December 13 Third Sunday of Advent
Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Phil 4:4-7 and Luke 3:10-18
Another prophet Zephaniah sings and shouts for joy! We are saved. We are released from harm! We are no longer judged. God is in our midst—already! The message is repeated: Fear not! Your God is in your midst. And now it is God that rejoices over us and renews us in love. Now it is our God that is singing because of us! This is Guadate Sunday…the beginning of rejoicing. The colors of rose, of hues of the dawn, the sky that is streaked before the actual appearance of the sun covers the sky—that is how close our God is to us.
We must believe this—the Lord is near. God’s own peace is trying to stand guard over our hearts and minds. The sun before it rises and nearly blinds us casts a shadow of warmth and soft fire over the earth and all that stands in its way. God is that close. And the prophet John the Baptizer’s words are beginning to sink into peoples’ hearts and transform them, but they don’t know exactly what to do. What do we need to do to have the Lord sing joyfully because of us and cover us with gladness?
Each group of people wants specifics—and the prophet obliges them. Tax collectors are not to get rich off other peoples’ assessment of tax. Soldiers are not to extend the violence they are trained to do in war against anyone and they are not to lie or denounce others falsely causing more violence. They were two groups of people that were hardened in their ways and they are moved to make drastic shifts in their behavior. What about us? What would John say to some of the groups in our world? Church leaders are not to condemn or judge but be known for reconciliation and inclusion—they are actually to be servants of all the others and do what the community needs not what they decide to do. Parents are to spend time with their children and treat them with trust and children are to be honest and obey. All are to give forgiveness as sincerely as we all need forgiveness from others.
Or as Basil said in the 4th century: The bread you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothes that you store in boxes, belongs to the naked. The shoes rotting in your closet belong to the barefoot. The money that you hide belongs to anyone in need. In a word, all our excess belongs to others who are lacking what are basic necessities. What if the one in need is God who is near? In fact, the mystery of the Incarnation says that everyone is to be treated as God made flesh—from now on God expects us to be as just and compassionate to all, as we claim we would with God.
This is the kind of living that causes God to rejoice and sing over us! The Indian poet Rabindarath Tagore wrote: I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung. What if we never live with rejoicing and sharing with others and never touch the same grace and passion that our God has shared with us—even to becoming one with us, sharing our flesh and blood, our needs, our mortality and our limitedness as a human being? What if another season of Advent passes and we didn’t do anything that would give God cause to sing over us? This week keep asking: What song is God singing?
December 14 St John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church, memorial
Readings Nm 24:2-7’ 15-17a and Matt 21:23-27
Advent in this cycle of readings is not so much about a child being born as a human being that is filled with the Spirit of God coming to the people that God has long ago laid claim to. It is about reminding us of a long history that stretches across nations and peoples hinting of one day including the whole world in the embrace of God. In the reading from Numbers we hear of a pagan who has no part in Israel, Balaam son of Beor who is described as a prophet, because he will be compelled to speak the truth and utter the words of God. He is supposed to be cursing the enemies of his master and instead he blesses them profusely. He is described as ‘one who sees what the Almighty sees, enraptured and with eyes unveiled.” This is as a prophet sees and speaks whether he or she likes what God has to say! And it is Balaam [who by the way gets shoved by the ass he is riding] that will speak of the star—“A star shall advance from Jacob and a staff shall rise from Israel.”
And the prophet Jesus is accused by those in power: on what authority does he act and who has given him this power? But Jesus is not so easily pigeon-holed and he turns to question them on John’s power and baptism of repentance. Was it divine or human? They will convict themselves with their answer because they did not repent. They cop out—we don’t know. And Jesus won’t continue the conversation.
Today is the feast of John of the Cross who said: My spirit has become dry because it forgets to feed on you. Do we find ourselves in the same position? And today Jesus turns on us and questions us: do we do what the prophets today tell us—and the people know who they are—or do we play games with authority and power rather than commit to standing with the prophet Jesus who is the Word of God among us? Today, listen to the prophets who are not Catholic, not Christian. God is speaking through them as surely as Balaam of Beor.
December 15 Tuesday Advent Weekday
Readings: Zeph 3:1-2, 9-13 and Matt 21:28-32
First there is woe and accusations that reveal how the city—and the people, especially the leaders have betrayed their God. They refuse to listen to the voice and be corrected and have not drawn near to God. There will be judgment and on that day those who will be purified can call upon the name of the Lord once more and we will be seen and known for who and what we are—proud braggarts, exalting ourselves or part of the remnant of the humble and lowly who live with integrity and rely on God. The choice is given and we have to decide.
And Jesus goes after the leaders of the people and sets up a case of two sons who are both told to obey their father and go work in the fields. The first says: I’m on my way, but doesn’t go. The other says, no way, but does go out and work. Now, which one obeyed—listened and did what their father wanted? They had to answer—and are caught. And Jesus is clear about who obeys and is in his company, near to him— it is the ones they despise and hold in contempt, the ones they consider themselves superior to you—and Jesus condemns them further. At least those who were in the wrong had changed—and yet, the self-righteous ones even when they saw that, didn’t repent. The choice is ours today too. Do we think we are the vanguard of the church and the ones who follow Jesus? Do we have groups of people and individuals we feel superior to? Do we stay stuck in our self-righteousness? This is about more than personal religious practice. Oscar Romero put it as clearly as Jesus did: “Collaborate in the peoples’ process. They are the protagonists in this hour of change.” 1979
December 16 Wednesday Advent Weekday
Readings: Is 45:6b-8, 18, 21b-25 and Luke 7:18b-23
This is our God praying! Let justice descent, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice also spring up! I, the Lord have created this. Is this our prayer and our practice? The whole reading is God explaining who the designer and maker of the earth hopes for earth and all of us. And besides making all things to be lived in it is all about justice. If we want to be safe it is imperative that we turn to God—there is no other that can keep us safe.
And we hear the prophet John the Baptizer languishing in prison sending his disciples to Jesus with the question: Are you ‘He who is to come’ or are we to expect someone else?” For John this is not about discussion, it’s about hanging on for a dearer life as he faces his own death for speaking the truth to those in power. And Jesus’ response declares where the truth and the presence of God is always found—the blind recover sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf heard, the dead are raised to life and the poor have the good news! This is where Truth is found. This is where God is present. Things haven’t changed—mostly we haven’t taken to heart Jesus’ answer and what he has been doing. Muriel Lester said it this way [1884-1968] The job of the Peacemaker is to stop war, to purify the world, to get it saved from poverty and riches, to heal the sick, to comfort the sad, and to wake up those who have not yet found God, to create joy and beauty, wherever you go, to find God in everything and in everyone. Which one of these are you working on, with others, this year?
December 17 Thursday Advent Weekday
Readings: Gen 49:2, 8-10 and Matt 1:1-17
Today we begin the eight days that lead immediately up to the moment of the Incarnation when the Word becomes flesh and pitches his tent among us. The readings’ focus shifts from the prophet Jesus and reflects back to Jesus’ birth and the world that he was born into. We know little or nothing about the birth of Jesus—what we will read in these next weeks are theological statements of belief that summon us to make the presence of the Word made flesh in own flesh and the presence of God visible in our times. In the Genesis reading Jacob as he dies, tell his sons that the scepter—the power of what they have been given in their understanding of God will stay with them through all time. It is his legacy to them, and God’s own gift.
And we read the genealogy of the one to be born—the family record that crosses time ruthless passing with the names of people, who carried the promises of God, abet faltering at times. There are four interruptions in the texts—women who traditionally were not included in these records: Tamar, Rehab, Ruth and the one who is not named: the wife of Uriah—all of whom have something in common with the woman who will give birth to Jesus. And they all reveal something of the oddities of God. One is forced into prostitution because of existing laws in the community; one is a prostitute by trade, two are outsiders to Israel and one colludes in a murder plot to better her position. And then lastly there is Mary. It is a motely crew of ancestors—as eclectic as many of our own. Do some reflecting today on who—strange as they were and sinners though they were gave you a sense of who our forgiving, compassion and all-inclusive God is and wonder what you are saying with your life to others about the family of God.
December 18 Friday Advent Weekday
Readings: Jer 23:5-8 and Matt 1:8-25
Jeremiah’s words sought to instill hope into his banished people with the dream of the one who would bring them security and would bring them home, gathering in all those lost and scattered throughout the earth—and this one’s name is the Lord our Justice. The word justice has come up so many times—what is it? Perhaps justice is love expressed in terms of sheer human need—what human beings need in order to have life, life beyond survival that is ever more abundant life. Over and over we pray that ‘justice shall flourish in his time and the fullness of peace forever’.
And we read of the summons of the Angel to Joseph to take Mary into his house as his wife even though she is pregnant. The child is conceived through the power of the Spirit [as many of the children of great figures in the Jewish testament conceive even though they are barren]. But the story is about Joseph the just man who is upright—the only person in the gospels that is described this way. He initially makes a decision based on the law—and chooses the option that will do the least amount of harm [he will not have her killed along with the child, but shunned and divorced]. Joseph is a Jew and he eats, sleeps and dreams his answer in the scriptures—a piece of the promise of the long hoped for One from Isaiah the prophet—become the father of her child and raise him as the one who will save the people of God from their sins. And with Joseph’s obedience to the Word of the Lord and letting the Spirit of God transform him, the Incarnation is made possible in history. Joseph was the last man mentioned in the genealogy. When they tell this next piece of the genealogy what will they write about us.
December 19 Saturday Advent Weekday
Readings: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25a and Luke 1:5-25
In these days immediately before the accounts of the birth of Jesus we hear other stories of births in the tradition—this time it is the birth of Samson and his father Manoah and his wife who is barren. The words are familiar—an angel comes to her and says: “You will conceive and bear a son.” The emphasis is on ‘you will’…this is going to be a reality and the child she brings forth will ‘begin the deliverance of Israel” from their enemies. She does give birth and the child “grew up and the Lord blessed him and the spirit of the Lord began to be with him.” The tradition is laying the base for what is to follow. The patterns will be set in motion before the birth of Jesus.
Now the angel comes not to the woman who will give birth Elizabeth, but to her husband, the priest Zechariah while he is in the temple sanctuary. And Zechariah is deeply disturbed and overcome by fear. And the angel’s words are all about the child they will give birth to—the source of great joy for the people and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. And the power of the spirit of Elijah the prophet will be with him to turn the hearts of the people to the wisdom of the just. He questions: How? And he is made mute until the child will be named. All parents wonder and dream what their children will be and what they will be remembered for—and hopefully we all wonder if we are fulfilling the dream that God has had for each of us—what are we to do for the people? Are we the cause of great joy for the people of the earth?