Gifted with Heavenly Peace

A few weeks ago, Grandpa Mike and I spent the day with our grandsons. Big Brother Danny attended preschool that morning while Grandpa and I entertained little Ben. Though this five-month-old smiles perpetually, especially for Grandpa, he didn’t do so that morning. He was hungry and tired and simply wanted Mommy to feed him and rock him to sleep. Mommy had done this just before she left for the day. Afterward, poor Ben had to rely upon me and my meager resources to soothe him. Grandpa warmed a bottle while I rocked Ben and cooed my best. I sang a string of little songs which I habitually compose on the run for whichever grandchild is on hand. Though Ben normally smiles in return, that day, he howled all the louder. When I’d sapped my creativity, I walked Ben to the Christmas Tree with the hope that the lights would distract him from his woe. On the way, I sang Silent Night. By the time I voiced “all is calm, all is bright” Ben stopped crying and began to coo in response. Finally, Ben’s milk was warm. Though he normally guzzles these liquid feasts as quickly as possible, this time Ben slowly savored every drop. As for me, I continued to sing Silent Night until Ben finished that bottle and went to sleep. As I lay him in his crib, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for Ben’s willingness to “…sleep in heavenly peace.”

I tiptoed back to the family room where Grandpa was sitting in the quiet. Danny’s preschool bus wouldn’t bring him home for another hour, so we basked in “heavenly peace” as well. We chatted about the frenzy of the days ahead, finalized our Christmas lists and tweaked our shopping plans. In spite of the uneasiness in the world-at-large around us, we voiced our gratitude for the blessings of our family, our friends and one another. Throughout that brief reprieve, we savored every minute of the heavenly peace we’d found…

Not long after we celebrate this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we’ll hug our loved ones and greet those we meet with a joyful “Merry Christmas!” In spite of the imperfections of this life which will persist through December 24 and 25, we’ll embrace the heavenly peace we encounter. That peace will come in the company of our loved ones. That peace will come as our sometimes imperfect Christmas preparations evolve into perfect expressions of our affection for one another. Though our human quirks will punctuate our Christmas festivities far more often than our Hallmark expectations prefer, heavenly peace will remain intact. We will savor that peace just as Little Ben savors every drop of his milk because it is within this peace that we find true joy and it is within this peace that God dwells. I’ve insisted throughout Advent 2018 that we’ve had no need to wait for God’s coming because God has been with us all along. Christmas simply offers us another opportunity to celebrate God’s presence among us and within us.

Today, Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:39-45) encourages us to embrace heavenly peace in our lives in our joy and in our sorrow. Mary did this in spite of her frightening circumstances. Though with child herself, Mary made the three-day journey to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant. It’s unlikely that Mary’s family owned a donkey, so she probably walked the entire distance. Mary might have excused herself from tending to her cousin in light of her own predicament as an unwed mother-to-be. Her betrothed Joseph was home contemplating what to do about their impending marriage. Still, Mary reached deep within to embrace God’s peace. What’s more, she went on to share that peace with her cousin. Luke tells us that the moment Mary arrived, Elizabeth’s baby leapt in her womb. This tiny movement reassured Elizabeth. With absolute certainty that she was in God’s presence, Elizabeth asked, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? …Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Elizabeth’s remarks encouraged Mary’s certainty regarding God’s love for her. After this visit, both Mary and Elizabeth basked in heavenly peace. Though what lay ahead would be trying at best for both women, they embraced the things to come with God at their sides.

Grandpa Mike and I never miss an opportunity to spend time with our grandchildren and their parents. We simply can’t resist them. Whether we’ve gathered for a soccer game, a birthday party or at someone’s bedside in a hospital, we find peace in one another’s company. Our love for each other hints at God’s love for us and it is in God’s love that we experience heavenly peace at its best. As this Fourth Sunday of Advent gives way to Christmas, I encourage you to unwrap the peace in every encounter which comes your way. Whether in our families, in our friendships or in the unexpected acquaintances whom we meet along the way, there is heavenly peace to be discovered. Yes, God is present among us and God gifts us with that presence in surprising ways! Merry Christmas!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Still With Us

May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.

Psalm 72:17

In just two weeks, Christmas will be here. My husband has stolen away for a few well-deserved hours at the health club. I completed the tasks at hand and took full advantage of the quiet house. I settled myself in the living room at the feet of our Christmas Tree. Since childhood, this has been my favorite place to await Christmas Day.

I basked in the sparkling lights and inhaled the scent of pine. After a whimsical peek at the tree’s eclectic array of ornaments, my eyes rested upon the crèche below it. The tiny figurines huddled there give life to the greatest story ever told. I recalled childhood discussions with my mother regarding this amazing birth. I also recalled lessons offered by the good sisters which underscored all that my mother told me about that amazing baby boy. Heaven and earth came together the day Jesus was born! His story changed this world forever. As I sat beneath our Christmas Tree, I realized once again that his story has changed my own life forever as well.

No matter how some attempt to distort it, Jesus’ message regarding God’s unconditional love and God’s presence among us continues to instill hope.

Good and gracious God, I can never thank you enough for the gift of your love and your presence in my life. Gift all of your people with a tangible sense of your presence and hearts sensitive enough to respond.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is With Us!

I went out a few days before Thanksgiving to purchase replacements for a string of Christmas lights which refused to make it another year. Though I didn’t find the LEDs I needed, I did find myself drawn in by the store’s Christmas displays. They were so inviting that I took the time to walk a few aisles simply to enjoy the show. Afterward, I decided to make another stop for those lights. Maybe the next store would have them and an equally entertaining Christmas array. In the end, I didn’t find the lights I wanted, but my heart was lightened just the same. I headed home with the hope that I’d come across them somewhere along the way. I also headed home with a smile.

It was the week after Thanksgiving when Mike and I set out to find a new outdoor timer. The one we’d used for years had lost its enthusiasm and refused to keep our lighting schedule. The poor thing had served us well, so we didn’t complain. Rather, we headed back to the store I’d visited for those elusive light strings. When we approached the Christmas aisle, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The displays I’d enjoyed just days earlier resembled a war zone. Apparently, Black Friday shoppers had purchased so much that the store either couldn’t keep up or had little merchandise left to restock. Fortunately for us, timers seemed not to have been in demand and Mike and I found exactly what we needed. As we strolled to the checkout, I couldn’t help noticing that most of our fellow shoppers had lost their leisurely demeanor. One week earlier, when I smiled at someone, he or she quickly returned the favor. This was no longer the case. Alarm clocks the morning after Thanksgiving had signaled the beginning of shoppers’ nightmares and their frazzled race to December 25. I wished I could convince each one of them to take a deep breath and to enjoy the moments at hand. After all, we’re in the midst of Advent. You know, the “coming” or “arrival” which is occurring now. We have nothing to wait for because God is already with us. This is the reason Jesus didn’t wait. Jesus brought hope to every moment at hand…

Do you remember the wedding feast at Cana? Imagine Jesus ignoring his mother’s request to help that young couple with their wine predicament! Jesus might have replied, “I know running out of wine is an embarrassment, but the bride and groom will get over it! It’s not my time to get involved!” Still, Jesus responded to Mary’s hope and he saved the day by providing that wine. Do you remember the ten lepers? Jesus might have ignored their cries. After all, suffering builds character. The lepers’ lot would earn them a fine reward in the next life. Still, Jesus saw the hope in their eyes and cured them all. Jesus might also have ignored the woman at the well. Jesus knew she’d made a mess of her prior relationships. Perhaps she’d come to her senses on her own and eventually learn the true meaning of love. Still, when Jesus saw the woman’s hopeful response to his presence, he shared the wisdom she needed. Even that weary crowd of five thousand wasn’t enough to deter Jesus. He bolstered the hope they’d found in his teaching with a much-needed meal. Throughout his entire life among us, Jesus took every opportunity to infuse hope into the moments at hand by revealing God’s loving presence to all who looked his way.

The scripture readings today (Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-18) and throughout Advent speak to a better future. Old Testament passages infused hope into the dejected people with images of life under more suitable leadership and beyond the torment of slavery. The early church saw these passages as foreshadowing Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ earliest followers believed that hope came to life on the first Christmas when Jesus was born. The early church understood that they had reason to celebrate because the kingdom had come and God lived among them. It seems to me that we need to embrace the stance of the early church this Advent and always. While the children among us wait to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus, we celebrate God’s presence in the here and now. Though we look with hope toward the things to come, we embrace every second of every day with hope as well. After all, none of us can limit the potential God has infused into the moments at hand.

If we could see into the hearts of those gathered with us today, we’d find amazing joy and unimaginable suffering. Some will endure Christmas Day without a wife or husband, a mother or father, a son or daughter or dear friend who left this world too soon. Some will endure Christmas in the midst of a crumbling marriage or a crumbling career. Some who are lonely will try to ignore Christmas in order to avoid the pain. Those of us with hope-filled hearts must share our hope with those who need it most. Those of us who are steeped in sorrow must find the courage to give in to our hope and to embrace God’s love. God stands beside us ready to rejoice with us and to bear our pain with us. Yes, God is with us today. God isn’t waiting to come and we mustn’t wait to welcome God into our lives.
©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Do What You Can

Blessed are the peacemakers;
they shall be called daughters and sons of God.

Matthew 5:9

A follow-up news story regarding another unjust shooting ate away at the peace I desperately tried to hold onto. I felt discouraged because, once again, I had to acknowledge that I have no antidote for the ills of this world.

In the midst of my discouragement, a small voice from deep within interrupted my litany of troubles…

I heard, “Have you forgotten that I am with you?”

No. Never. But you seem less tangible today than the troubles around me seem.

The voice continued, “Did you know that I have commissioned others to deal with these things?”

No. Well, yes. You always have a plan in place. Still, I’m not good at standing on the sidelines.

The voice trickled off into a whisper, “I know, but it’s time for you to learn this. Just do your best where you are. That’s all I ever ask. I will take care of the rest.”

With that, the peace within me emerged once again. With that, I embraced that day with renewed resolve to bring God’s peace to my little corner of this world.

Loving God, thank you for placing us precisely where we need to be.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Gift of Peace

Brothers and sisters: You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to wake from sleep.
For our salvation is nearer now than we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand.

Romans 13:11

A follow-up news story to an unjust shooting ate away at the peace I desperately held onto. I felt discouraged because, once again, I had to acknowledge that I have no antidote for the ills of this world.

In the midst of my discouragement, a small voice from deep within interrupted my litany of troubles…

I heard, “Have you forgotten that I am with you?”

No. Never. But you seem less tangible today than the troubles around me seem.

The voice continued, “Did you know that I have commissioned others to deal with these things?”

No. Well, yes. You always have a plan in place. Still, I’m not good at standing on the sidelines.

The voice trickled off into a whisper, “I know, but it’s time for you to learn this. Just do your best where you are. That’s all I ever ask. I will take care of the rest.”

With that, the peace within me made its presence known once again. With that, I embraced that day with renewed resolve to bring God’s peace with me everywhere.

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing presence within each one of us. Thank you also for placing us precisely where we need to be. Most of all, I thank you for trusting us with the gift of your peace.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved