Reveal God In Your Presence

No one has ever seen God.
It is God the only Son,
ever at the Father’s side,
who has revealed God.

From John 1:1-18

My long past teaching days taught me to make the most of our winter breaks. My husband, our sons and I filled this time away from school with everything that our school schedules kept us from. We played in the snow and went to movies to retreat from the cold. Enjoying new toys and other Christmas gifts added to the fun. We went to bed a little later and slept a little later with great relish.

This New Year’s Eve, our sons and their wives and children are making the most of this break from their jobs, first grade and preschool. I cannot help smiling as I acknowledge that this particular family tradition was not lost on the younger generation. They learned well to appreciate one another, and they are teaching their children the same.

Loving God, you revealed yourself to us through Jesus. Help us to reveal you as well in the precious moments we share with one another today and throughout the coming year.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Grace Is Upon Us

The child grew in size and strength,
filled with wisdom,
and the grace of God was upon him.

From Luke 2:36-40

As the New Year approaches, my thoughts turn to my hopes and dreams, worries and fears for 2014. I have been blessed with an inner calm that I really cannot explain. Still, I fret with the best of them on occasion, especially when a loved one faces peril that I can do nothing about. Most recently, my own recuperation from shoulder surgery shook me a bit. Though my recovery has gone very well, the challenge of getting through the painful milestones along the way has tested my endurance repeatedly. Normally when this occurs, I head outdoors to walk. Because close encounters with slippery walks are out of the question just now, I have sought my solace indoors at the mall and the large lower level of our church.

My walks are not a retreat from my troubles. Indeed, they are just the opposite. It is while I am embraced by a soft summer breeze or a gust of winter cold that I feel most like the child of whom Luke wrote so long ago. Even indoors, I find myself engulfed by the goodness around me. Though I have grown neither as wise nor as strong as Jesus did, I do have the grace of God upon me. Jesus himself convinced me of this by the way he lived his life among us. His lessons regarding God’s love assure me every time that my loved ones and I will be fine after all. You see, God’s grace is upon us all.

Good and Gracious God, I thank you for the grace you provide within all of our circumstances. Your presence enhances the best and worst of our days. Your love enhances our best efforts and softens our sinfulness. You draw goodness even from our imperfections.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Holy Families

This morning, I allowed myself a few moments before our Christmas Tree and the village and crèche that rest beneath it. All of my life, I have enjoyed similar scenes in my parents’ home and the homes of numerous family members. Though I brought this tradition into our home when I married, my husband and our sons took over this task early on. While our boys-turned-men have moved on to their own homes and their own Christmas Trees, their dad continues as village planner in this house. As for me, I unpack the boxes and step back as my dear husband fashions the current year’s scene.

As I studied my husband’s handiwork this Christmas 2013, it occurred to me that the peace and joy we associate with the first Christmas likely graced Mary and Joseph far differently than the scene before me suggested. Mary and Joseph did not choose Bethlehem to be the birthplace of their son. Caesar Augustus required all citizens to return to their cities of origin to register for a census. Since Joseph’s roots lay in Bethlehem, he and his wife were compelled to travel there. When the couple arrived, Bethlehem teemed with people who had made the same journey with the same purpose. When Joseph failed to find a place to stay, an innkeeper led him and Mary to his livestock shelter. They would find a bit of privacy there as Mary’s labor had begun. Though a warm room and a clean bed escaped them, Mary and Joseph were likely grateful for what they had been given as they prepared to welcome Jesus into their lives. Not long afterward, something in the night sky alerted shepherds to a baby’s cry in the night. It was to these that Mary and Joseph first introduced their child. Though many considered themselves more worthy than these outcasts to greet the Messiah, God chose shepherds to welcome Jesus to his life among us.

The difficult circumstances which surrounded Jesus’ birth were only a taste of the hardships to come for the Holy Family. The Magi traveled a great distance to follow the star which heralded this new king. Though Mary and Joseph certainly thanked God for this amazing visit, they likely followed their prayer of thanks with a prayer for counsel. How would they raise this child? Not long after the Magi’s departure, an angel’s warning came in answer to their prayer. God’s messenger warned Joseph of King Herod’s wrath and instructed him to flee to Egypt with his family. There they remained until Herod’s death. Though Joseph intended to return to their home, a second angel warned of another tyrant which is the reason Joseph finally settled his family in Nazareth.

As I stared at the little Bethlehem that rests under our Christmas Tree, I shuddered as reality’s chill took hold of me. Though my loved ones shared much joy before this tree, life in the world continues with its imperfections and hardship. It seems to me that this is the message of this Feast of the Holy Family. Joseph and Mary nurtured God’s beloved Son. Still, their holy family was not spared the difficulties that punctuate life on this earth. While God showered them with loving care every day of their lives, God also allowed them the freedom to make the best of their lot as only they could. The two millenia since bear witness to the fruits of Joseph’s and Mary’s efforts. Jesus’ message would never have touched our hearts if Mary and Joseph had not done their part.

You know, God fashioned your circumstances and mine with even more loving care than my husband expended as he fashioned the little village under our family Christmas Tree. God gave Mary and Joseph all that they needed to nurture Jesus and one another, whatever the circumstances, and God does the same for you and me. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are not the only holy family whom we celebrate today. Indeed, God’s presence among us makes each of our families holy as well.

By this reading, you have experienced the best and worst of Christmas 2013, just as Mary and Joseph experienced the best and worst of the First Christmas. Like them, we turn to God in both cases -to offer our gratitude and to seek God’s counsel. Like them, we simply do our part as only we can.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Holy Innocents

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream
and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother,
flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you.”
From Matthew 2:13-18

My family will gather again in a few days to continue our Christmastime festivities with a New Year’s Day reunion. For generations before I arrived, my dad’s Canadian family preserved this tradition which includes a blessing. Each year, we gather before our eldest family member to request this blessing. This one in turn asks God to provide for each one of us during the coming year.

My earliest memories include the sense of peace I felt as we knelt together in prayer. Afterward, I felt protected somehow, regardless of what life had in store for the next three hundred and sixty-five days. Perhaps this is the reason I felt the need to protect my younger sisters when our dad passed away. Perhaps this is the reason I was always careful to help my own sons to feel safe. Perhaps this is the reason I hold my granddaughters so close these days…

Gentle Jesus, your parents had a terrible time early on in your life. How frightening it must have been for them to witness such hatred toward a tiny baby. how their hearts must have broken over the deaths of the Innocents who were taken in your stead. Today, I thank you for revealing God’s unconditional love and care for me. I promise to pass it on to those you have placed in my care.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Birthday, Daddy

“…what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you.”

From John 1:1-4

When I was a little girl, I asked my dad if he minded that his birthday fell two days after Christmas. He replied that this was okay because he felt as though Christmas was a very good day that led into his own very, very good day. My grandparents had little money, which leads me to believe that my dad didn’t receive many gifts on either day. Still, he shared his memories with a smile big enough to convince this daughter that his childhood Christmases and birthdays were just fine.

Dear Jesus, thank you for choosing to live humbly among us and for teaching us to find joy in whatever our circumstances may be. More importantly, thank you for my dad who passed your teaching on to me with great competence and with great love.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Feast of Stephen

As Stephen was being stoned, he could be heard praying,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
From Acts of the Apostles 6:8-10; 7:54-59

The day after Christmas is a gift in itself. Though most of our annual Christmas observances don’t go as planned, they “go” nonetheless. Our meals are often less than perfect and a few of our gifts might have been better off left at the store, yet we shared them. An attitude or two could have been adjusted a bit more positively. Still, together we created the memories which we savor today.

In spite of the imperfections of life on this earth, we celebrate the generosity of the One who offered heaven to us from the hands of a baby. Like good Saint Stephen, when we hung him on a cross to die, Jesus turned to God above to hand over his spirit –but not before he forgave us for rejecting the gift of himself.

God of Wisdom, who else could have known that becoming one of us was the best way to reveal yourself to us? Today, I give thanks for the gift of Jesus who has truly changed my life and this world for the better!

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved