Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Feast of the Holy Family

A Recipe for Family Life

In today's Second Reading from the Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul gives us a recipe for family life. Let's take a close look at what he recommends.

1. Remember that we are all “God's chosen ones, holy and beloved.” 

2. Put on “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” 

3. Bear with one another and forgive one other, just as the Lord has forgiven us.

4. Put on love, which is the “bond of perfection.”

5. Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts so that it can also rule in our families.

6. Be thankful.

7. Allow the Word of God to dwell in us richly. 

8. Teach and admonish each other in wisdom.

9. Sing!

10. Do all things in the Name of Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him.

Does all this sound too difficult...or maybe even impossible? Never fear! We have help. Jesus is waiting for us to turn to Him with open, prayerful hearts and to ask Him to help us grow in our family life and in our relationships with those we love. After all, Jesus knows what it is like to live in a family. He places His Holy Family before us as a model of love, and He is ready and willing to help us sculpt our families into living reflections of His. All we need to do is ask. 

Lord Jesus, please strengthen our families. May we always seek to follow St. Paul's recipe for family life and to imitate Your Holy Family that we may always grow in love for one another. Amen.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

St. Stephen

It seems a little strange, doesn't it? Yesterday we celebrated Christmas, the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. But today we turn our attention to the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. Unless we look closely at the connection between these two events, we might simply think, “Hmmm...Depressing,” and hurry through today and on to tomorrow's feast of St. John. 

If we stop for a moment, though, to reflect on St. Stephen's story, we can understand why the day after Christmas is a perfect time to celebrate his feast. 

First, let's recall the story of St. Stephen, which we find in Acts 6 and 7. Stephen was one of the first deacons in the early Church. A group of early Christians called Hellenists had been complaining to the apostles that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of charity. The Twelve were pretty sure that if they were going to solve this problem, they would have to delegate some men to help them so they could focus on their task of prayer and preaching. So they chose seven men, including Stephen, to coordinate and oversee the material ministry of the Church. 

Stephen was “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). He was also “full of grace and power” and possessed the gift of miracles (Acts 6:8). What's more, he seems to have been an outspoken kind of fellow who was willing and committed to tell the truth no matter what other people thought. 

Not surprisingly, some of the Jews soon began to take offense at Stephen. They started whispering about him, riling up their fellow Jews by claiming that the Christian deacon was speaking blasphemous words. Finally, they brought Stephen before the council where the high priest asked him if the accusations were true. 

Stephen's response? He preached a sermon! Beginning with Abraham, he offered an overview of salvation history, emphasizing the faith of the patriarchs and the stubborn resistance of the Israelites. He ended by telling the council that they were just as stubborn as their ancestors. “You stiff-necked people,” Stephen exclaimed, “uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become His betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53). 

Naturally, this did not make the Jews happy. In fact, they were enraged. They even ground their teeth at Stephen. But he was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” and he didn't even look at them. He was gazing up to Heaven, where he saw Jesus standing at the Father's right hand (Acts 7:55). “Look,” he cried out, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56).

The Jews were in no mood for Stephen's visions. They covered their ears so they wouldn't have to hear him, and then they rushed at him, dragging him out of the city and stoning him. Stephen responded to their attack with prayer, and just before he died, he imitated Jesus, calling out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60). Then Stephen died. 

So why does the Church present Stephen's story the day after Christmas? For several weeks now, we have been focusing on the Incarnation of Jesus as we've prepared our hearts during Advent and greeted Him yesterday on Christmas. But Jesus' Incarnation is only part of His story. The feast of St. Stephen vividly reminds of the rest of the story.

As Stephen tells us, Jesus is the fulfillment of salvation history. Everything that happened to Israel, all its patriarchs, all its trials, all its victories, every last thing, leads up to Jesus, that little Baby born in a stable on that first Christmas so long ago.

What's more, that Baby grew up, and He taught people how to live. Stephen is a prime example of someone who imitated Jesus. He served others. He opened his heart to the Holy Spirit. He allowed God to work through him, even performing miracles. He spoke the truth no matter what the cost. He understood his place in the world, but he knew that his place in eternity was more important. He trusted and believed God completely, even to the point of death. 

Further, when Stephen died, he could look forward to meeting Jesus in Heaven. In fact, he actually saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. That little Child, born at Christmas, suffered, died, and rose again for all of us, opening the way to Heaven so that we could live with Him forever and ever. Because of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, Stephen could experience his own birthday into Heaven when his earthly life was finished. 

The feast of St. Stephen, then, focuses our attention beyond the little Baby in the manager and vividly reminds us of the gift Jesus brought, not only by His birth but also by His life, death, and Resurrection. If we accept that gift as Stephen did, with faith and courage, we, too, will someday see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father and hear Him welcome us into eternity.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Fourth Sunday of Advent

A Few Observations

Today's readings lend themselves to a few interesting observations.

1. Ahaz didn't want to hear what God wanted to tell him. Just for some background here, Ahaz was a king in the southern kingdom of Judah, which had broken with the northern kingdom of Israel and was being threatened by the Assyrians. Ahaz wanted to join the northern kingdom in a coalition with Assyria. He was hoping to save himself and his kingdom, but God had other ideas. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God told Ahaz to trust in Him alone and not to make a deal with the Assyrians. God even told Ahaz that he could ask for a sign to prove that God was telling the truth. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign. He didn't want to hear what God had to say. He wanted to follow his own plans.

2. God gave Ahaz a sign anyway. Again speaking through Isaiah, God said, “...the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” This prophecy can work on several levels. Initially, it may have been referring to the birth of Ahaz's son Hezekiah, which would cement the dynastic line and prove God's protection for Ahaz's family. But the Holy Spirit could see much further than the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah. There was another level of meaning to this prophecy, for it pointed ahead to Someone else, Someone Who would someday come into the world.

3. Today's Psalm response is “Let the Lord enter; He is king of glory.” We should be asking ourselves if we are ready to let the Lord enter into every area of our lives and reign as the king of glory in our hearts and in our world.

4. Paul reminds us in the introduction to his letter to the Romans that Jesus Christ is both God and Man. He is descended from David in the flesh, Paul notes, but He is also established as the Son of God in power. His divinity was definitively revealed in the Resurrection.

5. We are called to the obedience of faith. This is a living faith, an active faith, that does not just sit back and say, “Yup! I believe!” This is a faith that obeys God's command to love Him and to love our neighbor. This is a faith that works. 

6. Some saints and theologians have observed that Joseph's motive for divorcing Mary quietly may not be quite what it appears on the surface. Could Joseph, who knows Mary so well and is certainly aware of her purity, really think that she committed adultery? And if he does not truly believe that, then why, being a righteous man, does he want to divorce her? Could Joseph have another motive? The saints and theologians mentioned above think that perhaps Joseph already believed that Mary's pregnancy was miraculous. They wonder if Joseph felt unworthy to assume the role he was called to play. If so, he may simply have wanted to back out quietly and let someone else take over. The angel's words of reassurance could support this interpretation. The angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Why would he be afraid if he thought Mary had been unfaithful? He would more likely be angry. The angel also says, “For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” The Greek word for “for” could also be translated as “indeed.” Read the angel's words again with this slight change: “Indeed, it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Now it sounds like the angel is confirming something Joseph already knows.

7. The angel gives Joseph an important role in Jesus' life. Joseph is to name this Child. This means that he is to take on the role of a father. He will protect and guide this Child as He grows up. He will teach Him what He needs to know. He will provide an example for Him to imitate. He will be Jesus' human father even though he is not His biological father.

8. These readings provide a prime example of how Scripture interprets Scripture. The Gospel contains the prophecy found in the First Reading: “...the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” According to the angel, and therefore according to God, this prophecy originally given to Ahaz through Isaiah really refers to Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us. The message could not be clearer.

9. Joseph obeys immediately. He does not hesitate. He realizes that God has truly spoken to him through the angel, and he believes. There are no more questions, no more fears. He takes Mary as his wife and assumes the role of father to Mary's Child. If only we all were that quick to obey God's will for us.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Coming Soon – Rosary Meditations in Book Form!

A couple years ago, I posted a series of Rosary meditations on this blog. To my surprise and delight, they have proven to be pretty popular. 

In early January, these meditations will appear for the first time in book form, revised, edited, and updated! 

The book will be available at Amazon and other online retailers. Please watch this blog for more details and an upcoming publication announcement.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Little Something Extra... Third Sunday of Advent

Tough Questions

Today's Gospel (Matthew 11:2-11) presents some tough questions. We'll take a look at a couple of them in this reflection. I certainly don't pretend to have any definitive answers, but I can offer a few suggestions.

First, the questions: 

1. Why does John the Baptist send his disciples to Jesus to ask “Are you the One Who is to come, or should we look for another?” Doesn't John already know Who Jesus is? 

2. What does Jesus mean when He says, “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”?

We'll start with question #1. What's happening here? Is John having a crisis in faith? After all, he knows better than just about anyone else Who Jesus is. After all, he jumped for joy in his mother's womb as Jesus approached. He baptized Jesus and witnessed the dove coming down from Heaven and the voice declaring, “This is My Beloved Son.” John himself called Jesus the “Lamb of God” and pointed to Him as the One Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. So why is John asking now? 

Some argue that perhaps John might be a little shaky at the moment. After all, he's in prison. His life is in danger. Perhaps he is merely giving in to an all-too-human instant of doubt. 

Personally, I think John has another motive. His disciples don't seem to have completely warmed up to Jesus at this point. After all, John's style is very different than Jesus'. John teaches fasting, for instance, while Jesus proclaims that the wedding guests do not fast while the Bridegroom is with them. 

John knows very well that he needs to decrease while Jesus increases. Therefore, he sends his disciples to Jesus to hear directly from Him, to listen to His witness in person, to see Him and observe His actions. John wants his disciples to know Jesus like he knows Jesus and to recognize Him as the One Who is to come, and he realizes that the best way for this to happen is for the disciples to encounter Jesus directly. 

Jesus invites the disciples to think about what they see and hear: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” The ancient prophecies are being fulfilled. Go and tell John that, Jesus commands the disciples, for He understands that the message will be further solidified in the disciples' minds as they spread it. 

Jesus ends with a statement that seems to suggest that the real message here isn't for John the Baptist at all: “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at Me.” John certainly isn't taking offense at Jesus, but perhaps John's disciples are. Jesus, Who can read people's hearts, knows this and guides John's disciples straight toward the path that John wants them to travel.

Later in His conversation with the crowd, Jesus says something that is rather confusing. Listen again: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” This seems paradoxical. How can John be the greatest of those born of women and yet less than the least in the Kingdom of Heaven? 

John is certainly great. Saints and theologians teach that he was sanctified in his mother's womb. As an adult he assumed the role of an Old Testament prophet, with his ascetic lifestyle and his powerful message. Certainly, John is the greatest of those prophets, for he points to Someone he knows personally. He sees and touches what those who have gone before have only dreamed about and have longed for from a distance. 

But John does not live long enough to experience the full reality of Jesus' coming. He does not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, at least in his earthly life. He is never baptized so as to have God's presence dwelling in the innermost parts of his soul. He never receives Jesus in the Eucharist and holds God, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in his body. He never reads the sacred words of the Gospels. He never even witnesses Jesus' passion, death, and Resurrection. 

Even the least member of the Kingdom of God, present already but not yet fully fulfilled in the Catholic Church, has an advantage over John the Baptist. Christians have a dignity and a blessing that even the greatest of the Old Testament prophets could not grasp.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Tree Meditations

As Christmas approaches, the pace of life accelerates. The days fly by, consumed with Christmas preparations, and by the time we're ready to fall into bed at night, the last thing we feel like doing is meditating, even though we know we should.

Have you every thought about meditating on your Christmas tree? Yes, you read that right. Meditate on your Christmas tree. Take a look at some examples. 

1. Your tree is an evergreen, which can serve as a symbol of God, Who is eternal and always present, even in the dead of a spiritual winter.

2. Do you have colored lights on your tree? Think about what the colors can stand for: red for the blood of Christ; blue for Mary; green for new life; yellow for the warmth of God's love; orange for the fire of the Holy Spirit.

3. Perhaps you have clear lights on your tree. Those could trigger a prayer for clarity of vision that you may better discern God's plan for you and His work in your life.

4. Is there an angel at the top of your tree? Meditate on the angels, who they are and what they do, and say a little prayer to your own guardian angel.

5. Most people have a star on the tree either as an ornament or a topper. Ponder the star in the Christmas story. Why did God choose to use a star to point the magi to Jesus?

6. Do you have a favorite ornament or two? Who gave them to you? What do they symbolize in your family? Take a minute to pray for the people who have contributed to your Christmas tree over the years.

7. What other Christmas symbols do you find on your tree? Are there candy canes, bells, or candles? How do these Christmas symbols point to Christ? 

The possibilities for meditation are endless and as unique as your Christmas tree. So over the next few days, pause on and off, take a good look at the Christmas tree, meditate a little on what it means to you as a Christian, and thank God for the greatest gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Second Sunday of Advent

Standing in the Middle

In today's Gospel, we see and hear John the Baptist. He is one of my favorite Biblical characters. Just look at him. He's dressed in camel's hair (scratchy!) with a leather belt around his waist. As a Nazarite (which many scholars say that he was), he does not cut his hair. He eats locusts and honey. And he goes around yelling, “You brood of vipers!” at people. Let's face it, John is an interesting person in more ways then one. 

But he is also an important person. John stands right in the middle of the Old Testament and the New Testament, of the Old Covenant God made with the patriarchs of Israel and the New Covenant He is about to make through Jesus Christ with the people of the whole world. John looks both backwards and forwards, and he helps us grasp the bigger picture of salvation history.

For one thing, John is the very image of an Old Testament prophet. His strange clothes aren't the mark of an eccentric. John wears what Elijah wore before him, and he does so deliberately to present himself as a new prophet to the people of Israel. 

Further, John continues the message of the Old Testament prophets as he prods his listeners to repent of their sins and live as God expects them to live. He also offers a baptism of repentance, which was popular with some Jewish communities at the time. 

But John goes far beyond the Old Testament prophets, for he deliberately points ahead to something that God will be doing very soon, something that is imminent, something new that will change the world. John knows that he has been chosen to be the “voice crying out in the wilderness,” the voice that will prepare the path for the Lord to visit His people in a brand new way. His job is to get people ready to greet the One Who is to come.

Therefore, he spreads the word, openly and vigorously. Let's listen again to his message as he speaks to the Pharisees and Sadducees (the Jewish leaders) who have come out to be baptized:

“You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the One who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry His sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in His hand.
He will clear His threshing floor
and gather His wheat into His barn,
but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

John doesn't beat around the bush. He knows that these Jewish leaders tend to be arrogant and presumptuous. He understands that they rely on their heritage and their position to make them right with God. But he warns them that this isn't good enough anymore. Their physical descent from Abraham means nothing. God can create children for Himself from stones if He so chooses. 

Further, their repentance cannot be an empty show. They have to change their lives to reflect the change that has supposedly taken place in their hearts. They must produce good fruit, or they risk being cut down and thrown into the fire. 

Because Someone is coming. Someone Who is far more powerful than John. Someone Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Someone Who is so great that John doesn't even feel himself worthy to carry His sandals, a task of the lowest of servants. Someone Who will judge the world, gathering the wheat into His barn and burning the chaff in eternal fire. Someone Who has that much strength, that much authority. 

John's job is to warn the people that this One is coming and will soon be here. They must, therefore, prepare their hearts through repentance and love. They must be ready to greet Him when He comes. 

Indeed, John stands in the middle of the Old Testament and the New Testament. He looks back to see what has gone before, but he pushes forward to welcome what, or rather Who, will come. He reminds us of the past while he pushes us toward the future. 

May we always take his message to heart and welcome the One Who has come and will come again. 

John the Baptist, pray for us.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Advent Stations of the Cross

The First Station – Jesus Is Condemned to Death

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary looked at Jesus as Pilate washed his hands and sent her Son off to be crucified. Was this the little Baby she had waited for with so much longing for nine months? Now she was awaiting His death.

Glory Be...

The Second Station – Jesus Takes up His Cross

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary watched as the soldiers placed the heavy cross on Jesus' shoulders. Was this the little Baby Who had reached out to her with tiny hands? Now He reached out to take up His cross.

Glory Be...

The Third Station – Jesus Falls the First Time

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary watched as Jesus stumbled and fell to the ground under the weight of the cross. Was this the little Child Who had fallen as He took His first steps and Whom she had lifted up and snuggled? Now she saw Him with His face in the dirt with no loving hand to help Him up.

Glory Be...

The Fourth Station – Jesus Meets His Mother

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary pushed her way through the crowd and approached her Son. Was this the little Boy Who had so often looked at her with loving eyes and a big smile? Now He was in pain, and she could do nothing for Him except touch His face and express her love before He was forced too move on.

Glory Be...

The Fifth Station – Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary looked on as Jesus struggled beneath the cross and the soldiers wondered whether He would die before He reached Calvary. Was this the little One she had helped so often as He grew up? She could not help Him now, but she watched as the soldiers pulled a man from the crowd and made him take up the cross behind Jesus.

Glory Be...

The Sixth Station – Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary noticed that Jesus' beautiful face was covered in sweat, blood, and dust. Was this the little Boy Whose face she had washed so often and so gently? She watched gratefully as a women walked up to Jesus and carefully wiped His face.

Glory Be...

The Seventh Station – Jesus Falls a Second Time

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary saw Jesus stumble and fall a second time as the weight of the cross became too much for Him. Was this the little Boy she had so often comforted when He fell while at play? Now she could only cry and pray as she saw Him struggle to His feet.

Glory Be...

The Eighth Station – Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary heard Jesus speak to a few of the women who had gathered to mourn for Him. Was this the little Boy Who had so often uttered such surprising and wonderful things? Now she listened as Jesus told the women not to weep for Him but for themselves and their children.

Glory Be...

The Ninth Station – Jesus Falls a Third Time

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary was almost overwhelmed with sorrow when she saw Jesus fall a third time. Was this the little Child she had always cared for so tenderly? Now she was helpless as the soldiers dragged Him to His feet and pushed Him forward.

Glory Be...

The Tenth Station – Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary watched in horror as the soldiers stripped Jesus. Was this the little Child Whose clothing she had lovingly woven and Whom she had dressed with such care? Now His wounds opened up as the soldiers tore His garments from His precious body.

Glory Be...

The Eleventh Station – Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary saw the long, thick, sharp nails driven through her Son's hands and feet as He was attached to the cross. Was this the little Child Whose tiny hands she had held and Whose tiny feet she had tickled to make Him giggle? Now she felt as though she, too, was being pierced with those nails as her Son's pain touched the very depths of her being.

Glory Be...

The Twelfth Station – Jesus Dies on the Cross

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary watched Jesus suffer for hours; then she heard Him pray, "Father, into Your hands, I commend My Spirit." Was this the little Baby to Whom she had given birth that night so long ago in a stable in Bethlehem? Now she saw Him bow His head and breathe His last.

Glory Be...

The Thirteenth Station – Jesus Is Taken down from the Cross

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary received her Son, her dear Jesus, into her arms and held His body close to her heart. Was this the little One she had cradled so many times? Now He was dead, and her heart was breaking.

Glory Be...

The Fourteen Station – Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.

Mary prepared Jesus' body for burial, washing Him, anointing Him, and wrapping Him in a shroud. Was this the little Baby she had once wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger? Now He was lying in the tomb.

Glory Be...

Even as the men rolled the stone in front of Jesus' tomb, Mary wiped the tears from her eyes. Her Son had made a promise. He told her that in three days He would rise again. She believed Him, and now she looked forward to the time when they would be together again, rejoicing in the promise He was sure to keep.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Little Something Extra...First Sunday of Advent

Taken and Left

In today's Gospel (Matthew 24:37-44), Jesus says something mysterious. Discussing the end times, He tells us that, just as in the days of Noah, people will be going about their everyday business. Then, suddenly, “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.

The reading calls forth all kinds of questions. What does Jesus mean? Who will be taken? Who will be left? Why will the those who are taken be taken? Why will those who are left be left?

Our Protestant brothers and sisters provide ready answers to these questions. They claim that the righteous, those who have been saved, will be taken, swept up away from the earth. The wicked will be left behind. 

Catholic theologian and Scripture scholar Dr. Scott Hahn offers another interpretation. He maintains that Jesus meant the opposite of what most Protestants believe: the wicked are the ones who will be taken away while the righteous, those who have maintained a covenant with God, will be left to enjoy a new Heaven and a new earth. Consider, Dr. Hahn says, that just before Jesus speaks these words, He has been talking about the days of Noah. Who was left behind in those days? Noah and his family, those who listened to and obeyed God. Who was taken away? Everyone else as God cleared the world of the sin that had so corrupted it. With the flood, God remade creation. Those who served Him remained to enjoy it. Therefore, Dr. Hahn continues, it makes sense that when God makes a new creation at the end of time, a new Heaven and a new earth, those who serve Him will remain to enjoy it. The rest will be swept away into the eternal fire.

Matthew's original Greek can support Dr. Hahn's reading. The Greek word for “left” is aphiēmi, and it can mean “to forgive” or “to remit punishment.” So it could suggest that those left behind are those who are forgiven and have escaped punishment.

After uttering these mysterious words, Jesus offers some excellent advice: “Therefore, stay awake!” No one knows when the end times will come. The day and the hour is a mystery to us, but we must be prepared and watchful so that it doesn't catch us by surprise. 

Jesus offers a parable to help us understand. “Be sure of this:” He says, “if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.” We are to stay awake and catch God breaking into our house. We must be prepared for His coming. We must be ready to greet Him. Unlike the master in the parable, we should welcome God as He breaks into our house because we can be sure that if we are ready for Him, He will recreate our house into something better than we can ever imagine.

This Advent, then, let us follow Jesus' command: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.