.
The morning of their visit, I took on the tasks of spiffing up the house while David got to work on the special meal he had planned a few days ahead of time. He’d spent an afternoon shopping at a few stores to assure he had just the right ingredients and found recipes even though his culinary genius would kick in and improve upon them. I kept busy, too, most of the day, filling in as sous-chef in between my domestic duties. We wanted everything to be just perfect, especially since our friend, Patty, is also a gourmet cook.
“So what?” you may be thinking. It’s no less than what most folks would do.
That evening, after our friends had left and most of the dishes had been done, we went, as is our practice during Advent, to light the candles on our Advent wreath and to read a short meditation from a little publication, “The Word Among Us,” that is based on the scripture for the following day’s liturgy. And, as you no doubt have guessed by now, that wonderful promise from the prophet Zechariah was the verse the editors chose for us to reflect upon.
The parallel is obvious, isn’t it? If David and I could do so much to welcome these dear friends, to prepare with care for their visit, shouldn’t we do more to welcome Jesus into our lives? One big difference stands out to me. Yes, we are celebrating the coming of God’s Son into our world when we prepare for Christmas but HE’S ALREADY HERE. And He didn’t come just for an evening of good food, some wine and conversations. He has come to STAY. And He has come to offer us the feast of Himself.
So, I have to ask myself, what do I do on a daily basis to welcome Him, to be aware of His dwelling in me? Is my Advent preparation confined to shopping for presents and wrapping them, sending out Christmas cards, and baking goodies? What else can I do? Perhaps, it’s in taking some time each morning to pray that we will find the answer to those questions.
In case you are wondering, our evening was perfect, fun. The dinner was scrumptious and conversation flowed. But it was over so quickly, just like our celebration each year of Christmas.
I’ve been noticing something lately when praying or even reading scripture. It’s really hard to take self out of it. Even in psalms of praise and thanksgiving, it seems that there’s a little hitch--“Oh God, you are great and wonderful…and in the meantime, would you bash my enemies’ heads on the rocks.” (my paraphrase, which is a bit exaggerated.)
I like to start my daily quiet time with the prayer to the Holy Spirit that was the first post on this blog, I believe. But lately I’ve noticed it’s definitely a Gimme-Prayer: Give me stillness…give me calm…give me the joy of your forgiveness…give me faith and hope and love and on and on. Now, don’t get me wrong…these are not bad things, but still, it seems to be all about me and my Me-Motives.
But then I stopped to think. I drive my husband, David, a bit crazy because it is so darn hard for me to ask him to help me with something or to ask him do something for me. I want to be self-sufficient, independent. It’s pride. isn’t it?! Especially since if he doesn’t happen to notice or guess that I would like his help, I get so easily miffed.
And isn’t that how it is with love, with Love that is God? I have to believe that God is happy for us to come to him in need. Sure, he wants us to express our love, our praise, our thanksgiving–those more unselfish aspects of worship. But also waits for us to come to him for forgiveness, for help. (more on that in another post)
It’s a matter of balance, as are so many things in life. The psalmist had it right, after all–though I’m not so sure about bashing those heads on rocks.
The readings I’ve been doing on my own, and some of those I’ve heard in church during this Lenten season, have given me cause to compare and contrast the new and the old covenants.
The Old Covenant between God and Abraham, then codified with Moses and the whole people Of Israel, was based on the law–the Ten Commandments and all 613 legislative details that followed. It was a sort of tit-for-tat deal–“You observe these and I will be with you. You are my people and I am your God.” It’s not news to us that this didn’t work out well for either side. As much as God, through the prophets, admonished and promised, threatened and taught, the people just couldn’t pull off their side of the bargain. Human weakness and temptation were just too much for them and try as they might, they fell flat on their faces, over and over again.
So Jesus came to earth. I believe it was to check things out and find out where the flaw lay in the Father’s creation. To this end, he allowed himself to experience everything we experience–but Jesus never let temptation get the best of him. He never sinned.
I can imagine in those amazing dialogues with the Father–on mountaintops or in the wilderness–he shared what it was like to be human, how strong the urge to disobey those commandments could be. Talking it over with the Father, merciful and loving, they must have come to the understanding that the old law was beyond humankind’s ability and maybe it was time to try something else. And so they started all over again. Perhaps Jesus told the Father that, if they were not going to give up on creation, something was needed to provide a mechanism for forgiveness.
Did he then offer himself as the solution? Did he explain to the Father what it was like down here in the valley of tears to be confronted with loss, rejection, fear, persecution, physical and mental illness, temptation and failure? Did he then say, “I’ll take it all on myself. I’ll show them how much we love them by going through the worst kind of suffering and death we can think of so they won’t feel so alone and helpless. We can give them a way out–the gift of loving forgiveness. And let’s summarize all those rules into two simple ones: love of God and love of neighbor.”
Is that what brought us to the first Holy Week, the beginning of which we observe today? May our subdued celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus lead us to experience God’s forgiveness of our weakness, our willingness to forgive others and our gratitude for the immense love our Savior gives to us each moment of each day. And may that celebration burst out in Joy a week from today as we commemorate his glorious resurrection.
Are you doing anything special to observe Holy Week?
God bless each of us as we move forward in His grace, living each day to the fullest in the presence of God With/In.
In Advent, one of the names of God that comes to mind is Emmanuel–God with us. As I consider the many promises of Jesus as God-With-Us comes to mind. He came to complete us, reminding us that the Kingdom is Within.
Often, it helps me to visualize Jesus sitting beside me–when I pray, this morning at Mass, even riding shotgun when I drove to the mall to grab a couple of stocking-stuffers earlier today. But how much more powerful is the realization that He dwells within. As St. Paul asks in I Corinthians 6:9
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
Yikes. That’s a lot to take in!
I have a creative mind that loves to jump all the place (I think they would diagnose me with ADD these days–it was not recognized when I was a child.) I would be so grateful if a you would offer me a quick and easy “cure” for my flightiness–something to help me home in on God With/In all day long.
May you live a beautiful continuance of Advent.
Here I stand, knocking at the door.
If anyone hears me calling and opens the door,
I will enter his house and have supper with him,
and he with me.
Revelation 3: 20 (NAB)
Advent is here–a time of waiting, of anticipation for the coming of God-with-us, Emmanuel. I have always relished this season of the liturgical cycle and embrace it as characterizing my own personal spirituality–that sense of emptiness waiting for completion.
Right now, I’m muddling my way through the book of Revelation, the apocalyptic book that is the least read and least understood book of the New Testament. This morning I read Chapter Three and the thought occurred to me–what use is study if it’s purpose is anything but to bring us into communion with Christ.
And what better verse to savor, to sit back and absorb, than the one above–one of the few from this book that has held meaning for me in the past. For me, today, on this Sabbath, this is an invitation to remember the presence of God in whatever I do. God was with/in me as ate breakfast, cleaned up the kitchen, checked e-mail, cared for the dogs. Here he is, now, as I write this post. (Actually his Spirit is the inspiration behind it.)
In my prayer, I’ve never been good at the type of meditation recommended by St. Ignatius Loyola where he has you plop yourself down in the middle of a gospel scene and allow your senses to experience everything going on in it. Just not my style, though many find it helpful. But today, it is making a lot of sense to me to visualize him here with me, leaning over my shoulder as I write. Hmmm! I wonder if he would enjoy watching a little football later today.
Isn’t Advent about just this? The coming of God in our midst–Jesus’ willingness to take on humanity and experience that which we experience–physically, emotionally, and intellectually?
I wish you a blessed Advent. Let’s invite Emmanuel in to share everything. Everything.