3rd Sunday of Advent (B)

First reading, Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11: This section of Isaiah comes from the turbulent period when the Jews were trying to re-establish themselves in their homeland after enduring a generation of exile in Babylon. The prophet says of himself that God has anointed him with the Spirit and sent him to bring good news to those in need of it. The good news consists of the healing of the broken-hearted and the liberation of prisoners. He also uses the image of the earth in its bringing forth of new vegetation in the spring. He says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord; in my God is the joy of my soul.” This hope for the coming of salvation finds its fulfillment in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. Inaugurating his public ministry in Nazareth, Jesus declared He was the fulfillment of this passage from Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21), because he had been anointed by the Spirit of God to bring good news to the poor. We rejoice at the fulfillment of the prophecy about Jesus in this passage.
There was a certain kingdom that had been blessed with long line of kings who were both wise and good. The explanation was thought to lie in a magic ring. The ring had been passed down faithfully form father to the eldest son., who inherited the throne. At one time it happened that a king had twins, both boys. They were named Peter and Paul and the king loved them equally. Now the king fell very ill and found it very difficult to make a decision as to whom the ring should be given? He got another ring made exactly like the first. It was so good that it was impossible to differentiate it.
He called the two sons separately and gave each of them a ring. When Peter came to know that his brother too had received a ring he made a terrible scene, because he wanted to be sure that he had the magic ring. The king consulted a wise man to help him to make the decision. The wise man was unable to verify the authenticity of the ring, but said that it is a question of time, which will manifest the goodness of the person about the veracity of the ring.
The king recovered from his illness and reigned for many more years. When at last he was nearing death he called in his two sons once more. Peter was the first to come and he began to claim adamantly that he possessed the ring. But people who knew him best were also asked their opinion. His wife told how over the years he had shown very little affection. His children said that he was never at home. His servants complained that he had been very hard o them and had paid them poor wages. His neighbors told how he was forever stirring up trouble among them.
Paul came in without any claims, but the people who knew him were asked of their opinion. They had only praises for him, because he had proved to be a loving husband and a kind father to the children he had treated his servants with respect and generosity. He had been a force for peace and goodwill among his neighbors.
Now the king spoke: Peter you have witnessed to the presence of the ring, but only with your words. Paul on the other hand, has witnessed to it with his deeds, that is, with his life. Therefore he declared the genuineness of the ring, which is with Paul. Now Paul was asked to produce it, but he no longer had it, because he gave it to a poor woman and her child to buy food and clothes. The king far from being angry was pleased to hear about it and succeeded to the throne of the kingdom.
The second son resembles John the Baptist. The Gospel speaks of a man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. The Jews and the Levites were quite eager to know about his identity and asked him, “Who are you?” He said; “I am not the Christ.” Then they became more curious about it and asked further questions; “Are you Elijah?” “Are you the Prophet?” To them quoting Prophet Isaiah he said; “ I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make a straight path for the Lord.” How did he accomplish this task?

“Every valley shall be lifted up:” The valleys to be lifted up represent all the voids of our behavior before God, all our sins of omission. A void in our life can be the fact that we don’t pray or pray little. Hence, Advent is the favorable moment to pray with more intensity, to give to the spiritual life the important place it deserves. Another void might be our lack of charity towards our neighbor, especially towards those most in need of help, not only material but also spiritual. We are called to be more conscious of the needs of others, closer to them. Thus, like John the Baptist, we can open paths of hope in the desert of the arid hearts of so many people.
“Every mountain and hill be made low” exhorts again Isaiah. The mountains and hills that must be made low are pride, haughtiness and arrogance. Where there is pride, where there is arrogance, where there is haughtiness the Lord can’t enter because that heart is full of pride, of haughtiness, of arrogance. Therefore, we must lower this pride. We must assume meek and humble attitudes, without rebuking, listening, talking meekly and thus preparing the coming of our Savior, He who is meek and humble of heart (Cf. Matthew 11:29). Then we are asked to eliminate all the obstacles we put to our union with the Lord: “The uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed – says Isaiah — and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:4-5). However, these actions are to be done with joy, because they are geared to the preparation of Jesus’ arrival. When we expect at home the visit of a dear person, we prepare everything with care and happiness. We want to predispose ourselves in the same way for the coming of the Lord: to attend to Him every day with solicitude, to be filled with His grace when He comes.
John’s humility: The evangelist John presents John the Baptizer as the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “a voice in the desert” calling for Israelites to prepare a way for the coming of Jesus. John in his Gospel takes special care to stress the fact that Jesus surpasses John the Baptist. The Baptizer declares: “I am baptizing only with water; but there is One among you–you don’t recognize him–and I am not worthy to untie the straps of his shoes.” Any greatness he possessed came from the greatness of the one whose coming he foretold. John is thus the great example of the man prepared to obliterate himself for Jesus. He lived only to point the way to Christ.
Bearing witness to Jesus is our mission as well as John’s: The idea that the Baptizer came as a witness to testify to the Light (Jesus), is found only in the Gospel of John. According John, Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Just as the dawn of each new day brings joy, the coming of Jesus, the Light of the world, causes us to rejoice. We, the Church, are called to bear witness to Christ by word and deed, in good times and bad—when it suits us and when it doesn’t. The witness of the Church, ironically, has often been more faithful under persecution than under prosperity. We need to be messengers who point out Christ to others, just as John did. John the Baptist’s role as a joyful witness prepared the way for Jesus. John also provides an example for us because our vocation as Christians is to bear “witness” to Christ by our transparent Christian lives.

2nd Sunday of Advent (B)

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

Today’s message from Isaiah is a word of consolation to the Jews in Babylonian exile. He assures them that their captivity will end soon and that they are going home as free people. He assures them that they will be brought back to Israel by the power of God. Isaiah is not shy about saying that the Exile was a punishment for sin. But their sins are forgiven now and the exile is over. Hence he wants them to consider their return journey as their second Exodus, with Yahweh once more their loving Father and faithful Shepherd. The prophet describes God’s marvelous love for the undeserving. If Yahweh is now their redeemer rather than their punisher, then their relationship with Yahweh also has to change. Isaiah instructs the exiles that they are to return home in a grand religious procession, with God leading them. To pave the way for this procession, valleys and mountains are to be leveled, and a highway created in the wilderness. God will lead them to Judah and within Judah to the city Jerusalem and within Jerusalem to the hill Zion, where their Temple had stood. Seeing the procession in his mind, the prophet exclaims with joy, “Here comes your God with power!” Then he presents the tender picture of God leading the exiles as a shepherd cradles lambs. The words of Isaiah about the “voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths,'” were a prediction of John the Baptist.  He was calling upon people to prepare for the coming of the Lord.  And the Lord was Jesus who brought about true liberation from the bondage of sin for all mankind.

Malachi’s view of the mission of the messiah: “I send my messenger before you and he will prepare your road for you” (Mal.3:1). In its original context this was a threat and warning from God to the Temple priests.  In those days, the priests were failing in their duty by offering blemished and the second-best sacrifices to Yahweh and living a lazy life. Hence the messenger was to cleanse and purify the worship of the Temple before the Anointed One of God emerged upon the earth. So Malachi anticipates the mission of John the Baptist as one of purification.  John gives the Jews some down-to-earth advice as to how to change their lives for the better. He wants them (and us as well) to fill in valleys of prejudice, level the mountains of pride and straighten out the crooked paths of injustice. Preparing a way for God in our hearts is a time-consuming and costly business. It demands our listening to what God is saying to us and then making changes in our behavior. Welcoming God also involves removing all blockages and obstacles, which prevent Him from coming close to us.

John’s message calls us also to confront and confess our sins; to turn away from them in sincere repentance; to receive God’s forgiveness; and most importantly, to look to Jesus. Do we need to receive God’s forgiveness? There are basically two reasons why we fail to receive forgiveness. The first is that we fail to repent, and the second is that we fail to forgive. Jesus was very explicit about this in Matthew 6:14 and 15. He says, “For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Is there someone we need to forgive today? Let us not allow what others have done destroy our life. We can’t be forgiven unless we forgive. Let us let go of that bitterness and allow God to work healing in our life. Perhaps we need to draw closer to Him. Like the prodigal son’s father, God will run to meet us. He will throw His arms around us and He will forgive us and restore us. He will keep us as His sons and daughters. Let us draw close to Him today, and He will draw close to us.

The effectiveness of John’s ministry: John’s ministry was effective primarily because his life was his message: he lived what he preached. He was a man from the desert. In its solitude he had heard the voice of God and hence he had the courage of his convictions. His camel’s hair garment and leather belt resembled those of Elijah and other great prophets of Israel. His food, too, was very simple:  wild locusts and honey. The Israelites had not had a prophet for three hundred years and the people were waiting expectantly for one.  John’s message was effective also because he was completely humble.   His role was to serve Jesus and to serve the people. “He must increase, I must decrease,” he says elsewhere (Jn. 3:30). That is why he publicly confessed that he was not fit to be a slave before the messiah. He frankly admitted that he was the messiah’s humble and obedient messenger, preparing a straight way for the messiah in the heart and lives of the Jews. His message combined three scriptural passages familiar to the Jews, namely, Ex. 23:20, Mal. 3:1 and Is. 40:3. That is why John’s influence continued to live on after his death.  When the apostle Paul went to Ephesus nearly 30 years later, he found a group of John’s disciples (Acts 19:1-7).

Making use of Advent as a season of reflection and preparation. We are invited by the Church to prepare for Christmas. Christmas is the time for reflection and personal renewal in preparation for the coming of Jesus into our lives.  Through his epistle today, St. Peter reminds us, on the one hand, of God’s great desire to come into our lives and, on the other, of our need to be prepared for that event when it happens. We want God’s help and comfort but we are not prepared to change our ways to enhance genuine conversion. For God to come to us, we also need to go to him. We need to let every day become Christmas and the “Day of the Lord” for each one of us.

Do we accept Jesus or reject him during this Christmas season? It was their stubborn pride and self-centeredness, which blinded the eyes of the Jews and kept them from recognizing Jesus as their long awaited Messiah. The same stubborn pride, the same exaggerated sense of our own dignity, blinds the intellects of many of us today who not only fail to accept Christ and His good tidings, but also prevent others from accepting him. The mad rush for earthly possessions and pleasures, the casting-off of all reasonable restraints and restrictions, which are so necessary for the survival of human society, the rejection of all things spiritual in man’s make-up, the general incitement of the animal instincts in man—all these are signs of the rejection of Christ. Let us accept Jesus as our personal savior and Lord during this Christmas season and remain, or become, true Christians in our daily conduct.  Let us use these days of preparation for Christmas to prepare ourselves for his daily coming and his Second Coming, remembering that it will occur for each one of us on the day of our death.


1st Sunday of Advent- B

“Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.”

Today we begin the season of Advent and during this season we focus on waiting for the Lord, waiting for the coming of Jesus.  It could be seen in three ways of waiting. We know that Jesus has already come in history and we remember that during the week before Christmas our waiting changes to waiting for our celebration of the birth of Jesus. We also wait for his final coming at the end times when he will take all to himself. We also experience his daily coming into our life through the Eucharist, word of God and also in the various persons and events of life. Waiting is something very important in the life of the human person. Anytime we wait we do so because we expect something to happen or someone to come.  We wait for a bus or train because someone important has promised to come and we are ready to spend our time and wait for him. There is the eagerness within us and we look forward to the new event that will take place. During Advent we look forward to Jesus who will come in a total gesture of love:  God becomes man.  So during Advent we are conscious of the fact that God is present with us while we wait for the fulfillment of God’s plans.

The first reading contains a mix of feelings: guilt and outrage at God alternating with praise of God, humility, anguish and hope.  Isaiah expressed the hope of Israel for a powerful manifestation of God in their midst.  “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before You.”  The prophet hoped that if God would come into their midst, the people could be faithful to Him. Acknowledging the fact that the people were unfaithful, Isaiah asked for God’s forgiveness and acceptance: “You, O Lord, are our Father; we are the clay and You are the potter: we are all the work of Your hands.”  In other words, we’re not perfect, but we are totally God’s to shape.  Here Isaiah was not anticipating Jesus’ arrival when he asked God “… to rend the heavens and come down …!  He was simply pleading with Yahweh to force those Israelites who had recently returned from the Babylonian Exile to do what was necessary to allow God to be present and active in their lives.  Isaiah was praying to Yahweh on behalf of the Israelites, “Would that You might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of You in our ways.”  He begged Yahweh, the Father of the Chosen People, for mercy.  This prayer was answered when the Son of God became man in the Incarnation.

A group of young people went to visit a famous Rabbi well known for his wisdom. To test his wisdom a young man asked the Rabbi, Master I want to be in heaven after my death. So how many days before my death shall I prepare for that?  Immediately Rabbi replied, one day before the death. This was an unexpected answer for the young man. Still he braved to ask, but how I will know when I am going to die? In a calm voice Rabbi replied, since we do not know the time, better start preparing now otherwise it may be too late.  The time is now to organize our lives with right priorities.

The Gospel is the conclusion of a speech found in Mark 13, in which Jesus foretells his Second Coming, at the end of time or at the end of the world.   Mark reminded his community in Rome of Jesus’ words, “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.” The evangelist knew that if an expected event didn’t happen as quickly as expected, people would stop doing the things they ought to do.  Hence, Mark reminded them of Jesus’ parable about the gatekeeper in the house of a traveling master. Since the master was traveling, his servant must be constantly alert, “at dusk, at midnight, when the cock crows, or at early dawn.” There was always a fear that the master would come home “suddenly and catch you asleep.” In such situations one must constantly, “be on guard!” When Paul and Mark spoke about the things to come, it was only to remind their readers that their present behavior wasn’t measuring up to what Christ’s second coming demanded of them.

Unfortunately, sometimes our world is not watchful or alert and we miss God and the goodness of God.  Sometimes we miss the call of God to get into action. Sometimes we don’t connect with God in the poverty and struggles of the people of the world. As individuals or as a society, we wander away from God and God’s values.  Today might be a good time to reflect on those things in our society and culture that keeps us from being alert and alive to God and God’s values. There seem to be so many pressures and values, which indoctrinate us and keep us from being what God wants us to be.  So many ways of thinking and seeing are in tension with the values of Catholic Social Teaching. We need to be aware of them so that we can be truly free and alert.

As we look at our culture, we might way to reflect on the following:
1. The individualistic and selfish mentality that keeps us from solidarity and the common good
2. The temptation to rely on power, position and even violence instead of love and active nonviolence
3. The tendency to accumulate wealth instead of sharing material resources
4. The practice of judging things from the limited view of our culture alone
5. The lack of respect for life
6. The excessive power of the media, which limits our vision
7. The ideological perspectives from left and right which keep us from seeing clearly.
8. The lack of direct contact with those who are in need or different than ourselves.

The list could go on and on.  The challenge is to open our eyes and be alert and aware, so that we can know the biases of our culture, make this list concrete, and begin to see things from a bigger viewpoint. In the face of all the challenges, we are invited to have hope. The second reading from the first letter to the Corinthians reminds us to rejoice in the spirit of Jesus who will help and set us free. Those who are worried about the poor in the midst of our economic recession are hoping for policies that help those who are most in need. As Christians we are always called to be people of hope. This is a good thing. However, as Christians we know that no political system or leadership will be perfect.  We know that we always need as Jesus says today to be “watchful and alert.”  We are called to open our eyes to the needs of all our brothers and sisters.