Tag Archives: advent

Now we Begin

by Marjorie George

voices of adventIt was a dark and stormy night (OK it was a rainy afternoon), and I was squeezed into the front seat of our brand-new 1970 VW Bug as my husband sped to the hospital for me to deliver our first baby. “Come now,” the doctor had said on the phone, “yes you are ready.”

“But I’m not ready,” I kept thinking. Oh, the nursery was properly decorated, baby bottles were sterilized and waiting,  the diaper service was on stand-by, and this was sure enough labor.  But I wasn’t mentally and emotionally ready for this thing that I suspected was about to overthrow my life. We had been married seven years by then and our little life was pretty settled. I sensed that was about to implode. Turns out I hadn’t seen nothin’ yet. Continue reading Now we Begin

Holding a space in hope

voices of adventA friend who lives on the north side of San Antonio is building a park in a south side neighborhood. He found the perfect lot on a street where many residents struggle daily with inadequate incomes, and luxuries like a park are infrequent. His vision was to provide a space where neighborhood residents could just come and sit under the shade trees, eat their lunches on picnic tables, relax around the fire pit with their families during cool weather. Continue reading Holding a space in hope

Hoping with the Announcing Angels

voices of adventI have been fortunate to spend time at the lake recently. Ah, sweet space, sweet air, sweet quiet. At the lake, anxiety falls off my shoulders as I shed the demands that confine my “city life.” At the lake, my to-do list becomes inconsequential and my focus changes from doing to just being. At the lake, languishing in a lounge chair on the porch is the correct protocol, for time is no longer measured, meted out, and assigned to particularities. The rhythm of life at the lake is struck not by the tick-tick of the clock on the wall but by the movement of the wind in the trees and the waves on the water. Continue reading Hoping with the Announcing Angels

Keeping Watch with the Magi

Third Sunday of Advent 2012

by Marjorie George

 

star xmasBy now, the Magi are likely on their journey.  Coming from the “East,” Matthew tells us, they are following a star. It is a journey of at least several months, and they know only that they are looking for a king – the “king of the Jews” they say.

In actuality, we know very little about the Magi – the Three Wise Men, as we have come to call them. We do not even know for certain that they were three in number; that assumption is based on Matthew’s story that the Magi presented three gifts to the Christ child – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They probably did not arrive at the manger scene when Christ was born, for Matthew says they “entered the house” where Jesus and his mother were.  Perhaps Jesus was as old as two.

Of the gospel writers, only Matthew even mentions the Magi, telling the entire story in the opening 12 verses of chapter two of his gospel. Historians tell us the Magi were probably from Persia (modern-day Iran) and were part scientist, part priest, part astronomer/astrologer. That would not have seemed strange at the time. They were interpreters of dreams and may have been responsible for crowning new rulers who came to power.

Their journey, if they had followed the main trade route of the era, would have taken them along the Euphrates River through what is now Iraq, crossing over the harsh and desolate Syrian desert, and passing through the lush Jordan Valley before arriving at the gates of Jerusalem. They would have gone through small towns and large cities where they didn’t speak the local language. They would have found themselves to be foreigners, and they might have been met with hostility as likely as with hospitality.

They had set out not really knowing for whom they were searching, where they were going, what they would find, or how long it would take.  But they had seen a star, and they couldn’t not follow it. 

The question for us is – What is the star that each of us follows? What is the dream we have been given? What’s the voice that beckons us forward to something unexplainable that we know in our heart of hearts is the path to which we are called? For what are we willing to set out on a journey we know not where it leads? For that is the journey of the soul in search of God.

Thomas Merton’s famous poem begins, “Mr Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot be certain where it will end . . .” (click here for the entire poem). The spiritual journey, someone has said, is like driving at night.   You can only see as far as the headlamps, but you can make the entire trip that way.

Our journey may take us to places we would rather not go where the people around us no longer understand what we are saying nor we them. There may be mountains and valleys and harsh, dry deserts along the way. The journey may take so much longer than we had planned for it to be.

What would be worth such a journey? If it is anything less than to see the person of Christ himself, we might ask ourselves if this is the path we really want to be on.

Whatever their reason for seeking the one to whom the star beckoned them – and it might have been political or diplomatic, not at all religious or spiritual – when the star stopped, the Magi were overjoyed. Then they entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, and “they knelt down and paid him homage” and gave to him from their treasure chests. When they returned home, they took another way than that by which they had arrived.  For their lives had been changed. They had met the Christ; the culmination of the journey had far surpassed anything that even these wise and holy men could have imagined.

As we approach the manger of the Christ child, now in a little more than a week, may we also be watchful for the star that God has set over us and which he beckons us to follow. May we have strength and courage for the journey and make it in the sure and certain knowledge that the One who leads us will bring us to himself; and that is all the journey we ever need to make.

 

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

 

Watching with Herod

Wednesday in the Second Week of Advent 2012

The gospel writers Matthew and Luke are specific about the time of Jesus’ birth – it happened during the rule of King Herod (Matt 2:1; Luke 1:5). Is this merely orienting the reader in time and place, or are the gospelers setting up a contrast between Herod, the secular “king,” and Christ, who will re-introduce the Kingdom of God? To answer that, we must look at the political organization of Rome and the person of Herod.

Recycled wrappingIn their conniving wisdom, Rome often put local rule of the lands they had conquered into the hands of carefully-chosen leaders who were indigenous to the area but were favorable to Rome. Thus, in about 40 BC, Rome appointed Herod to rule over the region of Palestine, under Rome’s oversight. Herod was a Jew by religion, but not by lineage. His father had been an Edomite by descent, a people whom Israel considered ancient enemies.

Herod was a cruel man, fearful at all times that his power and position would be usurped – he murdered his wife, her mother, and three of his sons when he suspected they were plotting against him. He is the king for whom we remember the slaughter of the Israelites’ baby boys when he learned of the birth of Jesus.

Herod’s ambition also manifested itself in a string of building campaigns. His projects included the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the desert fortress of Masada, and the city and massive harbor works at Caesarea. For his protection, he built himself a fortress and palace – the seven-story Herodium – about 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem, near Bethlehem.

Herod could not get enough. For all of his wealth, and all of his power, Herod lived a life of scarcity.  He gathered to himself people (the loyal ones), land, and structures. And it was never enough. For him to win, someone else had to lose. For him to be right, others had to be wrong. There might not be enough to go around, and he was going to be sure he got his.

Into this is Christ born. No marble-floored palace, no silk sheets or a warm birthing blanket, no fortified city of his own away from the riff-raff.  

No, instead Jesus’ birth was accompanied by singing angels, adoring shepherds, visits from some wise people (and I don’t just mean the kings from the orient).  Sheep ceased their bleating at his arrival, camels bowed low. God’s own star lit up the sky.  God’s gift came from God’s own abundance.

“It is the father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom,” Jesus told later followers (Luke 12:32). “I have come to give you life abundant,” he said (John 10:10).

When we live in scarcity, we live out of our own resources. We shore up our storehouses from our own hard work and careful planning. We give in to a culture of frenzy so that we are sure we will have enough – enough goods, enough of the right friends, enough position and power that others cannot hurt us.

But we are a people of abundance. The Lord God Almighty, the one who created heaven and earth, is our benefactor. And this God is not going to run out of goodness. 

Someone once said to me, “When we get to heaven, we are going to find a bunch of gifts that God had for us, left unopened. And God will ask us why.”

As we prepare to give our gifts of love this Christmas, may we also prepare to receive the gift God so longs to give us – the gift of his unending abundance.

 

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline.  Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.og.

 

Watching with the Pharisees

Second Sunday in Advent 2012

by Marjorie GeorgeWoman holding question mark flag

I am standing in the kitchen when I realize I need my watch. So I head toward the bedroom to get it – through the family room, down the hall, turn left at the third door. But when I get to the bedroom, I can’t remember why I am there.  Raise your hand if this happens to you.

It helps at that point, they say, and my experience bears this out, to go back to the source of the thought. Back to the kitchen I go – out the bedroom door, up the hall, through the family room, into the kitchen and, sure enough, there I remember that I was going to get my watch.

Never mind why this happens (too much on my mind, distracted by something else, or just plain addle-brained); somewhere between the intention and the action, the original mission got lost.

I think this is the story of the Pharisees. It started out well enough, but somewhere along the way they forgot the original mission, did not go back to the source, and then didn’t recognize it when it was set before them.

In textbook religion, the Pharisees score high. It is thought they came into being at a time when the Jewish religion and culture were being threatened by Greek Hellenism. The Greek/Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes (ruled 175 to 164 BC) was determined to force the Greek culture onto the Jews, and, frankly, many Jews placidly, if not eagerly, accepted it.

In this climate there arose a group of lay people who were dedicated to Torah and the traditional Jewish laws, teachings, and worship. They came to be called the “separatists” or Pharisees. Only by separation from all that was not of God, they believed, would God bless Israel as a nation once again.

The Pharisees were devoted to both the written and oral tradition of Torah; they established an educational system by which all Jewish boys would be schooled in Torah; they were faithful in worship, and were biblically-based and tradition-honoring. They represented the common man, as opposed to the Sadducees who comprised the wealthy and elite. All admirable traits.

But then the Pharisees began to believe that their interpretation of God was more important than God himself. They forgot why they had gone into the bedroom in the first place, and they declined to return to the source for the answer. They had decided for themselves what God looked like, so they did not recognize him when he arrived in the person of Jesus the Christ, much less as an innocent baby.

St. Augustine warned that if we think we understand God, then, by definition, what we understand is not God. Author Barbara Bowe, in Biblical Foundations of Spirituality, points out that our names for God, our metaphors of what God is like, suggest what we believe to be true of God, but they neither define nor limit God’s being.

When we travel to the manger seeking the Christ in our own strength, wisdom, and understanding, we are likely to find there just some hay and some bellowing animals. When we expect God to be whom we expect him to be, that may be exactly what we find – and it may not be God at all. The pity is, we may not even realize that.

Advent is a good time to go back to the source, to suspend our own certainties about how things are and how they ought to be. When we receive the Christ child stripped of swaddling cloths of our own making, we may be surprised at what we find and what we remember.

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.