Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In the beginning. . .

As we are poised on a new adventure to be known as 2014, I would like to pause for a moment, not so much to reflect on the year just passed, but to look ahead at the upcoming twelve months.

I would like to take a look the prospects for this next year through the lens of what I consider to be one of the most beautiful, poetic and thought provoking passages in all of Scripture.  It is taken from the opening of Saint John's Gospel and sums up succinctly and reverently the core belief of all who purport to follow Jesus Christ.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God, all things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."  (Jn 1:1-5)

In this simple, yet most profound statement, we find our identity as Christians.  We find our hope as believers and followers of Christ Jesus.  For in this statement it is revealed exactly Who we believe and the marvel that we have celebrated during these last few days--Christmas.  Namely, that God condescended to become man in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man.  It is through this event which we have come to call the Incarnation, that our salvation is ushered in to the world.  
We know that God is God because only God could do what He did in the way He did it!  God became a part of His very creation.  Through Jesus, He became one of us, living as we live, possessing the same desires, the same disappointments, the same hopes and dreams that we all have.  One of the most amazing things about this fact is that in doing so, God lost none of His identity.  He did not suddenly lose half of Himself because His Son became man.  He retained His identity and, as a matter of fact, through Jesus Christ, we have come to know the Father ever more intimately.

The fact that the Word, Jesus Christ, became man, gives us the right to divine hope. This is not mere human hope, finite and mortal.  We know that the promises of God, the promise of eternal life and peace are true because God promised us that He would send to us, in due time, a Savior at the very moment that sin entered the world through Adam and Eve.  (cf Gen 3: 14-15)

Mankind is capable of creating.  Look around and you will see the results of the creative nature of the human race.  However, it is impossible for one of us to become a part of the things we create.  For instance, if we wanted, we could not become a part of a bridge.  Now I know this sounds far-fetched, but, really, is this any more far-fetched than God becoming man?  If we were to become a part of a bridge, we would lose that which gives us our humanity and we would be drastically changed.  With God, this is not so.  In becoming Christ, the Son of God, the Father is not diminished, but enhanced.  It is through Christ that we enter into a much deeper relationship with the Father precisely because it is through Jesus that the Father is more fully revealed.

What does all of this have to do with the New Year upon whose doorstep we now find ourselves?  Plenty!

We live in a world of agonizing loneliness and darkness.  It surrounds us and often threatens to overwhelm us and engulf us.  We become embroiled in the things of this world, ending up addicted to a world of empty promises that come in the form of bright, sparkling objects such as wealth, power, and influence, but which, in fact, offer only a shallow moment of what our human nature thinks it craves.  We are so prone to follow our passions unchecked that we often find ourselves in places we would have never thought we would go in an instant.

To know that God loves us so very much, so much so that He became one of us, walked the earth teaching us and revealing Himself to us, should be all we need for a life of prosperity and peace that was meant for us "in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth."  (Gen 1:1)  For the hope and joy of the love of God is what we were created for in the first place.  We lost that through sin, but, through the sacrifice and death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, His glorious Resurrection from the dead, we retain the right to that inheritance.  It is ours because of the love of an all merciful and forgiving God.  And that mercy and forgiveness is for all of us.

Therefore, as we stand at the beginning of a new year, let us not for one minute forget this hope and peace that is ours because of what has been done for us in the name and act of love.  We should not only think of "in the beginning" at the start of this new year, but at the start of each and every day.  Every morning represents our resurrection from a slumber of the previous day's labors and the opportunity for new growth and service of the God Who has no beginning and no end.

May God's peace and joy and love be yours at the start of this new year and at the start of every day whether that day brings sadness or joy.  Every day is a gift from God to be cherished and treasured because it comes from Him.  We must not waste one moment of those treasures by following those enticing bright and shiny objects that the world offers.  For in those "treasures" we will find emptiness and darkness.  They have no ability to sustain us for eternity.  Only God's new beginning for us each and every day have that ability.  We must lift each other up in this divine hope and, together, united in the love of God through Christ Jesus and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we shall find that peace and joy that was once the birthright of Adam.

Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

And the Good News Is. . .

We are called to joy!  We are called to rejoicing!  We are called to the proclamation of the Good News that Jesus Christ is born.  Jesus Christ, true God and true Man is born!  Our God, our Creator has become man, one of us.  Not merely with us.  One of us!  He shares our struggles, our weaknesses, our heartbreaks, our woundedness, but He also gives us our happiness, our victories, our ability to love even in our bleakest of hours.

We live in a world awash of sadness and tragedy.  It is easily to be dragged down into the mire of human misery.  We seem to be surrounded by it day in and day out because of our ever present media which needs to fill unending hours with programming that will hopefully somehow garner enough ratings to justify it's existence.  Unfortunately, because of the world's darkness, this news is mainly tragic, revealing the tragedy of humankind immersed in sin.

Once enmeshed in this misery, it is very difficult to extract ourselves from the notion that there really is no hope and that any hope we may ultimately feel is self manufactured.  In this atmosphere it is easy to be drawn into the fighting and pettiness of broken relationships and embittered people who profess a belief in the Kingdom of God, but whose lives reflect none of the joy that Christians see as their birthright.  

Think of the plight of Mary and Joseph as they arrived in Bethlehem of Judea to participate in the census ordered by Rome.  Upon their arrival, Mary, we can presume, began to go into labor.  Time was of the essence from that point on because infant mortality in the ancient world was quite high.  But because the town was so packed with visitors obeying the Roman decree, the young couple could find nowhere safe and warm in which to welcome their newborn child into the world.  

They could have easily given into the negativity that greeted them.  They could have turned bitter, cursing God for their misfortune.  They could have grown angry toward the innkeepers they spoke with who refused them entry into their establishments because "there was no room in the inn(s)."  Giving birth was difficult enough in that era, but with nowhere to ensure the best outcome, the task ahead was potentially even more difficult with a tragic ending.

However, Joseph and Mary did not give into the anger and bitterness they found that night.  They kept God at the center of their lives in that very difficult moment because they not only believed in God and His promises to them, but they believed God.  They believed His promises and somehow understood that God would deliver them safely and securely.  And that is precisely what happened.  

The story, of course, perhaps the most famous and certainly the most important story of a birth in human history, ended happily with the birth of a healthy baby boy.  Although this baby boy was no ordinary human being and this birth was no ordinary birth.  The baby boy was, of course, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Joy could not be contained that night.  Choirs of angels announced this extraordinary arrival.  A special star appeared in the sky so that those outside of the Jewish nation could be introduced to the newborn Savior of the world; news that would be taken out to the larger world.  

The darkness and bitterness of the world, in the person of King Herod, attempted to snuff out the light of joy Who is Jesus Christ by destroying scores of boys aged two and under.  From the moment of His birth, darkness and light clashed in an epic battle for the hearts, minds, and souls of the human race.  And in the end, joy triumphed through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of this tiny baby who was laid to rest on a bed of straw in some isolated corner of the world only to be executed in the darkest hour of the world.

How about you?  Do you feel called to joy?  Do you feel like rejoicing?  Does your life reflect your Christianity in the joyous way in which you live? Or have the holiday rituals of shopping, cooking, cleaning, and settling family squabbles darkened your joy or eliminated it completely?  

If so, recall the words of the angel on that faraway night when the world heard: "Be not afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of 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."  (Lk 2: 11)

As we move ever closer to this sacred season of Christmas, let us ask ourselves in which way do we not only experience joy in our lives, but in what way do we give of this joy to one another.  Our joy, when rooted in the saving actions of our God, namely, His Incarnation, His Passion, Death and Resurrection, is eternal and cannot be contained any more than the announcement of His birth could be contained two millennia ago.  

So, therefore, believe.  Rid yourselves of the rancor of this world.  Shed the darkness of humanity mired in hopelessness, and put on the light of joy! Rejoice and be glad!  Your God has come!  The Savior of the world, Emmanuel, is now with us.  How can we not be joyous?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Seeing Christ

Time is of the essence!  The annual Christmas shopping crunch is on.  We are now only ten short days away from the big day!  Get that shopping done.  Get those parties attended.  Celebrate the season.

Sound familiar?  Yes, the push is on.  Christmas is nearly here.  Kids and adults alike are both looking forward to Christmas Day.  And somewhere, in some way, the real reason for the season may even be remembered.  Yet, it is useful, I think, to pause at least for a moment to recall the real reason for Christmas.

Even more important is to look for Christ Himself for He most certainly present in our world.  However, He may not always be easy to spot.  He comes in all shapes and sizes.  He comes in all temperaments.  He comes in every personality you can think of.  And He comes in nearly every situation imaginable in every corner of the world.

Below is a poem that was written a few years back reflecting on that very fact.  It is my sincere hope that this Christmas season brings all joy and happiness to each and every one of you.  And I also hope that as you busily rush from one store to another gathering gifts for friends and family alike, that you stop momentarily to look into the eyes of others and realize there, too, is Christ.


Look into my soul
And see the face of Christ.
Look into my eye
And see things not nice.
Like poverty and hunger
And shame so deep.
Could you not watch with me
Instead of sleep?
The world cries out
For help and need.
“Do it to the least of my brothers”
He once did plead!
I am the Light of the world
My flame flickering so dim.
Whenever you see me
Remember to see him!
He that gave you eternal life
Comes to you through me.
I, too, am the resurrection!
Can you not see?

©Copyright 2009 Michael G King

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Old Man and His Tree--A Christmas Story

At this time of the year it is often fun to remember Christmases past.  As I grow older, I find my memories turn back to my much younger days when the season of Christmas seemed filled with magic and wonder.  There was something about that time between the carving of the turkey on Thanksgiving Day and that special moment on Christmas morning when you awoke to discover what Santa may have deposited under the tree.  

What follows is a story that was repeated every year for the first nine years of my life.  The memories are so vivid that if I but close my eyes I am transported back in time to the late 50's and a tiny living room in a modest house on Summer Street in a Midwestern town known as Pekin.  There was nothing remarkable about the house except that it was the home in which I grew up in.  No one but my family ever lived in that home and it was the center of my world.  

I spent my childhood within these walls along with my mother, grandmother and grandfather.  It was a wonderful childhood and I wanted for nothing.  The times were far simpler than today's world and the pleasures were, likewise, far simpler. And, despite all of our modern conveniences and technology, including the machine on which this piece is being created, there are times when my mind takes me back to those times and I find myself wishing that I could go back and relive those day.  Of course, I know that life wasn't nearly as idyllic as my memory presents it, but those little trips back in time do allow for some respite from today's frenetic pace.  

My grandpa was the world and everything in it as far as I was concerned.  He was a man of deep principles and an amazing discipline.  He was a hard worker who took great pride and even greater pride in his family.

We were a small family living in a home of simple pleasures.  We enjoyed Sunday dinners together each and every week.  During the summer, the happiest part of the day came when my mother arrived home from work.  We ate dinner, waited the appropriate amount of time for the food to settle, and then we were off to the pool for a swim.

But one of the greatest pleasures I had was the annual decorating of the Christmas tree.  My grandpa enjoyed the season but one of the traditions of the season that he didn't look forward to was the purchase of the Christmas Tree.  He put it off for as long as he could and then, finally, at the insistence of my grandma, he headed out on a usually inclement night, to pick the family tree.

What he brought back usually, could barely be called a tree.  Because he waited so long, often the only trees left in the Christmas Tree lot were the "orphans."  These were the trees that had been rejected by everybody else because they just weren't quite good enough.
To say that our tree was usually scrawny would be a supreme understatement. There were holes and gaps where most trees had branches.  Its needles seem to drop off at a mere thought.  And its trunk was usually rather serpentine, making it nearly impossible for grandpa to line it up in the stand properly so that the tree would stand straight as an arrow.

Below, you will find a poem that I wrote many years ago about this annual ritual in my home when I was a child.  In the poem you have my grandpa and grandma, along with me.  While there is no mention of my mother, rest assured, she was right there, helping to decorate this poor creature with the rest of us.

But the main character in the poem is not my grandpa or grandma.  It isn't my mother and it certainly isn't me.  No, the main "character" of the poem is love. That is what my home was filled with and it was no more powerful and evident than at Christmas.  And that is what I hope you get from this little piece.  I was fortunate to have grown up in a home of love and peace, the same kind of love and peace that was bestowed upon the world with the birth of Jesus Christ.

So, now, allow yourself to be taken back many years to that little living room in my home as the four of us, grandma, grandpa, my mother and I gathered 'round "The Old Man and His Tree."

The Old Man

And his tree

He was a proud man
Who year after year
Brought into our home
A sad, misshapen fir.

He was happy to shelter
Those poor misfit trees
Giving them a place of honor
With dignity and ease.

Proudly he set the tree
In its proper place.
Adjusting to the right, then left
Till it filled that corner space.

“gaps and branches Must be covered,”
Said his wife of many years
As about the tree she hovered
Concealing her laughter’s tears.

Dutifully he twisted
The oh so crooked boughs
Until, upon inspection,
It passed my grandma’s browse.

From the basement came boxes
Filled with ornaments and lights.
They were thoroughly examined
With anticipation and delight.

Carols of the season
Warmed the room
As he took his seat
Taking in pine perfume.

Lights were first
Upon the orphaned tree.
And as they were strung
Something began happening magically.

His cigar smoke circled
Above his old bald head
As the tree took shape
The homely, now somehow beautiful instead.

He smiled and hummed
As the ornaments were fixed.
And we were cheerful
To have the right color mix.

Tinsel was then hung
As the lights danced to and fro.
Christmas filled the room
With its special kind of glow.

I climbed the shaky ladder
And reached for the tree top.
I placed a shining star gently
And all came to a stop.

Oh, for those days
When an old man and his tree
Became a powerful symbol
Of his special love for me.

Silent night, holy night.
The gentlest night of the year.
I fondly remember grandpa

With a sentimental tear.

Person of the Year

It was announced this morning that Pope Francis has been named as Time Magazine's "Person of the Year."  The Person of the Year designation means that the person whom the editors of Time selected has had a great impact on the world. That impact can be either negative or positive.  It must be remembered that at one time Adolph Hitler was given this distinction.

Pope Francis is an excellent choice and I say that not because I am Catholic, but because of what he has brought to the world's attention as head of the one billion plus member Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis, much as his namesake Saint Francis of Assisi, has begun to focus the Church's attention, and through the Church, the world's, on the marginalized of society.  And the numbers of the marginalized throughout the world are legion in number.

They include the impoverished, the politically exiled, those enslaved by the scourge of alcohol and drug addiction, victims of domestic violence, those who have been persecuted because of their religion, and of course, the unborn who are being slaughtered in huge numbers every year through abortion.  There are countless others who are marginalized and, sadly, too numerous to mention.  

The Pope has called attention to these people not only through his teaching which can be found in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, "The Joy of the Gospel."  More importantly, the world's attention has been drawn to them through the Pope's actions and example.  

Recently, it was announced by the Vatican that Pope Francis often sets out at night from the Vatican dressed as an ordinary priest for the purpose of helping the poor and feeding the hungry.  The only reason the Vatican admitted to this is because many people began to realize just who it was they often spotted on the streets of Rome.  Unlike other public figures, the Pope did not do this for a "photo op!"

In addition to this remarkable gesture, the Pope's frequent homilies and teachings have emphasized the plight of those whom society has deemed unworthy of attention and pushed to the margins as useless pieces of dirt to be ignored and forgotten.  However, the media in so many cases, would have people believe differently.

Both sides of the political spectrum have their viewpoints mostly wrong and always cynical.  

The left would have you believe that the reason that this Pope is so charismatic and so popular is that he is changing Church policy and teaching on such important issues as gay marriage, abortion, and women being ordained into the priesthood. To be blunt, none of these things are true.  The Pope is not changing teaching on any of these subjects.  To the contrary, he continues to strenuously uphold these long-term teachings of the Church.  

On the right, the political pundits and radio talk show hosts would have you believe that someone has gotten the ear of the Pope and have convinced him that capitalism is the evil in the world and that the United States is the chief villain because of its wealth and power. Some have gone so far as to even call him a Marxist.  These allegations are not true either.

In the past, two other pontiffs were named as "Persons of the Year."  Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II were both were honored with this designation.  Ironically, both pontiffs also had a deep and abiding concern for the marginalized of society.

The truth of the matter is this.  Pope Francis is not a political being nor is he injecting himself into the political world.  It was often noted that Blessed Pope John Paul II would ask visitors to the Vatican what was going on in their world. His interest was not politics.  His interest, by his own admission, was to see what the Holy Spirit was doing in the world at that moment.  The same is true for this pontiff.  The Pope knows that our God is alive and well and acting throughout the world.

The Holy Spirit is certainly working in the world through this Pope.  He has the charisma to capture the attention the world's attention and even though that media is missing his profound points, the Spirit is working in the world with the message he projects, distorted as it may be.

If I judge the Holy Father correctly, I believe he would refer us to someone else to be designated as "Person of the Year."  And that Person is Jesus Christ in whose honor we will all soon gather in celebration of what might be called the "Day of the Year," Christmas Day!