Christmas Reflection: Jesus, King of the Gentiles

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So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.

Ephesians 2:19

Jesus came to call all people, regardless of culture or background, to become children of God. Make it a point today to reach out, with respect and love, to someone whose background or opinions differ from yours.

Going Deeper

Read Psalms 2:7-8, Acts 13:32-33, and Ephesians 2:17-22.

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When Jesus arrived on earth, the Jewish people were watching for a savior. They were eager for someone to rescue them from the oppressive Roman rule. They never imagined that the messiah would come to save not only the Jewish people, but the people of all nations, including the Romans. Some of the first visitors to the Holy Family after Jesus’ birth were the three magi, Gentiles from a country far from Bethlehem. This was one of the first clues that Jesus’ ministry and reach were going to be much wider than people expected.

There are many divisions in our world, just like there were in the time of Jesus. There are “proud deplorables” and “nasty women” who still stand “with her.” One group of people holds “Black lives matter” signs, while another holds “Blue lives matter” signs. And those who state “All lives matter” are accused of opposing one or the other of the two groups.

No matter how hard we try to be accepting and inclusive, it can be difficult to imagine that the mercy of God is available to everyone.

When you see on the news the story of a man who beat his wife or a woman who shook her baby, do you hope they “get what they deserve,” or do you hope they experience the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus?

Picture Jesus, approaching a member of ISIS who had beheaded innocent people, and saying “I’m going to have dinner at your house today.”

Imagine running into Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein while you are walking the golden streets of heaven.

You’ve been working in God’s fields since dawn. How will you feel, at the end of the day, when the Boston Marathon bomber, who joined the work crew just before sunset, gets the same pay as you?

 

None of us can be good enough to earn the mercy of God. God extends his mercy as a free gift to all people. In fact, Jesus himself said “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matt 9:13c).

Who is most difficult for you to love and forgive? Perhaps it’s one of the groups or people mentioned above. Or maybe it’s a family member you just can’t get along with, or a coworker who constantly rubs you the wrong way. Pray for that person.  Pray that they would come to know God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the strength to forgive. Try to imagine you and that person “being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (from Eph 2:22).

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Christmas Reflection: John the Baptist calls us to repentance–and to action.

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The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

Luke 3:2b,3,10

Make the words of the people your prayer today: “What then should I do?” Watch and listen for God to answer your question.

Going Deeper

Read Luke 3:2-18.

John the Baptist called all people to repentance, to ask forgiveness and turn away from sin. But John didn’t just want people to say they were sorry and then go back to life as usual. John called them—and calls us—to orient our lives toward God. We are challenged to make changes—sometimes radical ones—to our lifestyle to get our priorities in line with God’s. John had specific instructions to the people who came to him:

John challenged those with two tunics to share with those who have none. Do you have more than you need? Maybe it’s clothes, space in your home, food, time, or money. How is God calling you to share your abundance?

John directed tax collectors to collect only what was prescribed. Have you ever been pressured at work to fudge things a little for the benefit of the company? Do you believe that God meant it when he commanded us not to lie? What will you do the next time someone encourages you exaggerate or tell a little white lie?

To the soldiers, John said, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages”  (Luke 3:14). Hopefully you haven’t been doing a lot of outright extortion this week. But maybe you’ve been toying with lesser forms of extortion. Do you know how to push the buttons of the people around you—and use that knowledge to get what you want?

That last directive is a good reminder to us all—how many of us haven’t, at one time or another, complained about our paychecks?

Imagine you are traveling across the desert to see the prophet, John, whom you’ve heard so much about.

  • With whom are you traveling? Maybe your kids and your spouse? Other moms, dads, or grandparents? People you work with? People in your small group at church?
  • When it is finally your turn to see John the Baptist, what will he say to the group of people you came with?
  • Ask the prophet, “What then should I do?” How will he answer you?

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Advent Reflection: No Sin Too Great

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David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves death!”

Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man!”

II Samuel 12:5,7

Is there a sin in your life that you have been hiding or trying to justify? Has something happened in your past that seems beyond the power of forgiveness? Bring those things to God. Ask for forgiveness and for the strength to forgive—both yourself and others.

Going Deeper

Read II Samuel 12:1-10,13.

As I made my way through the Old Testament during my college years, I remember my frustration bordering on despair as I read that one person after another who was entrusted with the care of God’s people, messed up royally. Then I reached the story of David, who trusted God enough to conquer the giant, Goliath; who wrote great psalms of praise to Yahweh; and from whose lineage the savior of the world, Jesus, would arise. It looked like I had finally found a king who would remain faithful to God and shepherd God’s people well.

And then David happened to notice Bathsheba bathing, and it was all over. David coveted Uriah’s wife, committed adultery, and then murdered Uriah to try to cover it up. He violated three of the top ten in one fell swoop.

Here’s the thing, though. It wasn’t all over. David had committed grave sin, but he had not completely gone over to the dark side. When the wise prophet, Nathan, confronted him, David recognized his sin and repented of it.

There are three important things that we can learn from this part of King David’s life. 1) All of us, including the great King David, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). 2) Nathan shows us an approach we can use when we feel called to confront a friend about the choices they’ve made. Instead of attacking David’s sin head-on, which would likely have caused David to become defensive, Nathan tells a story that helps David to understand the gravity of what he’s done. It’s David, then, who declares the sentence he deserves. But we also learn that, 3) though sin does have consequences, there is no sin so great that it can’t be forgiven. No matter what you’ve done in the past, if you are truly sorry, God will forgive you.

If Nathan came to your door, what story would he tell you? Are you ready to accept the truth, and to turn away from your sin?

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Advent Reflection: Temptation

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The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Genesis 3:6

What is your greatest temptation? Pray that God will give you the strength to resist that temptation.

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Going Deeper

Read Genesis Chapter 3.

Many of the things that tempt us look good, taste good, or feel good. Often times, when we look around, it seems like everyone else is doing it. And, when we give in to those temptations, it may satisfy a hunger inside of us. But that satisfaction is always fleeting. And the consequences are grave—not because we have to work hard to till the ground or because we now have pain with childbirth—but because sin separates us from God, the only one who can satisfy the longing within us fully and forever.

The good news is, God is eager to forgive. All we have to do is ask.

Think about a time when you faced temptation, and were able to resist. Think about a time when you gave in to temptation. Plan a time this Advent season to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Jesus, thank you for the sacrifice you made so my sins could be forgiven. Holy Spirit, give me the strength to resist temptation. Heavenly Father, I don’t want anything to separate me from you. I ask you to forgive my sins and draw me closer to you.