Tag Archives: Christmastime

8 January 2017: Epiphany of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 60:1-6 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 Mt 2:1-12

Epiphany: the Gift is made present to all

White_gold_banner_smToday the believing community celebrates the Epiphany. Epiphany, which means “shining upon” or “manifestation,” is also called “little Christmas” or “Three King’s day,” and, in many places, is the day Christians exchange gifts. Traditionally, Orthodox and Roman churches celebrate Epiphany on 6 January as the twelfth day of Christmas. The feast commemorates the magi’s (or “wise men”) visit to Jesus.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah urges the Jews returning from Babylonian captivity to rebuild Judah and Jerusalem. He promises that God will restore the people and city to its former glory under David. God’s restoration draws “all nations” to Jerusalem. Foreign (gentile) kings will bring “gold and frankincense” as tribute and gifts. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to highlight the magi’s gifts in the gospel.

In the second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, the author summarizes Paul’s mission and message: God’s kingdom includes all–gentiles as well as the Jewish people. Together the Jews and gentiles are “co-heirs, co-members of the body of Christ (the ekklasia), and co-partners in the gospel promise.” All are invited into God’s kingdom. This reading highlights the gentiles’ role in recognizing the kingdom.

Matthew’s gospel recounts the magi’s visit, which further reveals Jesus’ identity:

  • King of the Jews. The magi are astrologers (early astronomers) who discern Jesus’ title based on naturally occurring celestial events (the star). They ask Herod, who wrangled the title “King of the Jews” from his Roman overlords, “where can we find the King of the Jews?” (Imagine the ensuing awkward pause as they sort out who is king of the Jews.) Herod calls his Jewish priests and scribes and asks “What do you know about this?” They search the Hebrew scripture and find the prophet Micah’s prophecy that the messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Matthew shows that both nature and scripture reveal Jesus’ identity to all who seek him.
  • Worthy of homage. The magi come to “do him homage.” Here and throughout this passage, Matthew uses the Greek word προσκυνέω (“pros-koo-NEH-oh”) which means “to prostrate before,” “to adore,” or “to worship.” Matthew shows that the gentile magi recognize that Jesus is worthy not only of human honor, but of divine worship.
  • Gifts foretell Jesus’ destiny. The magi give Jesus not only honor and worship, they also give him symbolic gifts. Gold is an appropriate gift for a human ruler. Incense is a gift offered (burned) to honor a divinity. Myrrh is spice used as a salve and for embalming. Matthew shows that the gentile magi recognize Jesus’ kingship, his divinity, and his mission to suffer and die.

Marking the Christmas season’s end, Epiphany calls RCIA participants and all of us to reflect further on the meaning of the incarnation. God’s gift of God-made-flesh and God-with-us is given to us without any possibility of our repayment. The incarnation, like all sacraments, is God’s superabundant presence. Epiphany–manifestation–tells us that God is found everywhere (God’s kingdom is already here, open to all), God is worthy of our worship, and God’s giving-ness fuels our mission to give our own lives in service. What star do we follow? What king do we seek? What treasure do we offer?

—Terence Sherlock

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1 January 2017: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Nm 6:22-27 Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8 Gal 4:4-7 Lk 2:16-21

 

Mary: Mother of God, Theotokos, disciple

White_gold_banner_sm As part of Christmastime celebrations, the believing community celebrates the feast of Mary, the mother of God. This feast is intimately connected to Christmas and the incarnation mystery: Jesus, while remaining fully God, through Mary, became fully human.

In the first reading from the book of Numbers, God tells Moses how Aaron the priest should bless the people in God’s name. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to show that God continues to bless God’s people in Jesus’ circumcision and naming.

In the second reading Paul tells the Galatians that Jesus is fully human (“born of a woman”) and an observant, circumcised Jew (“born under the law”). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been redeemed (“ransomed”) and, through baptism, God has adopted us. As children, we can call out to God as our Father.

In the gospel, Luke describes how Mary’s thoughts and actions lead to discipleship:

  • Mary’s thoughts. Luke tells us, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke uses the Greek word συμβάλλω (soom-BAHL-loh) meaning “to consider” or “to ponder.” The Hebrew scripture uses the same word to describe Jacob pondering the meaning of Joseph’s dreams (Gen 37:11) and Nebuchadnezzar reflecting on Daniel’s advice about the king’s dreams (Dan 4:28-30). Like these Old Testament figures, Mary does not fully understand the revelations and messages she receives–the angel’s announcement (Lk 1:28-33), Elizabeth’s greeting (Lk 1:42-45), and the shepherds’ visit (Lk 2:15-17). Mary–like all disciples, including us–comes to understand Jesus’ identity only by reflecting on his ministry and his suffering, death, and resurrection.
  • Mary’s actions. Luke says, “When the time arrived for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel.” In Mosaic law, circumcision is the covenantal sign that incorporates Jewish males into the people of Israel (Gen 17:1-12). Mary and Joseph’s action–following the law–makes Jesus part of the people of Israel. The angel (God’s messenger) told Mary to name the child Jesus, meaning “YHWH saves.” Mary and Joseph’s action–following the angel’s command–marks Jesus as God incarnate to remind everyone that God continues to bless the chosen people in God’s own name. Mary–like all disciples, including us–shows trust in God’s promise only by faith-in-action.

Today’s feast commemorates Mary as the Theotokos. The Greek word θεοτόκος (theh-oh-TOH-kos) means “God-bearer,” one of Mary’s oldest titles, found in Origen’s and Dionysius of Alexandria’s writings (around 250 AD). The Third Ecumenical Council (431 AD) formally affirmed Mary as Theotokos and the “Mother of God.” The council ruling emphasized that in his incarnation Jesus was both fully human and fully divine: Mary provided Jesus’ human nature while Jesus retained the eternal and divine nature of God. Theotokos, and all Mary’s titles, always lead us back to Christ: who he is, his incarnation, his life, his teachings, his transformative death and resurrection, and his continuing presence.

—Terence Sherlock

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3 January 2016: Epiphany of the Lord

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Is 60:1-6 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13 Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 Mt 2:1-12

Epiphany: the Gift is made present to all

Today the believing community celebrates the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany, which means “shining upon” or “manifestation,” is also called “little Christmas” or “Three King’s day,” and, in many places, is the day to exchange gifts. Traditionally, Orthodox and Roman churches celebrate Epiphany on 6 January as the twelfth day of Christmas. Because of the feast’s importance, the United States bishops moved the Epiphany celebration to the preceding Sunday. The feast commemorates the visit of the magi (or “wise men”) to Jesus. The Lectionary editors give us a larger context and meaning for this feast.

The first reading is from the prophet Isaiah. After the Hebrews return from their Babylonian exile, Isaiah urges them to rebuild Judah and Jerusalem. He promises that God will restore the people and city to its former glory under David. Note that God’s restoration draws “all nations” to Jerusalem. These foreign (gentile) kings will bring “gold and frankincense” as tribute and gifts.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Ephesians. The author (a disciple writing in Paul’s name) summarizes the reason for Paul’s mission as apostle to the gentiles: that God’s kingdom includes all–gentiles as well as the Jewish people. Together the Jews and gentiles are “co-heirs, co-members of the Body of Christ (the ekklasia), and co-partners in the gospel promise.” All are invited into God’s kingdom.

Matthew’s gospel recounts the magi’s visit. Mathew places this story early in his gospel to show Jesus’ full identity:

  • King of the Jews: The magi are astrologers (early astronomers) who discern Jesus’ title based on naturally occurring celestial events (the star). They ask Herod, who was given the title “King of the Jews” by his Roman overlords, “where can we find the King of the Jews?” Awkward! Herod calls his Jewish priests and scribes and asks “What do you know about this?” They search the Hebrew scripture and find the prophet Micah’s prophecy that the messiah will be born in Bethlehem. Matthew shows that both nature and scripture reveal Jesus’ identity to all who seek him.
  • Due homage: The magi come to “do him homage.” Here and throughout this passage, Matthew uses the Greek word προσκυνέω (“pros-koo-NEH-oh”) which means “to prostrate before,” “to adore,” or “to worship.” Matthew shows that the magi–gentiles–recognize that Jesus is worthy not only of human honor, but of divine worship.
  • Gifts foretell Jesus’ destiny: The magi give Jesus not only honor and worship, they also give him symbolic gifts. Gold is an appropriate gift for a human ruler. Incense is a gift offered (burned) to honor a divinity. Myrrh is spice used as a salve and for embalming. Matthew shows that the magi–gentiles–recognize Jesus’ kingship, his divinity, and his mission to suffer and die.

Coming at the end of the Christmas season, Epiphany calls RCIA participants–and all of us–to reflect on the impact of Jesus’ incarnation. God’s gift of God-made-flesh and God-with-us is given to us without any possibility of our repayment. The Incarnation, like all sacraments, is God’s superabundant presence.Epiphany–manifestation–tells us that God is found everywhere (God’s kingdom is already here), God is worthy of our worship, and God’s giving-ness fuels our mission to give our own lives in service. What are we doing with God’s Christmas gift?

–Terence Sherlock

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27 December 2015: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 or
1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 or
Ps 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
Col 3:12-21 or
1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24
Lk 2:41-52

 

Holy family: discipleship and family dynamics

On the first Sunday after Christmas the believing community celebrates the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Although homilists often use this feast to extol the “perfect family,” the Lectionary editors present real human families facing everyday issues for us to consider.

For the first reading, we hear a reading from either the Wisdom of Sirach or the Book of Samuel:

  • Sirach advises family members about how to act towards one another, especially fathers and sons. If human families were perfect, Sirach wouldn’t need to remind us how to behave.
  • The Book of Samuel tells us about Elkanah and Hannah, who struggled with infertility. When they finally have their firstborn Samuel, Hannah dedicates Samuel to God’s service “as long as he lives.” Samuel grows up to be an important prophet; he and his family are a type or model for Jesus and his family.

For the second reading, we hear a reading from either the Letter to the Colossians or John the Elder’s first letter:

  • Like Sirach, the author of Colossians advises family members about how to act towards one another–with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
  • John the Elder reminds us that the Father loves us so much “that we are called God’s children.” That is, we are all in the same family: God is Father, therefore we are sisters and brothers and must “love one another as he commanded.”

Luke’s gospel tells the “Jesus in the temple” story. On a road trip to Jerusalem, Jesus is lost and his parents are in a panic. In this very human story, Luke wants us to think about our human relationships and our discipleship:

  • What are we seeking? Luke uses the Greek word ζητέω (“zay-TEH-oh”) three times in today’s passage. ζητέω means “to seek” or “to search for,” it also includes “seeking what one desires to bring into relationship with oneself” and “seeking in order to worship God.” Luke suggests that Mary and Joseph, already disciples because they have heard and live with the Good News himself, search not only for a lost son but also for God’s Word.
  • What does obedience mean? When his overwrought parents finally find Jesus, Mary says, “You father and I have been looking everywhere for you anxiously.” Jesus replies, “Why? Didn’t you know that I’d be about the things of my Father?” Jesus is not giving his human parents adolescent attitude; Luke is asking disciples to think about priorities. While Jesus recognizes Mary and Joseph’s human parental authority, Jesus also knows he must also fulfill his Father’s will. Luke is hinting that discipleship is sometimes ambiguous. He says that the family went to Nazareth and Jesus “was obedient to them.” Luke uses the Greek ὑποτάσσω (“hoo-poh-TAS-so”), which means “under obedience to” or “submitted himself to.” Jesus lives under obedience to a human family that lives under obedience to God’s laws (“Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for Passover, according to custom”). Jesus lives simultaneously in the human community and in the divine community (the Trinitarian God); Luke invites Jesus’ disciples to do the same.

As we gather with family during the holidays, RCIA participants and all of us can hear in today’s readings the joy and challenges of family life. We don’t always get it right, but we can “bear with one another and forgive one another” so that, as disciples, we can “continue to advance in wisdom and favor before God and others.”

–Terence Sherlock

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