Today's story from the Gospel of Mark is the first of Jesus' healings. While Jesus is teaching the Hebrew scriptures in the synagogue, a man with an "unclean spirit" confronts him. "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?", he cries out. Jesus silences the spirit and exorcises it, to the amazement of those present. How is Jesus authoritative in our lives? To what new teachings of his do we submit ourselves?
Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John, all fishermen from the same village, to follow him. Jesus calls them to new work -- to fish for people. Jesus calls us too. We are called to fish for people by sharing our faith and serving in mission. UMW fishes for people by serving women and children all over the world. Where is Jesus calling you to serve?
Today's story from the Gospel of John describes Jesus calling two of his disciples. First, Jesus commands Philip to "follow me". Then Philip shares the news with Nathanael that they have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?", Nathanael replies. When Jesus meets Nathanael and tells him he already knows him, Nathanael believes and becomes a follower. Jesus calls each of us to follow him as well. How do we recognize that call? Is that call different from what we were expecting? We explore what it means to hear and respond to God's call through Jesus.
On this Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. We remember Jesus' own baptism by John in the Jordan River, marking the beginning of his public ministry. We also reflect upon the Sacrament of Baptism and its meaning in our own lives. Baptism is a symbol of new birth in Jesus Christ and initiates us as members of Christ body, the universal Church. Therefore, we will remember our own baptism and reaffirm our faith as we begin a new year.
On this Sunday we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. Epiphany is officially January 6th, marking the culmination of the Christmas season. It celebrates the coming of the three wise men who brought gifts to the Christ child. Symbolically, it represents the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles and therefore the entire world. We begin the New Year with hope as Christ guides us into the future.
We herald the birth of the savior with our joyous worship and see out a dangerous year as we join together in the hope of what is to come.
The story of Jesus' birth as told by Luke continues with the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary. After receiving the news that she will bear a son, Mary travels to meet her cousin Elizabeth. In response to Mary's greeting, the child in Elizabeth's womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy, and Elizabeth declares that Mary and the child she carries (Jesus) are blessed. Mary's song (the Magnificat) follows: "My soul magnifies the Lord". In the meeting of these two mothers who bear new life, the world is about to change. What are the possibilities of new life for us in the days ahead?
We continue with Luke's birth narrative with a second Annunciation, this one to Mary. The angel Gabriel appears and announces that she will bear a son named Jesus, who will be called Son of the Most High. Mary asks how can this be and learns that the Son of God will be conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary responds with faithful acceptance: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). How does Mary's response differ from Zechariah's to the angel's birth announcement, and what example of faith does she set for us?
We continue to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Jesus Christ in our lives with this story from the Gospel of Luke. It is the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah and Elizabeth that despite their advanced age, they will have a son. That child will be John the Baptist, a prophet like Elijah, who will prepare the way for the long-awaited Messiah. When Zechariah doubts this news, he becomes mute until his son is born and declares publicly that he will be named John as instructed by the angel. What can we learn from Zechariah's response to God making what is seemingly impossible a reality in our world.
We begin a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. This is the season of preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of Jesus Christ in our lives. The scripture from the Gospel of Mark begins this season with an apocalyptic passage that warns us to keep wake and stay alert. In a year filled with turmoil, we are encouraged to reset our hearts and minds for new life.