1st Reading: Micah 5: 1 – 4a
Micah is all country music with a distrust of the big city. His language is blunt and unpolished – and he takes up the case of the poor as Amos does and rages against idols as Hosea does. Like Hosea, too, he begins with threats of reproach and ends with promise. And like all good cowboys, Micah is a loner. He trusts no human being – not a friend, not a lover, not a family member (7:5 – 6). “But as for me, I will put my trust in God my savior” (7:7), (K. Guentert’s “A Rich Look at the Prophets’ Motives”, US Catholic).
In this message of hope, the historical context is that Jerusalem is being invaded and the present king is ineffective (Probably 725 – 700BCE and the reign of King Ahaz, so during the fall of Jerusalem and the same time of the writings of Isaiah). When the mother of the new king gives birth, God will reverse Jerusalem’s fortunes. This new king will be a “new” David. Eventually this king will be crowned and rule in the name and with the strength of the Lord, (J. Pilch’s The Cultural World of the Prophets, p. 7). Unfortunately, this new king was a long time coming. There is a sense that this message of hope had a long shelf life. What is it like to maintain hope during a long struggle? How do we sustain it?
2nd Reading: Hebrews 10: 5 – 10
This passage from Hebrews summarizes Christian salvation. In contrasting Jewish sacrifices with the offering of Jesus, it sees the latter as both superior and exclusive. The passage begins with a quote from the Septuagint version of Psalm 40:7. But a body you prepared for me (In NRSV, Then I said, ‘Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.’). The body is well suited to the author’s intent, referring to Jesus’ own corporal and personal offering. Jesus made God’s will his own and through his offering established a new covenant and a new people of God, R. Faley’s Footprints on the Mountain, p. 56-57).
From M. Silf’s Inner Compass, p. 91 – 92 on God’s will/our will: When I am really living true, my own deepest desire (to become the person God created me to be) is in complete harmony with God’s will for me (that I might become the person he created me to be). God’s will, therefore, becomes not something remote and unknowable (that I will be punished for not carrying out!) but something as close to me as the deepest desire of my own heart, and something that he is only waiting and longing to reveal to me in every moment of my life and in every breath of my prayer. God’s will – his desire for me – and my own deepest desire (when I am really living true) are one and the same thing! …when I feel I am somehow touching on that which my heart most deeply desires (even though I may not be able to put a name to it), I experience a profound sense of peace (see Micah again!). Jesus is our example. How does this sit with you in the context of this reading? As we get to the Gospel, connect this with the final verse…Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.
Gospel: Luke 1: 39 – 45
From Sr. E. Johnson’s Truly Our Sister, p. 259-262: The house is Zechariah’s but he has been struck dumb. No other men are around. Such quieting of the male voice is highly unusual in scripture. Into this spacious silence 2 women’s voices resound, one praising the other and both praising God. And they do so in the context of meeting an affirming one another. Their mutual encouragement enabled them to go forward with more confidence and joy despite the struggle that still faced them. These 2 women look to each other for validation of their authority rather than to men. Note that Elizabeth blesses Mary as a woman in her own right first, then her child, then her faith. Elizabeth’s exuberant praise shouted with unrestrained joy joins Mary to solidarity with a long heritage of women whose creative action, undertaken in the power of the Spirit, brings liberation in God’s name. Moreover, this blessing weds her historic pregnancy to her faith, again depicting her as someone who hears the word of God and acts upon it even in her own body. Do you have someone in your life that affirms you in a way that it also increases your faith? What challenges do these women present to you? What does Jesus’ birth, from the womb of a woman, speak to your faith?
The Second Vatican Council, in the constitution on the Church, points out that Jesus fully reveals God to the world and reveals humankind to one another. In that human revelation, Jesus makes the divine call of all God’s people clear. In the same document, the bishops of the world go on to state that Jesus’ divinity does not diminish his humanity. But, in fact, “He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, He acted by human choices, and loved with a human heart, “ (#22). What does Jesus coming in the flesh reveal about God? How have I recognized the presence of Jesus in others?
1st Reading – Zephaniah 3: 14-18a
Zephaniah prophesied in the days of King Josiah (640 – 609 BC). Josiah became king at the ripe old age of 8 years old! Zephaniah was a fiery preacher, and so much of this book speaks against pagan practices, enemy nations and sin…for the day of the Lord is coming (L. Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament, p. 340). But this passage today is a hopeful one. The reason for rejoicing is that the Lord is in the midst of Jerusalem, and that divine presence assures victory or successful escape from certain conquest in an attack (J. Pilch’s The Cultural World of the Prophets, p. 5). How might knowing the Lord continues to be in our midst help us rejoice and feel victorious?
“A mighty savior” is being applies to God the Father; as Christians we associate this with God the Son. We have a God that is all about saving us. Elizabeth Johnson CSJ states plainly, “More than five hundred years before Jesus’ death on the cross, Second Isaiah proclaimed that the God who created heaven and earth was redeeming and saving Israel and forgiving their sin out of the infinite depths of divine compassion. This God is forever faithful, “ (Creation and the Cross, p. 50). We have a God that is FOR us. Let that goodness sink into you.
How about this for a possibility: God’s gladness sings out joyfully at every instant, and his song is the earth, the galaxies, the people and plants and chemicals and soaring hawks and encircling planets, droplets of dew and the heavy black holes, the youthful beauties, ancient wisdoms, and everything else that makes up all that exists.
2nd Reading – Philippians 4:4-7
This is Gaudete (meaning rejoice in Latin) Sunday’s signature reading. As the Lord comes nearer and nearer, we become more and more excited – like the Advent wreath that starts with only one candle and ends with four bright ones. Of course, our risen Lord is always close at hand. May our hearts and minds open wide with faith in the presence of this Christ. Our faith in the nearness of God should not only produce joy, but endurance, patience and a deep sense of security despite real times of fretting and worry and great difficulties. This was true of Paul and his many struggles. It was true for the Philippians with all of their problems. It is true for us. It is especially important for us during these frenzied, hectic days before Christmas. We need to be reminded that God is near – in our midst – so gratitude and peace should rule our hearts. (Preaching Resources, Dec. 14, 2003)
From Henri Nouwen’s Here and Now, p. 30-31: Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away…Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.
The Gospel – Luke 3: 10-18
From John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu./3AdvC121309 :
“Don’t worry! Be happy!” That is the advice for this Sunday. But what if you just do not feel like it? Sometimes the most useless thing to say to a sad person is “Snap out of it.” Yet this is what the Liturgy of the Word seems to insist on. Zephaniah tells a timid, disheartened people: “Fear not, be not discouraged . . . God will rejoice over you with gladness.” Simple as that.
To rub it in, the psalmist, despite our fears and weaknesses, cheerily demands that we cry out with joy, that we be confident and unafraid. You might as well hand out smile buttons.
Paul is just as bad. To a bickering, fearful, and restless community he writes: “Be unselfish. Dismiss anxiety from your minds. Just trust our God and present your needs.” Then the church, supposedly, will be flooded with peace, understanding, and harmony.
But what if it doesn’t work? What if Advent doesn’t take? What if things get worse or the pain does not let up?
Advent’s themes of happiness and hope can annoy someone who hurts. When you are burdened with the chaff of ego or the weight of anxieties, forced joy and canned glee disgust the best of persons.
Yet it is nothing but our diminishment, our losses, our sadness, our weight of sin that Advent confronts and calls us out of. Somehow it is the pathos of our own melancholy that must be laughed away. It is our sense of exile, our cramped confinement, the dross of our psychic baggage that must be burned off by the fire of love.
The crowds John encountered had, themselves, little reason for joy. Aware of their own need for deliverance, they felt a glimmer of anticipation that he might be the messiah. He counseled justice and rectitude, but the promise he spoke of was something far more than they might have suspected or wanted: “I am baptizing you with water, but there is one to come who is mightier than I. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn in unquenchable fire.”
I used to think this passage referred to the contrast between the saved and the lost. My prayer was to be in the happy granary, not burnt in the fire.
But this is clearly a misreading of the Baptist’s words. The fire is part of the baptism in Jesus and his spirit. Fire is not the fate of the lost, but the refining of the blessed. We all have our chaff, our dross, our waste. We all have our winnowing. And it is the fire of Christ that will burn it away. The burdens we carry do not make us unfit for Advent’s message. They qualify us as prime candidates.
The only exit from Dante’s Purgatorio was a wall of fire. Once the pain was burned away by love, the other side was Paradise, sheer joy.
A meditation by Macrina Wiederkehr…
Our autumned hearts stand waiting for God’s gracious gift.
Someone is coming whose sandals we aren’t worthy to carry.
Prepare the way of the Lord!
But how do we prepare the way for a King
who is not of this world?
Crowns, red carpets, and flowing robes He desires not.
Our ungospelled hearts try to hide embarrassed
at our slowness to respond to such a gift.
Poor, cluttered hearts starving for the emptiness
that make fullness possible.
Prepare the way of the Lord!
It is so little that God asks of us.
Give some evidence that you mean to reform.
Wear lights in your hearts instead of on your trees.
Our autumned hearts stand waiting for God’s gracious gift.
Come, Lord Jesus, come!
Gospel up our lives with your presence
and we’ll wear lights in our hearts instead of on our trees.
How can our hearts be cluttered?
How can we prepare the way?
What does “we’ll wear lights in our hearts” mean to you?
The 1st Reading – Baruch 5: 1-9
A mitre, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a headdress worn by archbishops, bishops and abbots. It is also a joint between 2 pieces of wood to form a corner. A cornerstone, in particular, is a stone at the base that binds 2 walls. The cornerstone must be strong and secure for the integrity of the building. God is in your corner! Do you wear God like a mitre, to advance secure in God’s glory?
The Greek word for justice more closely means doing what is right. If we try to do what is right, we will display God’s glory and splendor. What does that mean to you? Think deeply about that question. Doing what we feel is right within us is what may be right with God. This is what brings joy and mercy into the world. How do justice, glory and mercy work together? What wonderful thoughts to have this Advent!
The 2nd Reading — The Letter to the Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Paul had established this church in about 50AD (the first Christian church on European soil). It was one of Paul’s favorite churches. Paul was in prison (probably in Rome) when Epaphroditus, an old friend from Philippi, arrived bearing more gifts from this church. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus became very sick. Later, he recovered and Paul was anxious for him to return home so that those who are worried about him will be relieved. Paul sent this letter with him. Despite the hardship and imprisonment, Paul’s letter is full of thanksgiving and joy, a very personal letter filled with strong emotions. (Serendipity Bible for Study, p. 375)
This is a love letter. Paul’s love for the people of Philippi is bursting in his words, and he wants that love he has for them to have an effect. Love is powerful! It moves people. It changes us. It makes us want goodness. And since God is love, of course it makes sense that love transcends and transforms all that is. When has someone’s love transformed you? When has it opened your eyes to something? How does love make a difference? The second candle in the Advent wreath stands for love! May its light inspire you along with Paul’s words!
The Gospel – Luke 3: 1-6
Have you ever celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation privately? Most people admit that they are nervous on arrival but relieved afterwards…like a weight has been lifted. There is a freedom in knowing that God comes to us where we are. God takes us “AS IS”. Sometimes you may see items on sale “AS IS” and that usually means they are damaged goods or less than adequate. God makes us ready for to be full price again! And God’s love is the same no matter what condition we are in. We are beloved, which is what John the Baptist proclaimed LOUDLY!
Luke takes great care to situate the ministry of John the Baptist and thus Jesus in
the midst of human history. He mentions both secular leaders (Tiberius, Pilate, Herod etc.) and religious authorities (Annas and Caiphas). It is sort of like a “chronological drumroll.” He also chooses to include all of Isaiah’s directives (Isaiah 40:3-5) leading to the universal cry of “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (God’s universal and pastoral care for all peoples is a major theme of Luke’s gospel and his Acts of the Apostles.) When we dare to try to put someone or some group outside of God’s saving concern, we should remember this theme. This Good News of Jesus Christ is intended to disrupt and disturb us until it enlarges our hearts, enlightens our minds, and unclenches our fists to welcome the truth of God’s love for all human flesh. (Celebration, Dec.10, 2000)
God breaks into human history through the birth of Jesus. 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-absorbtion, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life (Altogether Gift, Michael Downey, p. 79).
We know that John the Baptist is later beheaded. Hearing this reading, knowing how his life on earth ends…what is provoked in you? Our lives can end abruptly without knowing if our mission is doing any good. Do you think that bothered John the Baptist? Maybe your imagination could help.
Let us pray:
Jesus, listen to our prayer.
Sometimes we grope in the darkness.
It is hard to simply be quiet and present in your presence.
This Advent, help us to wait, to expect, to hope. AMEN