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Weekday Mass Readings for Advent

Week 1

Monday of Week 1
Tuesday of Week 1
Wednesday of Week 1
Thursday of Week 1
Friday of Week 1
Saturday of Week 1

Week 2

Monday of Week 2
Tuesday of Week 2
Wednesday of Week 2
Thursday of Week 2
Friday of Week 2
Saturday of Week 2

Week 3

Monday of Week 3
Tuesday of Week 3
Wednesday of Week 3
Thursday of Week 3
Friday of Week 3
Saturday of Week 3

Week 4

December 17
December 18
December 19
December 20
December 21
December 22
December 23

The Bible readings for Mass, following the Irish Liturgical Calendar. Texts from the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) are marked by consistently inclusive language. Homily notes, from a wide variety of sources, have already appeared in the ACP website, in the section edited by Fr. Patrick Rogers, Dublin, Ireland.


 

1st Week of Advent

Monday of Week 1

First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5

In the Messiah's day, they shall beat their swords into ploughshares

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. " For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Alternative 1st Reading: Isaiah 4:2-6

(for use in Year A, when Is 2:1-5 has been read on 1st Sunday of Advent)

On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious,
and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.
 Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy,
everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem,
 once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion
and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst
by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.

Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night.
Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy.
It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat,
and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

Gospel: Matthew 8:5-11

Jesus cures the centurion's servant; foreigners will share in Israel's blessings

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and cure him. " The centurion answered, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it. "

When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, "Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven."

Tuesday of Week 1

1st Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Gospel: Luke 10:21-24

The humble of heart will know God just as Jesus does

At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."

Isaiah announced the work of the Spirit and Jesus rejoiced in it. This Spirit seems fragile and tender. If we judge from these two passages of Isaiah and Luke, the Spirit leads to a scene of paradise where the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.  Such seeming fairy-tales are hidden from the learned and the clever, and revealed to the merest children.

Bible

Not just a fairy-tale

The passage from Isaiah may sound like an innocent fairy-tale, but embedded in it is  a tragic truth. The stump of Jesse refers to the mighty dynasty of king David that has been cut down like a tree. Nothing remains but a dry stump and some hidden roots. When this tree was cut down by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. the people were shocked to realise that the dynasty was not really eternal. But had not God assured David: "your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever" (2 Sam 7:16). What they took as the obvious meaning of these words was not what God intended.

Isaiah knew that God must always be true to his word; hence the dynasty in some way will revive. The spirit of the Lord will rest upon the stump and the roots of Jesse, and the people of God will bloom again. This leads to the almost fairy-tale vision of Isaiah about the Messianic age. Perhaps calves and young lions will never browse together, literally, and surely babies should never be allowed to play beside the cobra's den. Yet the dream of universal peace and gentle trust is so wonderful that not even our fairy-tales adequately measure up to it! Surely faith dreams in these creative ways, for Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit and says: "I offer you praise, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children."

Sometimes, after we have done our best, that best must collapse so that God's dreams for us may be fulfilled. At the heart of our existence is a mystery which no one knows except Jesus and the heavenly Father — and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal it. This mystery is Jesus himself, a child stripped of his divinity in order to communicate God to us; and still further, a human being stripped of humanity on the cross of death to reveal the fullness of love. This thought may help in times like ours, when our beloved Church seems diminished and in some disarray.

Wednesday of Week 1

1st Reading: Isaiah 25:6-10

"God will wipe away the tears from all faces."– a Messianic vision of the final age.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Look, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.

Gospel: Matthew 15:29-37

Jesus multiplies the loaves and fishes, so that all eat their fill.

After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way." The disciples said to him, "Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?" Jesus asked them, "How many loaves have you?" They said, "Seven, and a few small fish." Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.

Bible


A Paradise created by the Spirit

Isaiah had a great feeling of hope for the future, when the Messiah would bring in God's new age and the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food.  For the early Christians, this vision must have seemed on the verge of fulfilment in the work of Jesus — and especially in his miracles of feeding the people.

Today's Gospel tells of the feeding of hungry people. We are all too aware of the obscenity of people for whom there has been no miraculous feeding, dying of starvation in our modern, affluent world. Sometimes, of course, there are moments of humane solidarity, when people know that, with good will, we could feed the world. Whatever we give at times like that resembles the loaves and fishes. When people share food and resources with strangers, they recognize our interdependence on one another. People in the poorest of developing countries have a struggle just to survive. It is easy to feel powerless in the face of the sheer scale of what feeding the world would require, and move on to "compassion fatigue" and then to numbed indifference. Like the disciples, we ask, "How can we feed so many, with so little?"

It might horrify the voters in democratic lands to recognise how the economic logic which sustains our way of life dictates that the most powerless are destined to go hungry. Our developed world makes tough trade agreements, creates food mountains and milk-lakes, and diverts financial and human resources into the arms trade rather than to development and education. Even if our leaders and planners are sensible, humane people, they are — like ourselves — caught up in the web of unjust expectations which is "the sin of the world."

Mahatma Ghandi once said, "To the poor man, God does not appear except in the form of bread and in the promise of work." The Eucharist renews the wellsprings of our humanity by a story of bread broken and shared for the life of the world. Can we help those who celebrate the Eucharist with us this Sunday to see a link between it and the hunger of the world? Does our parish support some project in the developing world, or can some local people to be enlisted for such a project? "Gather up the fragments so that nothing gets wasted." Global solutions lie beyond the power of our local parish, which is why we need to remember the lesson of the fragments. If we can put a little new heart into our efforts, that will be something worthwhile. If we can become conscious of our wastefulness of world resources, it may be the beginning of repentance.

On the heights

Elevated ground features in both of our readings today. In the first reading, the prophet speaks of a mountain where the Lord invites all to a great banquet. There will rich food and fine wines, and all mourning, sadness and shame will be removed, and even death itself will be destroyed. Here is a vision which lifts us beyond the world as we know it towards another world where all is as God wants it to be.

In the gospel, Jesus goes up the mountainside and large crowds go up there after him. There in the heights of Galilee, Jesus gives speech to the dumb, mobility to the lame, sight to the blind. He goes on to feed the hungry with very limited resources. He feeds them so well that all ate as much as they wanted, and, even then, there were seven baskets full left over. The vision of Isaiah in the first reading becomes something of a reality in the gospel. Both readings speak to us of a God who wants us to have life and to have it to the full. It was Saint Irenaeus who said that the glory of God is the human person fully alive. In the gospel, the Lord needed others to bring the sick to him; he needed the disciples to help him feed the crowd. He continues to need us if his life-giving work is to get done. Advent calls on all of us to be instruments of the Lord's life-giving and healing presence in the world. In Advent we pray, "Come Lord Jesus." We also offer ourselves as channels for the Lord's coming.

Thursday of Week 1

1st Reading: Isaiah 26:1-6

A hymn of confidence in the Lord God, our everlasting rock

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; he sets up victory like walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace — in peace because they trust in you.

Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock. For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height; the lofty city he lays low. He lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.

Gospel: Matthew 7:21, 24-27

Conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount: A wise man builds his house on rock

And Jesus said to them, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall!"

Bible


A mighty fortress

The readings for today make a thought-provoking contrast. In Isaiah it is God who builds our city, setting up its walls and ramparts to protect it; in the Gospel it is we who build our own house solidly, setting it on rock. While Isaiah summons into the new city all who trust in the Lord, Matthew has Jesus promise salvation to the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  The prophetic text emphasises faith while the Gospel stresses action! There is a line in the passage from Isaiah to harmonise these divergent views : "Our Lord is an eternal rock."

Insistence upon trust in the Lord is a continuous theme with Isaiah. Today he says: Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal rock. The Lord will surround us who have faith as he does the holy city with "walls and ramparts. " And the Lord himself is that city. He is the rock which sustains us. He is the Holy One, enshrined within us. There is a clash of images here! It means that the Lord is behind and before us, around about us and within us, supporting us from beneath, glorifying us from above.

Withstanding storms

We can identify with the weather image that Jesus uses in today's gospel, "Rains came down, floods rose, gales blew." Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Apart from weather storms, we can also be struck by storms of a different kind no matter where in the world we live. The church has been through quite a storm in recent years, and the effects are still felt. As individuals, we can find ourselves battling against the elements of life, as we struggle in one shape or form, for one reason or another.

Jesus declares in today's gospel that difficult times will indeed come for all of us. The real issue is how we are equipped to deal with them. When the storms come will we find ourselves tossed about helplessly, or will we be able to withstand the storm and move through and beyond it? Jesus wants to be our rock when the storm comes. If we listen to his words and try to act on those words we will remain standing even when storms break around us. Jesus brings us back to basics, the doing of God's will as he has revealed it for us. If we keep on returning to that focal point, the Lord will see to it that we endure, regardless of the strength of the storm.

Friday of Week 1

1st Reading: Isaiah 29:17-24

A promise of good times, when deaf shall hear and blind shall see

Shall not Lebanon in a very little while become a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest?

On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll,
and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

For the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be;
all those alert to do evil shall be cut off —

those who cause person to lose a lawsuit,
who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate,
and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.

Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:
No longer shall Jacob be ashamed, no longer shall his face grow pale.

For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst,
they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,
and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,
and those who grumble will accept instruction.

Gospel: Matthew 9:27-31

Cure of two blind men saved by their faith in Jesus

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to him, "Yes, Lord." Then he touched their eyes and said, "according to your faith let it be done to you." And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, "See that no one knows of this." But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.

Bible


Healing touch

Listening to Isaiah today, we may wonder if optimism blinded his common sense, so much does he focus on things that are not here yet. Was he dreaming as he wrote: "The deaf shall hear, the eyes of the blind shall see, the tyrant will be no more, Jacob shall have no longer be ashamed." A similar impression could be made by today's Gospel. Two blind men are cured by Jesus. The cynic will carp about the ninety-eight others who remained blind! And of course, even today as during the miraculous life of Jesus there are many deaf people who do not get back their hearing, many blind who may never see again, many tyrants still ruling on earth, and many upright people who are put to shame. Isaiah held that in "a very little while" all this misery would cease. Yet we are still waiting for this magnificent transformation.

A detail in the Gospel may help to clarify this mention of "a very little while. " Jesus did not cure the two blind men immediately. They followed him at some distance, calling out, "Son of David, have pity on us!" They caught up with him only when he had arrived at the house where he was staying that night. Only then, when Jesus touched their eyes, were they cured. We too must follow Jesus with our desires and hopes — but also with patience. Jesus waited until the two blind men had caught up with him.

He asked the two blind men: "Do you trust I can do this?" When they answered, "Yes, Lord!" he reached out and touched their eyes — gently, lovingly, prayerfully. Jesus can help us only when we have faith in his goodness and let him touch us where we are weak and in need. As he touched them, he said, "Because of your faith, it shall be done to you." We must trust that his love will overcome every obstacle. In a true sense love is blind to the obstacles of fear and selfishness. Once Jesus touches us, Isaiah's words come true. In that "very little while" there is an interchange of love and confidence — and we regain our full selves.

Persistence pays

I can't help noticing the persistence of the two blind men in today's gospel. They don't just come up to Jesus and ask him to heal them. Rather, while Jesus is walking along they follow him shouting, "Take pity on us, Son of David." They kept shouting until Jesus reached the house to which he was going, at which point Jesus turned to them and said, "Do you believe I can do this?" Their shout was, of course, a prayer of petition, an expression of their faith in Jesus. Their answer to Jesus' question was another expression of their faith, "Sir, we do"

This image of the two blind men continually making their prayer of faith as Jesus walks along invites us to keep on praying out of our own faith. Like the two blind men, we very often pray when we're aware of our need. Thankfully, most of us have the gift of sight, but we are all needy in other ways. There can be areas of blindness in our lives that need healing; we all struggle with weakness and disability of one kind or another, ways in which we are broken and vulnerable. The example of the two blind men encourages us to keep turning to the Lord in prayer, even when he appears not to be listening to us. Our prayer of faith will not ultimately go unanswered.

Saturday of Week 1

1st Reading: Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26

Future days of blessed enlightenment, when the people turn aside from idolatry.

Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.

And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "this is the way; walk in it." Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, "away with you!"

He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. On that day your cattle will graze in broad pastures; and the oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat silage, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water — on a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. Moreover the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

Gospel: Matthew 9:35–10:1; 6-8

Jesus sends his apostles to spread the gospelto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

He told them, "Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and as you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

 

Bible


Binding up wounds

The Isaiah text seems more exciting than the gospel in today's liturgy. The prophet implies the immediate presence of God: "No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher." Jesus' words in the gospel seem more cautious. He sends out the twelve to cure sickness and disease instead of doing these works of mercy himself. And where Isaiah's vision sweeps universally across mountains and hills, across the heavens where "the light of the moon will be like that of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times greater," Jesus seems to confine the apostolate of the twelve to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

But in fact, Jesus was no less adventurous than the prophecy. This son of Nazareth had a profound grasp of the Scriptures, especially Isaiah whom he quoted during his inaugural address in the hometown synagogue (Luke 4:16-22). We know from the temptation scene how anxious Jesus was to break loose as soon as possible and to fulfill all the promises. More than anything else, however, he was obedient to the will of his heavenly father. Even now the spirit of Isaiah stirs within the hearts of some of our fellow-disciples, whose generous hearts are prompted to go to foreign lands. Others are drawn to profound prayer and seek a contemplative way of life. Still others will be fired with hopes so adventurous as to seem impractical and unreal, as they see "the light of the moon . . . like that of the sun and the light of the sun . . . seven times greater!"

Although Jesus worked only with the house of Israel, he was continually giving hints and signals of his heart's desire to embrace the world. The adventurous missionaries help to keep alive similar hopes and desires in our hearts. At home we could become very selfish with all our good gifts, were it not for these laborers who go to the harvest areas of the world. "What you have freely received, give as a gift. " This Advent we prepare to celebrate the new birth of Jesus within our families and parishes. May such good gifts close at home make us desire that our great Teacher no longer hide himself but enable everyone to see with their own eyes.

Lord of Compassion

The Gospels rarely refer to the emotions of Jesus. But today, Matthew notes that when Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. "Compassion" is a powerful emotion by which we identify with the situation of others and are moved to action. Jesus' compassion for the crowd expressed itself in two ways in the gospel. He told his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest. These harassed and dejected people need workers to journey with them and to lead them. What he did was to appoint some workers himself. He summoned twelve from his disciples and empowered them to extend his own life-giving presence to others who may not meet Jesus personally. Where do we find ourselves in that gospel reading? Sometimes we may be among those who are harassed and dejected. If so, the gospel assures us that the Lord is with us in our valley of darkness; he is always drawing near to us in his compassion. At other times we may be among the workers whom the Lord wants to send into his harvest to journey with those who are harassed and dejected. If so, the gospel assures us that in sending us the Lord will also empower us for the work he is asking us to do.

2nd Week of Advent

Monday of Week 2

First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

They shall see the glory of the Lord, and the ransomed exiles shall return to Zion

The desert and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the desert, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Gospel: Luke 5:17-26

Jesus heals the paralysed man, showing that he has authority to forgive sins

One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven you. " Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, "Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Stand up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" — he said to the one who was paralyzed — "I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home. " Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, "We have seen strange things today."

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Reason to rejoice

Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord's redeemed people streaming back from exile, across a desert now flowing with fresh water; and the front of this triumphant procession is already entering Zion, the Holy City. In the Gospel by contrast, Jesus is embroiled in a petty theological argument. We do not know what he was discussing, surrounded by a large group of people as well as by Pharisees and teachers of the law. Clearly confusion and consternation set in when several men made an opening in the roof and lowered a paralytic with his mat into the middle of the crowd. Our Lord abruptly stopped the discussion but stirred up an even hotter debate when he said to the paralytic: "My friend, your sins are forgiven you."

For Jesus, the forgiveness of sin was linked with total concern for the other person. To show the full implication of spiritual transformation, he cured the paralytic who then "stood erect . . . picked up the mat he had been lying on and went home praising God. " We realize as well that the sacrament of reconciliation ought not to be confined exclusively to forgiving sins, but should extend into a dialogue for reconciling the penitent with neighbour and with all aspects of life.

The Church's apostolate cannot be faithful to Jesus if it is confined to people's souls alone. To forgive sins requires that we be anxious to help the other person in all areas of his life. It requires that the Church take seriously the social sins of today's world and work vigorously to remedy social injustices.  We too must be instruments of love, so that our kindliness toward the physical and material needs of others will induce a charity strong enough to burn away sin. The removal of sin ought to have repercussions across the total lives of others. Sometimes we may first address the sins and faults, at other times it will be more sensible to care first for the physical needs of others, always concerned for their full human dignity.

Bypassing obstacles

Very often in life we come across barriers of one kind or another that we have to negotiate. We set ourselves a worthwhile goal and problems stand in our way. When we head in a particular direction we discover the obstacles that can block our way. The temptation is often to lose heart, to give up or to turn back. In today's gospel, the friends of a paralysed man wanted to get their friend to Jesus but they found that other people were blocking their way; they encountered a significant obstacle or barrier. Rather than give up or turn back, they found a way around the barrier, climbing up onto a roof with their friend and letting him down through the tiles before Jesus. Jesus was very taken by their faith, their persistent faith. Here was a little community of faith, the paralytic and his friends, who kept their focus on the Lord and on journeying towards him, in spite of the obstacles and setbacks they encountered along the way. In many ways this little community of faith can be an inspiration for us this Advent season when we are called to keep journeying towards the Lord, to keep our focus on him, in spite of whatever may be at work in our lives to keep us from the Lord. Jesus surprised them all by first saying to the man, "Your sins are forgiven." The paralytic needed spiritual as well as physical healing and his spiritual healing took priority. As we keep our focus on the Lord this Advent, we look to him for our own spiritual healing.

Tuesday of Week 2

First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort ye my people! — the promised return of the exiles from Babylon.

"Comfort, O comfort my people," says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Gospel: Matthew 18:12-14

The shepherd rejoices to find the lost sheep.

Jesus said to his disciples, "What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost."

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And now I'm found

I once was lost, And now I'm found. There is a hidden depth in each one of us which, when it is found by God, our Good Shepherd, will become God's instrument for transforming our existence. We will have joybecause the ninety-nine percent of ourselves will be transformed by this one percent. The lost sheep is that buried, secluded or forgotten part within each of us.
A good example of the lost sheep is seen in the prophet-author of Second Isaiah, telling of his prophetic call that originated in God's heavenly throne room. God calls to the many celestial beings around his throne: "Comfort, O comfort my people!" One after another these angelic creatures shout, as it were, to the earth below:

A prophet of mighty ability replied with the question: "What shall I cry out?" and then began a prophetic career leading to the composition of the most golden poetry in the Bible. Yet, for the prophet himself, the people's return to their homeland, away from the Babylonian exile, turned out to be a way toward rejection and oblivion. His name was forgotten and his exquisite poetry simply added to the scroll of the earlier prophet Isaiah. He was like the lost sheep waiting to be found by the Lord.

Jesus and his first disciples turned to this prophecy. Through it they could see John the Baptist as preparing the way of the Lord, and it helped the disciples find peace after their Master's death by execution, as they read passages like chapter 42 and chapter 53. We look forward to Christmas when Jesus steps anew into our lives to uncover hidden meanings, talents and hopes that can turn our lives around.


Not letting the individual be lost

The behaviour of the shepherd in this gospel could seem a little foolish. He leaves ninety nine sheep on the hillside to go in search of one sheep who has rambled off and is now lost. He leaves the flock defenceless to go looking for one. He risks all ninety nine for the sake of one sheep. The attitude of the shepherd is the opposite to the attitude of the high priest Caiaphas who said, with reference to Jesus, "It is better for one man to die for the people than to have the whole nation perish." In other words, it is better to have one man killed than to put the nation at risk; that one individual is expendable for the sake of the many.

The shepherd in today's parable certainly was not of that view. Jesus was presenting the shepherd as an image of God, and indeed of Jesus himself. God in Jesus is concerned about the one. The one is of infinite value. The Lord values each one of us; he calls each one of us by name; none of us is expendable in his sight. The Lord is equally devoted to each one of us. The parable calls on us to value each other as much as the Lord values each of us.

Wednesday of Week 2

1st Reading: Isaiah 40:25-31

Encouragement for the weary people, from God, who strengthens the powerless

To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God." Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even young men will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Gospel: Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden is light

Jesus said to his disciples, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

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Easing our burdens

The great anonymous prophet of the Babylonian exile (Second Isaiah), was summoned by God to comfort and strengthen the people, whose memories were haunted by the destruction of their holy city, Jerusalem. Their family bonds as well as their familiar ways of life had been shattered. The prophet imagined them saying : "My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God." As we read yesterday, God summoned Isaiah to comfort these desolate people and to announce their return to their own land along the way of the Lord. In response to God's inspiration, he composed the melodious, richly theological poems in chapters 40-55. As he comforted the people, he stirred their hopes.

Whenever we show trust in people, we strengthen them and so make their burden light. If we sense that someone has great hopes in us — not just in what we can do for them but rather in us — we are complimented and buoyed up, almost enabled to soar with eagle's wings!

When we truly trust other people and are bonded with them in love, it adds zest to life and lessens the danger of monotony. Then we who are weary will be refreshed. To take this burden upon ourselves in imitation of Jesus, actually refreshes us. It is always a transforming experience to undertake a great work with someone who is gentle and humble of heart. Then his word comes true for us, "My yoke is easy and my burden light."


Not growing weary

There is a close correspondence between the image of God in the first reading and the image of Jesus in the gospel. In Isaiah God speaks of himself as one who never grows weary and, because of that, can help the wearied and strengthen the powerless. In the gospel Jesus speaks of himself as one who gives rest to those who work and are overburdened. As a result, he calls on all those who toil and are overburdened to come to him. The message of both readings fits so perfectly with the Year of Mercy proclaimed by pope Francis, which started on yesterday's feast.

We are the members of the Lord's body in the world today. It is through us that the Lord's promise to the tired and weary, to the powerless, to the burdened, comes to pass. Your work as members of the Vincent de Paul society is a very focused way of allowing the Lord to bring his great promise to reality. It is in and through your ministry that people experience the Lord who never grows weary himself but is always at work to bring strength to the weary. If you are to keep going at that important ministry, you need to draw strength from the Lord yourselves. The end of that first reading says, "Young men may grow tired and weary; youths may stumble." How much more is that the case with those of us who no longer quite qualify as youths. We can easily grow tired and weary, including growing tired and weary of serving others. The reading declares that "those who hope in the Lord renew their strength, they put our wings like eagles." We need to keep drawing on the Lord's strength if we are to give his strength to others. At the heart of our relationship with those you serve is our own relationship with the Lord. Advent is a good season to come before the Lord in our weakness, perhaps in our tiredness, and to ask him to fill us with his strength, so that we can be channels of his life-giving strength to others, especially to those who are overburdened.

Thursday of Week 2

1st Reading: Isaiah 41:13-20

The Lord says to his weary people, "Do not fear, for I will help you"

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Do not fear, for I will help you." Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel! I will help you, says the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. Now, I will make of you a threshing sledge, sharp, new, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff. You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them. Then you shall rejoice in the Lord; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the desert a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the desert the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, so that all may see and know, all may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Gospel: Matthew 11:7-15

John the Baptist was great, but those in the kingdom are greater still

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the desert to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!"

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The role of John the Baptist

John's disciples came to Jesus with a question. From his prison he sent two of them to ask, "re you he who is to come, or must we look for another?" Jesus points them to what they had heard and seen him do, miracles of grace which clearly indicated that he was the awaited Messiah, the Christ. After they had left he gave the testimony about John that we have just read, and it is high praise indeed.

What Jesus said about John was intended not only to praise him, but for the people's profit, to revive their memory of John's ministry, which had been well attended, but which was in danger of being forgotten. He reminded them of John's merits "What did you go out into the desert to see?" John had preached in the desert, and despite the inconvenient location the people flocked in crowds to him. If his preaching was worth taking such trouble to hear it, surely it was worth taking some care to recollect it. Jesus puts it to them, "What did ye go out to see?" He notes how John was a firm, resolute man, not a reed shaken with the wind — who would bow to pressure. He was not wavering in his principles but was remarkable for his steadiness in face of Herod's rage.

John was a self-denying man, mortified to this world. Was he a man clothed in soft garments? If so, they would not have gone into the desert to see him, but gone to the royal court to admire fine fashions. They went out to see a man clothed in camel's hair, and a leather belt about his loins, living a simple lifestyle in tune with the desert he lived in, and the doctrine he preached there was one of repentance. A true preacher must not look like a fashionable court official. John's appearance was rough and simple, but his message had vigour and they flocked to hear him. He was a prophet, Jesus said, and more than a prophet. John had said of himself, he was not the great prophet, the Messiah; but Jesus says of him that he was more than a prophet. He was the great forerunner who prepared people's hearts to receive the message of Jesus. John saw Jesus' day coming like the day dawning, when he pointed to him and said, 'Behold the Lamb of God!'

Jesus closes this comments with a solemn call to attention: "Whoever has ears to hear, listen!" which suggests, "If John is the Elijah whose return is promised in prophecy, then a great revolution is near, the Messiah is at the door, and the world will shortly be surprised by a happy change, for God's kingdom is very near at hand."

High praise indeed

What Jesus says about John the Baptist in today's gospel is high praise indeed, "of all the children born of women, greater than John the Baptist has never been born." John is deserving of such praise because, as Jesus says in that reading, he is the prophet whose coming all of the Jewish Scriptures looked forward to. He is the Elijah figure who, it was believed, would immediately precede the coming of the Messiah. Yet, having praised John the Baptist for his unique status, Jesus goes on to make an even more remarkable statement, "the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is." John had been beheaded before he could really hear and respond to Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God. However, through the written gospels and through the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us, we have heard and responded to Jesus' preaching of the kingdom of God. Our union with Jesus through faith and our commitment to living as his disciple leaves us in any even more privileged place than that of John the Baptist. Advent is a time to give thanks for the gift of the gospel and of our faith response to it. It is also a time to heed the call to grow in our appreciation of that gift and in the quality of our response to it.

Friday of Week 2

1st Reading: Isaiah 48:17-19

If you kept my commandments, your name would last forever

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go. O that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your prosperity would have been like a river, and your success like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me."

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19

Foolish people listened neither to the Baptist nor to Jesus

Jesus said to his disciples, "To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."

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Accepting charismatic diversity

Each person tends to opt for one lifestyle among various possibilities, since God created each of us with a distinctive personality, special preferences, individualized vocations. Because we tend to become overly specialized with strong likes and dislikes, we badly need others to complement what we are lacking. St. Paul even went so far as to say that each of us must fill up what is lacking in the body of Christ! Yet we tend to resist this advice; we do not want to admit our weaknesses. We even become defensive and then aggressive if others detect our inability to perform or control.

This ability to fill in what is missing in any of us is suggested by Jesus' words. He quoted a proverb to the effect that we need joyful people who readily dance and compassionate people who readily sympathize. Yet every initiative can be spurned and ridiculed: "We piped you a tune but you did not dance! We sang you a dirge but you did not wail!" Jesus was leading up to this punchline: John the Baptist was seen neither eating nor drinking, and people say, "He is mad!" The Son of Man was seen eating and drinking, and they say, "He is a glutton and a drunkard, a lover of tax collectors and those outside the law!" Many practical conclusions can be drawn from these words, but most of all he is pleading with us to give the other person a chance. We must not judge harshly nor condemn too quickly. Others have every right to that which God provides so plentifully and so freely, namely time.

If we remain united in love, we will be long in patience and slow with judgment. We will persevere through all difficulties and give everyone the necessary time and space to grow and to make his contribution. We will feel a serious need for the help and contribution of others, all the more as we develop our own specialized talents. Only through others will we be truly balanced and integral in our values and attitude.

Dances and dirges

Jesus was a keen observer of people of all ages. He often spoke about his own ministry and the kingdom of God using practical images drawn from day to day life. The gospel says we find him drawing on his observation of children at play in the market square. Sometimes their games reflect the joy of life. Some pretend to play pipes while other children dance to the music. At other times their games reflect the sorrows of life. Some children would sing dirges while others would mourn and wail in response. Jesus noticed how some children refused to join in any game; they wouldn't dance when the pipes were played and they wouldn't be mourners when dirges were sung. These unresponsive children remind Jesus of some adults round about him; they would neither mourn in response to the grim message of John the Baptist nor dance in response to the joyful message of Jesus. They dismissed John as possessed and Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard. It is interesting how Jesus identifies his own ministry with the piper and the dance. His life and his message are good news, the good news of God's love for us all; he plays a joyful tune. We are called to move in unison with the music of Jesus, the music of his Spirit in our lives. We try to attune ourselves to the Lord's rhythm and melody and allow it to shape all that we say and do. That is our Advent calling in preparation for our celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Saturday of Week 2

1st Reading: Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11

Lyrical praise of Elijah,  whose prophetic word burned like a torch

Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire,
and his word burned like a torch.
He brought a famine upon them,
and by his zeal he made them few in number.

By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens,
and also three times brought down fire.
How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with horses of fire.

At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined
to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the hearts of parents to their children,
and to restore the tribes of Jacob. Happy are those who saw you
and were adorned with your love!
For we also shall surely live.

Gospel: Matthew 17:10-13

John the Baptist was the Elijah the fore-runner of the Messiah

As they were coming down the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus, "Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He replied, "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

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Elijah's legacy

Elijah certainly caught the imagination of the Jews, because he was taken up from earth in a whirlwind (2 Kgs 2:11); and Jewish tradition expected his return to preach repentance and renewal before the great messianic age would dawn. While John the Baptist imaged the more austere and stern aspects of Elijah, Jesus also saw himself in the role of Elijah, but rather as the persecuted prophet who ushers in the day of the Lord. As tradition was handed on in biblical times, it tended to absorb the aspirations and hopes of each generation. Elijah came to symbolize the longed-for transformation of Israel through God's exceptional intervention.

Today's text from Sirach sees Elijah's greatest legacy as reestablishing unity within the families and tribes of Israel. But unity was and is a most difficult goal to achieve. If a serious division sets in between members of the same nation or family, it seems impossible to restore any kind of peaceful agreement. When religious groups split from one another, we end up with the scandal of division within Christianity, not to mention the violent differences now seething in the Middle East.

Both Jesus and the Baptist encountered fierce opposition. Because John Baptist confronted king Herod for his immoral union with his brother's wife, he was eventually beheaded. Because Jesus strove for dignity and acceptance for people considered outlaws by religious authorities he too was hounded by opposition. Both the Baptist and Jesus stood for common decency and normal human dignity. They worked for unity, and paid for it with the price of their lives.

Future foreshadowed

In the gospel today Jesus identifies John the Baptist with the prophet Elijah, whose return was expected just before the coming of the long awaited Messiah. Jesus says of the Elijah-type figure, John the Baptist, that "they did not recognize him, but treated him as they pleased." The experience of the Baptist would become the experience of Jesus himself, as Jesus says in that reading, "the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands." Both John and Jesus proclaimed the values of God's kingdom and both of them suffered greatly for doing so. Even as we draw nearer to celebrating the birth of Jesus we are being reminded of the cross that awaited this child. There is a painting of the birth of Jesus that especially impresses me. At the bottom of the painting there is an image of the adult Christ under the beam of the cross looking upon the baby. At Christmas we celebrate the good news that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Today's gospel reminds us that God's giving was a giving-unto-death, a giving that cost not less than everything. It is this costly gift that we open our hearts to receive anew at this time of the year, so that we can give to others what God has given to us.

3rd Week of Advent

Monday of Week 3

1st Reading: Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17

Balaam predicts the glorious future, the Age of the Messiah

Balaam looked up and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. Then the spirit of God came upon him, and he uttered his oracle, saying: "The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is clear, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, but with eyes uncovered: how fair are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! Like palm-groves that stretch far away, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the Lord has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters. Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall have abundant water, his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.

So he uttered his oracle, saying: "The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is clear, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, but with his eyes uncovered: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near — a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the borderlands of Moab, and the territory of all the Shethites."

Gospel: Matthew 21:23-27

When they challenge his authority, Jesus points to John's spiritual authority

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

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Facing the truth

We must be honest with ourselves, with others and with God who is over all. We cannot forever dodge or camouflage the truth, and bluff our way along. In the case of Balaam, a foreign prophet was hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse Israel. Yet the messengers of the king could not induce him to act against the Lord's will. Balaam replied: ."ven if Balak gave me his house full of silver and gold, I could not act contrary to the command of the Lord, my God. But wait till I learn what else the Lord may tell me (Num 22:18-19).

From the last sentence we see that Balaam was anxious for guidance from the Lord agreeable to the king. "Wait overnight," he says, "and maybe tomorrow I will learn something else from the Lord!" The story now takes on a touch of grim humor. Because Balaam deludes himself with the hope that the Lord might change the message to one congenial to the Moabite King, the donkey on which he was riding became stubborn, went off the road and even talked back to its master. When Balaam attempts to beat the donkey into submission, the animal answers back: "Am I not your own beast, and have you not always ridden upon me until now?" The implication is: animals are more obedient than human beings. Where animals respond instinctively to life, people will go in circles to deny or avoid the obvious. In the last resort we sometimes refuse to answer. Such was the case of the religious leaders in Jesus' day. When they challenged Jesus' authority to heal and to teach, Jesus replied: I too will ask a question [of you]. If you answer it for me, then I will tell you on what authority I do the things I do. What was the origin of John's baptism? Was it divine or merely human?

The leaders feared the people's wrath and would not dare to say that John the Baptist was a fake. Yet under no condition were they willing to agree that John who pointed to Jesus as the promised one could ever have spoken with divine authority. So their reply to Jesus was: We do not know. But if people from all ways of life persistently called John a prophet and remained loyal to him even when it was politically dangerous because of Herod the Tetrarch, then the odds are highly in favour of John that he was a genuine prophet and spoke with divine authority. Common sense and a strong consensus among many good people cannot be denied without denying God, their creator, nor can anyone remain passive or neutral when such a person as John speaks in the name of God.

Sophisticated people, or indeed most of us in areas of life where we may feel educated and secure, will continually be challenged by common folk who speak the honest-to-God truth. Unless we listen to them and seek the truth, Jesus will say to us: "Neither will I tell you on what authority I do the things I do." Lord, give me an open heart to listen and a willing spirit to respond to you, in my life.

The House of God

The question asked of Jesus in today's Gospel follows from his cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem, "What authority have you for acting like this?" The religious leders claimed authority over the Temple and they certainly had not given Jesus permission to do what he did, driving out all who were selling and buying in the Temple, overturning the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. Jesus did not give a direct answer to their question. but the attentive reader of Matthew's gospel knows where Jesus gets his authority. From the start of this gospel we are told that one of Jesus' names is Emmanuel, which means "God is with us."

God is present in a unique way in Jesus, and that is why Jesus has such authority in God's house, the Temple. Because Jesus is God with us, Jesus knows what is in keeping with God's will and what is not. He clearly saw that the way the Temple was being run was not in accordance with God's will. We are drawing ever closer to the feast of the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. We celebrate the birth of this child because we recognize that he came to reveal God's will for our lives by all that he said and did. He not only reveals God's will for our lives; he also empowers us to live in this way by pouring the Holy Spirit into our hearts.

Tuesday of Week 3

1st Reading: Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13

The people's future conversion: the humble shall seek refuge in the Lord.

Ah, soiled, defiled, oppressing city! It has listened to no voice; it has accepted no correction. It has not trusted in the Lord; it has not drawn near to its God. At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.

From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, my scattered ones, shall bring my offering. On that day you shall not be put to shame because of all the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.

For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord — the remnant of Israel; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. Then they will pasture and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid.

Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32

Parable about two sons: one refuses but obeys; one agrees but disobeys.

Jesus said to them, "What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, 'I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Bible


Respecting non-conformists

The prophet alludes to the deeper level of our existence, where we exist simply as God's creatures. Every human being starts in mother's womb, somehow made in God's image. Our en-souled flesh-and-blood humanity we share with others, whether they be religious or not. Their human nature deserves our respect. The prophet sees human dignity in "a people humble and lowly," and reflects that our very humility attracts God's tender compassion. Therefore he sees great potential in the reduced remnant that survived the exile. "They shall do no wrong and speak no lies; Nor shall there be found in their mouths a deceitful tongue."
Jesus made it his special ministry to reconcile and respect tax collectors and prostitutes, shamed people in the eyes of official religious leaders. Provocatively, he told the parable about a man with two sons, one of whom was outwardly pious and always said and did the right thing. The comparison with the religious authorities was too clear to need further elaboration. The other son was headstrong, disobedient and self-willed, the kind of character whose instinctive reply to authority is a quick "No!" before taking time to think. He was like the tax collectors and the prostitutes whose lives were quite disorderly, at first sight. And yet many of them repented and humbly listened to John the Baptist, who respected them as people whose shame could be lifted and whose dignity could be restored.

What of ourselves? Do we help people keep their dignity or do we prefer reminding them of their faults? The infant Christ recalls our basic humanity as created by God. He requires of his followers to give each person a chance to be truly who he or she is, respecting them as God's image as truly as we ourselves are. Respecting the dignity of others will not wlways be easy. We might suffer the same slur as did Jesus, for being "a friend of tax collectors and prostitutes." Jesus took that slur in his stride, but he suffered for it. We too could be blamed for allowing people a second chance, letting them be our friends, with every right to "call upon the name of the Lord."

People who keep their word

We value people who keep their word to us. We appreciate those who are true to the promises that they make to us. The Lord also appreciates our efforts to be true to the promises we make to him. In the parable Jesus speaks in the gospel today, one of the sons of the father did not keep the promise he made to him. He promised to work in the vineyard but did not. He was not a man of his word. The other son went in the opposite direction; he initially said no but then thought better of it and did what was asked of him. We probably appreciate that quality in people too, the capacity to reflect on an initial decision and to have a change of mind, a change of heart, for the better. The Lord appreciates that same quality in us, the openness to a change of mind and heart for the better. When the Lord calls and we say no, he does not take that initial refusal as definitive, but is ready to wait on our change of mind and heart. The Lord gives us time to think better of our initial response to him. Having moved from a no to a yes, he looks to us to be faithful to our yes. He looks to us to keep our word, to allow our promise to him to shape what we do, how we live.

Wednesday of Week 3

1st Reading: Isaiah 45:6-8

The living God, creator of all, than whome there is no other

They shall know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things. Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it.

For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is no one besides me.

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: "To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear." Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; all who were incensed against him shall come to him and be ashamed. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory.

Gospel: Luke 7:18-23

Jesus' healing ministry shows him as the One who is to come

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" When the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?'" Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

Bible


God's saving power

According to Isaiah, the Lord creates both light and darkness, well-being and woe. These contrary forces meet in another way in the Gospel. John the Baptist, already imprisoned by Herod Antipas and surrounded by darkness and woe, sends messengers to Jesus. The question John asks show the darkness and quandary he felt, "Are you He who is come or are we to expect someone else?" Jesus' reply brings light to John, even in his dark dungeon: "Go and report. . . The blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, dead people are raised to life, and the poor have the good news preached to them." The Baptist will know that Jesus is the promised one, because of his healing works. Yet these marvelous acts of compassion were denied to John himself, who stayed in prison, soon to be executed because of the scheming revenge of Herodias and the weakness of the Tetrarch.

We too are invited to believe in Jesus as the Lord of life and death, present in both strength and weakness. But being true to him requires a strong faith. When we enjoy prosperity we may easily forget the presence of God. Similarly, amid pain and disappointment we can be embittered and rebel against God. If we are sick, we should believe that Jesus has power to cure us, even should he not do so, just as he left John the Baptist in prison. If we enjoy good health, we must see it as God's gift to be shared and spent for others.

No human reasoning can explain why God creates and directs darkness and woe equally as much as he forms light and well-being. We can investigate the universe without finding an adequate clue to this mystery. It's impossible for us to comprehend God's decisions. The prophet of the Babylonian exile who wrote today's first reading ridicules those who pretend to advise God and to understand his ways. He asks them: "Who has held in a measure the dust of the earth, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?" Faced with mystery, the prophet believes that God must have an answer, so sublime that none of us can comprehend it.. The moments of darkness and woe are as much God's creation as the cycle of day and night in which we live.

Must be wait for someone else?

John the Baptist, from his prison cell, sends some friends to Jesus to ask him, "Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for someone else?" It seems that, sitting in his prison cell, John was beginning to have doubts about Jesus. John had announced that Jesus would be a fiery prophet of judgment, with his winnowing fork in his hand, gathering the wheat into the granary and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. Jesus had not turned out quite like that. In his opening homily, according to Luke, Jesus declares that he has come to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

Indeed Jesus was the visitor from on high, the visitor from God, and his work was to reveal the hospitable love of God for all. He turned out to be less judgemental and more hospitable that John had expected, for Jesus' coming was good news, an occasion of joy, especially for those who were broken and battered in body or mind or spirit. When we come before the Lord in our brokenness, in our poverty, in our weakness and need, we will always experience his presence as healing and life-giving and renewing. That is good news for the church, especially in these times.

Thursday of Week 3

1st Reading: Genesis 49:2, 8-10

The dying Jacob predicts future glory for the tribe of Judah

Jacob called his sons and said to them:
"Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob;
listen to Israel your father.
Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father's sons shall bow down before you.

Judah is a lion's whelp;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,
like a lioness — who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and the obedience of the peoples is his."

Gospel: Matthew 1:1-17

Genealogy of Jesus, back to Abraham

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

After the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Bible


Of David's Royal Blood

Matthew poses some questions about Jesus: Where has he come from? What is he here for? And ultimately, who is he, in relation to God and to mankind? His account opens with the genealogy, an ingenious reconstruction, based on a close reading of the Old Testament, to situate Jesus four-square at the heart of Israel's lineage. That it is an artistic, literary construct rather than a soberly factual genealogy, is strongly hinted by dividing the list neatly into three sets of fourteen generations — one set, from the Founding Father (Abraham) to the heights of royal splendour (David, a man after God's heart); then one from the royal heights to the bitter depths of the Babylonian Captivity; finally, and this time with less guidance from the Old Testament, tracing his lineage from the Captivity down to Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.

While the mainline genealogy is counted from father to son, on the way, Matthew mentions some surprising women who were unexpectedly incorporated into the Messiah's lineage: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) — all of whom prepare the reader for the ultimate surprise: Joseph is not really Jesus' father at all, since Mary has conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Where has he come from, then? Ultimately, and miraculously, from God; though also from Abraham and David, by indirect family links. Later, Matthew will answer his own other significant questions: What is he here for? And who is he? with one single phrase: Jesus is Emmanuel or God with us.

Family background

Today we have perhaps the strangest gospel reading of the whole liturgical year. We might ask, "Why did the evangelist Matthew bother with that long list of forty two names?" But it was clearly important to communicate some sense of Jesus' family tree. There is an increasing interest in family trees in recent times. More and more people want to know their own background. "Who are the people who have helped to make me the person I am?" Each of us is very aware that the story of our ancestors is an important part of our own story. It is that part of our story which is below ground, like the roots of a tree. Matthew was very aware that the story of Jesus' ancestors was an important chapter in Jesus' own story. Jesus had parents, grandparents, great grandparents. Some of the people that Matthew mentions as part of Jesus' family tree were anything but saints. All shades of human nature were to be found there. Yet, God brought the Saviour of the world out of that very imperfect succession of people. There is hope in that realization, especially in these difficult days for the church. The Lord continues to bring good out of experiences that are tainted by sin and human failure. We need to keep on trusting that the Lord is always at work, even in situations that seem on the surface to be very unpromising.

Friday of Week 3

1st Reading: Jeremiah 23:5-8

A righteous Branch who will rule with wisdom and justice

"The days are surely coming," says the Lord, "when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."

"Therefore, the days are surely coming," says the Lord, "when it shall no longer be said, "as the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt," but "As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them." Then they shall live in their own land."

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph is told of the conception of Jesus, who  will save his people from their sins

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Bible


An Ongoing Mission

God willed that His own eternal Son would be the Saviour of the entire human race. In the lavish language of Jeremiah, we hear about him as the "Righteous Branch will be raised up from David's descendants, and that through him his people will be saved and live in safety. In the Gospel, Jesus is described as the one who will save his people from their sins. To save us is why he came! In order to do so, although he was God from eternity, he chose to take on our humanity, fully and in the flesh, by being born of a mother. That was Mary's major role and mission: to be the mother who served God's saving plan. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, "to become the mother of the Saviour, Mary was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to her role. The angel Gabriel salutes her as "full of grace" — totally ready for her great mission in life.

As God prepared Mary for her role and mission, so are we too prepared for what is asked of us. This principle — that God prepares those whom He chooses for their role and mission — is true for everyone who is prepared to serve God. We are chosen and called to holiness. God has prepared us for works of service and of live; by giving us Jesus to be our Lord and guide, by calling us to the saving waters of Baptism, by giving us the support of the Church and its Sacraments, and by strengthening us to cooperate with His saving will.

The role of Joseph

In Matthew's gospel, there is no annunciation to Mary, but there is an annunciation to Joseph. That is the gospel. In Luke's gospel, the angel Gabriel says to Mary, "Do not be afraid." In Matthew, the nameless angel says to Joseph, "Do not be afraid." God was doing something new, something extraordinary, in the life of Mary and of Joseph, indeed, in the life of the human race. The unprecedented nature of what God was doing led to understandable fear and anxiety in the lives of those most directly affected, Mary and Joseph. Both of them needed a word of reassurance, "Do not be afraid" at the beginning of this new phase of what God was doing. In times of transition when disturbing events are occurring around us, we all need to hear those words, "Do not be afraid." They are words which assure us of God's presence, God-with-us, Emmanuel, at the heart of all that is happening, even at the heart of his self-surrended on the mount of Calvary.

Saturday of Week 3

1st Reading: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25

Manoah's wife yearns for a son. Samson will be dedicated to God

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, "although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines." Then the woman came and told her husband, "A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; but he said to me, 'You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.'"

The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him. The spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Gospel: Luke 1:5-25

Glorious things foretold of John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Zechariah said to the angel, "how will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years?" The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur."

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, "this is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people."

Bible

Great things in store for us

There are many interesting parallels in the bible stories about God granting the gift of children to those who longed for them. After years of waiting, Abraham and Sarah were blessed with Isaac, Manoah and his wife were blessed with Samson, and — in today's Gospel, Zechariah and Elizabeth were blessed with the great fore-runner, John the Baptist.

Luke has annunciation stories to both Zechariah and Mary, in parallel yet distinctive accounts. Each is startled at the angel's appearance. Gabriel instructs each not to be afraid. Each is promised a child and given a hint of his or her child's future greatness.

Luke is careful to locate events in both time and place. After the message to Zechariah in Jerusalem that he and Elizabeth would have a son the mute priest, still not quite believing the news, returns to his home. Elizabeth has more faith and rejoices in her pregnancy, while staying secluded for the first five months. Then, in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the fuller meaning of what God is doing is made clear to her. Her young relative, Mary of Nazareth comes to her to be with her for a time, and share the news of her own blessed pregnancy — and to lift up joyful praise to God, who is coming to visit his people with saving grace.

Hesitation and hope

The angel Gabriel is sent to Zechariah to bring him the good news that his wife, Elizabeth, who has been barren will soon give birth to a son, and a special son at that, someone whose calling it would be to prepare for the Lord a people fit for him. However, this good news was too much for Zechariah to hear and he could not bring himself to believe the words that Gabriel spoke to him. Perhaps there is something of Zechariah in all of us. We sometimes find it hard to believe good news, perhaps because we are so used to hearing bad news. In particular, we can sometimes find it hard to believe the good news that comes to us from God; or we may believe the good news from God in a general kind of a way, but not as good news addressed to me personally. The dimension of God's good news that we celebrate at this time of the year is that God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has become God-with-us, Emmanuel, in and through Mary's son, Jesus. This is God's good news addressed to us as a people, and addressed to us as individuals. God is with us in Christ, and Christ is beside us, behind us, before us, above us, below us. This is the good news we are asked to believe and, indeed, rejoice in during these days.


17th to 24th December

These readings are used in the week before Christmas. The readings of the day on which the 4th Sunday of Advent falls are omitted, but they may be anticipated or used later on another day, to avoid duplication of those readings which occur on the 4th Sunday of Advent of that year.

December 17

1st Reading: Genesis 49:2, 8-10

The dying Jacob predicts future glory for the tribe of Judah

Jacob called his sons and said to them:
"Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob;
listen to Israel your father.
Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father's sons shall bow down before you.

Judah is a lion's whelp;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,
like a lioness — who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and the obedience of the peoples is his."

Gospel: Matthew 1:1-17

Genealogy of Jesus, back to Abraham

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

After the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Bible


Of David's Royal Blood

Matthew poses some questions about Jesus: Where has he come from? What is he here for? And ultimately, who is he, in relation to God and to mankind? His account opens with the genealogy, an ingenious reconstruction, based on a close reading of the Old Testament, to situate Jesus four-square at the heart of Israel's lineage. That it is an artistic, literary construct rather than a soberly factual genealogy, is strongly hinted by dividing the list neatly into three sets of fourteen generations — one set, from the Founding Father (Abraham) to the heights of royal splendour (David, a man after God's heart); then one from the royal heights to the bitter depths of the Babylonian Captivity; finally, and this time with less guidance from the Old Testament, tracing his lineage from the Captivity down to Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.

While the mainline genealogy is counted from father to son, on the way, Matthew mentions some surprising women who were unexpectedly incorporated into the Messiah's lineage: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) — all of whom prepare the reader for the ultimate surprise: Joseph is not really Jesus' father at all, since Mary has conceived him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Where has he come from, then? Ultimately, and miraculously, from God; though also from Abraham and David, by indirect family links. Later, Matthew will answer his own other significant questions: What is he here for? And who is he? with one single phrase: Jesus is Emmanuel or God with us.

Family background

Today we have perhaps the strangest gospel reading of the whole liturgical year. We might ask, "Why did the evangelist Matthew bother with that long list of forty two names?" But it was clearly important to communicate some sense of Jesus' family tree. There is an increasing interest in family trees in recent times. More and more people want to know their own background. "Who are the people who have helped to make me the person I am?" Each of us is very aware that the story of our ancestors is an important part of our own story. It is that part of our story which is below ground, like the roots of a tree. Matthew was very aware that the story of Jesus' ancestors was an important chapter in Jesus' own story. Jesus had parents, grandparents, great grandparents. Some of the people that Matthew mentions as part of Jesus' family tree were anything but saints. All shades of human nature were to be found there. Yet, God brought the Saviour of the world out of that very imperfect succession of people. There is hope in that realization, especially in these difficult days for the church. The Lord continues to bring good out of experiences that are tainted by sin and human failure. We need to keep on trusting that the Lord is always at work, even in situations that seem on the surface to be very unpromising.

December 18

1st Reading: Jeremiah 23:5-8

A righteous Branch who will rule with wisdom and justice

"The days are surely coming," says the Lord, "when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."

"Therefore, the days are surely coming," says the Lord, "when it shall no longer be said, "as the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt," but "As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them." Then they shall live in their own land."

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph is told of the conception of Jesus, who  will save his people from their sins

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Bible


An Ongoing Mission

God willed that His own eternal Son would be the Saviour of the entire human race. In the lavish language of Jeremiah, we hear about him as the "Righteous Branch will be raised up from David's descendants, and that through him his people will be saved and live in safety. In the Gospel, Jesus is described as the one who will save his people from their sins. To save us is why he came! In order to do so, although he was God from eternity, he chose to take on our humanity, fully and in the flesh, by being born of a mother. That was Mary's major role and mission: to be the mother who served God's saving plan. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, "to become the mother of the Saviour, Mary was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to her role. The angel Gabriel salutes her as "full of grace" — totally ready for her great mission in life.

As God prepared Mary for her role and mission, so are we too prepared for what is asked of us. This principle — that God prepares those whom He chooses for their role and mission — is true for everyone who is prepared to serve God. We are chosen and called to holiness. God has prepared us for works of service and of live; by giving us Jesus to be our Lord and guide, by calling us to the saving waters of Baptism, by giving us the support of the Church and its Sacraments, and by strengthening us to cooperate with His saving will.

The role of Joseph

In Matthew's gospel, there is no annunciation to Mary, but there is an annunciation to Joseph. That is the gospel. In Luke's gospel, the angel Gabriel says to Mary, "Do not be afraid." In Matthew, the nameless angel says to Joseph, "Do not be afraid." God was doing something new, something extraordinary, in the life of Mary and of Joseph, indeed, in the life of the human race. The unprecedented nature of what God was doing led to understandable fear and anxiety in the lives of those most directly affected, Mary and Joseph. Both of them needed a word of reassurance, "Do not be afraid" at the beginning of this new phase of what God was doing. In times of transition when disturbing events are occurring around us, we all need to hear those words, "Do not be afraid." They are words which assure us of God's presence, God-with-us, Emmanuel, at the heart of all that is happening, even at the heart of his self-surrended on the mount of Calvary.

December 19

1st Reading: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25

Manoah's wife yearns for a son. Samson will be dedicated to God

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, "although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines." Then the woman came and told her husband, "A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; but he said to me, 'You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.'"

The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him. The spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Gospel: Luke 1:5-25

Glorious things are foretold about John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Zechariah said to the angel, "how will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years?" The angel replied, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur."

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, "this is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people."

Bible

Great things in store for us

There are many interesting parallels in the bible stories about God granting the gift of children to those who longed for them. After years of waiting, Abraham and Sarah were blessed with Isaac, Manoah and his wife were blessed with Samson, and — in today's Gospel, Zechariah and Elizabeth were blessed with the great fore-runner, John the Baptist.

Luke has annunciation stories to both Zechariah and Mary, in parallel yet distinctive accounts. Each is startled at the angel's appearance. Gabriel instructs each not to be afraid. Each is promised a child and given a hint of his or her child's future greatness.

Luke is careful to locate events in both time and place. After the message to Zechariah in Jerusalem that he and Elizabeth would have a son the mute priest, still not quite believing the news, returns to his home. Elizabeth has more faith and rejoices in her pregnancy, while staying secluded for the first five months. Then, in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the fuller meaning of what God is doing is made clear to her. Her young relative, Mary of Nazareth comes to her to be with her for a time, and share the news of her own blessed pregnancy — and to lift up joyful praise to God, who is coming to visit his people with saving grace.

Hesitation and hope

The angel Gabriel is sent to Zechariah to bring him the good news that his wife, Elizabeth, who has been barren will soon give birth to a son, and a special son at that, someone whose calling it would be to prepare for the Lord a people fit for him. However, this good news was too much for Zechariah to hear and he could not bring himself to believe the words that Gabriel spoke to him. Perhaps there is something of Zechariah in all of us. We sometimes find it hard to believe good news, perhaps because we are so used to hearing bad news. In particular, we can sometimes find it hard to believe the good news that comes to us from God; or we may believe the good news from God in a general kind of a way, but not as good news addressed to me personally. The dimension of God's good news that we celebrate at this time of the year is that God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has become God-with-us, Emmanuel, in and through Mary's son, Jesus. This is God's good news addressed to us as a people, and addressed to us as individuals. God is with us in Christ, and Christ is beside us, behind us, before us, above us, below us. This is the good news we are asked to believe and, indeed, rejoice in during these days.

December 20

1st Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14

King Ahaz refuses to ask a sign of the Lord; Isaiah promises a child to be called Immanuel

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, "Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test."

Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

The annunciation to Mary, who will conceive and give birth to Jesus

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel as sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Bible


The Most Wonderful News

The Annunciation story is full of splendid promise, radiant with a bright future. God's messenger tells of a coming Saviour: "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High… He will reign forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Setting these lines alongside all the other echoes of joy in Luke's opening chapters, and we have the happy prospect of a God who wants every human being to be saved – to have a share in God's own endless fullness of life.


Luke's account of the annunciation concludes with Mary's total response of acceptance, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me." Greatly favoured, she responds generously, with her whole life, to the grace she has received. For St. Luke, Mary is not simply the mother of Jesus; she is the perfect disciple of Jesus. Like him, she gives herself over to God's purpose for her life. Today's gospel suggests that she struggled to discern and come to terms with God's purpose for her life. She was disturbed by the words of Gabriel and had many questions; at the birth of Jesus she would ponder as well as treasure the words of the shepherds. When Jesus was twelve years old she would puzzle over and treasure his words to herself and Joseph. She pondered and reflected, to discern what God was asking of her. We are all trying to be disciples, inspired by the example of Mary. Like her we struggle at times to know what God wants for us in the here and now; we try to give ourselves as generously as Mary did, even in the midst of our many questions. She shows how one can be faithful without fully understanding what God is doing in our own lives and in the lives of others. As we take the path of discipleship that Mary took, looking to her to help us, we ask her to pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

December 21

1st Reading: Song of Songs 2:8-14

Lyrical love-poetry from king Solomon, about the beloved who is coming

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look, there he stands behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
"Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over an gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely."

Alternative 1st Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-18

A hymn of joy to God my Saviour

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.

Gospel: Luke 1:39-45

The mutual encouragement of Mary and Elizabeth

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

Bible

Intimate, spiritual friendship

There's a beautiful tone of intimacy and affection in both readings for today. The Song of Songs pours out some of the lovely, lyrical love-poetry written by King Solomon for his young bride from Egypt, describing the overflowing emotions of love between them at the time of their nuptuals. In Luke's account of the Visitation we sense the mutual spiritual friendship bonding Mary with Elizabeth, as they ponder how God has blessed both of them, and through them so many others who would come live life more fully because of John the Baptist and of Jesus.

Sharing faith is not always easy. An evangelical preacher once said, "When I tell people about my experience of joy since becoming a Christian, they often scoff that this Jesus stuff is just a crutch for weak people! Do you know what I think? If Jesus is a crutch, then give me two!" We need to share what we have felt, and it can benefit both ourselves and those with whom we share our spiritual experience.

Mary and Elizabeth felt the saving grace of God flowing through their lives — and were not afraid to encourage each other by saying so. Many of us were raised on the principle that 'God helps those who help themselves' and that displays of need are out of place in the pursuit of holiness. Maybe we need to learn again what Elizabeth says so clearly: that God is a gracious God, and it is a blessed thing to believe in that graciousness.

December 22

1st Reading: 1 Samuel 1:24-28

Hannah dedicates her young son to a life of service to God

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, "Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord." She left him there for the Lord.

Gospel: Luke 1:46-56

Mary's hymn of praise and thanksgiving, the Magnificat

In the house of Zechariah, Mary said,

"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

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Dedicated to the Lord's service

Having longed for a son, and being finally blessed with the boy Samuel, the grateful mother, Hannah, wants nothing more than that he serve the Lord all his days. Her prayer is very touching: "I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord." Dedication to God is the highest purpose of life, and it can be pursued in many and various ways. In our Catholic tradition, we honour Mary's as the hightest example of totally devoted life, apart from and parallel to her son's complete self-giving. The most perfect expression of Mary's dedicated heart is found in today's lovely hymn of praise, the Magnificat. Here we see her rejoicing in the God who has filled the hungry with good things, and raises up the lowly.

Venerable Bede wrote of the Magnificat: "Whoever devotes all his thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, proclaims God's greatness. Observance of God's commands, moreover, shows that we have God's power and greatness always at heart. Our spirit rejoices in God the saviour and delights in the mere recollection of our creator who gives us hope for eternal salvation."

This is especially so for Mary, whom we revere as Mother of God (Theotokos). Chosen for a unique maternity, she overflowed with love for the son she so gladly conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could fully rejoice in Jesus, her saviour, trusting that the Saviour sent from above would be born of her body, a privelege for which she was forever grateful. Mary attributes nothing to her own merits but refers all her value to the gift of the one whose essence is power and who fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him.


Magnificat

In her joyful prayer, Mary acknowledges the great things that God has done for her. At Christmas we acknowledge the great things that God has done for us by sending his Son into the world. A great deal has come to be associated with the feast of Christmas. However, at the heart of the feast is the acknowledgment of the gift that God has given us in his Son. We acknowledge that gift and we give thanks for it. Christmas is the celebration of God's greatness and generosity. Mary's prayer suggests that it is above all the lowly and the hungry who are will experience God's greatness and generosity. It is the lowly who are exalted and the hungry who are filled.

We approach the feast of Christmas hungry for God's gift of his Son, the bread of life; we approach this feast out of a sense of our poverty and emptiness, knowing our need to be filled with God's presence and God's coming. Mary herself was one of the lowly, one of the poor in spirit who hungered for what only God could give. In these difficult days for the church, we approach this feast of Christmas in a spirit of poverty and humility, trusting in the great things that God can do for all of us.

December 23

1st Reading: Malachiah 3:1-4, 4,4-6

God will send a fore-runner to prepare for the final day

The Lord God says this: "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming," says the Lord of hosts.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Look, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

Gospel: Luke 1:57-66

The birth of John the Baptist

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?" For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Bible


Converter of Hearts

Christians have seen in John the Baptist the messenger, promised in the prophet Malachi, whose task was to prepare the way so that "the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple." In other words, John was the messenger of the covenant, now offered to us all, in the Jesus in whom we delight. John is honoured in all four Gospels, for his service of preparing hearts and minds to receive the message of Jesus. Luke, above all, highlights how John was received with joy — as a great gift not just to his parents and relatives, but to the humble people generally. A spirit of joyfulness and praise runs through all of the story surrounding John's birth. And are our hearts open to John's message? Does the Lord whom he proclaimed wish to enter our lives, our homes, our world? The answer is clear and unmistakable: Yes, He does! How do we know? Simply by listening to what God is saying to us in the Scriptures, and in our community gathered in prayer.

Centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah described the Messiah or Saviour as Someone who would live among His people and be one of them. The very name given to the Messiah points this out: "Emmanuel," which means "God is with us." In today's reading from Isaiah, we are reminded that the Lord wishes to live among us. "Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. " What was foretold by Isaiah came to be fulfilled as we hear in today's Gospel, "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us."

The promised Messiah or Saviour is none other than God, who in his Son Jesus took on our human nature, became one like us in all things except sin and dwells among us. "And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (cf. Jn 1:14). Does the Lord wish to enter our lives, our homes, our world? Indeed, He does! He did that on the first Christmas and He continues to do that if we let Him.

Naming him John

The naming of a child can often be a source of tension in a family. Different people will have different ideas about a good name for the child; at the end of the day, of course, it is the choice of the parents. The gospel says relatives and neighbours expected Zechariah and Elizabeth to follow convention by calling their new-born child Zechariah, after his father. However, Zechariah and Elizabeth knew that this was not the name that God wanted the child to have.. At this particular moment in history, God was not following convention, but was about to do something new. Zechariah and Elizabeth's child would be different to other children. The relatives and neighbours were right to ask the question, "What will this child turn out to be?" This child's calling was to prepare people for the coming of someone who would be even greater than himself, someone whose name would be Emmanuel, God-with-us. God was working in a new way; God was in the process of making a new covenant with his people and with all of humanity. It is this new and wonderful moment in God's dealings with humanity that we celebrate at Christmas, and it should never cease to fill us with excitement and gratitude.

December 24

1st Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16

David is promised a "house" or dynasty

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, "See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent."; Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.";

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: "Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.

And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.

I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.";

Gospel: Luke 1:67-79

Zechariah prophecies the future of John the Baptist

Then John's father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,

as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us.

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,

the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us
that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Bible


Zechariah's new awareness of God

Once rendered mute for doubting God's word, the father of John the Baptist suddenly regains his voice, to loudly proclaim the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel. His is a song of Advent, as we wait for the light that has already come and is still yet to come. Before God's messenger (Gabriel) appeared to Mary, he came to Zechariah with a startling promise like that first made to Abraham centuries before. Elizabeth and Zechariah's advanced age is a clear parallel with Sarah and Abraham, when they too conceived their long hoped-for son, Isaac. Zechariah belongs to a priestly rank in Israel and Elizabeth too is a descendent of Aaron's  priestly family. Thus the son they will raise is destined to lead people towards God. Then too, Gabriel promises that John will be filled with the spirit and power of Elijah,  a great prophet who turned his people to repentance (Malachi 4:5-6). Zechariah's doubt at Gabriel's words parallels Sarah's unbelieving laugh at the idea that she could bear a child at her age (Genesis 18:12-15).

The background to Zechariah's song is the biblical belief that God's promises are fulfilled. When at first Zechariah doesn't believe, he is rendered mute until the day the promised event occurs. Eight days after John's birth, Zechariah and Elizabeth take him to be circumcised, following the ritual commanded to Abraham (Genesis 17:12.) When the time comes to name the child, Elizabeth insists that he be given the name John, as God had prescribed. His friends turned to Zechariah, who confirmed the name – and immediately he regained his speech and began praising God, whose promises are always fulfilled.

Zechariah's song can become our own, this Christmas Eve, as we seek a revived awareness of God in our lives. We see light on the horizon, and await the full, dazzling light of God's incarnation in Jesus Christ. We find ourselves in a time marked by the already and the not-yet. A light has dawned but doesn't seem yet to have reached the deeper darkness in and around us. As disciples of Christ we live always in a kind of Advent-waiting, knowing that the light has come to our world, yet still awaiting for it to shine in fullest measure. We may even, like Zechariah, doubt that such a glorious future is possible. But also with him, we can praise God for the dawn, seeing it as the first shimmering of the final, full radiance of what God has in store.