In yesterday’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus invited the crowds, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest”?
I have to confess that when I first read that Gospel passage, I was perplexed. Why, during Advent, are we listening to Jesus giving this message to the crowds?
True, this line is one that I bring to mind with great frequency; it is one that immediately calms any of my frenetic concerns and allows me to rest in God’s grace. But I have never thought of this teaching as an Advent one.
The more I sat with it, however, the more sense it made to me to have us hear and reflect on these words of Jesus during Advent.
Listening to Jesus’ teaching at this time reminds us that there is a single story that begins with Incarnation and goes through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Spirit. Although Advent reminds us of the longing for a Messiah, so deeply expressed in the Old Testament, for us Jesus’ story has fulfilled this longing and in him our longings and restlessness are fulfilled.
And that means that during our Advent, while we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation, while we prepare to welcome the Christ child anew into our hearts – we do so already in the presence of the spirit of Christ, who has never forgotten his promise to be with us always. And that spirit of Christ says to us today and every day, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
[I offered this reflection yesterday on the for the Advent Reflection series of the University of St. Thomas Office for Spirituality.]
About two weeks ago, I had a terrific conversation with Oran Parker, who publishes a podcast series titled Find the Good News, which, as he describes it, aims to focus on “good people doing good works.”
Oran, who lives in southwest Louisiana, found my podcasts while looking for people who might be discussing the works of Thomas Merton, about whom I have written and spoken frequently (including in yesterday’s post). I was happy to accept Oran’s gracious invitation to be part of his podcast series.
You can listen to our conversation, which covers a range of topics related to both Christianity and Buddhism, here.
I also encourage you to check out some of the other Find the Good News podcasts.
On this day in 1968, Thomas Merton died. It is a date I always remember because Merton is one of the people whose writings were enormously helpful to me at a time when I was struggling with where I was with God.
Merton once wrote, “The Church’s belief in Christ is not a mere static assent to His historical existence, but a dynamic participation in the great cycle of actions which manifest in the world the love of the Father for the ones He has called to union with Himself, in his beloved Son.”
It is a great thought to keep in mind in these last two weeks before our celebration of Christmas.
We can all call to mind the image of a young couple who cannot find room in an inn as the woman’s pregnancy. nears its end. We listen to the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah. And we hear stories about a star, and shepherds and wise men.
And it is right that we celebrate the birth of Jesus into the world. But, even as we do, we need to keep in mind that our faith is about more than the historical existence of a man named Jesus.
Ultimately, it is about the love of God – a God who longs for nothing less than our total union with Him. A God who chooses to become human out of love – to show us what it means to be fully human – and fully divine.
And, as the Merton quote suggests, our realization of this reality demands a response. Not mere a passive enjoyment of that love, but our commitment to “manifest in the world” that love.
As we move through these days of Advent, days in which our world is groaning in suffering, we might ask how we might more fully manifest God’s love in the world.
When we were visiting our daughter and her husband for Thanksgiving, we attended services at the church at which she sings. I was moved by the Creed recited in the service, which comes from the United Church of Christ Canada.
The Creed was recited that morning in a call and response fashion as follows:
Leader: We are not alone, we live in God’s world. We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh.
People: We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
Leader: Jesus has come to reconcile and make us new, to work in us and others through God’s Spirit.
People: We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
Leader: We trust in God. We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence, and to live with respect in Creation.
People: We trust in God.
Leader: We are called to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil.
People: We trust in God.
Leader: We are called to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
All: In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.
There is a lot to chew on in those lines, a lot worthy of being in a creed, a lot by which to orient our lives as Christians.
But what I remember thinking at the time the creed was recited during the service was: If we could only remember the first line, even only that would make an enormous difference:
We are not alone; we live in God’s world.
Today marks the beginning of the Advent season, perhaps my favorite time of the liturgical calendar.
As we begin our preparation for our celebration of the Incarnation, as we ready ourselves to welcome anew the Christ child into our hearts, a good prayer is Mary Oliver’s Making the House Ready for the Lord. Here it is:
Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice – it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances – but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And I still believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.
I wish you all a blessed Advent.
I have shared before a blessing my former colleague Jennifer Wright once sent to me. I can’t think of a better prayer for this day; it expresses well my wish for all of you as we celebrate this Thanksgiving Day.
May you be with people you love.
May you eat tasty, satisfying food that has been prepared with love and with laughter.
May you reach out to someone outside your immediate circle to share your blessings.
May you be overwhelmed with gratitude for the bounty that you have received.
May you be aware of the depths of your roots in your family and your past and of the infinite potential of your future.
May you repose in utter trust in God’s love for you and God’s amazing, overflowing, creatively stunning intention for good for all of God’s creation.
As I prepare to celebrate this holiday with my family, I wish you and yours a blessed and happy Thanksgiving Day.
And, as you gather with family and friends, I hope you will take some time to revel in gratitude at all of the many gifts that you have been given, and to remember the source of all you are and all you have.
There is a popular Thanksgiving meme that I have seen widely shared at about this time over the last couple of years. It says:
Because only in America do we wait in line and trample others for sale items one day after giving thanks for what we already have.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. We will spend the day celebrating with our loved ones, giving thanks for all of our many blessings.
Why go from that to the insanity of Black Friday shopping? Not only will some people line up before dawn on Friday, but some will rush out to the stores Thursday evening before they have even digested their pumpkin pie.
Relax! There are still many shopping days before Christmas! There is nothing you need so badly that you need to make yourself crazy battling crowds in a shopping mall.
Why not let the celebration of that day spill over to the next day and abandon Black Friday in exchange for Fun Friday?
Our plans for the day includes cookie baking and playing games – and, of course, eating leftover turkey. We will laugh, sing, and just enjoy being together.
How will you spend the day after Thanksgiving?