Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 23, 1973 – St. Anthony’s Nanuet – 10th Anniversary
The readings today prepare for our celebration of Christmas, the Gospel with the account of the Visitation, the Old Testament reading with its prophecy of Bethlehem, and the reading from Hebrews with its interpretation of Jesus’ whole life as the offering of the one great sacrifice which God desired. There’s a happy coincidence in this reading’s appearance today, and I’d like to make a few comments about it.
This section of the Letter to the Hebrews is part of a consistent argument in which the author contrasts the new covenant with the old, especially with regard to worship. (more…)
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT – DECEMBER 22, 1991 – BLESSED SACRAMENT
The Advent liturgy follows a different rhythm than the one that is forced upon us by the way our culture celebrates Christmas, or “the Holidays”. Today, it seems, Christmas is celebrated in the weeks before the feastday. The decorations go up right after Thanksgiving, if not before; the carols are played over and over in the stores and on the radio; the preparation is essentially a matter of buying the gifts that will be opened on the day. And, of course, once the feastday is over, the carols stop, the decorations come down, and we look forward to New Year’s Day and St. Valentine’s. The twelve days of Christmas–twelve days of the season between Christmas and Epiphany–have disappeared.
The Church’s liturgy follows an older rhythm. (more…)
Fourth Sunday in Advent – December 19, 1976 – CNR
Over at the Seminary yesterday, a group of us were chatting about what to preach on today. Jokingly (I trust you will understand), I said, “Well, you can just pull out your old Fourth Sunday of Advent turkey.” One of the students picked it up and said, “Yeah, that’s the one about the crass materialism of Christmas, and about putting Christ back in Christmas.” Terribly cynical, the seminarians you get these days.
I’m not sure it was necessary to tell this story, and I hope it doesn’t take away from appreciating what I think leaps straight out at us from the readings we have heard today. I mean the contrast between the two New Testament readings. On the one hand, we have St. Luke’s account of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, and we understand it as part of the lovely series of vignettes which his first two chapters have left for artists of all ages to portray–the very human scenes which everyone associates with Christmas, centering, of course, in the scene in the manger. That is Christmas for most of us.
But then there is that other reading, from the Epistle to the Hebrews. (more…)
Fourth Sunday in Advent – December 20, 2009 – St. John’s Goshen
With this fourth Sunday in Advent, we draw very close to the mystery we will celebrate this coming Tuesday. Our first reading presents the passage from the Book of the prophet Micah that predicts that the Messiah would come from the tiny village of Bethlehem, the one who would restore Israel and lead them like a shepherd and would himself be known as “peace.” Our Gospel passage recounts the Visitation, when Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth and hears from her the greeting that we use in one of our favorite hymns: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” All is in expectation: it is if the whole Church, we ourselves, are like a woman nearing the time of childbirth, the moment at which she will forget the pains of delivery because of her joy that a child has been brought into the world.
Between these two readings, we have heard a third one, more sober and more serious, tragic even. (more…)
Third Sunday in Advent – December 17, 2006 – Blessed Sacrament
The prophet Zephaniah lived some seven centuries before Christ and prophesied in the midst of political and military struggles between rival empires. His message, an assurance of an ultimate vindication of Israel by God, has been taken over and used in this liturgy as a prophecy of what we will celebrate soon at Christmas: “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, and you have no more cause to fear.”
His prophecy has a striking image. We are used to the prophet or the psalm calling on Israel to shout for joy, to sing joyfully because of what God has done. But here the prophet tells us that the Lord God himself “will rejoice over you with gladness; … he will sing joyfully because of you as one sings at festivals.” God himself rejoices because of us, sings his joy because of us.
What a lovely image! Of God singing for joy! Is that our image of God? Is this what immediately comes to mind when we think of God? That he is singing with joy the way people sing at weddings? Or does perhaps some other image come first to mind: God as judge, as lawgiver, as severe, as remote, as indifferent?
But isn’t this joyful God the one whom Jesus preached? When the shepherd finds his lost sheep and the woman finds her lost coin, each of them invites friends and neighbors to rejoice because what was lost has been found. When the father regains his lost son, he throws a feast and insists that his older son come in and share his joy. And the point of the parables Jesus makes explicit: “There will be more joy in heaven–this means “in God”–there will be more joy in God over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.”
Very early in his “Confessions,” Saint Augustine has a paragraph in which he sets out some of God’s attributes: You are most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most merciful and most just, etc., attributes that are familiar to us. But then in their midst, he has a phrase that leaps off the page at one: “quaerens cum nihil desit tibi–you are searching, though lacking nothing.” The phrase wonderfully captures the Christian notion of God. God did not create because he lacked something; he created so that others might enjoy his life. He did not redeem us because we were necessary to him; he redeemed us because he wished to take joy in us. He seeks us even when we are not seeking him.
What is true of us altogether is true of us singly: God rejoices over all of us, over each of us. Last week we could take comfort from the prophet’s assurance that we are remembered by God. This week we can take away the image of God rejoicing over us, singing with joy because of us. If you are ever tempted to think of God as distant, remote, indifferent, recall the image and even try to sing along!
Second Sunday in Advent – December 5, 2009 – St John’s, Goshen
Of the four Evangelists St. Luke is the one with an almost modern historical sensibility and an author’s sense of drama and plot. His brief prefaces to his two works, the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles state his purpose and the care he has taken with his sources. His Gospel begins with the carefully crafted accounts of the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus; it ends with the lovely account of the encounter between the risen Christ and two disciples on the road to Emmaus. And today we have heard how he begins the public drama of the mission and ministry of Christ. Listen to it again:
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 Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiphas…
After all that, what follows? What great event is being prepared by this solemn drum-roll, this precise location of time and place? (more…)
Second Sunday in Advent – December 7, 2003 – Blessed Sacrament
Of all the Gospels St. Luke’s has the fullest awareness of the public character of what God had done in Jesus Christ. He is the only evangelist to have written a second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, to tell the story of the spread of the Gospel beyond the geographical and the cultural boundaries of Israel; it ends with the arrival of St Paul in the capital of the Roman Empire, Rome. This interest in the history that shaped Christianity and in the history that Christianity shaped is already evident in the words with which he introduces his Gospel narrative of the events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, the words we heard today. Listen to them again: “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 Calaphas”–Listen to all that and you know something significant is about to be announced, and here it is: “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.”
“The word of God came”–we may not regard that as very significant; after all, we hear the phrase “Word of God” twice every Mass, and murmur our “Thanks be to God” after it. But it would have meant something far more significant for Jews of Jesus’ time. (more…)
Second Sunday in Advent–December 5, l976–CNR
The Book of Baruch, from which our first reading is taken, was written long after Israel’s exile in Babylon had ended. The words of the prophet throughout speak, however, as if Israel were still in exile, still longing for restoration to their homeland, still awaiting the transformation of a ruined Jerusalem to its former glory. In the passage we have heard, the prophet deliberately invokes the splendid imagery of Second Isaiah–every lofty mountain made low, depths and gorges filled in,”that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God”. It is as if the return from exile had still to be achieved.
And there was a sense, of course, in which that was true. (more…)
Second Sunday of Advent – December 9, 1973 – CNR
In today’s Gospel-passage, St. Luke begins the story of the public ministry of Jesus Christ. With a solemnity not found in the other Synoptic Gospels, he sets the stage by relating the beginning of his story to the public figures of the day, to Tiberius Caesar and the rulers of Palestine. Something of Luke’s historical interests perhaps come into play here; ancient historians began their accounts in similar fashion. But the believer can only remark the way Luke creates a dramatic tension in this reference to world-history for the great event he now will tell: at this time, when these men were rulers in the world, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.”
A good deal of the paradox of the Gospel is there contained: in a tiny country, far from the centers of power, to a strange figure in a wasteland, comes the word of God. (more…)
First Sunday in Advent – December 3, 2006 – Blessed Sacrament
With this first Sunday in Advent we begin today a new liturgical year. The Church thus follows a different rhythm of seasons than does the secular calendar. Advent is a season with its own distinctive character, but in the last ten or twenty years, it has become increasingly difficult to preserve that character. Now even before Thanksgiving we begin to be inundated with Christmas music, as if the Christmas season were the weeks before the feast and ended on the feast rather than beginning with it. The famous twelve days of Christmas were not, as I once heard a newscaster say, the last twelve shopping days before Christmas, but the period of time that runs between Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany which is (or ought to be) celebrated on January 6th. There were distinctive Advent hymns, and a pastor did not have to fear being upbraided because Christmas carols weren’t being sung in his church during Advent!
You might be interested in the origin of the Advent season. (more…)