DDCC

Gospel Reflections for Advent 2013

 

 

Christmas Day

Background

Christmas : Midnight Mass           Luke 2:1-14

St Matthew aims to show the birth of Jesus in its Jewish setting. St Luke is intent on reminding us that Christianity is a 'historical religion' which began at a certain time, with people who live in history with more or less definite dates and that this history includes you and me. He sets the birth in its world history by showing Joseph and Mary responding to an edict of the Roman emperor that affected occupied Israel. Roman emperor Octavius, who became Caesar Augustus, was known as 'saviour of the world' because of the universal peace he established in the empire. Now his decree helps in the birth of the real Saviour of the world. Although the prophet Micah is not mentioned, his words underlie Luke's tale: Bethlehem, the mother giving birth to a priest of ancient lineage, who will be a shepherd to the scattered flock of Israel. This king who finds no room in the common guest-house will later have no place to lay his head but a cross. His first worshippers, the shepherds, despised

by orthodox Jews because their occupation made them neglectful of the Law, foretell the multitude of ordinary people who will throng around him. The angels tell of the joy in heaven as Jesus comes to rescue the lost sheep. The wonder prepares us for the greater wonders to come. "Do not be afraid", spoken to the shepherds, will recur throughout the gospel, often as Our Lord's first words to a person or group. We face the challenge of the ordinariness of the birth in contrast with the excitement and awe in heaven. Luke in fact pays more attention to the reactions of the angels and shepherds than he does to the birth itself. He does not tell us even where the birth took place, only where the child is laid.

 

Thoughts on the Gospel

Call to communion

Have you ever watched children at an airport or at a play park? They may not know each other but it doesn't seem to bother them. They just get on and play together, as if they knew each other all their lives. For adults it is not so easy. We are more protective. We can sit in airports, at the doctor's, even in lines at supermarkets and make no effort to communicate with those around us. If we have children with us it is different. They often break the ice and enable adults to begin a conversation, to come together.

This, maybe, touches the heart of what we celebrate at Christmas. A child is born for us - for each one of us.  This child is born out of love and this child is born for a reason.  The child is born out of the love that God has for us - the desire - the thirst that God has for us.  The reason that this child is born is simply to bring us together.  This child is born to unite us in communion with one another and with the God who loves us so much.  The Word became flesh.  God the Son became a human being to unite us all in him in peace and joy.  We belong to the infant Jesus.  The infant Jesus belongs to us.  This call to communion that Christmas is a call not just for today but for every day and that can be difficult.

It is perhaps easier to live the call to communion at Christmas. However Christmas will pass but our call to communion won't.  Christmas will pass but Jesus does not leave us.  Christmas will pass but our families, the poor of the world will still need our love.

Tonight we celebrate Jesus born into our lives to bring us together.  We celebrate Jesus - our humble, poor, dependent and vulnerable Saviour who was born to break the walls that we build to divide us.  His humble stable had the poorest of the poor in the shepherds and the rich too in the wise men gathered around him in adoration - united on their knees before the Saviour of the world.  The shepherds and the wise men were in communion in praising the new born Saviour.  The child brought them together.

At Christmas we should pray that the Christ child that we are all called to hold will bring us together in a community of joy today tomorrow and always.

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A

 

Matthew 1:18-24         Jesus was born of Mary, the betrothed of Joseph, a son of David.

Background

The gospels at the Masses of Christmas come from St Luke and St John. Today we hear about the birth of Jesus as reported by Matthew. Matthew has just given us a genealogy of Jesus, down the generations from Abraham to his legal father, Joseph. Now he explains through Joseph how the conception and birth of Jesus came about.

The central character in Matthew's account of the birth of Jesus is Joseph, whereas for Luke it is Mary.  Joseph is faced with an agonizing choice. Since he is not the father of the child Joseph can make a public demand for divorce as stated in the book of Deuteronomy. Since this would involve public disgrace for Mary, he decides on another, more private procedure whereby he could call in two witnesses to sign a written notice of divorce. The process is interrupted by an angel. ['The word 'angel' means messenger].  People nowadays sometimes use dreams to explain the past, but then they were seen as guides to the future.

Jacob and Joseph in the Book of Genesis had the future foretold in dreams. Jewish tradition said that Miriam, sister of Moses, knew what to do because God had told her in dreams. The Book of Daniel has the future foretold by interpretation of royal dreams. Matthew's readers would have known all this. His confusion, trust in and enlightenment by God make Joseph a major figure for the Advent season.

Thoughts on the Gospel

We are living in strange times.  On the one hand we are told that we have never been more liberated.  Nearly anything goes now.  Nobody should be restricted in any way.  Then on the other hand more and more there is a concern about schools having Nativity plays. We are encouraged to wish each other a Happy Holiday and not a happy Christmas and a few years ago a TV station refused to allow the word crib to be used in an advertisement. It seems that the word crib might be offensive.  However images of violence, brutality and hatred are allowed on television.  All forms of sexual activity and talk are allowed on television.  Foul language is allowed on television.  Yet it was deemed the word crib could cause offence.

In the coming days we will begin our celebration of the birth of our saviour Jesus Christ. The Church realising the enormity of the reality that we are celebrating actually celebrates Christmas Day for eight days.  It is a most beautiful feast.  However it is a feast that has often been taken over and indeed misunderstood and sadly abused by some.  For example in our politically correct world today we are nearly been told that it is probably okay to celebrate Christmas as long as we don't make it religious and certainly don't mention Jesus.  In our free world we are allowed to eat what we want - buy what we want - even drink what we want.  We are allowed to celebrate this birthday in any way we want as long as we don't publicly mention the person whose birthday we are celebrating.

Do we collude in the removal of Christ from Christmas - often in an unconscious way?  When we are sending cards - a beautiful tradition - do we always try to ensure that they are religious cards?  Do we ever buy religious objects as presents?  Is part of preparation of Christmas to go to Confession?  When we celebrate this marvellous sacrament we are publicly acknowledging our need for God.  There will only be room in our lives for Christ this Christmas if we realise that we do need God.  On Christmas day when we all gather around our dinner tables will we stop to pray before we start to eat?  Will we stop to pray when we are finished eating?  In our area will we ensure that nobody is lonely at Christmas either by inviting them to join us or by going to visit them? 

We need to be honest about where Christ is in our Christmas - in our homes - our community before we comment too much about where he is on the television or the newspapers or shops. 

The last days of Advent can be sacred days in the middle of all the last minute rush to stop and think about what exactly we are preparing to celebrate and how best we can celebrate. If Christ is to be part of his own birthday it is our responsibility not to exclude him and it is up to us to give the crib in the most important place in our homes this year.

Prayer

Jesus, let us joyfully celebrate that first Christmas when your birth brought salvation into the world, and opened the door to eternal life for humankind. Let us remember the courage and faith of Mary, your young and vulnerable mother, and let us remember, too, the humble acquiescence to God's intervention of Joseph, her husband. Jesus, may our celebration this year of the Christmas we have been waiting for be faithful to its real meaning. May we, Lord, in a spirit of true humility, bend our wills to God's wish for us at Christmas, which is to hold you, his only begotten son, gently and lovingly in our hearts now and all the days of our lives.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end, Amen.

 


 

 

Third Sunday of Advent Year A

Matthew 11:2-11         Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for someone else?

Background Once again we meet John the Baptist, but not the brave, forceful prophet of last Sunday.   Today John has been imprisoned by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, who sees John, who had a considerable number of followers, as a rebel raising political discontent. As John fades into the background, Jesus becomes more prominent and John seeks reassurance about who exactly Jesus is, especially in the light of the fact that Jesus does not preach as John did, that divine judgment and retribution were coming and were close at hand.  At first sight, Jesus does not seem to answer John's question. In fact, he tells John's messengers to report what they have seen and heard, that what Jesus does fulfils what the prophet Isaiah wrote, about the signs to look out for, the signs of the coming of the Messiah. He contrasts the flexible reed with the unbending, upright John. The sending of the messenger is taken from the book of the prophet Malachi. Jesus stresses that John is the greatest figure of the past, but with Jesus himself a new age is born. In this way Matthew reassures those he is writing to (and us) and urges courage to face up to unpopularity as John did and as Jesus will do. This becomes possible because of who we now are, the least in the kingdom, yet greater than the greatest of the old dispensation.

Thoughts on the Gospel

How do you decide?  How do you make major decisions?  What do you base your decisions on?  Making decisions can be very difficult. Sometimes we prefer to avoid making decisions.  We duck and dive instead of making them. At best we make short term decisions - decisions that don't bind us for too long.  This leads to great instability in life.  Stability has as part of its foundation good strong decisions that we are committed to. We live in a society where people seem to fear making good positive decisions and living by them.  Sometimes when we don't make decisions about our lives we just go into a drift mode that often leads us in all the wrong ways.  Life then passes us by and we don't make the decision to grasp it and live it. 

In the gospel today John the Baptist had a decision to make. He needed to decide whether Jesus was the Messiah that he had been announcing or not.  At one level John did not need to make this decision now.  He could have avoided the decision.  However it was important for John to know.  How did he go about making the decision?  He took a very simple approach. He sent a disciple, to ask Jesus are you the one who is to come or do we have to wait for someone else?  The answer that Jesus gave reveals so much to us today about how to make decisions and indeed why making decisions is so important. 

Jesus did not simply say yes I am the one.  No Jesus points to and outlines the evidence.  He knows that the evidence will convince John.  He tells John's disciples to tell John on their return about what they have heard and seen.  What is the evidence?  The evidence is the positive power of Jesus Christ in the lives of people.  The deaf hear.  The blind see.  The lame walk.  The lepers are cleansed.  The Good News is proclaimed to the poor. 

When John hears this he will know that he has to wait for nobody else.  He will know that Jesus is the one - he is the Christ - the Messiah.  He will know it from the evidence of the Good News.  This evidence is life-giving evidence.  This evidence is healing evidence.  Therefore it is the right decision for John to believe in Jesus Christ.  His decision to believe in Jesus Christ will gift him with eternal life. 

We can learn so much from John and Jesus on how to make decisions. It is important when making decisions to have the courage to ask questions and to ask the right questions. We should not blindly follow or decide without knowing what we need to know.  Secondly the answers to our questions need to be life-giving and healing.  Too often this does not happen in our society today.  When we make decisions today often they are not made because they will be life-giving and healing.  They are made so that we can feel important or popular or part of the group or whatever. 

This Advent Jesus invites us to decide like John the Baptist that Jesus is the one that we are waiting for.  It is only when we make that positive decision for Jesus that we will have life and have it to the full and that we will be healed.  Every other decision that we make in life will be shaped by our decision to choose Jesus. Decisions then will not scare us nor will we try to avoid them.  We will see them as opportunities to come closer and closer to the one we are waiting for this Advent - Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Lord.

Prayer

Jesus, you remind us in today's gospel that true greatness does not reside in palaces and wear fine clothes. True greatness may wear rough clothes, have a matted beard and eat locusts and honey, but exhibit  the fearlessness, the steadfastness and integrity, the passionate conviction so beloved of you. Jesus, in humility, you sent John the Baptist the evidence he needed that you were the one he was waiting for, the  one for whom he was preparing the way; you eased his journey through death to his eternal rest in God. Let us, Jesus, open ourselves to the sweet rest you offer us when we accept fully that you are the one we wait for.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end, Amen.

 

 

 

 

Second Sunday of Advent Year A

 

Matthew 3:1-9, 11 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.

Background

The second and third Sundays focus on the figure of John the Baptist, sent to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. We get a description today of John, what he wore and what he ate. He wears the sort of clothing that can be made in the desert, and which recalls that of Elijah, the great Old Testament prophet who was taken up to heaven, and who was expected to return as a sign that the Messiah  was coming soon. His food of locusts and wild honey points to the sort of food available in the rocky wilderness near the Dead Sea. Matthew quotes Isaiah, to show that with John what another prophet said has come true. He tells us what John is doing:  baptising sincere people as a sign that they were sorry for their sins and are going to change their ways. He tells us that amongst those who came to listen to John were some of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the two main religious groups of Jews. He criticises them sharply: they are like poisonous snakes, because of the example they give. He warns them that they must show their faith in how they behave or else they will be  punished. John urges action now because time is short and judgment, the Day of the Lord, is coming.

 

Thoughts on the Gospel

"You live and learn," is a statement that we often hear.  The implication is that as we journey through this world our experience teaches us.  We learn from our mistakes as well as from what we do right.  If we consider the history of the human race if this is true then we in our time must be more sophisticated and better at living than our ancestors.  But are we?

 

The reality is that humanity has lived but can it really be said it has learned much. 

If we take for example war. No century has been without it wars and the human race seems to have always been obsessed with power and violence.

We don't seem to have grasped that violence and war at best don't work and in truth are a violation of who we are.  We simply have learnt how to be better at it and more destructive.  The mistakes of our ancestors have taught us nothing. Why is this the case?  Is it that we cannot be taught?  

 

It probably has more to do with fear, with a lack of confidence. People are afraid to hope that things could be better.  They are afraid to trust one another.  This is true on the world stage but it is also true in our own lives. We live life the way that we live life and we don't think that it can be any different and so in effect nothing changes.

Change is a struggle.  It is so difficult to change.  However to grow and to grow into the ways of Jesus we need to change.  John the Baptist made this point very clearly to the Pharisees and Sadducees who came for baptism.  He was telling them that it was not enough to simply go through the motions.  Change is required. 

 

Our resistance to change often comes from fear of the unknown - fear of what is new.  It can also come from a self righteousness that is also born of fear.  However when we don't change - when we resist change - we stifle hope.  We really don't believe that things could get better.

 

Yet in this Advent season we are called to hope, called to believe that things can be different, can be better. The prophet Isaiah paints an idyllic picture of peace. This picture of peace and faithfulness and life and integrity is a picture of the day when Christ will come again in his glory.   The wolf and the lamb will live together.  The calf and the lion will eat together.  There will be no hurt and no harm.  It is just a gorgeous picture of life and contentment.  It is a picture of integrity and faithfulness. 

The amazing thing is that it is a real picture.  It is the reality of the last day - the eternal day with God.  It is a picture of what we are waiting for in this season of Advent.  This can be our home for ever if we choose it.

 

Jesus, teach us to cultivate in ourselves some of the fire and passion with which John the Baptist prepared the way for your coming. In this season of waiting, may we excise from our hearts the tepid, the lukewarm, the fearful and the timid, and embrace your life, death and resurrection with fervour and joy.

 

 

Prayer

May we, with courageous eyes, see clearly the changes we need to effect in our lives in order to merit eternal life, and may we embrace those changes fearlessly, our hearts charged with hope in God's loving compassion.

 

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end, Amen.

 

 


 

First Sunday of Advent Year A

 

Matthew 24:37-44   Stay awake, you must be ready.

 

Background

It is a surprise that the first passage chosen for us at the start of the liturgical year should come, not from the beginning but from near the end of St Matthew's gospel. The reading we hear tells us about how serious we must be about the message of Jesus.  One of the most frightening events in the Old Testament is that of the great flood when only Noah and his family and animals were saved from the rising waters by building the ark. People were drowned because they had not noticed the flood waters rising. They had become too involved in day-to-day activity.   Matthew tells us that Jesus wants us to be awake and alert so as not to miss out on all that he offers us in the 'good news', and to be listening and ready to greet him when he comes, to keep our eye on what is really important.

 

Thoughts on the Gospel

Do we drive our own destiny?  What attitude do we have to living life? What attitude do we take to life?  Is life ours to do with it whatever we will?  Is it a sentence to be endured?  Is it an adventure to be explored?  Is it a gift to be enjoyed?  Is it a possession to own?  What is our attitude to the lives that we live?  What is our focus in life?  What are we focused on?  Where is our focus? 

 

The season of Advent begins a new Church year and it is important to stop and reflect about our lives and our attitudes and our focus.  The beginning of the season of Advent invites us to think about the reality that we are pilgrims in this life on a journey to the eternal day - to that day when Christ will come again in glory - to that day when we will all be one.  Every time we celebrate Mass after the consecration we can say Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.  We are declaring our belief that Christ will come again.

 

This prayer - this waiting if we realise it must affect and colour our attitude to life and our focus in life.  We are waiting for Jesus to come every time we celebrate the Eucharist.  We are waiting for Jesus to come at the hour of our death.  We are waiting for Jesus to come on the last day.  As Christians we are called to live much of our lives waiting.  This is the waiting we called to reflect on and celebrate during the season of Advent.

 

 

Prayer

Jesus, let your words of warning make their abode in our hearts so that we may live out our lives ever alert for signs of your Second Coming. May we never let the world's distractions lure us away from the contemplation of the mystery of God, nor from the real meaning of our lives which is to be your loving, healing, compassionate and forgiving presence in the world.

 

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end, Amen.

 

 

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent Year A

 

Matthew 1:18-24         Jesus was born of Mary, the betrothed of Joseph, a son of David.

 

 

 

 

Background

The gospels at the Masses of Christmas come from St Luke and St John. Today we hear about the birth of Jesus as reported by Matthew. Matthew has just given us a genealogy of Jesus, down the generations from Abraham to his legal father, Joseph. Now he explains through Joseph how the conception and birth of Jesus came about.

The central character in Matthew's account of the birth of Jesus is Joseph, whereas for Luke it is Mary.  Joseph is faced with an agonizing choice. Since he is not the father of the child Joseph can make a public demand for divorce as stated in the book of Deuteronomy. Since this would involve public disgrace for Mary, he decides on another, more private procedure whereby he could call in two witnesses to sign a written notice of divorce. The process is interrupted by an angel. ['The word 'angel' means messenger].  People nowadays sometimes use dreams to explain the past, but then they were seen as guides to the future.

Jacob and Joseph in the Book of Genesis had the future foretold in dreams. Jewish tradition said that Miriam, sister of Moses, knew what to do because God had told her in dreams. The Book of Daniel has the future foretold by interpretation of royal dreams. Matthew's readers would have known all this. His confusion, trust in and enlightenment by God make Joseph a major figure for the Advent season.

 

Thoughts on the Gospel

We are living in strange times.  On the one hand we are told that we have never been more liberated.  Nearly anything goes now.  Nobody should be restricted in any way.  Then on the other hand more and more there is a concern about schools having Nativity plays. We are encouraged to wish each other a Happy Holiday and not a happy Christmas and a few years ago a TV station refused to allow the word crib to be used in an advertisement. It seems that the word crib might be offensive.  However images of violence, brutality and hatred are allowed on television.  All forms of sexual activity and talk are allowed on television.  Foul language is allowed on television.  Yet it was deemed the word crib could cause offence.

 

In the coming days we will begin our celebration of the birth of our saviour Jesus Christ. The Church realising the enormity of the reality that we are celebrating actually celebrates Christmas Day for eight days.  It is a most beautiful feast.  However it is a feast that has often been taken over and indeed misunderstood and sadly abused by some.  For example in our politically correct world today we are nearly been told that it is probably okay to celebrate Christmas as long as we don't make it religious and certainly don't mention Jesus.  In our free world we are allowed to eat what we want - buy what we want - even drink what we want.  We are allowed to celebrate this birthday in any way we want as long as we don't publicly mention the person whose birthday we are celebrating.

 

Do we collude in the removal of Christ from Christmas - often in an unconscious way?  When we are sending cards - a beautiful tradition - do we always try to ensure that they are religious cards?  Do we ever buy religious objects as presents?  Is part of preparation of Christmas to go to Confession?  When we celebrate this marvellous sacrament we are publicly acknowledging our need for God.  There will only be room in our lives for Christ this Christmas if we realise that we do need God.  On Christmas day when we all gather around our dinner tables will we stop to pray before we start to eat?  Will we stop to pray when we are finished eating?  In our area will we ensure that nobody is lonely at Christmas either by inviting them to join us or by going to visit them? 

 

We need to be honest about where Christ is in our Christmas - in our homes - our community before we comment too much about where he is on the television or the newspapers or shops. 

 

The last days of Advent can be sacred days in the middle of all the last minute rush to stop and think about what exactly we are preparing to celebrate and how best we can celebrate. If Christ is to be part of his own birthday it is our responsibility not to exclude him and it is up to us to give the crib in the most important place in our homes this year.

 

Prayer

Jesus, let us joyfully celebrate that first Christmas when your birth brought salvation into the world, and opened the door to eternal life for humankind. Let us remember the courage and faith of Mary, your young and vulnerable mother, and let us remember, too, the humble acquiescence to God's intervention of Joseph, her husband. Jesus, may our celebration this year of the Christmas we have been waiting for be faithful to its real meaning. May we, Lord, in a spirit of true humility, bend our wills to God's wish for us at Christmas, which is to hold you, his only begotten son, gently and lovingly in our hearts now and all the days of our lives.

 

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end, Amen.