From Henri Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Living
“We all have wounds…….It is a feeling of loneliness that lurks behind our successes, a feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise we receive…….that makes us grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give. If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we become a heavy burden.”
Nouwen goes on to say: “I love Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son. The father holds his child, touches his child, and says, ‘You are my beloved. I’m not going to ask you any questions. Wherever you have gone, whatever you have done, and whatever people say about you, you’re my beloved. You can come home to me whose name is Compassion, whose name is Love.’
Nouwen says, “ If we keep that in mind, we can deal with an enormous amount of success as well as an enormous amount of failure without losing our identity, because our identity is that we are the beloved. Long before our father and mother, our brothers and sisters, our teachers, our church or anyone else touched us in a loving or wounding way —— long before we were rejected by some person or praised by someone else-that voice was there. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’
That love was there before we were born and will be there after we die. A life of fifty, sixty, seventy, or a hundred years is just a little moment in which we have been given time to say, ‘Yes, I love you too.’ ”
Henri Nouwen was a priest theologian/author who toward his later years went to live and minister in a settlement for the mentally challenged.
This quote is from a tiny gem of a book put together from insights from his other books, called A Spirituality of Living.
Today, the first Scripture reading says: “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.”
In the Gospel reading it says of the twelve year old Jesus who has caused his parents great anxiety, “Then he went down with them and was obedient to them. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”
The important words for us here are grow and increase. If Samuel and Jesus had to grow and increase, even in wisdom and in favor with God and man, it’s a pretty safe bet we do too. And the growing doesn’t stop when we are 12, or 21, 78 or 95.
Today’s second reading says to us: “As God’s children, holy and beloved,”(Don’t you just want to wrap that word ‘beloved’ around you like a warm soft comforter?)
But it continues, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
The word clothe implies that compassion and humility and patience are not necessarily natural human traits. What follows points the way to grow and increase in them: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Not should or ought, but must.)
The scripture continues “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.”
Oh boy, there’s the rub. I don’t know about you, but I am not very teachable and if you decide to admonish me, you probably should be prepared to run.
Here’s the good news, when we admit our own need to grow and change, accepting forgiveness brings the grace to change. Forgiveness actually has the power to free us from being trapped even in a lifelong destructive response to people or events.
THEN and only then, can we like Jesus be a witness by visibly fleshing out the power of grace through growing and changing. The best way to teach is to show how it’s done. (It’s probably the safest also.)
Listen please with an open heart to the PRAYER OF CONFESSION followed by a time of silent reflection:
God, you call us beloved. Jesus you showed us that we are called and can be freed to grow and change. Let us feel your hand on our shoulder as you gently shake your head at our blindness. As we listen in silence, free us by your tender love to see where we need to grow and change. Then help us to completely accept forgiveness in the depths of our hearts, so we may be living witnesses to God’s saving grace.
………Take time for reflection…………………
We are all God’s children. We are all God’s beloved. Feel that. Cling to it. Rejoice in it. Give thanks for it. And trust God to complete the good work he has begun in you.
Reflections on Scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, December 27, 2015 NRSV
1 Sam 2:18-20, 26 Col 3:12-17 Luke 2:41-52