Tag Archives: Advent

18 December 2016: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 7:10-14 Ps 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 Rom 1:1-7 Mt 1:18-24

 

Advent: becoming present to incarnation mystery

Purple_banner_sm As our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas comes to a close, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with the mystery of God-with-us.

In the first reading Isaiah tells the embattled king Ahaz to ask God for a reassuring sign. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign, but God provides one: Ahaz’s young wife will have a son (indicating Ahaz’s line will continue) and that this son (the future king Hezekiah) will represent God’s presence to Ahaz’s subjects. Christians understood Isaiah’s prophecy about a miraculous birth and God-with-us as referring to the incarnation.

In the second reading from the beginning of his letter to the Romans, Paul describes Jesus’ human and divine origins. First, “according to the flesh,” Jesus was descended from David and therefore the messiah. Then, “according to the spirit of holiness”–another way of saying “the Holy Spirit”–Jesus was also the Son of God. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to introduce today’s gospel.

In the gospel, Mathew describes the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. To see the tensions in Matthew’s story, we need to understand social customs of the times:

  • Jewish marriage customs. First-century Jewish marriage had two phases:
    • Betrothal: During this period, the bride remained with her family while the bride’s and groom’s parents arranged and negotiated the marriage. On agreement, both families’ patriarchs publicly announced the marriage. The bride continued to live in her father’s house for up to a year.
    • Coming-together: In the second phase, the groom took the bride from her father’s house and brought her to his house. The groom’s removal of the bride from her family completed the marriage process.

During the betrothal phase, a bride who had sex with a man other than the groom was considered an adulteress. To dissolve a Jewish marriage, the groom applied to the synagogue leaders for a writ of divorce. The groom could also have the adulterous bride punished under Mosaic law by stoning. Roman law, however, forbade Jewish capital punishment; instead it required a public trial to grant a divorce.

  • The angel’s message. Appearing in Joseph’s dream, the angel confirms that Mary is pregnant not by another man, but through God’s action. The angel tells Joseph to do two things: First, Joseph should complete their marriage by taking Mary “into his home.” Second, Joseph should claim the child as his son “by naming him Jesus.” This act gives Jesus all Joseph’s heredity rights, including his royal descent from David.

As we come to the end of our Advent waiting, the readings ask RCIA participants and the whole believing community to consider the mysteries of Jesus’ birth. For Isaiah, Ahaz’s son represented hope and presence. For Paul, Jesus is both David’s human son and God’s own son. For Matthew, God’s inbreaking disrupted Mary’s and Joseph’s simple lives, creating social tension (a betrothal pregnancy) and possible danger (Mosaic law’s punishment). The incarnation mystery makes God present to humans (God-with-us, Emmanuel) in new ways. God is fully human in Jesus who was born, lived, taught, healed, fed, forgave, died, and rose. The incarnation mystery also initiates God’s continuing presence with humans though sacramental forms and encounters. God is fully present with us. Are we fully present to this mystery?

—Terence Sherlock

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11 December 2016: Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 35:1-6a, 10 Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 Jas 5:7-10 Mt 11:2-11

Advent: rejoicing in our waiting

Rose_banner_smThe third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete (gow-DAY-tay), a Latin word meaning “rejoice,” comes from the entrance antiphon for the day:


Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: Dominus prope est.
"Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice: the Lord is near."

The antiphon reminds RCIA participants and the believing community that our time of waiting is almost complete: the Lord will be with us soon. For today only, the liturgical color changes from purple to rose to indicate joy during the season of preparation and metanoia (change of mind/heart).

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah foretells a post-exilic restoration in which the Jewish people return to God and their homeland, and God performs acts of power that only God can do. The Lectionary editors chose this reading for Gaudete Sunday to remind us that, like the Jewish captives in Babylon, our God is coming to save us; Jesus’ incarnation fills us with everlasting joy.

In the second reading, the author of the letter from James asks us to be patient, not only as we await “the Lord’s coming” (Jesus’ return at the end of time, the parousia), but also with one another as we struggle with our own human failings. The Lectionary editors chose this reading for Gaudete Sunday to remind us to look forward with rejoicing not only to Jesus’ parousia but also to Jesus’ incarnation.

In the gospel, Matthew captures two questions that reveal the identities of Jesus and John the Baptizer:

  • Who is Jesus? From prison, John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask: “Are you the coming one, or should we expect another?” Jesus answers by repeating Isaiah’s prophecies about the messiah (see today’s first reading). Jesus tells John that the restoration of Israel John preached (see last week’s gospel) is coming to pass, but not in the way John expected. Jesus’ mission is healing, rather than avenging. Jesus concludes with a beatitude addressed to John: John should not be offended and disbelieve because Jesus doesn’t meet John’s expectations.
  • Who is John? After John’s disciples leave, Jesus asks the crowds who saw John: “What did you come to the wilderness to see?” Jesus answers his own question, telling the crowds that John was a prophet–and more than a prophet. John not only foretold the “coming one” (the messiah, Jesus himself), but also fulfilled the Hebrew scripture prophecies of Exodus 23:20 (“I send my messenger before you”) and of Malachi 3:1 (“he will prepare the way”). Jesus concludes by saying John is greater than all Hebrew prophets: John alone announces the messiah is here. Jesus also says John is least in the kingdom: John only prepares the way for the kingdom, unlike the disciples who live in messianic times and who live in the kingdom.

While RCIA participants and the whole believing community wait and prepare, we should also rejoice. The Lord is near. Jesus has come in history and saved us. Jesus comes sacramentally every day to be with us. Jesus will come at the end of history to bring us into the kingdom. God has restored and continues to restore God’s people. Isn’t our metanoia and our restoration a reason to rejoice?

—Terence Sherlock

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4 December 2016: Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 11:1-10 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 Rom 15:4-9 Mt 3:1-12

 

Advent preparations: seeking, hoping, changing direction

Purple_banner_sm As we continue our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas, the Lectionary reminds RCIA participants and the believing community about promises and their fulfillment, and our need for conversion to prepare the way.

In the first reading, Isaiah foresees a new king from David’s line. God will invest this anointed one (messiah) with God’s own spirit and gifts (v 2): intellect (wisdom and understanding), leadership (counsel and strength), and spirituality (knowledge and awe before God). The messiah will judge everyone justly (v 3-5): the poor and afflicted, the ruthless and the wicked. He will restore peace to God’s kingdom (v 6-9). He will be so great and just that the gentiles will seek out and join his kingdom (v 10).

In the second reading, Paul urges the Roman ekklasia to look to scripture as a source of continuing hope. God’s every act contains within it an expectation for something more. For example, God’s covenant promises a future messiah; Jesus’ incarnation promises a future Second Coming. Scripture gives hope because it tells not only of promises fulfilled, but also of glory to come.

In the gospel, Matthew introduces John the Baptizer in his role as Jesus’ herald. He carefully lays out John’s prophetic pedigree and purpose:

  • John’s place: John preaches in the desert or wilderness on the opposite side of the Jordan river. For first-century Jews, John’s location resonates with hope and new life. During the Exodus, God led the Israelites through the wilderness, across the Jordan river, and into the Promised Land. The prophets promised that God would again bring the Jewish people to the wilderness to rededicate them as God’s people (Hos 2:16). John calls the people to the wilderness, baptizes them in the Jordan, and has them reenter the Promised Land–re-enacting their Exodus story and their return to God.
  • John’s clothes: John wears the same camel-hide robe and leather belt as the prophet Elijah (2 Kgs 1:8). The Jews expected Elijah to return to “prepare the way before God” (Mal 3:1, 23-24) and to restore the tribes of Israel. Like Elijah, John confronts a sinful ruler (Ahab/Herod). Like Elijah, John prepares for a greater prophet (Elisha/Jesus) who will cleanse lepers, raise a dead child, and multiply bread to feed the crowds. In prophetic dress, John’s words and actions signal that Elijah has returned and the day of the Lord is near.
  • John’s message: John preaches metanoia: a change of heart and mind. In Jewish thought, metanoia meant a simultaneous turning away from evil and a turning toward God–a dramatic change in direction. John urgently announces “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This kingdom isn’t a place; it’s God’s dynamic kingship over God’s people. John announces that God’s promised reign is about to begin.

During our Advent waiting, the readings call RCIA participants and the whole believing community to prepare for Jesus’ coming with hope and joy. Isaiah gives us a glimpse of God’s future peaceable kingdom. Paul tells us to listen to scriptures’ fulfillments and future hope. Matthew traces how John the Baptizer fulfills the prophecies. John reminds us that we prepare the way. Whose kingdom are we seeking? For what are we hoping? From what are we turning away? Toward what–or toward whom–are we traveling?

—Terence Sherlock

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27 November 2016: First Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 2:1-5 Ps 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7,8-9 Rom 13:11-14 Mt 24:37-44

 

Advent: preparing for what’s coming

Purple_banner_sm Happy new year! This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the start of a new liturgical year and a new season. In this new liturgical year, the Sunday gospel readings change from Luke’s gospel to Matthew’s gospel. In this new liturgical season, the season color changes from Ordinary time’s green to Advent’s purple. As we begin Advent, the Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to prepare for Jesus’ coming.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah describes his vision of God’s realized kingdom. All nations worship God; God instructs and justly judges everyone. Isaiah tells us that we will “beat our swords into plowshares” only when God leads all nations. Without God, universal peace remains a human vision. The coming messiah offers a chance for us to achieve Isaiah’s vision. The reading closes with a prayer of hope and preparation: “Come, let us walk in the Lord’s light.”

In the second reading, Paul writes to the Roman ekklasia, urging them to “wake” and prepare for Jesus’ return. Quoting a baptismal hymn, Paul tells the Romans to “throw off the works of darkness” and to prepare for the Lord’s return by “putting on Christ” and dressing in “the armor of light.”

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to prepare for the son of man’s return. Jesus gives three warnings about preparedness:

  • The days of Noah: In Noah’s time, only a few people were aware of the coming destruction; they didn’t know until the flood came and carried them away. Jesus warns his disciples: it will be the same when the son of man returns–many will be caught unaware.
  • The everyday now: Jesus gives real scenes from daily life to emphasize the suddenness of the son of man’s return. People will be living workaday lives and in an instant everything will change.
  • The unready homeowner: Jesus tells a final story about an unpredictable event: a robbery. The homeowner’s only defense against the thief is watchfulness.

Jesus concludes with two warnings to his disciples: Stay awake (v 42) and be ready (v 44)! In the final weeks of Ordinary time, Jesus warned his disciples to watch for the signs of the end-times. In Advent, Jesus tells his disciples rather than trying to predict the future, they should prepare for it.

The Advent readings ask RCIA participants and the whole believing community: are we ready for what’s coming? Isaiah prays for God to intervene and bring a peaceable kingdom. Paul tells us to awake to our coming salvation. Jesus warns us to be ready because the son of man can return at any moment. Advent is our preparation for Isaiah’s prayer fulfilled: God breaks into human history through Jesus’ Incarnation. Are we stringing holiday lights or are we putting on our armor of light? Are we settling in for a long winter’s nap or are we awake to Jesus coming? Are we ready for what comes next?

—Terence Sherlock

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20 December 2015: Fourth Sunday of Advent

 Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Mi 5:1-4a  Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19  Heb 10:5-10  Lk 1:39-45

 

Advent: a sense of harmony and wholeness

On this final Advent Sunday, the readings ask the RCIA participants and the entire believing community to prepare to greet the coming king and his kingdom.

In the first reading, the prophet Micah foretells that God will bring salvation through “a ruler… whose origin is from ancient times.” This anointed ruler or messiah (a Hebrew word meaning “anointed”) will be in David’s line. Bethlehem is David’s hometown. Micah says that this ruler “shall be peace (Hebrew: shalom).” Shalom is usually translated as “peace,” but it also carries the ideas of “harmony” and “wholeness.” When Micah says the ruler shall be shalom, he means the messiah both symbolizes shalom (“peace”) and also will bring about shalom (“harmony and wholeness”).

In the second reading, the Letter to the Hebrews’ author reflects on Psalm 40. The psalmist says that God prefers conversion (“I come to do your will”), not simply a prescribed offering or sacrifice. The Hebrews’ author imagines Jesus quoting this psalm–“a body you prepared for me”–at the moment of Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus, in obedience to God’s will, offered his own body in sacrifice. Jesus’ perfect obedience results in a single sacrifice (“once”) that redeems and transforms everyone (“for all”).

In Luke’s gospel, Mary has just heard and accepted God’s Word (Lk 1:28-38); she then travels to visit Elizabeth. Luke identifies two important revelations at this meeting:

  • First proclamation of the good news of the Word: When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting (ἀσπάζομαι, literally “embrace”), Elizabeth’s baby leaps (σκιρτάω, literally “jumps for joy”) in her womb. Luke connects Mary’s greeting with the Good News she carries. Filled with God’s Word, Mary is the first disciple. Mary fulfills a disciple’s duty–she shares the good news with others. John the Baptizer, still in utero, begins his role of alerting people to the messiah’s presence.
  • Blessed are you: Under the Spirit’s influence, Elizabeth calls Mary “blessed” twice. First, Mary’s yes to God’s plan (Lk 1:38) means she will bear the savior (“the mother of my Lord”). Second, Mary’s faith (“blessed are you who believed”) makes the incarnation possible; she is the key to the incarnation mystery.

Despite the hectic run-up to Christmas, Advent’s end–this time of watching, preparing, rejoicing, and conversion–should leave RCIA participants and all of us with a sense of shalom. The coming king, the one who comes to do the Father’s will, restores wholeness to a broken world. Mary and the Baptizer greet us with the news that the Good News is already among us; we who believe are already blessed. Advent opens to Christmas present: what makes us jump for joy?

–Terence Sherlock

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6 December 2015: Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Bar 5:1-9  Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6  Phil 1:4-6, 8-11  Lk 3:1-6

 

Advent: preparing with hope and joy

As we continue our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas, the Lectionary calls RCIA participants and the believing community to conversion and to prepare the way.

The first reading is from the book of Baruch. Baruch, a scribe and companion of Jeremiah, lived during the Babylonian exile (597-538 BC). An unknown author writing between 200 and 60 BC composed this book. Today’s reading is from Baruch’s Poem of consolation and hope, which describes the return from Babylon. The Lectionary editors chose this passage because it is full of hope (“take off … mourning and misery,” “God is leading Israel in joy”) and echoes Isaiah’s prophecy quoted in today’s gospel.

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Philippi ekklasia, is filled with love and hope. Writing from prison in 54 or 55 AD, Paul prays that the Philippians grow in Christian maturity. He prays that their “love should increase in knowledge (literally ‘precise, correct knowledge’) and perception (literally ‘moral discernment’)” so that they will be “pure and blameless” when Christ returns (“the day of Christ”). The Lectionary editors want us to use Advent to “increase in knowledge and perception” as we prepare for the day of Christ at Christmas.

Luke’s gospel focuses on John the Baptizer and his message: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” This is what John preached:

  • Baptism: To baptize (Greek: βαπτίζω) means “to immerse completely in water” or “to dunk.” John’s Jewish audience understood John’s baptism as a ritual washing (Hebrew: tevilah).
  • Repentance: John preaches not simply repentance, but metanoia (Greek: μετάνοια), which means “a change of mind” or “conversion.” John links this interior conversion with the outward public sign of ritual washing.
  • Forgiveness: Luke uses the Greek word aphesis (ἄφεσις), meaning the action of freeing someone from something that confines. Forgiveness is a continuous, ongoing action.
  • Sins: The Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία), here translated as “sin,” is an archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” Hamartia suggests that a failing has “degrees of wrongness,” rather than being simply “a bad action.” Paired with metanoia, hamartia invites us think about what kind of conversion we need to prepare the way of the Lord.

John the Baptizer preaches an inner conversion, or a turning-toward God. The ones who have experienced this conversion mark this event by a public, ritualized immersion that asked God to free them from the guilt and obligations of their past failings. Only when we turn away from hamartia and turn toward God will the obstacles to God’s coming–mountains, ravines, crooked roads, potholes–be cleared away.

During our Advent waiting, the readings urge RCIA participants and the whole believing community to prepare for Jesus’ coming with hope and joy. But we have preparatory work to do. Is metanoia part of our Advent? Are we tearing down our personal mountains and filling up our interior valleys? Have we made straight and smooth the road to our hearts?

–Terence Sherlock

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29 November 2015: First Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jer 33:14-16 Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14 1 Thes 3:12-4:2 Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

 

Advent: a sense of urgent watching

This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, marks the start of a new liturgical year: the liturgical color changes from Ordinary time’s green to Advent’s purple, and the Sunday gospel readings change this year from Mark to Luke. As we experience the unfolding liturgical narrative and rituals, we journey with Jesus on the path from promise and incarnation to passion, death, and Easter. On this first Advent Sunday, the Lectionary asks RCIA participants and the believing community to be alert to the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies.

The first reading is from the prophet Jeremiah (627-585 BC), who called the Hebrews in Judah to interior conversion. In today’s passage, Jeremiah tells the people of Judah, who are being oppressed by the Babylonians, that God will send a descendant of David (“a just shoot”) to rule righteously (“do what is right and just”). Christians understand Jeremiah’s prophecy as fulfilled in Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonica ekklasia–the oldest preserved Christian document, written in AD 50 or 51. Paul writes to the Thessalonians after hearing they need advice. This letter introduces one of his important themes: love (“abound in love for one another and all”). Paul also urges the Thessalonians to remain “blameless … before God” in anticipation of Jesus’ return, and to “conduct yourselves to please God.” That is, they should follow Jesus’ way of life in which Paul instructed them (“for you know what instructions we gave you.”)

The gospel continues the theme of fulfillment of the messianic prophecies. The reading is part of Jesus’ Jerusalem ministry, specifically Luke’s eschatological discourse (Lk 21:5-38). The discourse includes two ideas:

  • The signs: Similar to Mark’s “little apocalypse” a few weeks ago, Luke’s Jesus prophecies about the end of this age (“signs in the sun, moon, and stars”) and the full realization of God’s kingdom (“your redemption is at hand”).
  • The warning: Jesus warns his disciples to be “vigilant” and to “pray.” That is, the disciples should always be looking for the signs–not in fear, but in hope that God’s kingdom is about to be instituted fully. At this time the Son of Man will judge the whole world, deciding who is worthy to enter the kingdom. Those distracted by the “anxieties of life”–who haven’t persisted in discipleship–are not fit for the kingdom. Those who “have the strength”–who have lived as true disciples–will be invited into the kingdom.

As the new liturgical year begins, prophecies fill the Advent readings. They urge RCIA participants and the whole believing community to watch for Jesus’ comings: in the past, as Israel’s promised messiah; in the future, as the Son of Man who judges all people; and in the present moment, as God hidden and revealed in daily liturgy. Are we paying attention? Are we ready to stand before the Son of Man?

–Terence Sherlock

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