Never Fear…

“As for you, every hair of your head has been counted;
so do not be afraid of anything.”

Matthew 10:30

A friend from church passed away just before Christmas. George* is an octogenarian who’d been battling cancer for some time. Though he’d done remarkably well, treatment had taken its toll and his body was simply too tired to deal with any more. The last time I saw him, George told me he was feeling quite well and doing great. Still, when we parted, he gave me an unexpected hug which lasted longer than anticipated. I couldn’t help thinking at the time that he may not have been completely honest with me. Knowing George as I did, he likely didn’t want either of us to have to say good-bye. I admit that this gesture was generous to us both. I couldn’t have offered my farewell to him without a stream of tears.

Though my friend’s protective spirit saved me from my tears that day, I admit that they flowed freely when I received the news of his passing. Our conversations were always so lively and informative that I couldn’t imagine George any other way. This attitude remained throughout everything he’d endured. More importantly, his faith remained as well. George’s main concern seems to have been for those he would leave behind. As for George, he knew he was going home, the home we’ll all occupy one day.

Loving God, thank you for sharing George with me. Bless us all with a measure of his unshakable faith.

*I call my friend “George” because I erroneously referred to him with this misnomer when we first met.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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It’s All About Love!

I realize that you’re not in church while reading this. Still, imagine yourself in a quiet place where you have a moment to relax and regroup. I hope this helps…

The candles which light our Advent Wreath glow in unison today. This is the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve. There is no more time to wonder if I’ll be ready for Christmas Day because in a few short hours Christmas will be here. In spite of the time constraint and the lingering details which demand my attention, I find myself content in the moment at hand. Though my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day gatherings will likely be far from perfect, they will be perfectly fine for me. Love is in the air and this is all that matters today. This is all that matters every day…

As our Advent Candles burn on, we listen to Luke’s gospel in their glow. Today’s passage (Luke 1:26-38) speaks of Mary’s unexpected preparations for the first Christmas. Mary loved and obeyed her parents. She had great devotion to her Jewish Faith. She was also already betrothed to Joseph. Still, nothing could have prepared her for Gabriel’s visit that day. This poor teen who felt fairly certain of the way her life would unfold was at best startled by Gabriel’s appearance with an alternative plan. As I consider the scene, I wonder what persuaded Mary to listen to that mysterious angel. When Gabriel voiced God’s invitation, what kept Mary from fleeing Gabriel’s company? Why did she stay to listen? More importantly, why did she agree to God’s plan?

The only explanation for all of this which makes sense to me is love. Mary must have loved and trusted her God long before this encounter. Mary must also have recognized God’s enduring love for her. Perhaps it was a glimpse of God’s great love within Gabriel which convinced Mary to listen. When compelled by love, it’s difficult for any of us not to respond in kind. So it was that Mary responded, “God’s son? My son? How can this possibly be?” As Gabriel explained how this would come to pass, Mary-the-teen listened in spite of herself out of love. Practical young woman that she was, Mary realized that her agreement promised her seemingly insurmountable challenges. If she accepted this out-of-wedlock pregnancy, Mary would have to explain it to both her parents and poor Joseph. She also risked the wrath of the temple authorities who might have seen to it that she was stoned for her apparent infidelity to Joseph. Young as she was, Mary likely understood the political climate which made life difficult at best for the Jewish People. Did she wonder what talk of God’s son might add to their misery? Nonetheless, though Mary’s situation overwhelmed her, she stepped past her fear because she loved God and she was convinced that God loved her.

As I consider Mary’s introduction to motherhood and to all of the unexpected joys and sorrows which followed, I’m convinced that it was her certainty regarding God’s love which sustained her. When we acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, we put everything into perspective. Mary wasn’t suddenly struck with some kind of instant friendship with God as a result of Gabriel’s visit. Her parents had begun sharing their deep faith in God with Mary many years earlier. Mary responded to that sharing by making her parents’ faith her own. Somehow, knowing that God persisted in faithfulness to the Chosen People, knowing that the Messiah would come one day, knowing the miracles of Abraham’s descendents and Moses’ encounter on that mountain fueled Mary’s faith. Mary somehow knew all would be well for her in the end.

You and I have so much more to fuel our faith. We know who Jesus of Nazareth is. We know that after his death, Jesus rose from the dead. We know that Jesus chose to come as a human just like you and I. Out of the circumstances of his ordinary life, Jesus taught us the nature of God’s love. You and I know that the sick were healed and sinners were forgiven. You and I know that we are embraced after every failure just as lovingly as was the prodigal son. You and I know that there is life after this life and that nothing in this world can rob us of what awaits us in the next. Mary allowed her love for God and God’s love for her to lead her. In doing so, Mary prepared the way of the Lord for generations to come. You and I are invited to allow that love to lead us as well. When we do, it’s so much easier to embrace this life as Mary did.

With that, I invite you to sit back in the glow of our Advent Candles. Sit back for this hour and bask in God’s love just as Mary did. Though the day ahead will be hectic, it will also be holy and happy and love-filled. Today, God invites us all to bask in God’s love for us, our love for God and our love for one another. Yes, it’s all about love. Merry Christmas!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Changes Everything!

All this is the work and the kindness of our God.
Luke 1:18

As I wrap up my Christmas preparations, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I’ve done my best to prepare, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “God’s Son? My Son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager listened and opened herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Within the next few days, we’ll celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’re invited to adjust, refocus and to embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our loved ones, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our own children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives.

So it is that Jesus asks that we do whatever we do with him in mind. Like our own children, that cute little babe in the manger makes unimaginably unexpected demands. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with Love Incarnate.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace-filled Hugs and Smiles

“I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord.”

Zephaniah 3:13

She’s done it again! Actually, Carol and her husband have done this numerous times much to my good fortune! A few years ago, I mentioned Carol in my daily reflection because she had really made all of the difference in the world to me on a really tough day. It was Advent and I was attempting to encourage all of us to bring a bit of peace to one another as we made our way to Christmas. (I know. This is a familiar theme which I’m revisiting this Advent.) Apparently, the annual frenzy which threatens all of our spirits compels me to repeat this urging. It seems that I need it more than most!

If you’re a frequent reader, you know that I’ve been impatient and on edge. I’m having great difficulty accepting the fact that I cannot repair this world to my satisfaction. Luckily, Carol has once again noticed my occasional grimaces and she has countered them with the best of hugs. Carol’s husband has learned much from her thoughtful ways. In Carol’s absence, Ed makes a point of happening by to elicit a smile from me. If their hugs or smiles seem not to lighten my mood, Carol and Ed ask what’s up and then listen with great patience. Every time, I walk away with a lighter burden because they’ve allowed me to share it with them.

Thank you, Carol and Ed, for this generous taste of peace on earth!

Loving God, as we prepare for Christmas together, help us to bring your peace to everyone we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share God’s Peace

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:10

As I passed the calendar in our kitchen this morning, I was tempted to count the days until Christmas. Since my math skills allowed me to rely on subtraction rather than counting, I used the time saved to sit before our Christmas Tree.

Ornaments which mark our grandchildren’s births caught my eye. Our granddaughters celebrate the wait for Christmas by attending to their Advent Calendars. Each day, they take turns placing a little stuffed figure onto the calendar’s Nativity setting. On December 25, Baby Jesus will complete the scene. Our little grandson observes the season by sitting before his family Christmas Tree with great interest. Just as that tree transformed his living room, it is also transforming his heart.

As for you and me… The troubles of this world quickly distract us from the joyful anticipation of Advent. Whether these things affect our own families and communities or others far from us, they detract greatly from the sense of peace which should characterize our wait for Christmas. Though we cannot change these things alone, we can all do something to improve the state of those around us. It seems to me that the best way to make the most of Advent is to find a way to bring a measure of peace to every day that leads us to December 25.

Loving God, though we cannot make everything right, please help each of us to do something to bring peace to our own little corners of this world.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Ever-Attentive God of Hope

We begin December with an ever-increasing list of demands. I find myself tackling the tasks at hand from the time I awake each morning to the time I retire each night. Though I thought I’d begun to prepare for Christmas earlier than usual, I suddenly find myself behind schedule. I was extremely excited to have completed this week’s reflections early only to realize that writing for the rest of December will be a challenge. Still, in spite of all that there is to do, I’ve decided not to allow this pre-Christmas frenzy to get the best of me. Rather, I’m going to take a deep breath and to approach all that lies ahead one step at a time. Will you join me in slowing down just long enough to attend very closely to all that we encounter this First Sunday of Advent?

As I enter church, our Advent Wreath catches my eye. Purple and pink bows mark the candles which call our attention to the four weeks ahead. The green accents which marked the hope of Ordinary Time have given way to purple. With that hope intact, we watch as Advent’s violet hues beckon us to embrace the passionate sentiments of the weeks to come. Through the scripture readings, we will retrace the steps of the Israelites who cried out to God in their misery and who received God’s comfort in response over and over again. Our hymns call us to wake up and to prepare. We search our hearts and adjust our priorities to make room for God to dwell among us and within us. Today, even our most familiar prayers demand our attention. Advent 2017 challenges us to invite God into every aspect of our lives. Finally, I realize that I’m actually most grateful for December’s arrival. Advent has given me reason to slow down, at least while I’m in church, and to remember that I’m not alone in enduring the trials and tribulations of this life. For as long as God’s children have walked the earth, life among us has been difficult at best.

The pain we experience when our circumstances run amok is as ancient as the scriptures. The prophet we call “Third Isaiah” speaks from his own intense suffering (Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:2-7). In spite of the effort he puts into his relationship with God, Isaiah fills up with anger and doubt. He fumes over the Israelites’ continued unfaithfulness to God. He simply cannot stand by and watch their evildoing any longer. Isaiah fumes even more vigorously at the Lord God who seems content to step back and observe as the people engage in their iniquity. Isaiah glares heavenward and asks, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” In the face of the many personal and societal ills which besiege us all these days, you and I may be inclined to pose the same question to our ever-patient God. I admit to turning my eyes heavenward far too often to ask, “If you don’t want things to be this way, why don’t you fix them?” Fortunately, Isaiah moves past his anger and uncertainty toward God. In the depths of his heart, Isaiah realizes that God has been listening all the while. He and the rest of God’s people have never been alone in their misery. Finally, Isaiah prays, “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are the work of your hands.” Finally, Isaiah understands that, because we are the most beloved work of God’s hands, God remains with us in everything. Truly, God will be with us all regardless of what lies ahead.

This First Sunday of Advent, we gather around God’s family table where we’re reminded that we’re in the best of company as we make our way to Christmas. Just as God was present in the best and worst of Israel’s history, God is present in the midst of our personal histories as well. Just as God placed Isaiah in the middle of Israel’s troubles to improve things as best he could, God places you and me in the middle of this world’s troubles to do the same.

It occurs to me that your and my Advent To-do Lists are actually Advent Opportunity Lists. Whether we find ourselves on the arm of our elderly parent or of our unyielding child, whether we suffer with an impossible job or an endless job search, whether we are sick in body or sick in spirit, whether we long for peace in this world or peace in our own hearts, each of us struggles to find our way, one moment at a time. It is during the difficult times that we must imitate Isaiah by acknowledging God’s presence. We must remember Isaiah’s prayer to the Potter who created us for these very moments. When we open our eyes and our hearts to God who knows our troubles better than we know them ourselves, we will somehow manage the tasks before us. These moments of grace in which we find God at are sides are what we prepare us for Christmas 2017. These moments of grace are what prepare us for the amazing things to come. Be ready! Just watch for what God has in store!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved