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).
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 and God alones does the cutting. 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?
1st Reading: Acts of the Apostles 3: 13-19
Jesus is called the “author of life” – what does that mean for you? Mary Birmingham points out that this term is a very ancient Christian term. The Greek word for ‘author’ means “captain” or “leader.” Jesus is the new leader, the new captain of life’s vessel, who leads the people, just like Moses, out of bondage into a new promised land – Jesus is the fulfillment of the liberation foreshadowed at the Exodus event – Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God has ever planned for humankind. (W&W Wrkbk Yr B, 363-364)
St. John of the Cross said, “The soul lives where it loves.” Think about that. Jesus lived here among us because of love. And that is why he died too. Are we supposed to feel this tremendous guilt that Jesus had to do this for us? I don’t know if God wants us to feel that way. Jesus only reaches out in love, only wants to repent and turn to him. He doesn’t want us wallowing in our guilt and self-loathing. He wants us to embrace the love. Let our souls live in that love. How can we be different living that way?
2nd Reading: 1 John 2: 1-5
What does it mean to you to call Jesus an “Advocate” – a parakletos ? An advocate is someone who pleads our case before a court of law – one who intercedes for us. It is someone whom we call to be by our side as our helper and counselor. It is someone who “lends his presence to his friends.” Jesus is this kind of friend. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 36-38)
Jesus is also called our ‘expiation’ for sin – here we must be careful of the meaning. In the Jewish sense, sacrifice was used to restore our relationship with God. It was God forgiving us and providing the means of restoring our relationship with God. Scholars also point out that the word could be translated as ‘disinfection’: Jesus shows us what God is like and disinfects us from the taint of sin – from the darkness and bondage of sin. Jesus is the reconciliation, the means, by which God reassures us of His love. And as this writer, John, sees it – this work of Jesus is carried out not just for us, but for the whole world.
The love of God is broader than the measures of our human mind. God’s salvation has wide enough arms for all. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 39-40))
The Gospel: Luke 24: 35-48
From Living Liturgy, 2003, 120:
Jesus “was made known” in the breaking of the bread and in repentance and forgiveness. Forgiveness, then, is an encounter with the risen Christ . . . it is our witness to the resurrection: “I forgive you.” Our belief is not some elite intellectual exercise but an embodied faith expressed in actions. We need to walk and talk like a forgiven people. Repentance-and-forgiveness is not just for Lent; it is Easter-activity! Forgiveness is a virtue that enables us not to allow past hurts to determine our decisions and actions in the here and now. Forgiveness opens up the space for creating together with the one forgiven a new future . . . It allows for new life – calls for new life and new possibilities.
Think of all this and pray for God’s Spirit to enliven and guide us as we are sent out at the end of our Eucharist “to love and serve the Lord.” (Birmingham, W&W Yr B, 365-373)
The gospels struggle with expressing the risen reality. It was not just another phase in the history of Jesus of Nazareth. In a real sense he was totally “other”, living now the indescribable life of God. And yet he was the same person and in some ways objectively identifiable. However, the resurrection was known principally by its fruits, the faith proclamation of unlettered fishermen. It changed people’s lives and continues to do so. To watch people move from a state of alienation to conversion and a new direction in life is the clearest proof of the risen Christ (Faley, R. Footprints on the Mountain, p, 309).