Gospel Reflection for December 25, Christmas Day

The angel said, “You have nothing to fear!  I bring you good news, a great joy to be shared by the whole people for this day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord.”

Luke 2.10-11

Luke’s gospel and the Christmas Liturgy of the Word fill the story of Jesus’ birth with the significance of this whole redemptive life.  The birth narrative is no realistic video in narrative form, but a story carefully crafted to communicate to every hearer the same tiding of great joy the shepherds hear.  A savior has been born to us.  The messiah that Israel has long awaited has come.  God’s own Son is with us.  Each statement proclaims the whole gospel in summary.

Where might Jesus be born today to express God’s willingness to identify with the lowliest among us?

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Sermon 4th Sunday of Advent CSJ Vespers

A girl named Mary pledges her heart and hearth to a pregnancy and a child in Sunday’s gospel.  So attentive to the stirring of the Spirit is this young woman that she hears an angel speak and so unassuming is she that the angel’s greeting totally confuses her.  Who me?  Full of grace and favor?  God is with me, yes, of course, always.  What does this greeting mean?  Mary doesn’t run.  She ponders and stays in the conversation.  Doesn’t Jane McDonald startle you when she uses the angel’s greeting and instead of saying hello, says, “Hail, holy woman, full of grace.”  It always gives me pause and leads me to reclaim my deepest identity as like Mary a much blessed listener to God’s word.

As if the greeting isn’t perplexing enough, the angel announces to Mary she will conceive and bear a son who will be the Son of God and Israel’s long-promised messiah.  Having a child is a big, life-changing deal.  It means orienting one’s whole life around the child—feeding, clothing, sheltering the child, getting up in the night.  Mary asks a forthright and practical question.  How?  How can I conceive and bear a son?  I’m still a girl, a virgin.

The angel’s answer is in no way an answer satisfactory for scientific questions.  We don’t know how Mary conceived.  The angel explains that the Spirit will come upon Mary, the same Spirit that stirred the chaos into cosmos.  This vast web of life and light of which we are part and which we see surrounding us on starry nights testifies to the power of God to give life.  Not only does all that is testify, God’s blessings and saving actions in Israel’s history testify to the power of the Most High that will overshadow Mary.  The shekinah or cloud led Israel through the desert and overshadowed the meeting tent where the ark of the covenant stood.  The cloud shines with divine presence, its shadow protects and comforts in a hot arid land.  The whole cosmos and the history of Israel testify nothing is impossible with God.

Mary responds to God’s invitation, “Here I am.” I am present to you, attentive.  I give my heart to birthing and mothering the one who will make us whole.  I give my hearth to welcoming and nurturing the one I will name Jesus.  Mary, like each of us, has within a deep interior where she can say yes to our unfolding and partnering in generating life, each of us a consciousness in which the cosmos knows itself; each of us a self who can freely say no or yes.  With Mary’s yes, a child begins to grow in a warm, dark womb nestled below the heart of this vigorous young mother who thinks nothing of hiking off on foot 75 miles to see her kinswoman with whom she ponders the mystery they are living.

Hail Mary, 1950, Frank Kacmarcik -- Good Ground Press Cards

God musters no divine army for peacemaking and nation building, manufactures no tasers or teargas to stop protests, drops no bombs to end tyranny.  God invests in becoming one of us to show us all each of us can become through love.  With his mother’s DNA, the history of the world joins in becoming part of Jesus’ being.  The bacteria that first learned to use oxygen to fuel life are there at work.  The iron born in the supernovas of ancient stars runs red in Jesus’ veins.  The upright bearing and nimble hands of the early toolmakers serve Jesus well in making walls and tables.  From Mary’s body and blood comes Jesus’ own.

It is Mary who first welcomes this child.  Hers is the heart that says yes to him and never stops saying yes to him—not when people say he is out of his mind, not when he dies forsaken on the cross.   Hers is the hearth and hospitality Jesus knows as home.  I imagine Jesus as a child helping around the cooking fire and other women noticing, “He sure looks like you, Mary.”

The Second Vatican Council holds up Mary as a model for believers.  The progress of the gospel in the world depends on the prayer and spiritual experience of believers, of us, who like Mary ponder all that happens in our hearts.

Today we celebrate the word becoming flesh in Mary and becoming one of us in the vast and holy pregnancy in which we live.  We have within us the built-in capacity of the cosmos to become more.  The impossible can come to be in us, at our hearths where we welcome neighbors, fill them with good things, and ponder together our world perplexing problems.  The impossible can come to be in our hearts where we say yes to justice and peace unfolding in our daily actions.  Like Mary we are full of grace and pregnant with holy possibilities.

 

 

Gospel Reflection for December 18th, Fourth Sunday in Advent

The angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

Luke 1.30-31

To the angel’s greeting, Mary responds with wordless perplexity.  To Gabriel’s invitation to give birth to God’s Son, Mary questions, “How can this be?”  To Gabriel’s promise that God will do the impossible in her, Mary says yes.

This dialogue between Gabriel and Mary outlines the journey in any call.  The journey moves from perplexity, to certainty the call cannot be, to confidence this call can be.  God can do the impossible in me.

With Mary’s yes, the Creator makes a new move, a move to make us whole.  Mary is to name her son Jesus.  The name means he saves.  Jesus will embody the salvation and wholeness of the human race.

How is Mary’s call to be the mother of God like the call of every Christian?

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Living in Hope: Reflections for the Third Week of Advent

PRAY: “O DAYSPRING, you bring God’s light into our darkness.
You are the rising sun,
the morning star that brightens lives and lifts spirits.
COME blaze in us and cast out all fear.”
O antiphon for December 21

REFLECT:
Before beginning this week’s retreat read the scripture selections for the third Sunday of Advent :

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
1Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

As we move toward the middle of Advent we become more aware of the darkness of winter days.  The cycles of light and darkness are around us in these short December days.  But God is with us in both light and darkness.

Often we contrast light and darkness and think of them as opposites, with the darkness somehow less good than the light.  But really darkness and light form a continuum.  In the dawning of a new day, light gradually overcomes the dark, and in the beauty of a sunset light fades gradually.

PRAY:   

Take a moment to look outside your window.  Be aware of the light or the darkness and of God’s presence found in both.  Now light your candles and pray slowly these words found in Sunday’s opening prayer:

“Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which God’s presence will bestow, for he is Lord forever and ever.”

REFLECT:

Advent is the time of preparing the soil of our hearts for Christ’s coming and for living in hope, trust, and peace.  This season is meant to be a time of encouragement.  A well-known passage from Isaiah (40:31) reminds us of the strength we need: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Although our world is not at peace, we can hope during this Advent to experience the joy of God’s presence in our hearts.

The entrance antiphon at mass, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near,”  invites us to begin our reflections for the third Sunday of Advent, aware that as Christians our hope will move us toward a sense of joy.

Isaiah’s poetry in Sunday’s first reading also puts words to our need in these days:

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the Lord
and a day of vindication by our God.
I rejoice heartily in the Lord,
in my God is the joy of my soul ….”

Pause now to think of the many people in the world who are poor and brokenhearted, who are refugees and captives.  Pray that your generosity in prayer and service will strengthen them in both body and spirit.  In what specific ways this Advent can you bring “glad tidings” to others both near and far?

All the readings of this Sunday speak to us about how to be mature Christians who are trying to deepen our response as followers of Jesus.  Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, the second reading for this third Sunday, sets the theme of rejoicing.  Rejoicing, or joy, is a virtue which underlies our hope and trust in God’s presence with us through Jesus Christ.  Paul writes:

“Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus . . . .
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body
be preserved blameless for the coming our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What a wonderful description of how we can continue to live out this Advent.  We can rejoice, pray, give thanks–all with hope in our hearts–as we prepare for the coming of Jesus into our world.

PRAY:
As we approach the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, we can rejoice that Christ the light of the world will shine in our hearts anew this Christmas.  We can greet each day as it dawns with these words:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! 
The Lord is near.”

Check back Sunday, December 18th for the 4th week installment.

Retreat: “… Advent is a time of darkness, of faith.”

The Advent Retreat invites you into the Sunday scripture readings that take us back in time before Jesus’ birth into the centuries of longing for the messiah, the prince of peace. Jump into any of the four reflections. Pause. Take time for a little solitude in the midst of the rush of December. Look for the light in the rich seed time of our world in its winter sleep, its long evenings when it is good to be home.

Tap into your own spiritual energy. Remember all you are about and value. Fit God into the picture again. Breath.

Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Notice in this photo how the winter sun has risen a little more than the sun in last week's photo.

Before beginning this week’s retreat read the scripture selections for the second Sunday of Advent:

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

Isaiah’s words, “Comfort, give comfort to my people,” which begin the passage in Sunday’s reading, are also the opening words of Handel’s great “Messiah.”  If you are familiar with that moving melody, let it resound in your mind as you celebrate Advent.

These next words from Isaiah also provide the text for the next part of the “Messiah”:

In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in.
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all the people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

These words announce the role of John the Baptist who will come later to prepare the way for the Christ.  John the Baptist, who is the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament prophets, saw his mission as preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah.

We hear the voices of Isaiah and John the Baptist throughout Advent.  John takes his role seriously, pointing always to Jesus.  Always humble, he says he is not worthy to stoop and loosen the sandals of the Christ.  However, he did not hesitate to speak the truth courageously to those in authority like Herod the great.

Light two candles and place yourself in God’s presence.  Ask yourself what valleys in your life need to be filled and what mountain needs to be made low.  In walking your path this Advent are you aware of your need for the repentance and forgiveness which John the Baptist preached?

In your life who has been a John the Baptist for you, pointing you toward a closer following of Christ?  How have you pointed someone else to a deeper relationship with Christ?

John appears a number of times in the readings for Advent.  His annunciation and birth parallel that of Jesus.  You remember the stories of Mary going to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, when she was expecting the birth of her son.  All were amazed at the birth of the son of Zachary and Elizabeth and at the name the angel told his father to give him. The name “John” means “beloved of God.”

Isaiah, John, and Mary are traditionally considered the major figures, and our guides, as we move through Advent.  They all point to and present Jesus to the world.

The angel’s announcement to Mary expresses all the hopes of the people of the Old Testament and their longing for the Messiah.  Messages from God are always something extraordinary but come within the ordinariness of life.  Most likely Mary is not kneeling at a prie-dieu, as later paintings suggested, but doing the ordinary tasks of a first-century Palestinian woman.

At the time the angel says, “You have found favor with God,” Mary has already been living in God’s grace but has yet to accept it more fully.  The angel’s message is the Good News or “gospel” of all time.

Mary’s question, “How can this be?”  shows that she was practical and matter-of-fact.  The answer to this question comes when the angel tells her that her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant.  This news reassures Mary that “nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary’s response is the first and greatest proclamation of Christian faith.  Calling herself “handmaid” or “servant of the Lord” foreshadow the Acts of the Apostles where Christians are called servants and “handmaids” of the Lord.

On no other authority than her own does Mary say “yes.”  This response reveals a great deal about Mary’s sense of self and about her trust in God.  Because Mary is so completely receptive to God’s word, she is a disciple of Jesus even before his birth.

Reflect for a moment on the angel’s words to Mary, so familiar to Catholics: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

At the Annunciation Mary has heard “nothing will be impossible for God.”  And the impossible has already happened to each woman.  For both Mary and Elizabeth God has raised up the lowly in a surprise action and allows something beyond ordinary human experience.

As Mary enters the house of Zachary and Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s joy is marvelous.  She greets Mary with three breathless statements, each beginning with the word, “blessed.”  “Blessed are you among women … blessed is the fruit of your womb … blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

This burst of beatitude is prompted, of course, by the leaping of child (John the Baptist) in Elizabeth’s womb and by her being filled with the Holy Spirit just as Mary has been at the Annunciation.  Elizabeth, the older woman, to whom God has also done great things, is overwhelmed.  She cries out, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord has come to me?”

PRAY:
Picture these two women embracing one another.  How is Mary’s relationship with Elizabeth like your relationship with a close friend or relative?  Advent is a time to pray for and care for women who are pregnant.  May they be blessed.

Visit again on Sunday, December 11th for Living in Hope:  Advent Reflections

Gospel Reflection for December 11, 3rd Sunday in Advent

John the Baptist said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Holy One.’” John 1.23

John the Baptist speaks in continuity with the prophets in Israel’s history.  In fact, Christian tradition hears in his preaching an echo of the voice of Second Isaiah who called captive Israel home from exile.

The Baptist insists he is neither Elijah nor Moses but a voice crying out in the desert, “make straight the way of the Holy One.”  Like Second Isaiah he testifies that God will come to revive and forgive us.

Whose voices today help renew and revive the Christian Church?

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Gospel Reflection for December 4th, 2nd Sunday in Advent

John the Baptist said, “I have baptized you in water; the one who is coming will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1.8

John the Baptist preaches repentance and has people who repent wash in water to symbolize their resolve to turn toward God.  Bathing washes away the sweat, dirt, and smell of past work; it readies and revives the bather for new company and activity.  John calls people to go beyond keeping the law and open themselves to the reviving Spirit of God.  John promises one more powerful than he is coming, one who will baptize in the Holy Spirit.

What do you need to wash away to be open to God’s reviving spirit this Advent season? What relationships need reviving?

Gospel Reflection for November 27th, First Sunday of Advent

Watch!  Stay awake!  You do not know when the appointed time will come. Mark 13.33

Like us, Jesus’ disciples in Sunday’s gospel want to know what the future will bring.  In Mark 13 they ask Jesus when the end will happen.  Jesus answers that no one knows when the end will be, not the day, not the hour.

Instead of a date for the end of all things, Jesus gives us a one-verse parable about a man who goes on a journey, leaves his slaves in charge, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Stay awake at the door!

What do you see, hear, feel around you this Advent?  At what doorways do you watch?

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A Poem for Advent Reflection

Use this poem by Sister Mary Virginia Micka as an Advent Reflection.

I asked and said:
what is to be said?
and I heard
      WATCH:                                               Click HERE to download the full poem.
and I said                                                    This is an excerpt.
what shall I see?
and I heard
        I am crafting the time
        (watch
         the day and the hour)
         am brooding over the night
and I said
how will I know you
by what sign?

Read it once during each of the four weeks of Advent.

Reflect on any of the questions in the tree at the end of the poem.

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