Loving God, as we draw closer to that Holy Night The night of our Savior’s birth We are filled with questions: Why did you come? What did you come here to do? What does your coming mean for us today?
You came to serve. To feed the hungry. To heal the sick. To humble yourself to serve the very least of us. Come, Lord Jesus! Help us remember that by serving Our brothers and sisters, we are serving you. Teach us to use our talents and strengths To help those most in need This season and all seasons
You came to comfort and to give rest to the weary. To carry our burdens and give us peace from worry and fear. Come, Lord Jesus! May our homes, our hearts And our very presence offer comfort to those Who are worn out and stretched thin. May we offer them a kind word, a soft smile, And a warm heart.
You came to show mercy. To teach us to Forgive as we have been forgiven. Come, Lord Jesus! May your radical mercy show us How to soften our hearts to those who have caused us hurt. Teach us by your example to forgive Even the deepest wounds And to set ourselves free.
Above all, You came to love and to teach us how to love. This Great Commandment gives us everything we could ever need. Come, Lord Jesus! By your example, May we hold one another close this Christmas season. Close in our thoughts, in our hearts, in our words, and in our deeds. May we love by your example. Come, Lord Jesus! AMEN.
Hearing God’s Whisper ministry wishes you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
The Advent story is full of rich and dramatic events, culminating in the birth of our Savior. For me, one of the most powerful ones is the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary in Luke’s Gospel.
God chooses Mary and comes to her with an invitation—to bring Christ into the world. Mary’s response to this invitation is life-changing and world-changing. It’s impossible to overstate how huge this moment was. EVERYTHING, the very salvation of the world, hinged upon her response.
There is a tendency to believe that Mary didn’t really have a choice in the matter. That Gabriel came—not to ask her a question—but to tell her what was to be. To tell her what her destiny was to be. The problem with this interpretation is that it takes away any agency from Mary and misreads the moment as a passive one, as if Mary were simply swept along into God’s plans, without the opportunity to make her own choice. Without the chance to say “yes.”
And so it’s worth spending a little time exploring the other possibility: Could Mary have said “no” to God? Did Mary have free will in this situation?
From the very beginning of God’s interaction with the human race, our free will has always been respected. From the moment we were created, we have been free to make our own choices. Why wouldn’t the same be true for Mary? Which means she wasn’t programmed to say yes, like a robot, or coerced into saying yes, like a soldier obeying an order from a commanding officer. This wasn’t like the scene from the Godfather: “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.” But instead, through the angel Gabriel, God was issuing Mary an invitation. How she responded was entirely up to her. Knowing that fact…doesn’t it make her answer that much more powerful? In the words of poet and author Christine Valters Paintner:
“When the angel Gabriel visits Mary, she is given a choice rather than a demand. Mary is active in her “yes” to the angel’s invitation as well as in her surrender: “Let it be done to me.” God’s unfolding of salvation is dependent upon Mary’s full ‘yes.’”
So what characteristics did Mary possess that allowed her to say yes? Mary was open to God’s plans for her life. She was willing to trust God. As scary as the prospect of bearing a child under such circumstances might have been, Mary trusted that this was the path God had chosen for her. And she was willing to surrender her own plans to answer God’s call.
How often do we do this? It is so easy to stubbornly cling to our own plans even when we feel God nudging us in a different direction. Remember…we were born with the same free will that Mary was. Our choices are ours to make. God can only invite us to follow. Can we trust enough to be open to the mystery of God’s plans for our lives?
Our answer to God is always a choice. Mary was asked to bring Christ into the world, and she answered yes. As Christians, we are asked to do that very same thing. Not in the same way that Mary did, but in the way we live our lives. In the way we interact with others. In the words we speak. In the deeds we do. What will our answer be?
I spend a lot of time writing about God’s “whispers” and how it isn’t always easy to hear what God is speaking to our hearts. During this Advent season, I’d like to expand on that notion by looking at the ways we can let God be LOUD in our lives.
I believe that God’s voice is a constant. Always there. Always speaking to us. Never fluctuating or changing. If that’s the case, why does God’s voice seem so quiet sometimes, and other times calls to us through a megaphone? Perhaps it’s the volume of everything else in our world that affects our ability to hear God. So if you would like God to be louder in your life, spend some time thinking about what is drowning God’s voice out.
We’re exposed to a lot of noise in our life, but we have some choice in the degree to which we tune in. Lots of things demand our attention, but we don’t always have to give in to those demands. Take some time this week to make a list of all the things that you are listening to these days. Some by choice, some by habit, some by non-choice. How do each of these things make you feel? Which of these things draw you closer to God, and which of them pull you further away?
For example, you might listen to a certain person on the news or the radio, and they leave you feeling angry or hopeless. Or maybe you have an acquaintance who is always critical and leaves you feeling down. We were created to live in harmony with God’s loving plans for us. Might I encourage you to turn down the volume of anything that clashes with that harmony?
Taking it one step further, there may be some “noise” in your life that you want to mute altogether—those things (or people) that make it almost impossible for you to focus on the voice of God. Picture yourself holding a remote control with a mute button. Do you have the ability to silence the voices that don’t serve you? I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and there are some accounts that are very bleak and fear-mongering. Once I figured out how to mute those accounts, my Twitter timeline became much more enjoyable. Would it help you to go on a news or social media diet—or even a blackout? Or maybe you need to take a long, hard look at some toxic relationships in your life.
As you begin to lower the volume of this noise in your life, an amazing thing will begin to happen. God’s voice will automatically become louder. All the other “stuff” you’ve been focusing on will fade away, and the messages from God (through Scripture, through the Advent story, and through your daily encounters with Jesus) will increase, filling your ears and your heart.
And if you want to crank up that volume even more? Incorporate some spiritual practices into your daily life that will continue to bring God’s voice to the forefront…loud and clear!
PRAYER: What better way to achieve this than to talk to God in prayer? Think of your day as an ongoing loving conversation with your Creator. Speak what is in your heart and be open to what you are hearing in response.
STILLNESS: 16th century mystic John of the Cross once wrote: “Silence is God’s first language.” Silence is our gift to God. A “sacred pause.” A time to stop what we’re doing and listen. To soak in God’s presence and allow ourselves to be filled up.
AWARENESS: We hear God with our hearts, through an unshakable awareness that Jesus walks with us through all that we see, and do, and experience. Focus on what matters most in your life. Feel gratitude and love dwelling in your heart. That’s where God lives.
My prayer for you this Advent season is that you will open your heart to God’s voice and let that voice be LOUD, like the chorus of heavenly hosts singing with the angels: Glory to God in the Highest and peace to all people on earth!
A few months ago, when I was struggling with anxious feelings caused by our nasty and unwelcome friend – the Delta variant – a colleague recommended I start learning about mindfulness as a way to stay focused on the present, so I wouldn’t worry so much about the future. I embraced this idea. Being alive to the present moment wasn’t always easy, but as I got better at tuning into the small details of what surrounded me in each moment, I began to see beauty, calm, and the finer details of the world around me and within me. I began a daily practice of meditating, taking walks outside, and breathing deeply until my racing thoughts subsided.
As fall stretched toward winter, and we began to approach the season of Advent, I assumed I would have to put away my mindfulness practices for a while so I could turn my thoughts to the themes of Advent – hope, peace, love, and joy. I would need to switch to new daily practices to really do justice to this beautiful season.
As you can probably guess, I was very wrong about this! Mindfulness—the practice of being alive to the present moment—is the perfect mindset for Advent.
Advent means “coming”—and during this season we anticipate the coming of Christ in three ways. First, we await his coming as the baby Jesus, born on Christmas Day. Next, we consider the time when Christ will come again at the end of the world. And finally, in between those two events, we have the coming of Jesus into our lives each day. It is this third one that I find myself drawn to these days, and it often becomes the most hidden aspect of Advent. Jesus comes to us every moment of our lives, but do we always recognize His presence?
Each and every moment that we live is an opportunity to encounter God. Jesus is present in the smallest details. But we have to be aware, alert, and awake to notice.
Advent is a time for being awake, and we are called to reflect on the ways we may have been “sleeping” in our lives. When we get lost in regrets of the past or worries about the future, we are in many ways asleep to all that is happening around us. This is exactly how I had been behaving in late summer with all my fears about what the future would bring. I was missing a lot of very good and important things that were happening all around me!
This is not to say that every moment in the present will be joyful. In the words of Henri Nouwen: “God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful and painful.” We may have troubles that exist in our present moment, but that doesn’t mean we need to pile on with potential troubles that “may” happen in the future. Fearing the future can lead us to doubt God’s love. Remaining firmly rooted in the present lets us feel God’s love—through joy or pain.
Every moment you spend with God, you are living in the Light. When we are present to that Light, we are ready to answer God’s call. We will see and hear what we are being called to do from moment to moment. We don’t have to worry about the future because the beauty of God’s love is evident in all that we see around us.
So I don’t really need to set aside my daily mindful practices this Advent season. Instead, I will invite Jesus to meet me there. When I’m breathing deeply I will call forth my own moment of Divine creation when God breathed the breath of life into my nostrils. When I take a walk, I will imagine that Jesus is walking beside me, pointing out all the wonders of creation in my path. When I meditate, I will soak in God’s presence and allow myself to be filled up with the love that can only be found in the coming of Christ.
Wishing you a blessed and holy Advent season. May your spirit be alive to each precious moment!
When I was in second grade, my school did a Christmas variety show, and my class acted out the lyrics to the song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” I was assigned the role of “Mom” from the line: “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.” It was a 5-second role, and I owned it! But I’m a little sad to report that in my childhood, I never had the opportunity to be in an official church Christmas pageant. No role in a nativity play. No shepherd or angel performance. Instead, I sat in the audience more than a few times…watching the beautiful story of the birth of our Savior take place on a stage from across the room.
I wonder how many of us approach the season of Advent that same way. We’re in the audience waiting for the show to start. We want a front row seat to watch the story of the birth of Jesus and the beauty of the first Christmas. Our role is an enjoyable but passive one.
I would encourage you to step out of the audience and join the players on the stage! You are part of God’s ongoing story of salvation. We each have an important role to play—your role is unique, and only you can play it. Speaker and author Elizabeth M. Kelly writes: “Allow the Holy Spirit to refresh a Catholic imagination within you and to remind you that you are an integral, irreplaceable part of a much larger and more important story.”
How will you play your role this Advent season and beyond? What unique aspects of love and sincerity will you bring to your performance? Who will your scene partners be? Perhaps your part in the story is providing a listening ear to a lonely friend. You may be called to provide food and warm clothes for those in need. Your part in the story may involve making room for Jesus in your heart and in your home. Unlike the innkeeper, will Jesus find in you a place to dwell and grow and shine?
Maybe you’re not one to step into the spotlight. That’s ok! There are plenty of behind-the-scenes roles to play that are just as important. Like the lighting crew up in the rafters, maybe your role is to point that spotlight on someone else, giving them confidence and encouragement to shine. Maybe you’re being called to be part of God’s “stage crew,” organizing and setting the stage for projects and programs that will help others.
However you decide to take part in God’s story, it’s important that you realize how valued and essential you are. The “Christmas Story” would not be complete without you!
Have you ever experienced the disorienting feeling of being plunged into darkness? Years ago my family and I were touring Echo Dell Cavern, a natural limestone cave near Hershey, Pennsylvania. The pathways through the cavern were well lit but at one point in the tour—with plenty of advanced warning—they turned off all the lights to give us a sense of how dark and deep the caves are. It was a jarring experience to be surrounded by such darkness. It was really true that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I was OK at first, but the pitch blackness started to feel suffocating, and my heart began to race before they finally put the lights back on. What a relief to be surrounded by light! It brought to my mind the very first verses from the Book of Genesis:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)
During challenging times, it’s easy to feel as if our world is covered in darkness. We feel stifled and smothered by the blackness. It brings me comfort to remember that God created light and this light never goes away. Our experiences may leave us feeling lost in the dark, but we always have access to the light. God’s light is a promise—that there will be no more darkness. Every moment you spend with God, you are living in the light. The more you cultivate your relationship with God, the brighter your world will become, even when darkness continues to spread in your life or in the world.
What does it mean to live in the light?
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
In the Bible, light represents truth and God’s revelation. On Mount Horeb, God revealed himself to Moses through the light of the burning bush. Jesus came to be that Light, so that we might know God. To live in the light is to know God and to believe that God loves us, chooses us, and blesses us. When you feel frustrated that God remains hidden, you can seek out His revelation in prayer, Scripture, nature, or loving relationships in your life. Every time you have an encounter with God, your life becomes flooded with light.
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Times are dark right now, and every decision we make seems fraught with consequences that bring fear and uncertainty. When we are lost in the darkness, God’s love lights the way. The light of Jesus shines on our path so we know which way we should go. Fear, temptation, doubt, or stubbornness might lead us away from the path God has chosen for us, but God’s light is always there to lead us back. Through a type of prayer called discernment, we can ask God what are the right choices to make. And we can be confident that God will lead us in the right direction.
LIGHT BANISHES DARKNESS
The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)
If darkness represents fear, then light is the antidote to that fear. As long as we are connected to God in our faith, we no longer have to be afraid. Our God is powerful enough to create light out of the formless void! Surely we can lean on God when we are afraid. The next time fear grips you, don’t let yourself drown in it. Keep your eyes fixed on God’s light and the dark fears will slowly recede.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:15)
I can think of no sight more inspiring and beautiful than a candlelight vigil. A crowd of people coming together, each one bearing a single candle, until the space shines bright with light and hope. No matter how dark the world around us may seem at times, we are children of light. It is our responsibility and our challenge to be light for others. To let it shine into the darkest corners of the world.
Advent is a wonderful time to reflect on the Light in the darkness. As you light the candles on your Advent wreath, turn on your Christmas tree lights, or hit the road in the search of Christmas light displays, take some time to ponder the meaning of that light. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
My prayer for you today is that the Light of the Advent season will bring you PEACE and HOPE.
Advent is a season of waiting. A time to prepare for the coming of Christ. A period of anticipation. In general, how do you view the experience of waiting? Some people find it very difficult. They don’t have the patience or the trust to let the process unfold the way it’s meant to. (There are plenty of times when I fall into this category!) Research has shown that over the years people expect things to happen faster and faster. The pace of pedestrians walking on sidewalks has sped up. Road rage is more common. Waiting in line feels like agony for many people.
Other people welcome waiting because of how they choose to view it—as an act of anticipation instead of a waste of time. I have always felt that looking forward to an exciting event (a trip, a party, a special occasion) was just as enjoyable as the event itself. My husband tells me I live my life “looking forward to the next thing.” During this year of the pandemic, we’ve all been forced to put many of our plans on hold. It’s not easy, particularly in celebrating the holidays. My niece, Lucy —in her lovely optimistic way—predicted that next year, our holiday season will feel all the more joyful, because of how long we had to wait to gather with our families. Every hug will feel like a small miracle. The waiting is incredibly painful right now, but the joy that will come fills me with hope and excitement.
The season of Advent ushers in the coming of Christ, but we aren’t simply remembering that long-ago time of waiting for the birth of Jesus, something that happened 2000 years ago. Our waiting is active, and present, and alive. During Advent, there are three layers to our waiting:
Waiting for Jesus to be born (past)
Waiting for Jesus to come into our lives every day (present)
Waiting for Jesus to come again in glory (future)
It’s the second one—the everyday waiting—that I’m focused on these days. My college-aged sons have a car now, so when they come home from school, I never quite know when they’ll arrive. That excited feeling of wondering when they’ll walk through the door is so filled with hope. What if we approached every day with this sense of faith-filled anticipation? When or how will Christ come to us today? When will Jesus walk through the door of our hearts?
Each day brings opportunities for an encounter with our loving God…during a phone call with a friend, a walk with a family member, or an email exchange with a co-worker. Or you may find God while walking in the woods, admiring a sunset, or listening to the ocean. Christ may come to you in your art—through music, writing or any creative act.
In Latin, Advent means “coming,” not “finding.” We don’t have to go out and search for Jesus. Christ will come no matter what—that’s the core of our belief as Christians. We simply have to notice when He comes into our lives. This is a daily invitation—not just for the four weeks of Advent—but for every day throughout the year. Wake up each morning and ask yourself: “When will I encounter God today?” These moments are easy to miss when we’re preoccupied and distracted, so be awake and watchful in your waiting. Hold onto that excited feeling of waiting for a beloved family member to walk through the door, and I promise you won’t miss the moment when Jesus comes to you in your day.
The essence of wisdom is remembering what we already know.
So what is it that we already know?
We know that God is always with us.
But do we REMEMBER to feel His loving presence during difficult times?
We know how important it is to spend quiet time in prayer.
Do we REMEMBER to break from our hectic schedules to pray or sit in the stillness?
We know that God called us from the womb, a precious creation in His own image.
Do we REMEMBER to value ourselves as gift?
We know that Jesus died for us.
Do we REMEMBER to reflect on the enormity of that sacrifice
and what it means for us?
Life is FULL of distractions, interruptions, interferences, disruptions.
We say we’re busy, chaotic, hectic, frenzied.
Life if FULL of the unforeseen, the unpredictable, the unexpected, the unplanned.
We get pulled away, wrapped up, preoccupied, sidetracked.
REMEMBER how much God loves you.
REMEMBER that God is always waiting for you.
REMEMBER all of this…
My sister and I have a long-standing joke that she’s my “Wake Wingman.” I’m an introvert and so immersing myself in large crowds has never been my thing. Small talk can be draining for me. I also internalize emotions and wakes are brimming with feelings. My sister, on the other hand, is a gregarious, extroverted, social being. She always knows what to say, and large crowds of overflowing emotion bring out the best in her. So whenever possible, I tag along behind her at wakes. I mean I literally stand behind her the whole time, glued to her side. As we work our way through the line, she says something to the neighbor or co-worker and I nod my head in agreement, offering a sympathetic look or a gentle smile if appropriate. We’ve been doing this for years and it works for us.
My expression of sorrow is no less sincere; it just has a different delivery method.
It got me thinking about the challenge for introverts to live out the message of Jesus. Jesus was all about relationships. Love your neighbor, help the poor, gather in communities to pray. For some, this comes as naturally as breathing. Serving a meal to a hundred patrons of a soup kitchen would leave an extrovert feeling energized and ready to take on the world. For me, I would want to crawl under the covers and turn out the lights. Not because I don’t love my neighbor. Or I don’t care about helping those in need. It’s just harder for me. Being an introvert means that you’re more energized by time spent alone rather than with people. Social crowds can quickly sap the introvert of energy. There’s a tendency to seek out quieter, less publicly stimulating environments.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your faith into action, particularly at times of the year when we’re reminded of the importance of doing so. And so I offer you:
AN INTROVERT’S GUIDE TO ADVENT
WRITE. Introverts need time to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it. Writing is an ideal outlet for this kind of communication. Use correspondence to live out Jesus’ Great Commandment. For the remainder of Advent, send one email or note each day to someone you care about or admire. Tell them how you feel. Plan for bigger goals in the New Year. Start a blog! Join an online Bible study.
LISTEN. Introverts are gifted at listening and their calm, gentle demeanor is the perfect balm for someone in distress. The holiday season can tap into loneliness and sadness for a lot of people. Look for opportunities to lend a listening ear to someone who needs it. A meaningful one-on-one connection allows you to be Jesus for that person, and to see Jesus in them.
PRAY. Quiet prayer comes naturally to introverts and what better time of year to embrace the silence and stillness than Advent. Seek out a moments of quiet solitude as often as you can. “For God alone, my soul waits in silence.” (Psalm 62:1) Try new forms of silent prayer like meditation or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Use this holy season to deepen your relationship with God.
BE CREATIVE. Many churches and faith communities offer opportunities for community service at this time of year. If helping others by being in the thick of the action doesn’t work for you, find ways to help behind the scenes. Instead of mingling at a fundraiser, volunteer to help design the flyer, or stuff envelopes. Your contribution is no less important because you weren’t “in the spotlight.”
STRETCH. Don’t let being an introvert become an excuse. It’s a huge temptation for introverts to hide away rather than engage with the world. Look for ways that God is gently challenging you to stretch out in faith.
Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between—my prayer for you this Advent season is that you will seek ways to grow in your relationship with our loving God, as we await the coming of our Savior. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
True confession time. For most of my life I did not pray to Mary. I wasn’t in the habit of saying the Rosary. And I did not have any statues of the Blessed Mother in my home or garden. Mary had always seemed a lofty ideal to me. A heavenly image of perfection that I could not live up to or relate to. I once heard a priest say that our Church hadn’t done Mary any favors by putting her up on a pedestal. The higher she was raised up, the more remote she became.
Years ago, a friend recommended that I read a book called Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes, a dramatic account of Mary’s story—a teenage girl chosen by God to bring Christ into our earthly world. The Mary depicted in this story was one I found infinitely compelling: young, scared, and facing an overwhelming responsibility. Discovering Mary through the prayer of imagination was the moment she became real to me. And now I pray to her all the time.
Who was Mary? What was her life like? What was the historical context in which she lived? Only by learning Mary’s personal story can we find our own story. And the Advent season is where Mary’s story begins. Continue reading →