Jesus Transforms And So Should I

I’d just returned from numerous errands. Winter’s cold imposed a chill in spite of my warm coat. As I hurried into the house, I reassessed our Christmas decorations. Fraser fir needles threatened to overtake the living room carpet. Still, I whispered a compliment to our drooping tree. “You’ve served us well, dear one.” With that, I set aside my coat and sat by the tree for a while. Though I shivered in spite of the humming furnace, I forgot my discomfort as I perused that tree from top to bottom. When my eyes rested upon the crèche below it, I wondered what Mary and Joseph were doing two millenniums ago. What was their life like after the unsettling circumstances of Jesus’ birth faded? What sense did that poor couple make of the trials and tribulations of raising a baby boy destined to be anything but ordinary?

Our Christmas cards and carols offer peace-filled images of those early days. They tell us that angels sang on a silent night. Shepherds responded with awe. One drummer boy drummed. Night Wind asked Little Lamb, “Do you see what I see?” A more recent composition inquires, “Mary, did you know?” Beautiful as they are, our cards and carols overlook much of the reality of the first Christmas. These symbols of the season speak eloquently of Peace on Earth. Still, for Mary and Joseph, Jesus’ arrival was an emotional and trying time at best. The months and years which followed tested Jesus’ parents even more harshly.

On this Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, we recall astrologers who traveled a long distance to find a very special child. The scriptures tell us that this trio amazed Mary and Joseph with their attention to Jesus. Did any of them realize the significance of that visit? When the Magi returned home with news of that long-awaited birth, they carried hope beyond the Jewish community to all the world. Sadly, their unprecedented act of faith came at a great price. When the Magi stopped at Herod’s palace to learn what he might have known about that newborn king, they alerted the tyrant to a possible threat to his throne. Fortunately, these three were indeed wise men. They heeded an angel’s warning and avoided Herod when they set out to their homeland. Nonetheless, while the Magi shared the good news of Jesus’ birth along their way, Herod slaughtered every Jewish boy under the age of two, except for one, to rid himself of his rival. So much for Peace on Earth!

Joseph, a wise man as well, also listened to an angel. That heavenly messenger directed Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. The three remained there until Herod’s death. Though Joseph hoped to return to Judea, he found that Herod’s son occupied the throne. In the end, Joseph moved his family to Galilee and settled in Nazareth. There, Joseph and Mary raised Jesus to be devout in his faith and dedicated to his trade. The next mention of Jesus in the scriptures is a trip to Jerusalem during Passover. Jesus was twelve years old when he remained among temple scholars to study while his parents journeyed home only to return for him a few days later. After this passage, the gospels lapse once again until Jesus’ public ministry began when he was thirty years old. I can only imagine all that Mary and Joseph did to help Jesus to prepare for that day…

I admit that I lingered in the glow of our Christmas Tree for some time before beginning this writing. As I reflected upon Jesus’ birth and his encounter with the astrologers, I considered Jesus’ impact on this world of ours. You know, Mary and Joseph refocused their entire lives because of Jesus. The Magi altered their journey home to safely carry their news to places where it would otherwise have been unknown. In the years that followed, imagine how Nazareth evolved as little Jesus grew into a tradesman and itinerant preacher. Jesus’ preaching and those who listened to him eventually changed the course of human history. Knowing Jesus has changed the course of my life as well. Now what am I going to change?

My husband and I truly enjoy preparing our home for Christmas. Every light we string and ornament we hang speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. Everything we do speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. Everything we do testifies to Jesus’ presence in our lives far more than anything we might say. It seems to me that today’s feast invites us to consider if our lives’ “testimony” is all it can be. I’m grateful that we have all of New Year 2020 to find out and to adjust accordingly!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Inspired By Mary of Nazareth

What does one do when she intends to dance her way through Advent, but stubs her toe within the first few steps? What does one do when he receives an unexpected diagnosis just a week into this four week journey? What does one do when he attempts to bring a bit of Merry Christmas to every day, but finds his good intentions rerouted by the loss of a loved one? What does one do when she tries her hardest to bring joy to the world, but finds herself unable to move beyond the unrest deep within her own heart? Since the beginning, I’ve urged you to join me in spreading glad tidings and dancing through Advent to Christmas Day. Still, in spite of our best efforts, many of you have discovered with me that this is sometimes more difficult than it seems…

The bumps in the road I’ve encountered this Advent too often threatened to derail my efforts. Rather than giving up on my good intentions, I decided to find encouragement in another Mary, the one who prepared for the first Christmas. When I was a child, I imagined this Mary filled with joy and unable to contain her love for the child she carried within her. I pictured Mary as she appears on many of our Christmas cards. So much at peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer as she awaited Jesus’ birth. She knew God would take care of everything else. My young heart was incapable of comprehending Mary’s actual predicament. As I grew older, I realized that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musing suggested. When I traveled to the Holy Land a few years ago, a visit to Nazareth deepened my thoughts on the matter.

Mary of Nazareth was a young teen when she embraced this out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Her parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to The Law. I can only imagine how they dealt with this news! Mary was betrothed to Joseph who was a good and just man. How did she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must have realized that the politics of her day made life difficult for the Jewish people. Did talk of this child add to their suffering? Did Mary consider the threat to her own safety? A woman caught in adultery drew the rage of the righteous which usually ended with her being stoned to death. As I walked through Nazareth three years ago, busy Israelis passed me from every direction. Some seemed immersed in the concerns of their day. Others laughed and chatted as they entered shops and restaurants. Still others, who’d covered themselves with broad hats and dark clothing, peered impatiently at less devout passersby. I wondered if they would have responded to Mary’s pregnancy with stones. Though the scriptures provide few details, it seems that Mary responded bravely to it all.

From the onset, Mary trusted in God’s faithfulness. As I walked the streets of Nazareth, I longed for the peace which urged Mary on. As I breathed in the air around me, I prayed that I would also breathe in Mary’s conviction that God is with me and with us all through everything we endure. For Mary of Nazareth, sadness and uncertainty never extinguished the spark of peace which was a constant within her heart. Though the complexities of this life grew with every step Jesus walked toward manhood, Mary trusted and carried on. As I ambled along the streets which were so familiar to Mary and Jesus, I admitted to myself that I haven’t been as adept as they were in dealing with the complexities of this life. Still, as Mary believed and as Jesus insisted, God remains with me.

So it is that I invite you to embrace the three days which remain until Christmas with renewed resolve. Though our eyes droop over perpetual to-do lists, look with me through Mary’s eyes toward Christmas Joy. Though our feet ache a bit from too many stumbles and too much running, let’s dance our way to join Mary beside Jesus’ manger. Though we’ve run out of shopping time, you and I know that we’ll never run out of blessings. Regardless of our successful and failed Christmas preparations, Mary’s peace and our own will abound on Christmas Day. Just as was the case for Mary that first Christmas Day, joy will prevail in the precious people we have been given to love. Most importantly, God’s love for you and me will be wrapped and unwrapped over and over again on Christmas Day and always. Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Will Manage, Too!

On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.

Psalm 71:6ab

When heavy winds caused our lights to flicker for a second or two, I panicked. I had so much to do. I found myself trying to shop, wrap, clean, bake and write within carefully planned windows of time. I’d convinced myself that any interruption to my already impossible schedule would be catastrophic at best. When the lights flickered a second time for several more seconds, I did as I always do. I looked up from my keyboard and begged, “Please, Lord, not now.”

Rather than returning to the task at hand, I walked downstairs to assess the wind for myself. I looked out to the backyard first. Everything remained in its place. I looked east toward our screened porch where the Christmas Tree and the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph also held their ground. By the time I peeked out the living room windows, the wind had morphed into a barely detectable breeze. Reassured, I took a moment to enjoy our indoor Christmas Tree and the tiny village beneath it. After perusing the town, I focused on the crèche where Mary and Joseph gaze lovingly upon Jesus. I couldn’t help myself as I asked them, “On what kind of night was your little guy born? Did you have any light at all in your makeshift delivery room? How did you keep yourselves warm?”

As I walked upstairs, it occurred to me that Mary and Joseph managed in spite of their dire circumstances. Whatever the wind decided to do the rest of the day, I would manage, too.

Loving God, thank you for giving us the stamina and creativity to manage our circumstances. You are all the light we need today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace… Bring It Everywhere

The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

As I continue my Advent journey, it occurs to me that I long for the same things that the people of Jesus’ time so desperately desired. I long for a world driven by a desire for peace, rather than the desire for power. I long for understanding among nations and within nations, among people and within the relationships which are most important to us. I long for good will, the kind the angels wished us on that first Christmas night. I long for a cure for the diseases which ravage our bodies. I long for a cure for the maladies which trouble our souls. Yes, I long for peace.

I’m distracted from this writing by rays of sunshine peering through my window. Then again, perhaps I’m not distracted. Perhaps I’m being called. Those rays warm the tall spruce in our yard and I realize that I’m not alone in my longing. Just as that tree outside my window stands dormant until spring returns with the stuff of new life, we do the same. Unlike that tree, however, none of us needs to lie dormant. There is always something we can do in the moment at hand to improve this life for others and for ourselves.

So it is that I renew my resolve to take every opportunity to find God’s presence in my circumstances and in the people God has given me to love. Because I truly long for peace on earth, I will do my part to create peace one moment at a time.

Loving God, thank you for being with me in everything, especially in my resolve to make this world a better place for us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Lights Our Way

Little children,
let us love in deed and in truth…

From 1 John 3:18

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. It was once an odd phenomenon to hear the local television meteorologist speak of the possibility of snow. After all, we’ve just turned our calendars to November! Unfortunately, the meteorological antics of Halloween 2019 seem to have changed that forever. Though she offers encouragement with a promise that sunshine will return tomorrow, this weather expert cannot dispel the gray which lurks beyond my window today. Though I do enjoy the cold, I enjoy sunshine as well.

It occurs to me that, on occasion, my knowledge of human nature fails me as much as the weather does. I sometimes ignore this wisdom and “push buttons” that would best be left alone. Though I know well what will come next if I attempt to have the last word, I speak in spite of myself. When the thunder in my adversary threatens, I push when I should let go. I forget to let love take care.

Like raking leaves after a windstorm or shoveling snow after a blizzard, I make feeble attempts to right the things I’ve done wrong. Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, the damage is too extensive to repair. As I reaffirm my resolve not to repeat these transgressions, the sun breaks through the clouds. God remains with me as I transform my good intentions into good deeds.

Patient God, help me respond to every storm with rays of love, just as you do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

They’re Always Watching!

Beloved:Let no one have contempt for your youth,
but set an example for those who believe,
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.

1 Timothy 4:12

The other day at the grocery store, a young man “slipped” and said a word that wasn’t suitable for the ears of some nearby children. Before he could apologize, the older woman with him responded, “You know, kids are always watching and it’s up to us to show them what’s right.” The woman added another line or two about how she and his dad were very careful of their language when he was within earshot. The young man took his mother’s comments well. The pair smiled at one another and then continued their shopping. As for the kids, I’m grateful to say that they didn’t react to any of this as they were distracted by the shelves of breakfast cereal before them. Neither they nor their mom seemed to have heard a word.

That wise parent’s comment echoed sentiments repeated frequently throughout my teaching career and my second career as a grandparent. Grandchildren repeat just about everything they hear. They also mimic our actions and our attitudes far more accurately than we might think possible.

What does all of this mean for us allegedly mature adults? Apparently, we need to be on our best behavior as often as possible. None of us knows when an impressionable child of any age may be watching. It’s up to us to provide them with the best lessons we’re capable of offering as often as we can.

Easy, huh?

Loving God, help us to offer only glimpses of your goodness to the young souls you place in our care.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved