Monday, December 26, 2016

Reflection for Christmas Week, Part 1

Monday – St. Stephen's Vision

It seems strange perhaps that yesterday we celebrated a birthday and today we remember a martyrdom, but St. Stephen's death was really a birthday of another kind, a birthday into eternal life.

Stephen's vision shows us exactly that. As he is standing before his accusers, he looks up to Heaven and cries out that he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of His Father. In a few minutes, he will be with them, for when the crowd hears Stephen's words, they run at him, screaming, and begin to stone him.

Stephen, however, remains calm. Even as he dies, he calls out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He knows where he's going, and more importantly, he knows to Whom he is going. He doesn't seem to mind leaving the world behind. There's something more for him, something infinitely better. He is giving his life for his faith, but he will receive more life, better life, eternal life. Indeed, today we can confidently say that we celebrate the birthday of St. Stephen into the new life of Heaven.

Tuesday – The Empty Tomb

Today on the Feast of St. John the Apostle, we reflect on the empty tomb. Peter and John were stunned when Mary Magdalene ran to them, crying, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put Him.” Their first impulse was to run out and verify her claim. They wanted to see for themselves. Maybe then they could figure out what to do. Or perhaps they didn't even think that far. They may have been acting out of sheer panic. In any case, they dashed to the tomb.

And the tomb was empty. John got there first, and as he waited for Peter, he peeked inside and saw the burial cloths but no body. When Peter arrived, the two entered the tomb. Indeed, it was empty. Jesus was not there. John didn't understand, but he knew deep down that no one had taken Jesus' body. Something else was going on. He saw, and he believed.

Even though it's Christmas time, we ought to think about the empty tomb. Jesus was born that He might die to save us from our sins. But death could not hold Him. He rose again and opened the gates of Heaven for us. And the tomb was empty.

Wednesday – Acknowledge Sin

Again today we hear a reading that seems rather out of place at Christmas time. In his first letter, St. John tells us that we must acknowledge our sins rather than lying and covering them up and making excuses and pretending that we never do anything wrong. If we declare that we have not sinned, St. John continues, we make God a liar, and we chase Him out of our hearts.

So we must look our sin right in the face. We must call it what it is, bring it out into the light, and admit to it. Why? Only then can we truly repent for having done wrong. Only then can we place our sin in the hands of the One Who came to take it away.

That One is, of course, Jesus, the One born for us on Christmas, the One Whose Blood cleanses us, the One Who forgives us, the One Who stands as our Advocate, the One Who is the expiation for all our sins.

Even in this Christmas season, then, we must acknowledge our sins so that we can receive the forgiveness of Jesus, Who was born that He might die to take away our sins, fill us with joy, and bring us home to Heaven.

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