The Second Sunday of Advent ~ Sunday, December 9, 2018
As we examine the gospel of Luke this year, we see that for this gospel writer, the emergence of John the Baptist was one of the hinges on which history turned. He dramatically dates it in three different ways. Here’s the text . . .
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Lk. 3:1-6)
First of all, he begins by citing Roman, that is, Gentile—not Jewish history. Tiberius was the successor of Augustus and therefore the second of the Roman emperors. Luke thus begins by setting the emergence of John against a world background, that of the Roman empire—this according to scripture scholar William Barclay.
The next three dates are connected to the political organization of Palestine, mentioning Pontius Pilate, Herod and his brother Philip.
And then turning to the religious situation, he dates John’s emergence in the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the actual high priest, Annas was still the most influential priestly figure in the land. (All these men, of course, were also to be actors on the stage of Jesus’ trial and execution a few years later.)
Barclay suggests a unique way of understanding the quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5:
“When a king proposed to tour a part of his dominions, he sent a courier before him to tell the people to prepare the roads. So John is regarded as the King’s courier or herald. But the preparation on which he insisted was a preparation of heart and of life. ‘The King is coming,’ he said. ‘Mend. Not your roads, but your lives.’”
There’s also an interesting point about Luke’s quotation of Isaiah here that’s different from the other three gospels. He brings it to its logical conclusion: “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke is the gospel for the Gentiles—the gospel for everyone; he excludes no one, like our Pope Francis.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.
Not, as of old, a little child,
To bear, and fight, and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun
That lights the morning sky.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Thy people pray:
Come quickly, King of kings.
And, before you go, here’s a rendering of Handel’s And the glory of the Lord that contains the line quoted in Isaiah. Click here, and be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.
And here are all of Sunday’s Mass readings for your reflection: Click here.
Acknowledgment: William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Luke Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville, KY / 1975-2001
THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Saturday, December 8, 2018
This is a feast of Mary for us Catholics. In today’s gospel, we read the story of Mary’s Yes to God, her consent to bring Jesus into our world.
I offer for your reflection the Song of Mary that Luke places upon her lips ~ the Magnificat, sung or recited everywhere in the church throughout the world each evening of the year.
And as you’ll see, it has a pretty radical message ~ if you allow yourself to think about it.
And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy on those who fear him in every generation
He has shown might with his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered the promise of his mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers [and mothers]
to Abraham [and Sarah and Hagar] and [their] children for ever.
+ + + +
The song speaks of lowliness ~ humility. Yet it recognizes what God does in our lives.
Look with favor on US too, Lord.
Please ~ We need Your favor, Your grace.
May we see (and accept) that You do good things for us, too.
May we cry out every day: Holy is Your name, my God!
Let Your mercy be on us and our world.
Show Your strength, Lord ~ the strength of Your justice.
Scatter the proud, the arrogant ones who control so much of our world.
Cast down the mighty!
Lift up the lowly!
Fill the hungry!
Send the rich empty away as the ones in Power often do to the poor, Lord.
Come to the help of Your people now, Lord!
We, too, are all descendants of Abraham ~ Jew ~ Muslim ~Christian~ non-believer.
We are all Your children, dear God,
To You be glory and honor and praise for ever. Amen!
The Evangelist Luke places these words in the mouth of Mary at the very beginning of the story of Jesus. It is the “Magnificat,” the Canticle of Mary, sung or recited by priests and nuns and monks and many more believing Christians all over the world every day of the year at Evensong. So, it’s a pretty important text to reflect upon.
I would like you to notice how radical this message is: “Cast down the mighty.” “Raise up the lowly.” “Send the rich away empty.”
Sounds like a pretty political message, doesn’t it?
People have been thrown into prison for saying things like that.
But these words are two thousand years old!
They’re an essential and enduring part of the Christmas story as told by Luke.
It’s a Song about Justice from the lips of Mary, the Mother of God as told by Luke. About Justice entering our world.
I have sung Mary’s Song every evening for 30 years with spontaneous melodies arising from the mood of my soul of the moment.
And in that, I try to live the song!
How do you respond, dear friend?
How do you respond?
There are political messages buried in this song that are pretty obvious for us right now ~ or at any age or in any country. If the shoe fits, wear it!
Now to thrill you and inspire you, here’s introduction to Bach’s Magnificat on You Tube. If you scroll down the right side of the page, you will find other segments of the concert as well. Or you can Google “Magnificat videos” and have an amazing choice, including Shubert and Mozart and John Michael Talbot Be sure to enter FULL SCREEN. ENJOY!
And here are all of today’s Mass readings: Click here.
A special note for you: The image above is a copy of the famous Vladimir icon. It hangs upon the wall in my living room opposite my chair where I pray and write.
Here’s the true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, and was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. He died on December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the old Julian Calendar).
Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.
One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry.
This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.
One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer. Not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios’ parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas’ feast day approached, Basilios’ mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios’ safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king’s golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.
Nicholas’ tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari succeeded in spiriting away the bones, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas’ crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe’s great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as the “Saint in Bari.”
To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari’s great Basilica di San Nicola.
Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.
Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint’s horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.
Despite various variations of these customs handed down over the centuries, Dutch settlers brought the legend of Saint Nicholas, known to them as Sinter Klaas, to America towards the end of the 18th century. As their tradition goes, Sinter Klaas rode a white horse and left gifts in wooden shoes. This story merged with the British character Father Christmas, who dates back at least as far as the 17th century. Sinter Klaas was eventually Americanized to “Santa Claus.”
The rituals and fantasy surrounding Santa Claus became fixed in the modern American imagination with the publication of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Moore in 1823. Better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” the poem established Santa’s physical appearance (plump and jolly), his mode of transportation (a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer), and his method of toy delivery (down the chimney) for generations to come.
Now before you go, here’s a delightful Polish Christmas carol for you. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
If you’re new to this Advent blog, I recommend reading Welcome to Advent.Click here to get an overview of the Advent season.
Today, let’s reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation ~ the Christmas portion of our faith. (Again if you don’t accept this as an article of faith, then just consider it as a beautiful story; it still has power and it still can have tremendous meaning for you.)
St. John says “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus saves us as man. If you look at the word “Incarnation” you’ll recognize the word “carnal” ~ meat, flesh. Our God became flesh.
“He emptied himself of his equality with God and became as humans are” (Philippians 2).The Father sent his Son into our world to identify with us. To become one of us and with us. God likes us ~ the human race! In Jesus, a marriage is made between God and the human race.
But this article of our Christian faith often doesn’t dawn on folks. Many think he was just play-acting ~ pretending to be human.
I offer this passage (excerpted) from St. Gregory Nazianzen, bishop and doctor of the church in the fourth century from the Advent Office of Readings:
(Please take a few moments to read over this a couple of times to get the full import of what St. Gregory is saying in his poetry.)
He [Jesus] takes to himself all that is human, except sin; i.e. unfaithfulness).
He comes forth as God, in the human nature he has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit.
Spirit gave divinity, flesh receives it.
He who makes me rich is made poor;
he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of divinity.
He who was full is made empty;
he is emptied for a brief space of glory, that I may share in his fullness.
We need God to become one of us and with us.
To help us like and love ourselves.
To realize that Love and Beauty and all good things are our destiny.
To invite us to our future instead of destroying ourselves.
If only we believed.
If only we believed.
Take time today to allow this story of God’s love affair with the human race to touch you, embrace you, heal your heart and transform your life as it has mine. And continues to do so, day after day after day because, if you’re like me, I really, really, really like being caught up in Love!
The season of Advent is about preparing our hearts once again for a deeper experience of Christ at Christmas. We want to keep Christ in Christmas. This goes contrary to our world that insists that it’s a “Holiday” season. Here’s a great Christmas song that illustrates the point from a group that calls themselves (get this) ACLU. You’ll want to turn up your speakers and enter full screen for this one! Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d care to reflect on them. Click here.
Tuesday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah dreams of a bright future for us. He shows us a wonderful vision: the animals lead the way to peace!
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb . .
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest:
the lion shall eat hay like an ox
The baby shall play in the cobra’s den – Isiah 11:5-10.
Let’s muse about peace and harmony today.
Let’s muse about the animal’s leading the way to peace.
(I have a Christmas short story about an owl from the banks of the Shenandoah
and a young lion from the Serengeti in Africa leading the way to peace.
It’s a fun story. Why not download it and save it for close to Christmas?
My puppy Shivvy (of happy memory) demonstrated his fellow creatures of all sorts.
I have stories of him with turtles and little doves with broken wings and bunny rabbits and ducklings on our walks around our condo.
Think about this . . .
What can I do today to bring more harmony into the habitat in which I live
– at home, at work, at church, in my neighborhood, in our world?
Behold a broken world, we pray,
Where want and war increase,
And grant us, Lord, in this our day,
The ancient dream of peace.
Bring, Lord, your better world to birth,
Your kingdom, love’s domain,
Where peace with God and peace on earth,
And peace eternal reign.
~ Timothy Dudley Smith / 1985
If you’re new to this Advent blog, I recommend reading my Understanding the Seven Advent Themes to get a sense of why we want to spend four weeks preparing for our Christmas celebration and how it can help you deepen your spirituality whether you are a Catholic or even a Christian. Click here
I will be posting each day of Advent, (God willin’ n’ the creek don’t rise.
You can make yourself mini-retreat for five minutes a day and have the best and most meaningful Christmas ever!
It’ll relieve your stress. Calm your nerves. Put a bounce in your step and a smile on your face. And it’s free!
So, what are you waiting for?
And now, for your listening pleasure from Handel’s Messiah here’s “And the Glory of the Lord” from Robert Shaw’s Atlanta Symphony. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.
And here are today’s Mass readings: Click here.
And one more thing. Our Jewish Sisters and Brothers began their Hanukkah celebration last evening and much to my chagrin, I missed it! So please be sure to wish your Jewish friends a blessed and a happy holiday!
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