In Bethlehem, we were given a blank postcard and asked to answer this question: “Why was Jesus born for me?” This was not the only postcard assignment we received during this pilgrimage and they are ‘take home’ assignments — no rush to answer now — think for awhile — talk it through with others. But, it must be done and turned in before we depart Israel — at least if you want it mailed to you for Christmas. After a day at the Shepherd’s Field and an evening talking with friends, I went to my room and put these words on the postcard to me. I wanted it to be God’s message to me — what was God asking of me now — “Trust Me More”. It arrived the other day.I didn’t know what was going on at home with my father — he was in the hospital with pneumonia when I wrote this. I didn’t know he would return to the hospital soon after my return. It is so easy to feel alone when family looks to you to make things right again — to restore peace and hope. It is so easy to feel alone but we are not. I wonder about Mary and Joseph — the trials they faced leading up to the birth of God’s Son — Jesus. Was it easy to feel alone while fleeing for safety — no room in an inn — a shepherd’s cave — a manger? It is so easy to feel alone and yet we should not — we are told often to ‘fear not.’ The Angel appeared to the Shepherds in the field and said
“Be not afraid for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing which has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. ~ Luke 2:10-15 RSV-CE
We are coming upon the last Sunday of Advent — our waiting, our watching for the Star of Bethlehem is drawing to a close. When Jesus comes to you, does he find room in the Inn of your heart? The Good News is upon us. Make haste to Bethlehem! I close my eyes and I am there again.
In this time of Advent, I try to prolong the onset of Christmas red and green — blinking lights and wrapped presents. I find that I have been delightfully distracted by these two contemporary, recently released, Hanukkah songs.
The first, Miracle by Matisyahu, a Hasidic reggae — hip hop musician, pulls off a hockey match against Santa. I have known of Matisyahu for some time and learned of his new song on a recent NPR interview. Here is a link to an essay he wrote on Hanukkah music. With the video, this song really comes to life. “Do you believe in miracles — Am I hearing you am I seeing you — Eight nights eight lights and these fights keep me right — Bless me to the highest heights with your miracles —- Bound to stumble and fall but my strength comes not from man at all.” — Matisyahu
The second, Candlelight by The Maccabeats, is a fun song that gets its point across as well with fun lyrics — “I flip my latkes in the air sometimes sayin ayy ohh spin the dreidel. Just wanna celebrate for all eight nights singin ayy oh, light the candles.” Click here for full lyrics to “Candlelight”. The Maccabeats are an all male a capella music group of Yeshiva University.
So, this is what I’m listening to. You can support good Hanukkah music by buying their music on iTunes — I did 🙂
If you like The Maccabeats — more videos are at this Youtube site
For extra credit, keep reading here on the history of the celebration of Hanukkah. Interesting that the story is contained in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees (the Hanukkah celebration is not mentioned). These books are not in the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible nor in the Protestant Bible. These books are in the Catholic Canon of the Bible. Go figure….. maybe a new incentive to read Maccabees. I have it.
At Mass, one of my favorite parts are the priest’s words at the end of the Our Father. I pray them interiorly as he speaks –
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. – Liturgy of the Eucharist
The above is from another post I made over two years ago entitled ‘Protect Us From All Anxiety‘. It has gotten enough traffic to make it in my top 15 of visited articles. A lot of searching on the word ‘anxiety.’ In that post, I shared “I worry that my anxiety reveals that I do not trust God enough with my life.”
In preparation of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I anticipated that God would have a message for me. By the last day or two of the pilgrimage, I heard loud and clear that God was saying “Trust Me More.” This message was loudest in the place where Jesus surely was in the greatest of his own anxiety – the Garden of Gethsemane. It is the place where Jesus placed His trust in his own Father. We heard the Gospel accounts of Jesus and his agony in the garden. “Stay Awake!” — we are reminded. “Can’t you stay awake with me for even one hour?”
God has a purpose for us all and it is not always the easy way. God showed me in hindsight how the Holy Spirit had been working throughout each day of this journey. By the last day of pilgrimage and the first few days back home, I could only be amazed at where the hand of God had been directing my experiences. It has given me the strength to endure greater difficulties that transpired after I’d been home a couple of weeks – the hospitalizations of my father – both while I was in Israel and again after I was home. To have a parent look at you in the ER with fear in their eyes. My own fear. Mostly it has encouraged me to tell my family to trust God more. “Wake up!” God is good. God loves you.
I think the words “waiting in joyful hope” are the words I claim for this Advent. I wait in the joyful hope of the prayers I offer for my loved ones.
For several years, about the ages seven to twelve, my dad traveled in a Southern Gospel quartet. I’ve mentioned this before. I recall with vividness the song “Jesus Is Coming Soon” — “morning, or night, or noon.” I was baptized at the age of 9 — thinking of Jesus coming soon — the song said “many will meet their doom.” For some, “troubles will soon be over.” I was certain I would never make it to High School. It sounded very soon indeed. Seventh grade brought fear that High School would arrive — no return of Jesus would save me from it. A lot of time passed, I realized the early Church also thought he was coming really soon. I eventually stopped thinking of Jesus suddenly appearing one day. I got caught up for a time under the influence of an Associate Pastor who had attended a very fundamentalist bible college. He taught of the dangers of New Age. I began to look for Satan everywhere — this was the early 90’s. Halloween began to bring out the church sponsored horror houses of tribulation. I went into a dark place then and looked over my shoulder a lot then — a spooky and suspicious time for me. Catholic theology has helped me get a grip on it all — put it in balance. Jesus comes at every Mass. If I had only known sooner in life. I love this time of year when we dabble in Revelation — all the while the Christmas crib is not far off on the calendar. The Incarnation.
From time to time, over the course of the last fifteen years or so, I’ve had occasional dreams that I recorded soon after, so as not to forget. I think about these two in particular, in November, when our liturgy turns to readings from Revelation. The two dreams that follow — I thought about the first one recently while listening to a podcast — probably themed on the Feast of the Archangels. A person asked where Gabriel is now.
On July 11, 1991, I had a dream one night while sleeping.
I seemed to be in a desert place near the top of a sand dune. Though it was the desert, it was not hot at all. From over the hill, I hear a voice call out, “Gabriel.” I followed the sound and looked over the hill. It was bright daylight. About 20 or so yards away were two persons. In the flash of a moment, I knew the one kneeling in prayer was Jesus. He was wearing a flowing white robe. His right profile was toward me and I could see the flesh of His jaw that was mostly concealed by the robe covering His Head. Gabriel was standing facing Jesus also wearing a white robe. He had a staff in his hand and had long white hair and a beard. He appeared to be keeping watch while Jesus prayed. A bright, white light then shown around them, which was brighter than sunlight. I was unable to look directly at them. I was on my hands and knees and began to crawl back down the hill away from sight. I felt as though I was trespassing and should not be there. But, Jesus looked my way, held out His right hand, and said, “Come.” I was compelled like a magnet. Like a child, I crawled toward Him. I could not stand. “Come, take My hand,” He said as I came very near to Him, His right hand stretched forth to me. The sleeve of His robe draped around His wrist. I stretched forth my right hand and He took it in His. It was the hand of a man and the air was immediately filled with electricity. “There is healing in My touch,” Jesus said. A surge of power entered my hand and consumed me all over. I believe things were said which I do not remember. I fainted. I had the sensation of falling and falling.
I was on my bed. I felt as though I had fallen from the sky and hit the bed. I sat up and was sweating profusely. The radio alarm was going off and it was 5:30AM. I’ve no idea what prompted this dream nor am I certain of its meaning. It is true I felt different for many days after this dream. I felt a lightness of spirit and it was as though my feet walked in a different place than earth.
On June 13, 1998, I had another dream which contained the following….
I was at my parent’s home, on the porch, when I heard a great sound of wings beating and birds screeching. I stepped from the porch to see what the matter was. I looked up and saw a great flock of white owls with huge wings flying all about. They had the resemblance of angels with wings spread wide. Then, they organized their flight into a formation resembling that of migration. The air took on a different quality and there was a strange light. I looked once more and the owls had rested in a single very large tree. Their number was so great that the tree itself could not be seen. There was a change in the atmosphere that I cannot describe in words. I can only say it was like the calm before a storm. Every tree stood still and nothing was stirring. I looked upward at the sky and saw a portion had opened revealing great beams of blue light shining downward to the earth. On the ground, the light fell on earth in a circular pool of light. In the center of the circle was the shadow of a cross. At that moment, I thought, “What can this be?” I began running to this light all the while looking up at the sky. The sky parted further and revealed a great throne upon which Jesus was seated. The light was blinding much like in my earlier vision. Jesus stood and stepped away from the throne and onto a cloud. He was crossing from Heaven to the Earth. I had been running toward the place on the ground where I saw the shadow of the cross. I had just reached this place on the ground as Jesus stood and stepped onto the cloud. At that moment, I fell on my knees with my face to the ground. I cried, prayed, and was unable to move. I felt great shame, sinfulness, and repentance. This lasted for a moment. Then, as quickly as it happened the moment was over and sky returned to its former state. When I looked up again, I saw nothing but the sun in the place that had just revealed the throne.
This dream of owls, beating wings, and Jesus stepping on a cloud take me immediately to the song, “Midnight Cry,” performed by Michael English. Singing, “When Jesus steps out on a cloud to call his children…” I looked up several videos and have chosen this one. It was recorded in a church this month so it is very recent.
I can’t close without “John the Revelator.” This is a song that my dad’s quartet sang and I’ve known by heart since I was a child. Really, who needs to know anything else about Revelation? This is Michael English also and is currently in my car CD player right now. This is awesome — loud in the car. See you in Advent.