Advent Reflections: December 25th

advent reflections (2)For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas! Our waiting is over.  Christ is born, those who lived in a land of deep darkness—them light has shined.  I hope that as you enjoy this glorious day; as you open those thoughtfully given presents, as you enjoy time and break bread with loved ones, that you remember the world earth-shattering truth of this day.  God has broken down all barriers between God and God’s people.  

I find one of the most powerful truths of Christ’s birth is that this is not just the unfolding of God’s divine plan but an defining act of God done “for us” and “to us”. “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us”.   God became like us, took on all that it meant to be flesh, blood, and the hardest part – all that bound within.  And God did it for us, like a parent backing away from the stove, getting up from the desk, crouching down and meeting their child’s pain eye to eye.   God our “Wonderful Counselor, [our] Mighty God, [our] Everlasting Father, [the] Prince of Peace” walks this journey right beside us.  

Merry Christmas!

– The Reverend Ben Maas

Advent Reflections: December 24th

advent reflections (2)“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” – Luke 2:1-20 7

And so we have come again, to this holy night. The night when Mary gave birth to the most extraordinary child, promised from before time; to heal the nations, to heal the sick, to rescue us from our own propensity for evil and destruction.

Jesus, set down gently in the midst of it all, wrapped in bands of cloth by His loving mother whose heart would grow, whose heart would break. Because that is what happens when love comes down among us, and we, unlike the innkeeper, find room for Him in our hearts.

In all that you do today, in the hustle and bustle, in the joy and in the sadness, in the excitement and in the disappointments, take a moment to be still. To be still, and to recall why we celebrate this night. Join the Holy family in the stable, gathered around the manger, where God became for us a tiny child, the wonder of birth, of new life, of hope for this day and confidence in life everlasting.

Holy One, on this night fill us anew with the awe and wonder of your love for us. May we find time in our lives for you today and always, Amen.

– The Reverend Lyn Youll Marshall

Advent Reflections: December 23rd

advent reflections (2)For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. – 2 Peter 1:16

Have you ever witnessed something so incredible that you knew you had to share with others, but you knew they wouldn’t believe it? This is one of those moments found in 2 Peter. The stories being shared are so incredible that the people they’re being shared with can’t even begin to fathom what they mean. So obviously to them, that means they must be false.

That didn’t stop people from sharing the message of Jesus, and it shouldn’t stop us. We’ve been gifted by God with sight. Sight to see the incredible world he created and the “fearfully and wonderfully made” people all around us.

We ARE eyewitnesses of his majesty.

– Anonymous SJEC parishioner

Advent Reflections: December 22nd

advent reflections (2)My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior. -Luke 1:47

What a profound and commanding statement!

Think about it. Do you, do we, do I have the capacity to feel such love and passion for our Lord? While we ‘believe’ in God, and we are ‘thankful’ for all God has given to us, only God’s full unconditional love for us could create such deep emotions and conviction.

To take one’s ‘Soul’ to ‘magnify’ the Lord, and to have your ‘Spirit’, your deepest and truest essence,‘rejoice’ in the Lord – must be one of the greatest feelings we can achieve here on this earth. I can only scratch the surface with my imagination of what awaits us in His kingdom.

– Anonymous SJEC parishioner

Advent Reflections: December 21st

advent reflections (2)The Lord was pleased, for the sake of his righteousness, to magnify his teaching and make it glorious. – Isaiah 42:21

Any time I hear the word “magnify”, I think of glorify, and my mind quickly shifts to a particular story. So it’s appropriate that both magnify and glorious are in this same sentence.

For the sake of space, I must paraphrase this part of the story, but over the years I have used a book called “The Three Trees” during children’s homilies starting on Christmas Eve throughout Lent, and ending on Easter:

Three small trees were growing on a hill. One tree wanted to grow to be a great treasure chest fit for a king and the greatest treasures in the world. The other a sailing ship to be taken on great adventures, and the other wanted to grow so tall that when everyone saw it they would see it pointed to God.

The first tree was excited at first when it was cut down and taken to a carpenter where it saw great  furniture and chest being made. A short time later, however, the tree was cut into boards, nailed together violently, and placed in a stable filled with feed for the animals. The tree was devastated because it now knew it would never hold the greatest treasure in the world.

Until one night, the barn door flew open and a young man and woman came inside where the woman had her child. The tree knew there was something unique about this child as the mother wrapped her son in bands of cloth and place him gently inside the feed box that was filled with hay.

The tree now knew that he WAS holding the “Greatest Treasure in the World”

Sometimes we have ideas of how we want to glorify God, but if our hearts our open to it, he may use us in a way we may not have planned.

– John Knouse

Advent Reflections: December 20th

advent reflections (2)And Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. -Luke 1:45

So Mary, a young teenage girl, is engaged to a carpenter. Like all “good” girls of the time, she was a virgin. And we know that a woman’s marriageable worth, at the time, lay in her lineage and her virginity. Out of nowhere, this angel comes along and declares that God has seen her faith and she’s going to bear the savior of the world. And according to Luke, everything sort of goes swimmingly — Elizabeth’s child leaps in the womb, blessings and faith are happily professed, Mary says a lot of profound things …

Just one question, what happened to the rest of the story? I imagine Mary, who was said to be “perplexed” had a great deal more than that going on in her young head. How many teenagers find life an easy and simple ride to begin with. Add a vision, an out of wedlock pregnancy, a strained relationship with her fiancé and a forced journey to the mix and you more than likely had one freaked out teenager. And how exactly did the talk with her family go, “well, mom and dad, there was this angel, and …”

It’s complicated – like our lives are complicated, and yet we’re told there was great faith. Somehow in all of this, she stood strong.

Perhaps faith happened in one swift moment as the text implies. But I’m guessing it actually took time to deal with all those intense feelings — fear, joy, anxiety, anticipation — time to sort through the complications and time before she gave this tangle over to God. I wonder if her faith came to her, as faith comes to so many of us, because she believed that only God could make sense of this great upheaval and radical change in her life. It had to be a tough and emotional journey. And here’s what I think about this untold part of the story. The idea of struggle makes her faith all the more beautiful, all the more “blessed,” because it makes it understandable.

– Dorothy Smith, Senior High Youth Leader

Advent Reflections: December 19th

advent reflections (2)“Hear my prayer, O God: do not hide yourself from my petition. 2. Listen to me and answer me; I have no peace, because of my cares.” -Psalm 55:1-2

God listens to us. He hears our prayers. He does not want us to carry around heavy burdens that weigh us down and prevent us from being happy. God wants to help, no matter what it is that we are seeking. We can always confide in Him and know that he will hear our prayers and help us when we ask.

– Ryan Roeber, middle school youth group

 

Advent Reflections: December 17th

advent reflections (2)The angel who talked with me came again, and wakened me, as one is wakened from sleep. -Zechariah 4:1

Have you ever been spoken to by an angel? When I asked myself this question, I couldn’t help but wonder…. Have I?

The kinds of people you encounter that are genuine, loving, kind and make you leave their presence feeling better about yourself?

As this scripture points out, this wasn’t a dream. The author wanted to let us know they were awake for this encounter. We don’t know for sure what an angel looks like, or who is or isn’t, but there’s one thing we do know. The act of being angelic and encouraging others while we speak is something we can embrace and live into this Advent Season.

– Anonymous SJEC Parishioner 

Advent Reflections: December 16th

advent reflections (2)“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time?” – Matthew 24:45-51 

We are all servants of God and while we wait for his return, we must do his work here on Earth. God wants us to be faithful and wise servants who share Christ’s love with others. We should feed others with Christ’s word.

If Jesus were to come today, would we be found doing what he has called us to do? He tells us he will return and we should be prepared every day by spreading the word of Jesus and sharing Christ’s love with others.

– Ella Irvin, member of the middle school youth group, & her mother Stacey Irvin, S.J.E.S. Head of School

Advent Reflections: December 15th

For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. -Revelation 3:17 

The Gold Wrapping Paper – An Inspirational Short Christmas Story

Once upon a time, there was a man who worked very hard just to keep food on the table for his family. This particular year a few days before Christmas, he punished his little five-year-old daughter after learning that she had used up the family’s only roll of expensive gold wrapping paper.

As money was tight, he became even more upset when on Christmas Eve he saw that the child had used all of the expensive gold paper to decorate one shoebox she had put under the Christmas tree. He also was concerned about where she had gotten money to buy what was in the shoebox.

Nevertheless, the next morning the little girl, filled with excitement, brought the gift box to her father and said, “This is for you, Daddy!”

As he opened the box, the father was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction, now regretting how he had punished her.

But when he opened the shoebox, he found it was empty and again his anger flared. “Don’t you know, young lady,” he said harshly, “when you give someone a present, there’s supposed to be something inside the package!”

The little girl looked up at him with sad tears rolling from her eyes and whispered: “Daddy, it’s not empty. I blew kisses into it until it was all full.”

The father was crushed. He fell on his knees and put his arms around his precious little girl. He begged her to forgive him for his unnecessary anger.

– Source Unknown

Advent Reflections: December 14th

“We have heard with our ears, O God, our forefathers have told us, the deeds you did in their days, in the days of old.” -Psalm 44:1

God is powerful. We have heard the stories of his power and might throughout the Bible. The unquestionable power to be the creator of all things heaven and Earth. The power to abolish the Earth’s population, but spare the lives of Noah and his family. The power to send Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. The power to send a Savior to take away the sins of the world.

He is a God of all things, war and peace, destruction and rebirth, vengeance and mercy. We, as His followers, must remember the wrathful God of the past to understand His power in the present.

– Becca Roeber, Middle School Youth Leader

Advent Reflections: December 13th

“John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” -Luke 3:16

Of course we know now that the Baptism that John the Baptist spoke of and demonstrated then still lives in our midst, only now as one of our greatest and most celebrated ceremonies in our modern church. But besides being a prophet, John was someone who wasn’t afraid and in turn started a movement.

As I sit and think of how I relate to this scripture, and self-reflect in regards to how I can use it to better  myself, I find something very interesting. John listened to God, prepared himself for the journey ahead, and spoke what he felt to others. He did this unapologetically in fact, and  you could say he just “went for it”.

As I worked to help a wonderful group of volunteers prepare bread in the parish hall on a Friday nearly a month ago, I remember a conversation I had with Colin Borgstrom. He shared with me a story in regards to “feeling called” to bake the bread for this ministry. He shared this feeling with his wife, and without hesitation, or maybe a little… they began to work to make it happen.

I think we can all learn from these stories. Sometimes we might not feel adequately equipped or prepared for certain “adventures”, but I would argue that neither were those who dropped everything to travel the distance for the visitation of the newborn baby born in Bethlehem.

Sometimes, we just have to “go for it”.

– John Knouse, Director of Family Ministries.

Advent Reflections: December 12th

advent reflections (2)“…according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.” – Haggai 2:5 

God is always with us. He is constantly watching over us, guiding us on the path we have chosen. God tells us to be strong and never fear because his spirit is always there protecting us. He tells us that this is a promise he has made to us. “My spirit abides in you,” he says, showing the connection we all have to god.

I think one of the important parts of this is when he says, “do not fear.” Sometimes it can be hard to talk to God if it isn’t something you are used to doing. Finding time to stop and talk to God is an important part of my life and impacts the way I look at things.

The more you talk to God the easier it becomes. There is no wrong way to talk to God; just taking the time to think and embrace his presence in your everyday life is an amazing experience that everyone can have the opportunity to appreciate.

– Maddie Carter, member of the high school youth group

Advent Reflections: December 7th

advent reflections (2)“It is he who rules the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with equity.” -Psalm 9:8

Righteousness and equity. What better words could there be to describe our creator? All the times we’ve messed up in the entirety of our human existence, there is always forgiveness to be found in God. Anytime that we fall short of who we can and are meant to be, he is there seeing us and our potential, even when others don’t.

Equity by definition means: “the quality of being fair and impartial.” God IS fair. God IS impartial, and his greatest expression of those two words is loving us so much that he gave us his only son to suffer for us. He put our lives and his son’s life on the same level.

So as we focus on those two words today, it’s His love and impartiality that we celebrate as we approach the arrival time of the greatest gift ever given. We need to take the time each and every day to acknowledge that, because that is what’s FAIR.

Anonymous SJEC parishioner

Advent Reflections: December 8th

advent reflections (2)“Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and my mind.” -Psalm 26:2  

Without my possessions, the clothes on my back, my home, maybe even having lost a loved one along the way, who would I be?

It’s something I often ponder, as I sit in my warm comfortable,Virginia, surrounded by those I love, maybe after just returning home from a shopping trip, Starbucks gingerbread latte in hand.

I have to be honest…..sometimes I worry about what the Lord has in store. Will He test me and examine me? I won’t like His plan for me.when the time comes, will I continue to glorify His name?

Contemplating this, I often think of one remarkable St. James’ family. They lost a son, one of the most horrifying and unimaginable things, they have risen above. But they have persistently turned to the Lord.have continued to love Him with all their being, so apparent to me in their conversations and interactions with others.set an example to us all in their walk of faith.

So, I guess this is my journey.questioning is part of that journey.pray that, when truly tested, I can continue to praise the Lord and be thankful for His innumerable blessings.

If you lost everything, who would you be?

Lori Working, mother of youth group members

Advent Reflections: December 9th

advent reflections (2)All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. – Matthew 23:12

By definition, “exalt” means to hold someone or something in very high regard. On the other hand, humble means to lower someone in dignity or importance.

But being humble does not have to be used in such a negative connotation like the definition implies. Being humble ultimately means recognizing our talents and achievements for what they truly are: things given to us by God out of sheer goodness. These achievements and accomplishments we can take little or no credit in, they are all rewarded to us by God.

In this passage we are invited to open our eyes to all the graces God has given us, and to be humble. Those who exalt or carry themselves in a high manor will be humbled. All their successes are owed to God and they must learn to give everything back to him.

But those who already honor God because of all the blessings he has given to them will be exalted. In the end, humility never means pretending we are less than we are. Humility means recognizing that even our greatest achievements are an insignificant and inadequate return for all that God has given us.

– Katie Crofford, member of the high school youth group

Advent Reflections: December 11th

advent reflections (2)‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. – Matthew 23:27

How many times have you heard “It’s what’s on the inside that counts”? Was this a saying in Jesus’ time too? It may have been, albeit, most would have to say that through this scripture that saying had life breathed into it.

Our society tells us to be pretty and buy expensive things to make us look good on the outside, but what does that do for our insides? There are people who have so many possession on the outside but on the inside are sick, troubled, saddened, and angry. Where’s the “good” in that? Almost hypocritical?

The good news comes with the thought that God sent Jesus to us and for us because he sees us from the inside out. He sees through the cover stories and the walls we put up.

This Advent, what will you choose to fill yourself up with?

Advent Reflections: December 6th

advent reflections (2)” … as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” – Luke 3:4

What a great passage for us to hear as we move deeper into the first week of Advent. As I read this lesson from the Gospel of Luke, I found myself face to face with the fact that you, me and John the Baptist are a lot alike, a fact I have overlooked for quite some time.

Unlike some of the people of John’s time who thought he was babbling nonsense and was an unruly guy with camel hair who ate weird things, if we look past that, we can see incredible similarities between us and him.

Earlier in the first three verses of the third chapter of Luke, it tells us that John knew the blessings of God that were to come by saying, “ …the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

He knew about Jesus, in the same way you and I do. We live in a time where we know the gift of Christ has come and is coming. If we share this great news with others, they won’t think we’re babbling nonsense about making straight paths, valleys being filled , and mountains being toppled… some of them already know.

During this Advent Season, I suggest we all self reflect and reach out to others. I suggest we set our sights on what paths of ours need straightened and what paths we can help others on. What valleys we’ve filled in the lives of others and what mountains we’ve toppled in our own. I believe if we focus on these things, we’ll have no choice but to acknowledge God and his abundant love for the things that we have accomplished. That certainly seems like it could be step one of preparing the way, don’t you think?

– John Knouse, Director of Family Ministries

Advent Reflections: December 5th

advent reflections (2)“So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” – Matthew 22:16

Jesus Christ lives his life according to God’s word, and not man’s law.

This passage, and the following verses, is another instance of the religious and secular establishments trying to trap Jesus with what appears to be a no win situation in response to whether or not they should pay taxes to Rome. Jesus’s respon
se, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s” is the curveball that throw’s the Pharisees and Herodians for a loop.

Father Ben reminded us during a sermon that all mankind is made in the image of God. Therefore, we are God’s children and belong to God.

To me there is a great comfort in knowing that we are made in God’s likeness, and that God must love us so very much.

– Ryan Wilbert, Senior High Youth Leader

Advent Reflections: December 4th

advent reflections (2)“Beloved , while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the
saints.” – Jude 3

The above certainly is a worthy enough sentiment. Still, that’s the problem with these snippets we sometimes extract; they often have minefields of text that go with them.

Jude, whose letter was contested for canonical status on more than one occasion, is a fire and brimstone writer. Like so many biblical authors we don’t even really definitively know who he is; a brother to Jesus, an Apostle, or some other unknown Jude. He writes some beautiful prose, but he also has a zealous lust for being on the right side.

That’s where the difficulty arises. So often the “right” side turns out in hindsight to be a violent aggressor, who won a battle and rewrote history to their advantage. Being right is what each and every wild fundamentalist offshoot of a major religion has used to rally followers.

Historically these right causes have left nothing but death, sorrow and regret in their wake. The reason the story of Christ endures is that there was a wonderful peace and inclusion to his life. He never fought a bloody battle, he opened the way to all mankind not by burning his enemies, but by loving them. His death was a perfect sacrificial culmination of all the gifts that were freely given to every single human being living or dead on earth.

It’s just my observation, but I suspect that until we stop being “right” and start sharing and living our lives as gifts, we will never be able to truly follow “the way” of Christ. There is the faith that I can “contend for.”

– Dorothy Smith, High School Youth Leader