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).

Jesus, Mediator of the New Covenant

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But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days—oracle of the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33

What is written on your heart? To help answer that question, ask yourself: What is the first thing that comes to mind when I’m in a stressful, scary, or uncertain situation?

Select a verse from the Bible, write it on an index card, and post it on your bathroom mirror. Work on committing that verse to memory this week. Need some ideas? Check out these verses:

I Thessalonians 5:16-18, Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 40:31, Proverbs 3:5-6, Mark 12:29-31.

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Going Deeper

Read Jeremiah 31:31-34. After quoting Jeremiah, the author of the letter to the Hebrews goes on to explain how Jesus brought about the New Covenant, offering himself as the perfect sacrifice. Read Hebrews 9:11-15.

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A covenant is defined in secular dictionaries as a contract. But in the context of the Bible, it is so much more than just an agreement between parties. A Biblical covenant solidifies a relationship. The actions outlined in the covenant, agreed to by both parties, serve as an expression of the relationship and help the relationship to mature and deepen. A covenant is sealed not just by signatures, but by a solemn rite, reminding the participants that they are entering into something much deeper than a legal agreement.

The covenants of the Old Testament helped to prepare the people for the new and everlasting covenant, ushered in by Jesus. In contrast to the Old Testament covenants, which were made between God and a limited group of people, the New Covenant is open to “everyone, from least to greatest” (Jer 31:34).

What action will you take today to demonstrate your commitment to God and to enrich your relationship with him?

Feast of the Holy Family

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When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.

Matthew 1:24a

What can you learn from Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that will help you to be a better mother, father, son, daughter, sister, or brother?

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Going Deeper

Read today’s Gospel, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23.

As family life goes, it might seem like Joseph had it pretty easy. After all, how many of us can say that our spouses and children are sinless? While I’m sure discipline wasn’t a major problem in the home of the Holy Family, Joseph’s life wasn’t without its challenges.

How would you react if your fiancé came to you to say she was pregnant–with someone else’s baby? It took a lot of faith for Joseph to trust Mary and the angel’s message, and take Mary as his wife.

Then, just as he was getting his new family established, he had to uproot them and move to a different country. While the move was necessary to keep them safe, I’m sure it wasn’t easy to find a good place to live and rebuild his carpentry business in Egypt. The news that he could safely return to his home country must have been met with mixed emotions—excitement about returning to home and family, but trepidation about the work of moving and getting re-established in another new community.

Can you imagine the panic and desperation Mary and Joseph felt when they realized, on the way home from Jerusalem, that Jesus was not with the party? And the sick feeling in the pit of their stomachs as their search for the child, Jesus, stretched from hours into days? (A similar event occurred in our family, when the van left the campground while one child was still in the restroom. Road trips now begin with the kids calling out “No child left behind!”)

The early years of the Holy Family were definitely not easy ones! But we don’t see Joseph questioning or complaining. He doesn’t ask for proof of Mary’s faithfulness or the potential threat to his child’s life. He has great faith in God’s messages, communicated through angels.

Listen to Joseph’s Song as you reflect on Joseph’s great faith.

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Christmas Reflection: Jesus is Wisdom

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Come to me, all who desire me, and be filled with my fruits. You will remember me as sweeter than honey, better to have than the honeycomb.

Sirach 24:19-20

Do you seek wisdom? Draw closer to Jesus, who is Wisdom.

Going Deeper

Read Sirach 24:3-22. This is a quote from Wisdom personified.

terebinth“I spread out my branches like a terebinth, my branches so glorious and so graceful.” Sirach 24:16

This description of Wisdom as coming from God (“from the mouth of the Most High”) but distinct from God is similar to John’s description of the Word (“He was in the beginning with God” John 1:2) at the beginning of his gospel. Jesus, the Word of God, is also the Wisdom of God.

Jesus demonstrates the embodiment of wisdom in several ways. In his words, Jesus reveals a wisdom that is often counter-intuitive: “The last will be first, and the first will be last” Matt 20:16. In his parables, Jesus helps us to better understand things that are beyond our grasp: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field” Matt 13:44. In his actions, Jesus shows us how to apply the wisdom of God to our daily lives: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Matt 22:21; “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil?” Luke 6:9; “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Mark 10:21; “Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you.’ ” John 8:10

What is your favorite Gospel story? Read the familiar story again, looking for the wisdom in Jesus’ words and actions. I invite you to devour the Gospels, feasting on the sweet fruits of the Wisdom of God.

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Christmas Reflection: Jesus is the Key of David

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I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder;

what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open.

Isaiah 22:22

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Think about the times in your life when God has opened or closed a door for you unexpectedly.

Going Deeper

Read Matthew 16:15-19, and Revelation 3:7-8.

The image of Jesus as the Key of David brings to mind the old saying “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Have you seen doors closed in your life—paths you planned to take that suddenly became unavailable to you?

There’s a quote from the Lee Roy Parnell song “I’m Holding my Own” that I see as a rephrasing of the old saying. It goes like this: “There’s two sides to every door.” I like that version. When a door closes, instead of looking for an open window or another way out, I need to stop and look around. Maybe I’m already right where I’m supposed to be.

Jesus, thank you for your guidance in my life. Thank you for opening and closing all of the right doors. I’m confident that you know what’s best for me.

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Jesus is Emmanuel

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

What signs have you seen that show you God is here with us, not just watching from a distance?

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Going Deeper

Read Matthew 1:18-25.

The name Emmanuel means God with us. Truly, when Jesus came to earth, we were aware that God was right there with us in a way we hadn’t experienced since the Garden of Eden. Even though Jesus no longer walks among us, we know that God is still with us. During the Last Supper, Jesus promised that, after his death, the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father, in Jesus’ name, to remain with us (John 14:26).

Imagine that Jesus was walking the earth today. He holds a rally in your town. You attend because, well, it’s Jesus Christ. When will you ever get that close to someone who is that famous? As Jesus enters the stadium, he spots you and walks right up to you. “I’m coming to your house for supper today,” he says with a warm smile.

Sitting together at the dinner table, what would you say to Jesus? What questions would you ask him? If he decided to stay for a few days, how would that change your routine? What would you do differently in your work? Your home life? Your free time?

God is that close to us. All the time. How does that knowledge change how you live your life?

How will you respond to Jesus’ arrival?

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So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about the child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke 2:16-19

During your Advent preparations and Christmas celebrations, have you learned something new about Jesus or understood something about the incarnation differently? Share that new insight with one other person.

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Going Deeper

Read Luke 2:8-20.

In this passage, we see two different responses to Jesus’ birth. The shepherds immediately told everyone about the message they received from the angel and the child they found wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, just as the angel had said. Even when they returned to their day jobs, they did so “glorifying and praising God.” How can you imitate the shepherds? Can you tell a friend or family member how you have experienced Christ in your life? Maybe you can share the story on social media. After you’ve had an experience of God’s presence, do you go back to business as usual? How can you glorify and praise God in and through your daily routine?

In contrast, Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” In order to hear and recognize God’s voice and action in our lives, we have to take time to be quiet and reflect. Can you spare fifteen minutes? Turn off the radio and the television. Find a quiet spot with few distractions. Think back over the events of the past two days—both in your life and in the lives of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Then spend five minutes resting in the presence of God. You don’t have to do or say anything. Just be with God.

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