Tag Archives: Advent

23 December 2018: 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
RCL: Lk 1:39-45 [46-55]

The fulfillment of all things

Purple_banner_sm On the fourth and final Advent Sunday, the prophecy-and-fulfillment readings prepare the believing community to greet God-made-flesh.

The first reading is from the prophet Micah. Like Zephaniah last week, Micah has only one reading in the Lectionary cycle. Micah foretells that God will bring salvation through a messiah, or “anointed one,” from David’s line. Bethlehem-Ephrathah is David’s home town and the promised birthplace of the messiah. Micah’s writings capture the hope of a restored Davidic monarchy after the Babylonian exile. Christians hear Micah’s prophecy fulfilled in Jesus’ coming.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews. Using Hebrew scripture’s Psalm 40 as prophecy, the author explains how Christ “came into the world” to offer himself (“a body you prepared for me”) as a transformative sacrifice. That is, Jesus’ incarnation was necessary to accomplish salvation: Jesus’ human body is the vehicle through which he expressed perfect obedience to the Father’s will. Jesus fulfilled the psalm’s promises through his incarnation.

Luke’s gospel tells the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, in which many promises are fulfilled, and new prophecies are spoken. This passage is filled with Semitisms that imitate the sound and rhythm of Hebrew scripture.

  • Leaping for joy. John the Baptist “leaping” in Elizabeth’s womb fulfills the angel’s promise to Zechariah that his son “will be filled with the Spirit, even in his mother’s womb” (Lk 1 15). That is, the Spirit inspires John to recognize Jesus as the messiah.
  • Mary, Jesus, and disciples. Just as the Spirit fills and inspires John, the Spirit also fills and inspires Elizabeth.
    • Elizabeth says Mary is “blessed.” Elizabeth uses the same “blessed” word that Hebrew scripture uses to describe the Jewish heroines Jael (Judg 5:24) and Judith (Jud 13:18). Like Mary, Jael and Judith were commissioned by God to help Israel. Elizabeth foretells Mary’s special role in God’s saving plan.
    • Elizabeth reveals that Mary is pregnant with God’s son (“the mother of my Lord”), fulfilling Gabriel’s promise to Mary in Lk 1:32.
    • Elizabeth “blesses” Mary’s faith (“you who believed”) as a disciple. Luke, using the same word that introduces the beatitudes (Lk 6:20-22), foretells this blessing for Mary and for all future disciples who believe what the Lord speaks.

Like Advent itself, today’s readings look back to the prophecies and promises of a messiah and look forward to Jesus’ coming in history. John’s words of preparation and metanoia (change of mind/heart) continue to echo throughout the liturgical year. Our discipleship work of turning away from self and turning towards God is never complete. In the final days of Advent, the readings remind us of what God has fulfilled and what remains to be done. What is the Spirit inspiring us to recognize? What is our prophetic mission? What blessings fulfill our future?

—Terence Sherlock

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16 December 2018: Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Zep 3:14-18a
RCL: Zep 3:14-20
  Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6   Phil 4:4-7   Lk 3:10-18
RCL: Lk 3:7-18


Liturgical note: Gaudete Sunday
The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. The Latin verb gaudete (gow-DAY-tay), which means “rejoice,” comes from the entrance antiphon for the day:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.
Rejoice in the Lord always: again I-say, Rejoice!

The liturgical color for Advent is purple, a color that reminds us of our need for conversion and change. Gaudete Sunday’s liturgical color is rose, a color that represents joy during this season of waiting.

Gaudete! Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Rose_banner_sm During the Advent season the Lectionary readings present prophecies and exhortations about the Lord’s coming. This week’s readings ask the believing community to once again prepare the way for Jesus’ incarnation.

The first reading from the prophet Zephaniah is the only time Zephaniah appears in the Lectionary reading cycle. The reading describes Israel’s restoration: after God’s judgement against the nations and Israel, God will again be present (“in your midst”) with God’s people. Christian hearers understand “God is in your midst” as referring to Jesus’ incarnation.

The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippi ekklesia continues last week’s teachings. Paul’s exhortation is about the parousia, but his words are also appropriate for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. He calls the Philippians to “rejoice” because “the Lord is near.” They should not be “anxious” about Jesus’ coming; rather, they should continue living as Paul taught them, in “kindness,” in “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.” The Philippians, knowing they live righteously, should be filled with God’s peace. In the same way, as the believing community prepares for the incarnation celebration through metanoia, we should be filled with God’s peace.

Luke’s gospel continues from last week. John the Baptizer gives specific instructions about metanoia (change of mind/heart) and describes the coming anointed one (messiah).

  • “What should we do?” The Baptizer’s injunctions restate the Hebrew prophets’ definition of true religion: justice and charity proved by actions.
    • To the crowds, the Baptizer says, “Share what you have with those in need.” In the first century, a tunic or coat was not just clothing, but also shelter and a bed. Only a wealthy person owned more than two tunics, but John implies that even those who owned two tunics needed only one. From everyone the Baptizer demands metanoia proved by radical charity.
    • To tax collectors, the Baptizer says, “Collect only your assigned share.” Tax collectors were universally hated, especially in Judea by religiously committed Jews, who viewed them as collaborators and sinners. The empire assessed taxes and regional tax-gatherers hired local agents to collect local taxes. If a local agent collected more than his assessed goal, he kept the difference. From those with financial authority, the Baptizer demands metanoia proved by justice.
    • To soldiers, the Baptizer says, “Don’t extort, don’t blackmail; be satisfied with your pay.” In Jesus’ time, Rome did not have a legion permanently stationed in Palestine. These “soldiers” were probably Judean men serving as Herod Antipas’ military police. The Jewish people saw these soldiers as the most visible form of foreign occupation and influence. The soldiers’ position of power allowed them to shake down citizens and extort bribes to supplement their pay. For those with temporal authority, the Baptizer demands metanoia proved by charity and justice.
  • A coming greater one. Like many Jews of the first century, the Baptizer may have expected a messiah who would be a powerful political or military leader. In any case, he understands that the messiah will come to judge everyone. His extended image of winnowing (separating the wheat and chaff), saving the wheat in barns, and burning the chaff in “unextinguishable fire” underlines his urgent call to metanoia.

The Gaudete Sunday readings call the believing community to continued preparation and metanoia, with a sense of joy: The Lord is near. Jesus has come in history and saved us. But as Paul and the Baptizer suggest, we still have work to do. Are we generous with those in need? Do we treat everyone fairly and honestly? Do we temper our authority with kindness and justice? Only then is our joy complete.

—Terence Sherlock

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9 December 2018: Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Bar 5:1-9
RCL: Mal 3:1-14
  Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6   Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
RCL: Phil 1:3-11
  Lk 3:1-6

Advent preparations: turning minds and hearts, clearing the road

Purple_banner_sm During the Advent season the Lectionary readings present prophecies and exhortations about the Lord’s coming. This week’s readings ask the believing community to once again prepare the way for Jesus’ incarnation.

The first reading is from the prophet Baruch, a scribe and companion of Jeremiah. Baruch lived in the sixth century BC, but scripture scholars assign this work to an unknown author writing in the first or second century BC, hundreds of years after the exiles had returned. Writing as Baruch, the author addresses Jews in the Diaspora (those living outside the Jewish homeland) to give them hope and consolation. The author suggests a parallel between the Babylonian exiles and those living in the Diaspora. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it echoes part of Isaiah’s preparation prophecy quoted in today’s gospel.

The second reading includes Paul’s greetings and prayers for the ekklesia in Philippi. He greets the Philippians as friends and “partners in the gospel,” and prays that their love may increase in “real knowledge and discernment” so as to be “pure and blameless” at Christ’s coming (parousia). The Lectionary editors chose this reading to emphasize preparing for Jesus’ coming, whether as a historical remembrance at Christmas or at his second coming.

Luke’s gospel reintroduces John the Baptizer, prophet and precursor. John warns the Jewish people to prepare for the messiah’s coming. Next week, we will hear John’s specific instructions; this week, we listen to his call to conversion or metanoia. Today’s gospel places the Baptizer in his historical and religious context.

  • John’s identity. Luke has already introduced John the Baptizer as a prophet in Lk 1. Today’s reading describes the Baptizer’s prophetic call (“the word of God came to John”) using the words and symbols of Hebrew scripture. Luke extends Mark’s version of Isaiah’s quotation by adding “all flesh shall see God’s salvation.” This allows Luke to emphasize the universality of salvation, a theme he announced in Simeon’s prophecy (Lk 2:30-32). For Luke, the Baptizer is Jesus’ precursor (Lk 7:27), a transitional figure inaugurating the time of fulfillment of prophecy and promise.
  • John’s message. John proclaims a conversion-baptism that frees participants from sin (Lk 3:3). All Jews practiced forms of ritual washing, such as before eating and before entering the Temple. John connects his one-time ritual immersion with the requirement of metanoia (change of heart/mind). That is, John’s ritual washing frees a person from sin only if that person changes: turns away (converts) from sin and does good. John’s baptism prepares people spiritually and morally to encounter the coming messiah’s message.

Last week’s readings looked forward to Jesus’ second coming. This week’s readings focus on Jesus’ first coming, in his incarnation. Baruch, Paul, and the gospel describe the believing community’s need to prepare for this coming. What are we changing in our hearts and minds to get ready? Are we surveying our personal valleys for spiritual or moral deficiencies? Are we leveling our interior mountains of pride or exclusion? Are we making our path to discipleship clearer and straighter?

—Terence Sherlock

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2 December 2018: 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
RCL: 1 Thes 3: 9-13
  Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
RCL: Lk 21:25-36

Advent: past, present, and future comings

Purple_banner_smThe 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 from Mark to Luke. Adventio, a Latin verb meaning “I am coming,” is the root of the English word advent. Advent’s unfolding liturgical narrative and rituals encourage the believing community to look back to Jesus’ historical incarnation, to look forward to Jesus’ parousia, and to look at our readiness now as disciples.

In the first reading, Jeremiah tells the people of Judah, oppressed by the Babylonians, that God will send a descendant of David to rule righteously (“do what is right and just”). This promise was not fulfilled during the Jews’ extended seventy-year Babylonian exile. Later Judaism interpreted the exiles’ return and Jerusalem’s restoration as the promise’s fulfillment. For Christian hearers, God’s saving act is the coming of Jesus. The Lectionary editors chose this reading in Advent because Jeremiah’s “just shoot” from David’s line foretells Jesus’ coming.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the ekklesia at Thessalonica. This letter is the oldest preserved Christian document, written in 50 or 51 AD. The reading opens with one of Paul’s key themes: love (“abound in love for one another and all”). He references Jesus’ second coming or parousia, urging the Thessalonians to remain “blameless … before God” in anticipation of Jesus’ return. As Paul has instructed them, they should follow Jesus’ way of life. The Lectionary editors chose this reading because Paul’s messages of preparation and Jesus’ coming match Advent’s themes.

The gospel is Luke’s version of Jesus’ eschatological discourse. Inspired by Mark’s “little apocalypse” (Mk 13), Luke modifies the message for his hearers: a gentile (non-Jewish) believing community facing a delayed parousia. Luke emphasizes universality and faithfulness:

  • The whole world. The “day of the Lord” foretold by Daniel, Isaiah, and other prophets affects not only Jews and Jewish Christians, but the whole world. When Luke writes, “on earth nations will be distressed,” he uses the Greek word ἔθνος (EHTH-nohs), which means “nations,” “peoples,” or “gentiles.” In the same way, when he describes “what is coming upon the world,” Luke uses a word that means “the whole inhabited earth.” Luke’s point: Jesus’ coming affects everyone everywhere.
  • Remaining faithful. Jesus cautions his hearers to “be alert” and to “be vigilant” at all times. No one knows when the Son of Man will return. Luke stresses that Jesus’ coming will surprise many, but those who wait and remain faithful have nothing to fear.

Like Luke’s believing community, we live in the time between Jesus’ incarnation (Jesus’ first coming) and Jesus’ parousia (Jesus’ second coming). The readings warn us to stay alert and pray continuously as we wait in the present, remaining faithful to Jesus’ teachings. Disciples who are faithful, who continue to witness, and who remain alert in prayer will rejoice at Jesus’ coming. Advent, a season dedicated to watchful waiting, can be diluted or drowned out by commercialism. Advent’s stillness and reflection should bring a sense peace, but the pre-Christmas season often creates dismay and anxiety. Shopping, wrapping, and giving gifts are rituals that anticipate joy and gratitude at Jesus’ coming. For whom or what are we preparing? Whom or what are we awaiting?

—Terence Sherlock

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24 December 2017: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16   Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29   Rom 16:25-27   Lk 1:26-38

Advent: God’s promises are fulfilled

Purple_banner_sm As our Advent waiting and preparation comes to a close, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and the believing community with the culmination of the mystery of God-with-us.

In the first reading, the book of Samuel records David’s wish to build God a permanent temple (house). God answers David through the prophet Nathan: God pledges to build David a house (a lineage) that last forever. Christians hear in God’s promise that, from David’s house, an anointed one (messiah) will come to lead and to protect God’s people. Jesus, born with Mary’s active participation, fulfills this prophecy.

In the second reading, Paul tells the Roman ekklesia that God’s mystery, “kept secret for long ages,” is revealed in Jesus’ coming. In Jesus, all Hebrew scripture prophecies attain their full meanings. Gabriel’s words to Mary begin to reveal these hidden meanings.

In Luke’s annunciation narrative, Gabriel presents God’s invitation to Mary. She responds in three parts:

  • Mary’s reaction. Gabriel greets Mary as “God’s favored one.” Luke says the greeting “perplexes” or “greatly confuses” Mary, and then that she “thinks carefully about its implications.” Mary does not passively receive Gabriel’s greeting. She carefully considers what being “God’s favored one” might mean for her.
  • Mary’s question. Mary asks Gabriel: how will this happen? Luke’s Greek Christian community is expecting a Greek mythological divine/human impregnation story, but instead, Gabriel answers Mary using Hebrew scriptural allusions:
    • First, “the holy Spirit will-come-to you.” In Genesis, God’s creative spirit “hovers over” the unformed world (Gn 1:2). Luke uses the same Greek verb to describe the Spirit’s coming both to Mary in today’s reading (v 35) and to the apostles at Pentecost (Ac 1: 8). Luke connects the Spirit’s action at Jesus’ conception with the Spirit’s action at the ekklesia‘s (believing community’s or church’s) beginnings.
    • Next, “God’s-presence-will-shadow you.” The Greek verb ἐπισκιάζω (eh-pee-skee-AHd-zoh) means “to cover” or “to shadow.” Hebrew scripture uses this word to indicate God’s presence at Sinai (Ex 19:9) and especially in the Tent of Meeting (Ex 40:34). Luke uses the same word (v 35) to show Mary as a new Ark of the Covenant, the place where God’s glory resides. Luke connects God’s presence at Jesus’ conception with God’s covenant and protection throughout history.
  • Mary’s answer. Mary’s first statement acknowledges her relationship to God doesn’t require that God offer her a choice. But God invites Mary to participate in human salvation. Mary’s “yes” is a model for Christian discipleship: I give up my plans and myself to do whatever God requires.

For this final Advent Sunday, the readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to consider how God fulfills the promise of salvation. God promises David that his house will last forever. Paul explains to the Romans that we understand God’s promises only through Jesus’ coming. Luke shows us how God’s promises are fulfilled only through human cooperation. The annunciation is neither history or myth. Luke presents a theological conversation between Mary and Gabriel, revealing that Jesus is God and savior, incarnated into our human experience in a unique and extraordinary way, with the cooperation of someone just like us. Jesus invites us to discipleship. Like Mary, we can choose to cooperate in God’s saving plans.

—Terence Sherlock

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17 December 2017: Third Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 61:1-2a, 10-11   Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54   1 Thes 5:16-24   Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
Gaudete Sunday

The third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete (gow-DAY-tay), Latin for “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 liturgical color for Advent is purple, a color that reminds us of our need for conversion and change. Gaudete Sunday’s liturgical color is rose, a color that represents joy during this season of waiting.

Advent: Rejoice!

Rose_banner_smThe antiphon and Lectionary readings of Gaudete Sunday remind RCIA participants and the believing community that Advent’s waiting is almost complete: the Lord will be with us soon.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks with joy to the post-exile Jews who have returned to Judea. Anointed by God and filled with God’s spirit, he describes his mission: to bring good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to liberate captives, and to announce a time of God’s favor to those returned from exile and to all nations. For Christian hearers, Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s words and God’s promise. We rejoice because Jesus’ incarnation brings God’s salvation to all nations.

In the second reading, Paul instructs the Thessalonians about behavior within their believing community. He begins by telling them to rejoice always, to pray always, and to be thankful for everything. He then warns them not to ignore the Spirit’s gifts, but rather to scrutinize everything and keep what’s good, and to stay away from every evil thing. Finally, Paul returns to his letter’s main theme of remaining blameless until Jesus’ return. The Thessalonian ekklesia rejoices because they received the good news of salvation.

John’s gospel has two parts: the first part (v 6-8) is from the prologue, and the second part (v 19-28) is from the Baptizer’s testimony about himself:

  • Prologue. John’s prologue sets the major themes of his gospel, including being sent/sending, testimony or witness, faith, and light vs darkness. God sent the Baptizer to be a witness to Jesus. He witnesses so that all might believe and come to eternal life. In John’s gospel, faith is the beginning of “life in abundance,” John’s phrase for the kingdom of God.
  • The Baptizer’s testimony. First, the Baptizer answers questions from the Sadducees, who send priests and Levites as their agents. The Sadducees, the religious leadership, want to know who the Baptizer is. He tells them directly that he is not the messiah, or Elijah returning (Mal 3:23-24), or the prophet-like-Moses (Dt 18:15). He is “a voice crying:” announcing that the day of salvation is coming.

    Next, the Baptizer answers questions from the Pharisees, who want to know where he gets his authority to baptize. The Baptizer tells them that he baptizes with water, but the Coming-One, who is greater than the Baptizer, will baptize with something greater. The Baptizer’s baptism prefigures the Coming-One’s authoritative baptism in the coming kingdom.

 

In the depths of Advent, the Gaudete readings remind RCIA candidates and the believing community to rejoice: Jesus has already come in history; Jesus will come again at the end of history, and liturgically Jesus is near and will be with us soon. Gaudete Sunday is a meditation on the already, the right now, and the not yet. Through baptism we rejoice being initiated into Isaiah’s mission, into the life of the believing community, and into God’s present and coming kingdom. Where do we find joy in our own lives?

—Terence Sherlock

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10 December 2017: Second Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 40:1-5, 9-11   Ps 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14   2 Pt 3:8-14   Mk 1:1-8

Advent: Preparing the way by turning to the good news

Purple_banner_sm As we continue our Advent waiting and preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas, the Lectionary announces good news and reminds RCIA participants and the believing community of our need for conversion to prepare the way.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks to the Jews captive in Babylon in the sixth century BC, promising their release and the restoration of Israel. God will lead them through the wilderness back to Judea, as God led Moses and the Israelites through the desert to the promised land. Isaiah tells the returning Jewish exiles to prepare a path through the wilderness for their Lord, and to shout the good news from the mountain: the exiles return and God renews the covenant! In Advent, the Christian believing community similarly prepares the Lord’s way by conversion: turning to God and away from everything else, and tells our good news from the mountain: through the incarnation God comes to be with us.

In the second reading from Peter’s second letter, the author addresses his community’s concerns about Jesus’ delayed return. Some false teachers are claiming that because Jesus hasn’t returned by this time (around 120 AD), he’s never returning. The author points out that divine time and human time aren’t the same. If humans think the parousia is taking too long, it’s because God is giving us a chance to turn back to God before the end-time. The good news is that we have time to live holy and devout lives as we await Jesus’ return.

In the gospel, Mark introduces his story of Jesus. In eight short verses Mark tells the purpose of his writing and introduces Jesus’ prophetic forerunner:

  • Purpose of Mark’s story. Mark titles his story “The beginning of the proclamation (or good news) about Jesus the messiah.” Mark’s first word–“beginning”–is the same word that opens Genesis. Mark may be suggesting his proclamation (or gospel) offers a new beginning or a new creation to everyone.
  • The one who prepares the way. Mark quickly introduces John, who is preaching and baptizing in the wilderness. John, a prophet like Isaiah and Elijah, preaches metanoia. The Greek verb μετανοέω (meh-tah-noh-EH-oh) means “to turn one’s mind/heart away from one thing and towards another.” Many bibles translate metanoia as “repentance,” but that translation is too weak. Metanoia is about conversion, turning to God. True metanoia brings forgiveness, which is the beginning of the kingdom of God.

Today’s readings call RCIA participants and the believing community to hear the good news and to change our hearts and minds. Isaiah announces that God is with us and we must straighten our ways. The second reading tells us that God is giving us the time we need to turn toward holiness and devotion. Mark’s gospel proclaims a new beginning that starts with our metanoia. Today’s three readings describe different ways God enters into human history to be with us–in covenant, through incarnation, and at the end time. God-with-us is good news that is undescribably good and always new. During Advent will we take time to consider how good the good news is? Or will we let the season’s busyness ensure that God’s news never reaches our daily lives? Metanoia is our choice: where will we turn? How will we turn out?

—Terence Sherlock

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3 December 2017: First Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7   Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19   1 Cor 1:3-9   Mk 13:33-37

Advent: looking forward by looking back

Purple_banner_sm Happy new liturgical year! This Sunday marks the start of a new liturgical year and a new season. The year’s Sunday gospel readings change from Matthew to Mark; the season’s color is now Advent’s purple. In Advent, the Lectionary readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community to look back to God’s promises and to look forward to their fulfillment.

In the first reading from Isaiah, the returned exiles lament what they find: the Temple burned and Jerusalem in ruins. In striking language, Isaiah asks that God “tear open the heavens and come down” to be with the people again, and through “awesome deeds” restore Jerusalem to its former glory. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to show us that God has fulfilled this request, “tearing open heaven and coming down” in Jesus’ incarnation.

In the second reading from the first letter to the Corinth ekklesia, Paul opens with greetings and thanksgiving for the believing community. He previews a few issues he will cover, including charismatic gifts, unity, and fellowship meals. Paul sets the Corinthian’s gifts in an eschatological context. Despite the Corinthians’ present knowledge, they are still waiting for the Lord “to be revealed.” Here Paul describes the paradox of the “already” and the “not yet:” the Corinthians already have particular gifts they need to build up the believing community, but these gifts will not be fully known or understood until Jesus’ return–the not yet. Advent reminds us that Jesus is with us now in word and sacrament, but we will know him fully only when he comes again in the parousia.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to watch and to stay awake; he summarizes promise and fulfillment in the parable of the doorkeeper.

  • The instructions. As part of his end-time teachings, Jesus admonishes disciples to be watchful and to be alert because no one knows when “the time will come.”
  • The parable. This parable is similar to the parable of the talents we heard a few weeks ago. A man going on an indeterminate trip tells his slaves to continue their work and commands the doorkeeper to watch for his return. The master will judge the slaves when he returns.
  • The meaning. Jesus intends this parable not just for first-century disciples, but for all disciples (“What I say to you, I say to all.”). His command–“Be vigilant!”–warns disciples to remain watchful for his promised return. When he fulfills his promise, the Lord will judge each disciple on how well he or she has lived as his disciple. There is no room for complacency in Christian life.

The Advent readings invite RCIA participants and the whole believing community to look back to God’s promises and forward to their fulfillment. God fulfilled Isaiah’s request to “tear open the heavens and come down” through Jesus’ incarnation. Paul tells us God has already given us the gifts we need to live as disciples, although we can’t yet fully understand or appreciate them. Jesus warns us to watch for his promised return by fulfilling our discipleship daily. Advent is a time of waiting for Jesus’ coming at Christmas and watching for Jesus’ coming again. How are we using our time?

—Terence Sherlock

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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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