Father Bob’s homily 4th Sunday of Advent…
4th Sunday of Advent A
Follow your dreams. It is a platitude for sure, but good advice. It seems it should be accompanied by an inspirational bedroom poster or a meme of a cat trying to do something really difficult. But at some level, we understand that following our dreams is serious and demanding business, one that will require all that we have. Dreams are both our destiny and our challenge, sprung from the center of our lives. And if it is God’s dream we are following, it will ask of us all are hope, faith and love.
Joseph has a dream in today’s Gospel, one of four that in Matthew’s Gospel that serve as a thread that connects the birth and childhood of Jesus. An angel tells Matthew that he should take Mary into his home despite her unexplained pregnancy. He says yes despite the outrageous circumstances described…
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A Reading from the holy Gospel according to John (1:1-18):
The fourth Gospel presents a strikingly different picture of Jesus from that in the synoptics. In this 1st chapter, you can easily see the allusions to the opening chapter of Genesis: “in the beginning,” reference to God’s word as a creative power, the creation of light in the darkness and all things, including humans, coming to life through the word. Where the 1st creation story in Genesis ended with God “resting” and making the Sabbath holy, John 1:17 contrasts the law of Moses, which included the Sabbath, with the “grace and truth” that comes in Jesus. This prologue, probably based on an earlier hymn, presents us with the story of Jesus as the coming of the divine Word to humanity (P. Perkins’ Reading the New Testament, p. 242).
Historical circumstances attending the composition of John’s Gospel are more complicated than those related to the other Gospels, as most scholars think that the book that we possess is a second, third, fourth or fifth edition of a work that went through stages of development. The ancient tradition of the church (dating from the late 2nd century) is that the Gospel of John was produced by one of Jesus’ 12 disciples (beloved John), but those who accept this tradition usually think that the attribution applies only to the 1st edition of this Gospel (M.A. Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 173).
Distinct Considerations of the Pre-existent and Historical Christ in this Prologue
- Word’s role in creation: This is one of the clearest and direct affirmations of Christ’s divine status in the New Testament. Like Wisdom the Word is both an instrument and an exemplar in creation. Life and light are both the results of creation and here refer to the saving mission of Christ.
- Word’s self-presentation in the world: There is a reaction of the world to Jesus as the light. “World” has both a positive and negative understanding in John. But Jesus, in presenting himself to the world, and especially to “his own,” the Jewish people, met ignorance and rejection.
- The incarnation: “Made his dwelling” literally means “pitched his tent”. The Son of God comes as man, born in simple circumstances (which we don’t hear in this Gospel), to save us and bring us home. That is Christmas (R. Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 68-70).
From Catholic Update, The Incarnation, by Kenneth R. Overberg, SJ, Dec 2002:
It holds that the whole purpose of creation is for the Incarnation, God’s sharing of life and love in a unique and definitive way. God becoming human is not an afterthought, an event to make up for original sin and human sinfulness. Incarnation is God’s first thought, the original design for all creation. The purpose of Jesus’ life is the fulfillment of God’s eternal longing to become human.
God is not an angry or vindictive God, demanding the suffering and death of Jesus as a payment for past sin. God is, instead, a gracious God, sharing divine life and love in creation and in the Incarnation (like parents sharing their love in the life of a new child)…emphasis on friendship, intimacy, mutuality, service, faithful love – revealing God’s desire and gift for the full flourishing of humanity, or in other words, salvation.
From Altogether Gift, by Michael Downey:
In Jesus Christ, Love’s Word, we see in a fleshly way the compassion of the Father. The Hebrew word for a woman’s womb and the word for compassion are related, and both are related to the word for mercy. Thus, the mother’s intimate, physical relationship with her newborn is the prime image for compassion and, hence, the compassion of God in Christ.
By the Incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world. But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God. Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death. But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorption, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life.
From The Holy Longing, by Ronald Rolheiser:
What Jesus wants from us is not admiration, but imitation . . . Yet, Jesus is more than a model to be imitated. No simple imitation is enough. What Jesus wants from us is that we undergo his presence so as to enter into a community of life and celebration with him. Jesus is not a law to be obeyed or a model to be imitated, but a presence to be seized and acted upon… The Spirit of Jesus is the vine, the blood, the pulse and the heart. (p. 74)
“The incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine” (p.76).
“God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap” (p. 78).
Scripture uses the expression the ‘Body of Christ’ to mean three things: Jesus, the historical person who walked this earth for thirty-three years; the Eucharist, which is also the physical presence of God among us; and the body of believers, which is also the real presence . . .We are the Body of Christ. This is not an exaggeration, nor a metaphor . . . The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us” (p. 79-80).
“The God who has become incarnate in human flesh is found, first and foremost, not in meditation and monasteries, albeit God is found there, but in our homes” (p.100).
This is the core of Christian spirituality . . .God’s presence in the world today depends very much upon us. We have to keep God present in the world in the same way as Jesus did . . . ‘The community mediates Christ to the world. The word that he spoke is not heard in our contemporary world unless it is proclaimed by the community . . .As God once acted through Christ, so he now acts through those who are conformed to the image of his Son” (p.80).
- How are we to respond to this gift of God’s own self in human flesh?
- There is a saying, “I give you my word.” What is the power of our words? Of course, the power of Jesus being The Word is a whole, other level. But what is your word? What does that mean for you?
- How does the light shine in the darkness within your own life?
This Sunday is Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday. What is happening in your life right now that causes you to rejoice? How is Christ present in this?
Isaiah 35: 1 – 6a, 10
How patient are you? Patient enough to wait for the desert to burst into flowers? For shaking hands to be stilled, for weak knees to be strong again? Patient enough to wait for the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to run, the mute to sing? That kind of patience is a divine quality. For most of us, these things are too wonderful to imagine, much less to expect.
The prophecy to the people of God in exile is that they will return home to their land, a thing as impossible to dream of as a blooming desert. Still the message delivered to the door of God’s people is always the same: God will save you. From Egypt, from Babylon, from your sins and yourselves, God will save you. To those who believe, the desert is a garden waiting to awaken. No situation in life is barren, no defeat final. No matter the depth to which we have fallen, God is prepared to raise us up. When our hearts are most frightened, we can lean on this word (Exploring the Sunday Readings, 12/98).
What do you make of that word vindication? Vindication is not up to us. We must trust God and wait for God to execute justice for God surely will. It will be in God’s time, not ours (www.patheos.com). And what of the word ransom? In the OT, the Hebrew word is like the English, meaning primarily payment of a sum for the release of a person or object which is held in detention. The metaphorical use of the word is in the sense of liberation, the saving action of Yahweh, without need of payment (Dictionary of the Bible, p. 723-724).
James 5: 7-10
Henri Nouwen says, “What strikes me is that waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting. As the Advent weeks progress, we hear more and more about the beauty and splendor of the One who is to come. Advent leads to a growing inner stillness and joy allowing us to realize that he for whom we are waiting has already arrived and speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. Just as a mother feels the child grow in her and is not surprised on the day of the birth but joyfully receives the one she learned to know during her waiting, so Jesus can be born in our lives slowly and steadily and be received as the one we learned to know while waiting.”
Consider how you would finish this sentence: Jesus, I await your coming more fully into my life so that now…
Is this how we make our hearts firm?
Matthew 11: 2 – 11
Why did John question Jesus? Perhaps conditions were so harsh in prison that he began to doubt. Maybe he was growing impatient for something good to happen. Maybe he wondered if it was all worth it. We all have moments of weakness, when we let our thoughts take over and cloud what we know down deep to be true. Jesus assures John by naming the actions done in faith. Like the saying says, actions speak louder than words. John and Jesus had their own followers, but they all had the same goal: salvation!
Why bring up the reed in the wind? Down by the banks of the Jordan the long cane grass grew; and the phrase “a shaken reed” was a kind of proverb for the commonest of sights. When the people flocked to see John, were they going out to see something as ordinary as the reeds swaying in the wind on Jordan’s banks? A shaken reed can also mean a weak vacillator, one who could no more stand foursquare to the winds of danger than a reed by the river’s bank could stand straight when the wind blew. Whatever else the people flocked out to the desert to see, they certainly did not go to see an ordinary person, (Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 7)
John had the destiny which sometimes falls to men; he had the task of pointing men to a greatness into which he himself did not enter. It is given to some men to be the signposts of God. They point to a new ideal and a new greatness which others will enter into, but into which they will not come. It is very seldom that any great reformer is the first man to toil for the reform with which his name is connected. Many who went before him glimpsed the glory, often labored for it, and sometimes died for it, (Ibid, p. 7).
Jesus questions why the people went out to see John. This Advent season, look at what fills your day. Why do you do what you do? Does it bring meaning to your life? Does it bring you closer to God? Are you preparing a way towards Jesus?
2nd Sunday of Advent A Last week I said that we should contemplate hope on our Journey to Christmas Day. My greatest hope is for peace. I sometimes feel guilty about this thinking my greatest hope should be for love, but, as we all know, sometimes love is not peaceful, but peace is always loveful. […]
1st Reading – Isaiah 2: 1-5
This section is from ‘First Isaiah’ – that part of Isaiah that was written by an 8th century prophet when Assyria was attacking Israel. This was a world in crisis. There are three characteristics emerging from this reading:
- This messianic age will be presided over by a just and God-fearing descendent of David. The shoot coming from the “stump” and “roots” represents the state of the dynasty after the branches (unfaithful kings) have been removed. The ideal king, then is rooted in his earliest forebears.
- This era will be marked by the king’s execution of justice on behalf of his people. Equity and harmony will be re-established.
- There will be a return to the harmony and peace of Eden. Mutually hostile animal species will be able to co-habitate, as it was before sin came to be on the earth (Foley, Footprints on the Mountain, pp. 15-16).
Does it sound a little beyond reach? This Advent, consider living with this unfinished feeling. We know how we wish things would be, and yet we are not there yet. Richard Rohr says, “We need to be reminded that utopia is nonexistent. Utopia, that perfect world in our imagination, is not what we’re waiting for at Christmas. Our task in this world is to live with open hands –with emptiness – so that there’s room for a coming, so that there’s room for something more,” (Catholic Update, Dec 1989).
It’s not that the wolf is suddenly not a wolf anymore, or that the lion is more like the calf. They are still authentically what they are. The difference is that they can be together. They can be who they are, be enemies, and still be neighbors. What can we learn from this?
2nd Reading — Romans (15:4-9):
Christian fellowship should be marked in hope. The Christian is always a realist, but never a pessimist. The Christian hope is not a cheap hope. It is not the immature hope which is optimistic because it does not see the difficulties and has not encountered the experiences of life. The Christian hope has seen everything and endured everything, and still has not despaired, because it believes in God. (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series on Romans, p. 196)
Paul is really furthering the vision of Isaiah here by encouraging us to see how the ‘peaceable kingdom’ has begun in Jesus, the One who welcomed – even sought out – sinners, the afflicted, the lost. We must continue Jesus’ example. No one is excluded from God’s mercy. (Celebration, Dec. 2004).
The Gospel — Matthew (3: 1-12):
John cries out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Jesus began His ministry with the very same words in Mt.3: 17.) How do the first two readings prepare us for these words? How is this an Advent message?
What images of desert and mountains and valleys – of Spirit and fire – of axe and root – of good fruit and wheat and chaff – speak most to you?
John’s entire presence preaches repentance. His ‘dress’ of camel’s hair and leather belt is similar to Elijah, another prophet heralding the end times. He resists the mainstream, living in the desert and eating locust and honey. He is not shy…how often have you been in a group and called a brood of vipers?! What John is challenging is that just because paternity makes the Pharisees and Saducees sons of Abraham, that doesn’t mean the kingdom is theirs. It is by their fruit (what they DO) that matters (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, pp. 4-5).
It is also important to remember when we read about repenting and judgment that we remember that Scripture is meant, first of all, to call ourselves to conversion. We may be tempted, though, to think it is all right to point the finger at others and even practice retribution ourselves. But it is fundamental to recall that God is the one who does the judging. Final judgment is God’s job; ours is repentance.
( Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 9, 2007)
How can we let this gospel move our hearts this Advent?