Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: Mary Visits Elizabeth, Humility
Volume 7 No. 449 December 1, 2017
 
II. Lectionary Reflections

A Summary of our Salvation

by Msgr. Charles Pope

Here on the Fourth Sunday of Advent we are close to the unfolding of the great mystery of the Word made flesh. It is easy for us to look right past it, but we do well to pause and ponder what is taught to us today about the salvation that is to unfold. One significant way we can do this is by reflecting upon the first reading today from the prophet Micah.

Scripture: Micah 5:2-5a (NAB - Micah 5:1-4a)

[2] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
[3] Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in travail has brought forth;
then the rest of his brethren shall return
to the people of Israel.
[4] And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
Assyria repulsed
[5] And this shall be peace,
when the Assyrian comes into our land
and treads upon our soil.

 In four short verses, we are presented with a kind of summary of our salvation, a snapshot of what ails us and how God heals us. Let's see what the Lord and the Church have to teach us.

I. Our Humility

The text begins, And you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.

Of all the towns and villages in the land of Judah, one of the lowliest was Bethlehem. Though not far from the great city of Jerusalem -- a matter of a few miles -- it was little more than a rundown, frontier village with little to recommend itself. It was a place by which one passed quickly on the way to nearby Jerusalem.

Even today, despite all that happened there, Bethlehem remains a troubled and rundown little city, impoverished and crowded. Its steep, hilly streets feature little that is pleasant to the eyes. There is a great sorrow that hangs over it. It is hemmed in by guard towers and walls covered with razor wire. These are signs of a great standoff between Israel and the Palestinians. Largely isolated economically, the city suffers from poverty and unemployment.

The ancient Church of the Nativity at the top of the hill looks every bit of its 1500 years in age. It is dingy, covered in soot, and largely in a state of poor repair, due to a standoff among the Orthodox factions that oversee the building. The tension is palpable as one enters the church and nervous tour guides engage in delicate negotiations to ensure a quick visit to the cave of the Nativity beneath the altar.

Yes, Bethlehem remains lowly, troubled, and very humble. And yet it is here that our Savior chose to be born. He did not choose nearby Jerusalem, distant Rome, or any great imperial city. Not in a palace was He is born, but in a cave. And even in this humble and lowly city, one has to get mighty low to find the place where Christ was born. One descends down steep, narrow steps into a cave. And even inside this cave, one must stoop lower still, even kneeling on the floor, to touch the place where Christ was born.

A lowly place in a lowly village -- this is where Christ was born. See how the Lord esteems humility? God hates pride; He just can't stand it. Pride is our greatest enemy, it is at the root of every sin we commit. That is why the Lord teaches us that humility is one of our greatest gifts.

The story also reminds us of something that took place in Bethlehem 1000 years before. The prophet Samuel was sent to anoint a new king to replace Saul. Having been sent to lowly Bethlehem, Samuel surveyed the sons of Jesse. Samuel was impressed by the seven strong young men he saw before him, but none of these were the king he was sent to anoint. There was one other son, so young and insignificant that Jesse had not even thought to include him. It was little David, who was out in the field tending the sheep. Yes, the lowliest one, he was the one whom God chose. Humility won the day (cf 1 Sam 16).

And so it is that Bethlehem shows forth the humility, the lowliness that alone opens the door to God. Bethlehem is a name that means "house of bread," not "house of caviar," not "house of fine wine," rather, the house of ordinary bread. Humility ushers in our God.

II. Our Hardship

The text goes on to speak of our condition prior to the coming of Jesus: Therefore, the Lord will give them up, until the time when she will is to give birth has borne.

For indeed, our condition without Christ is grave. We are given up, given over to sin and to our own fruitless and self-destructive tendencies. And thus we learn of the gravity of our condition: that we cannot save ourselves. The prophet Isaiah had cried out, Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! … All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins (Is 64:1,6-7).

Yes, our condition apart from Christ is hard and quite hopeless. In the age of the Law and the prophets, we learned the hard way that no matter how hard we try we cannot save ourselves. Our wounds are too deep, our pride too great, our hearts too dull, and our minds too dark. We are lost without God. How often have deluded men sought to create utopia only to discover ruins? We have only to consider the utopian notions of the last bloody century.

Yes, the age of the Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament shouts to us that we cannot save ourselves. We must rely on God; we must turn to Him. We don't just need an angel -- we need a savior. And until she who was to give birth has borne the son, the only way to describe the human family is just the way this text from Micah does: we had been given up, given over to our own sins so as to discover humility and our need for a Savior.

Isaiah wrote, All we like sheep have gone astray, every one to his own way (Is 53:6). St. Paul would later write of the time before Christ, we were dead in our sins (Eph 2:1), given over to our transgressions and iniquity.

So here is our hardship. We are wandering, lost and in need of a Savior.

III. Our Head

The text goes on to speak of our Savior, our shepherd, our ruler, and our head: Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God.

And thus we see that our Savior will be both God and man. He is God, for His origin is from of old, from ancient times (cf also Hebrews 7:3). He also saves us by the strength of the Lord. And yet He is also one of us, for the text speaks of Him as acting in the name of the Lord, His God.

He must be God in order to have the power to save us, and yet He must also be one of us in order to speak and act on our behalf. As God, He cannot obey God, for there is only one divine will. But as man, having a human will, He is able to obey the Father. Thus it makes sense that our Savior must be both God and man.

It is said that He will shepherd His flock. Shepherds feed, lead, and protect their flocks. And all this the Lord does for us. It is a trait of sheep to be wayward; sheep tend to stray. They need the watchful care of a shepherd. Similarly, even after saving us from our sins, the Lord must continue to feed us, lead us, and protect us. Otherwise, having been snatched from the wolf, we might run into a bear. Or, having been saved from the edge of a cliff, we might wander into a thicket.

Thus Christ, our shepherd and head, must go before us, showing us and opening the way. He must also walk behind us to guard us and to observe our every action. And he must walk beside us to keep our paths straight. We need a Savior, not just on Good Friday, but every hour of every day.

IV. Our Healing

The text goes on to say, and the rest of his kindred shall return to the children of Israel and they shall remain, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.

And thus we see that Jesus' essential task in healing us is not simply a personal healing for me alone or for you alone. It is also healing that removes the divisions within and among us. One of the chief sources of our suffering in this world is division. Nation is divided against nation; races and ethnic groups are in competition; there is conflict and crushing hatred.

At the time of Jesus, Jews and Gentiles (largely Romans and Greeks) were in major conflict. The Jews of Jesus' time were taught to love their neighbor and their fellow Jews, but to hate their enemy. Jesus taught that we must love and forgive our enemies and began the process of establishing a universal Church, a Catholic Church. He gave the apostles standing orders to preach the gospel to every nation and to unite everyone under the common title of disciple, of Christian. The dignity of baptism and of being a child of God was to be offered to all. As this text of Micah prophesies, the Lord's salvation and greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth.

The text goes on to say, He shall be our peace. Note that this is not a "can we all just get along" sort of peace. It means that He shall be our peace. That is to say, the Lord Jesus Christ and the truth He proclaims are to be the source of our unity. In sending the apostles forth to proclaim the Gospel to every nation, Jesus said that they should teach the people to observe everything that He commanded, and should draw them into the life of the church through baptism (cf Matt 28:19). He is our peace. Jesus and His teachings are what are meant to unite us. Every other form of peace is not a true or lasting peace.

Thus Jesus initiated a process that was not meant to conquer the world politically. Rather, it was a process whereby His truth and grace would be proclaimed and those who accept these gifts would be able to come to greater and more lasting peace.

This peace must begin in the heart and mind of every individual believer who, by the grace of Jesus Christ, experiences an inner healing of the many conflicts and destructive drives caused by sin. Then, by drawing others to that same healing through evangelization to a life-changing, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ, this peace is meant to spread throughout the world. This will put an end to division; bring together the children of God; and show forth God's greatness, truth, and salvation to the ends of the earth.

He is our peace. Jesus is our healing.

Today's first reading, just prior to the Christmas reality, presents us with a summary of our salvation. It stresses our need for humility, describes our hardship, announces our Head (a Shepherd), and sets forth the basis for our healing. In a word, the basis for our healing is the Word made flesh, Jesus.

This song says,

We need to hear from you
We need a word from you
If we don't hear from you
What will we do
Wanting you more each day
Show us your perfect way
There is no other way
That we can live.

Destruction is now is now in view
Seems the world has forgotten all about you
Children are crying and people are dying
They're lost without you, so lost without you
But you said if we seek
Lord if we seek your face
And turn from our wicked, our wicked ways
You promised to heal our land
Father you can

Source: Archdiocese of Washington Blog

Visitation: When You Need a Helping Hand

by Amy Carroll

"At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth."
 - Luke 1:39-40 (NIV)

God is the world's greatest matchmaker. I'm not talking about the kind of romantic matches made online, but rather about connections made between women in need and those who can help.

As I grew older in years and in my faith, God consistently placed women in my path who modeled all kinds of things I needed to know. My mom taught me about keeping a home that's peaceful and full of love. In my teen years, a young woman named Layne showed me what it looked like to cultivate a pure heart.

Later, Deborah lived out being a loving wife even though she never knew I was watching. Macon taught me about mothering small children, and Mona was an example of how to use my words wisely.

Each woman had something to share with me that I needed in order to grow.

Christmas is approaching, and in Luke 1, one of our familiar Christmas passages, God gives us a beautiful picture of what it looks like when He gives the gift of friendship to help us in difficult situations. He joins together a young woman, Mary, with an older woman, Elizabeth, and encourages both of them in the linking. If we'll zoom in a little, there are some important lessons for us.

Mary sought out a woman to help her.

When I slowed my reading of today's key verses, they left me with lots of questions. Why did Mary need to pack up and leave home to go see Elizabeth? Where was her mother? Her friends?

No matter the answers, one fact is clear. Mary needed a woman with whom she could connect. In fact, Scripture tells us she hurried there!

We live in a lonely culture where 60% of women say they're lonely and 20% say they're lonely all the time. Mary gives us an example to follow when we fall into the loneliness pit. She didn't sit at home and wish someone were there. She didn't "vague-book" something on social media to manipulate someone to reach out. She packed up and went to spend face-to-face time with Elizabeth.

Mary was blessed with a close connection because of her initiation.

Elizabeth chose to connect, rather than to compete.

When we think through the circumstances, Elizabeth could have gotten her feelings hurt. After all, Mary made an unannounced visit and she was carrying the Messiah, the hope of the whole world, in her womb.

Because she was already married and her husband was a priest, Elizabeth held a superior social ranking. Elizabeth could have compared herself to Mary and felt resentment. She could have thought, "Who is she to be carrying the Messiah instead of me?" Instead, she instantly poured out blessing and affirmation to her cousin Mary, a young, pregnant girl trembling with the implications of her amazing assignment.

Joy was the result of their connection.

The remaining description of Mary and Elizabeth's interaction in Luke 1 is a more beautiful scene than I can even imagine. It's filled with loud declarations of blessing, Spirit-filled babies leaping with joy, and a song so exquisite that it's nicknamed "The Magnificat."

The outcome of these women's connection was great joy. Not only were they happy in the moment, but they were forever enriched by the match that God had made between the two of them. God calls us to connect so we can mature. Mary was supported, and Elizabeth had a chance to share her maturity and support. That same joy can be in store for you and me!

Lord, I praise You that I was made for connection. Help me reach out for help when I need it and to offer it to others when I'm able. Please make me more like You as I do. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:

Matthew 6:1, "Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." (NIV)

RELATED RESOURCES:

Following in their footsteps, you too can prepare for the Savior to enter your heart, your mind and your life in a vibrant, new way. Bestselling author Liz Curtis Higgs explores the biblical stories of Elizabeth, Mary and Anna, unwrapping each verse with tender care and introducing you afresh to The Women of Christmas.

What if God gave you the chance to forget your past and start over? Begin building a strong, faith-filled future based on God's vision for your life instead of your own with our upcoming First 5 study of Joshua and Judges. Get the Experience Guide today.

REFLECT AND RESPOND:

Read all of Luke Chapter 1 slowly, two times. What new truths do you find?

What needs do you have in your life right now that you could use some help with from another woman? How could you connect with the woman who has what you need?

How could you help meet the needs of another woman in your life?

2016 by Amy Carroll. All rights reserved.
Source: Encouragement for Today

ഏലിശ്ബായുടെ അടുത്തേക്കുള്ള പരി. മറിയാമിന്റെ യാത്ര

by Dn Shibu Eapen

ഏലിശ്ബായുടെ അടുത്തേക്കുള്ള പരി.മറിയാമിന്റെ യാത്രയുടെ ഞായറാഴ്ച്ച.

നസ്രേത്തിൽ നിന്നും 100 മൈ ൽ അകലെയുള്ള യഹൂദാ മലനാട്ടിലേക്ക്‌ പരി.മാതാവ്‌ കടന്നു ചെല്ലുന്നു. അവിടെ പരിശുദ്ധാത്മ പ്രേരിതയായി വന്ദ്യ വയോധികയായ ഏലിശ്ബാ അവളെ എതിരേൽക്കുന്നു. എന്റെ കർത്താവിന്റെ (ദൈവത്തിന്റെ) മാതാവ്‌ എന്നാണു പരിശുദ്ധാത്മാവ്‌ അവിടെ ഉത്ഘോഷിപ്പിക്കുന്നത്‌. "ദൈവമാതാവ്‌" എന്ന് പരിശുദ്ധാത്മ പ്രേരിതയായി ശുദ്ധിമതിയും അഹറോന്യ കുലത്തിന്റെ പിൻ തലമുറക്കാരിയും പുരോഹിത ഭാര്യയുമായ ഏലിശ്ബാ ഉത്ഘോഷിച്ചതു പോലെ ഭാഗ്യവതിയായ പരിശുദ്ധ കന്യക മറിയാമിനേ ഞാനും എന്റെ വി.സഭയും ദൈവമാതാവ്‌ (mother of God) എന്നു വിളിച്ച്‌ ആദരിക്കുന്നു. അവളുടെ പ്രാർത്ഥന നമുക്ക്‌ കോട്ടയതാകട്ടെ.

The Infant in My Womb Leaped for Joy

by Saint John Chrysostom (c.345-407)

O what a novel and wonderful mystery! John has not yet been born but already he gives voice with his bounds; he has not yet appeared but already he manifests signs of his presence; he cannot yet cry and already he is heard through what he does; as yet he has not begun his life and already he is preaching about God; he does not yet see the light and is already pointing to the sun; he has not yet been brought forth and already he hastens to act as forerunner. The Lord is there! John cannot restrain himself; he is not going to be restricted by the limitations set by nature but strives to break out of the prison of his mother's womb and make known beforehand the Savior's coming. "He who breaks our bonds has come," he says. "and am I to remain shackled? Am I still bound to remain here? The Word comes to re-establish all things and am I still to remain captive? I will come out and run ahead of him and announce to all: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1,29).

But tell us, John, held fast as you are in the darkness of your mother's womb, how is it that you see and hear? How can you behold divine things? How can you be leaping and rejoicing? "The mystery that is taking place is great indeed," he says. "It is something beyond human understanding. It is with good reason that I am doing something new in the natural order on behalf of him who is to do something new in the supernatural order. I see even before my birth because I see the Sun of Justice gestating (Mal 3,20). I perceive by ear because, in coming into the world, I myself am the voice that goes before the great Word. I cry out because I behold the only Son of the Father clothed in his flesh. I rejoice because I see the world's Creator receive human form. I leap for joy when I think that the Redeemer of the world has taken a human body. I am the forerunner of his coming and precede your testimony with my own.

Editor's Note:

Saint John Chrysostom (c.345-407) was a priest at Antioch then Bishop of Constantinople. Doctor of the Church  

Visitation And Advent

REJOICE, THE BIRTH OF THE MESSIAH IS A HAPPY EVENT

Gospel: Luke 1:39-45

The Scripture Text

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."
(Luke 1:39-45 RSV)

Today's Gospel begins after an angel informs Mary that she will be the mother of the Messiah. Upon hearing the news that her relative, Elizabeth, is also expecting, Mary hurries off to visit her. The Gospels say Mary and Elizabeth were kinswomen, a term ancient Jews used to describe a variety of different relationships. Although popular tradition calls the two women cousins, there is nothing in Scripture to support this belief. However, because there is nothing to refute it either, we will never know the exact relationship between these two women.

In her greeting, Elizabeth says that both Mary and the fruit of her womb are blessed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (Luke 1-42). The term "fruit of the womb" has an interesting history.

Because ancient people did not have the benefit of all the sophisticated medical equipment we have today, their understanding of the human reproductive system was rather primitive. They believed life was in the man's sperm which, they reasoned, was like a seed. Just as the seed contained life within itself and just as this life emerged once someone planted the seed in the ground, the man had to plant the sperm in the woman's womb. Therefore, they thought of the womb as the garden in which the seed would take root and grow. With all of this agricultural symbolism, the next logical step was for them to begin calling the baby "the fruit of the womb". Thus, Jesus was the fruit of Mary's womb.

Sometimes, Luke's Gospel is called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit because it talks so much about how the Spirit is working in the world. At times, biblical scholars also call it the Gospel of Great Joy because the word "joy" appears so frequently. We find one of those occurrences in today's Gospel reading in which Luke quotes Elizabeth as saying the baby in her womb was moved with joy at the sound of Mary's greeting. Clearly, Luke considered the birth of the Messiah a happy event.

Mary went to see Elizabeth to share the news of how God was working through her. How is God using us (you and I)? Share that news with someone this week.

Prayer: Lord God, I believe that You are all-powerful. Thank You for giving me the grace to see Your work in my life. Apparently Your gifts to me are all good things for me and my life as a disciple of Christ. Give me the courage that I may share Your good works in me with others I meet. Amen.

Source: A Christian Pilgrim

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