Getting Out Of My Spiritual Funk

Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 18, 2016)

Isaiah 7:10-14

Psalm 24:1-6

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-24

Time seems to be flying by like a speeding train and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. What do I mean? Just like that… the 4th candle is lit on the Advent wreath representing the last week of Advent and Christmas in only one week away.

I have a confession though. Can you keep a secret? I’m not feeling it this year. I just can’t seem to get in the “holiday spirit” for the life of me. It’s been an exceptionally trying year and I’m just worn down a bit. Plus I think the commercial side of Christmas, for me, it also getting a bit old. I mean… it’s the same thing every year. We celebrate Halloween and then all of a sudden, when we should be getting ready for Thanksgiving, that man in a red suit with his reindeer shows up! As we sit down to over indulge in a Thanksgiving feast with family, we turn on the radio for some pleasant background music, and lo and behold “Jingle Bells” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is playing on just about every bloody station! Then it’s a 30 day mad dash starting with Black Friday shopping, putting up the Christmas decorations, making sure everyone on our list has a present, planning meals and family gatherings, finding time to wrap the presents and still have enough money left over to pay our monthly bills. It can be stressful and exhausting.

I’ve been actively trying to get out of my funk but nothing has helped until I read Matthew’s Gospel passage for this weekend. It brought to mind a conversation I had with a Baptist friend of mine a few years ago. We were talking about who knows what when, out of the blue, he looked at me and said, “You Catholics really like Mary don’t you?” A little shocked, I merely replied, “Yup, we think she’s pretty cool.” He then said, “Well I’m Baptist, so the only time we ever talk about her is at Christmas because she gave birth to Jesus. So what’s the deal with Mary and Catholics?” Trying to keep this as simple as possible and without wanting to get into a heated debate, I said something like, “Mary was the first person to say yes to Christ. God told her she was to conceive His Son who would save us. She didn’t fully understand this, but she trusted God and said yes. So I guess you could say that Mary was the first Christian. We honor her yes and try to follow her example by saying yes to God.” Silence filled the room. After a few moments he started nodding his head in agreement and said, “You know…. you’re right. I’ve never thought of Mary in that way.”

With that conversation in mind, let’s look at today’s Gospel from Matthew. Today we hear the annunciation story from the perspective of Joseph instead of Mary. Fun fact…. did you know that Joseph doesn’t speak a single word in the New Testament? He does, however, fall asleep twice. Both times, an angel appeared to him in a dream to give him an urgent message from God.

Today’s Gospel recounts the first of these two dreams. Joseph just found out that his bride-to-be was pregnant… with someone else’s baby. I would imagine this would be problematic to most men in his situation. Yes? It pretty much means that your future bride is already unfaithful and untrustworthy before you have even exchanged the marriage vows. But rather then dragging Mary’s name through the mud, he decided to break off the engagement quietly. And remember, in those days women caught in adultery were stoned. So Joseph, being an upstanding guy, actually saved Mary’s life by keeping everything quiet. He didn’t want revenge or to get back at Mary, he just wanted to let her live her life in peace without him.

Thinking that was the end of the story, Joseph went to bed… probably trying to forget the horrible, stressful day that he just had. It was then that an angel of God appeared and told him, “Joseph, you’re going to have to trust God on this one. Your human brain can’t fully understand it, but Mary didn’t cheat on you. She’s actually more faithful then you can possibly imagine. Mary is pregnant through the Holy Spirit and the child she is carrying is going to save people from their sins. This is God’s plan, not yours. But God still needs you to take care of Mary and His son. Trust Him and do not be afraid.”

Now I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams in my day. I’ve even had dreams that seemed so real, that when I woke up, I had to lie there for a while trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t. But what does Joseph do when he awoke? He doesn’t hesitate at all. According to Matthew, “He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” Bottom line is that God asked Joseph to come out of his comfort zone and trust Him… and Joseph did just that.

So what am I now doing to get into the “Christmas spirit?” Instead of focusing on the worldly, modern view of Christmas, I’ve been focusing on trusting in God through the examples of Mary and Joseph. Neither of them understood fully what in the world God was doing with the birth of Jesus. All they understood was that God’s Son was coming to earth to save us from our sins. They were faithful enough to trust in God and allow Him to use their lives in that plan.

You and I are also part of God’s plan. I highly doubt though, that any of us can fully say with confidence that we know exactly what God has in store for us. That’s where faith comes in. No matter how messy your life may seem, no matter how much you don’t understand what is going on or why, no matter how much you may seem to be in spiritual “funk,” you still have to trust that God’s plan for you is better then anything you can do on your own.

That is what I challenge you to focus on this last week of advent as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Focus on saying, “yes” to God’s plan for your life.

Focus on trusting Him more and you less.

Look to Joseph and Mary as examples of what trusting in God is all about.

If you can do that, then you’ll realize that the best Christmas present is not bought in a store, but rather is found in a manger.

Trust In God

Trinity Sunday (June 3, 2012)

Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40

Romans 8:14-17

Matthew 28:16-20

I wish God spoke to me in big bright…..flashing…..neon signs…..but he doesn’t. If he did, I probably would have less debt, less stress, less temptation and less sin in my life.

You see, we worship a God that loved us enough to not control our every move. He didn’t create us to be puppets so that we would turn to him in worship and adoration. No, he loved us so much that he gave us free will, in hope that we would turn to him in worship and adoration. After all, forced love is not really love at all. Loving God means we have to trust Him…this can be very hard and even confusing at times. Think about it for a moment, Jesus taught us to love our enemies?? He said if someone strikes you on the face, we are to turn and offer the other cheek??  We are supposed to pray for those who persecute us?? We hear in Scripture that the poor and hungry are blessed?? And my favorite…..Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me!” I don’t think I have to remind anyone what happened to Jesus when He took up His cross!!! So why should we trust God, even when we don’t understand Him at times…

To answer that, I want to talk about today. On the church calendar, we call today the Most Holy Trinity. It’s a day set aside to give special Honor to our triune God. I want to ask the younger kids a question, just go ahead and shout out the answer if you know it. What is 1 + 1? What is 2 + 2? What is 1 + 1 + 1? So then how can one Father + one Son + one Holy Spirit = 1 God? Christianity can be so confusing at times!!!

But that’s just it, sometimes we need to just throw up our hands and say, “God, I don’t understand everything and I don’t know what you want out of me, but I’m going to trust you.” You see God knows the beginning and so do we. We’ve seen and studied the past, a past created by God. The problem is, we don’t know the future…but God does. He’s seen the entire story of our lives, the beginning and the end, whereas we’ve only seen a small chapter of the entire story. And now we suddenly want to skip to the end? Where’s the fun in that? Or should I say where’s the trust it that?

Five years ago, Deacon Richard came up to me and said, “Brian, I think you’d make a good Deacon. There is an informational meeting that you and Angie should attend.” My first thought, besides that Richard drank too much of the alter wine, was that I was too young.  So I went to Fr. Danny and he pulled out a canon law book and we read that the minimum age one had to be at ordination for a permanent deacon was 35. After doing some quick math, we realized I would turn 35 about 4 months before ordination. There’s one excuse out the window. Our next concern was our young kids. They were 2, 4 and 6 at the time. We went to the informational meeting and found out that we had to meet one weekend a month for five years for classes. We didn’t know what we would do with the kids? There was a couple at that meeting in Deacon Rich’s class that was in the same situation. They had young kids and no family close by. They told us they were scared about finding sitters to watch the kids, but it ended up working out in the end because their friends volunteered out of the blue to help out. So we decided if it became too much of a hardship to find people to watch the kids, then that was God’s way of telling us this is not the right time.  I can honestly say that in the five years of classes, only a few times did we have trouble finding someone to watch the kids. Angie and I owe a big thank you to both our out of town family and our St. Andrew’s family who stepped up and helped us without hesitation. THANK YOU! So I guess excuse #2 went out the window as well. You see I was trying to skip to the end, when I was only at the beginning. Granted there were plenty of times during the past 5 years that I struggled with God’s call, but I kept praying and trusting God, even when I didn’t get that big bright, flashing, neon sign. It’s all about trust.

All three scriptures we heard today tell us to trust. First God tells us to “fix in your heart that the Lord is God.” In other words, God is saying, “let’s get one thing straight here, I made you and I am a part of you, so don’t doubt Me!” If we can fix God in our hearts, then the Spirit of God will lead us and we will be called children of God. Therefore we need to rely on our heavenly Father to guide us in all things whether we understand them or not.

But what if we trust God and still it seems like we are getting slapped in the face day after day? Even the Apostles, Jesus’ most trusted inner circle of followers, had their doubts. One even betrayed Him! We hear in Matthew that the Apostles “worshiped, but they doubted.” How did Jesus react to those most trusted friends when they worshipped with doubt? Did he condemn them or yell at them? Did he suddenly say, “of course the Trinity is three persons but one God why don’t you get this?” NO. Jesus knew that people wouldn’t understand everything. He even knew that some would doubt Him. But he still told his followers to go out and spread the good news.

St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)

When it feels like you don’t understand or trust God’s plan or you feel like God had abandoned you, we can rely on the words of St. Therese of Lisieux when she was asked about this feeling of abandonment. She said, “I turn to God and the Saints, and in spite of this feeling, I thank them, for I am sure they only want to see how far I am going to trust them.” God knows the entire story. You may not understand all the chapters, but take comfort that the author of the universe, the author of the bible, is the same author of your life. Trust Him.