December 2, 2016

Bosch John The Baptist In The Wilderness Madrid



At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.

Wow! That's a lot of people moving! If we are to believe Matthew there was a general exodus out of the city of Jerusalem and from towns and villages in the region. What was so compelling about the preaching of John the Baptist that people would make the trek out to the Jordan from Jerusalem? Can you see all the people streaming from Jerusalem toward the Jordan? Ordinarily people would be streaming toward Jerusalem toward the Temple, God's dwelling place. That was the authentic place for the mikvah the ritual bath. But here they are streaming in the opposite direction, away from Jerusalem. What's going on? What made people so anxious and eager to experience the baptism of John in the Jordan? What made people so anxious and eager to confess their sins? Even Jesus is one of the many who will come to the banks of the Jordan to be baptized.
In Matthew's gospel I imagine we are dealing with hyperbole, exaggeration. It is hard to imagine that the whole city of Jerusalem, including its religious leaders would make the long, hot, sweaty trek to see and hear a "wild man". But Matthew is trying to tell his listeners that something earth shattering, cataclysmic, apocalyptic is about to happen. God's coming in a way never before imaginable. In Jesus, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, the "end times" are about to begin. Powerful preaching! Stunning symbol of going down in the water and "fessing" up to one's sins.
This question of what was so compelling about the experience of John's baptism at the Jordan has been on my mind this week for a number of reasons. First, we are celebrating this morning the "Rite of Acceptance" for those who are seeking to be initiated into the Christian Community. Some of you are seeking baptism like those people who streamed to the Jordan. Some of you are completing your initiation with the gift of the Spirit in Confirmation and the gift of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. This community is always grateful for your seeking and always fascinated by your journey. What is it that draws you here? What is so compelling in your life that you are anxious and eager to follow Christ in this Catholic Christian community? I know some of you have come because of the special people in your lives who are committed Catholics. Others who have been on a personal spiritual journey which have led you here.
And what about all of you who come streaming to this Church on a Sunday morning? What is so compelling about this experience of Eucharist that draws you here? I have been struggling with this question for some time now in the midst of all we hear about church attendance or non-attendance these days. What is it that makes you anxious and eager to encounter the mystery of God in Word and at the Eucharistic table?
This past Wednesday, World Aids day I had a glimmer of an answer. Every December 1st, World Aids Day, the cyclorama in the South end is turned into a visual meditation on the impact that the HIV virus has had on the lives of so many throughout the world. IT is called the Medicine Wheel. During the day and night there are performances, prayers and opportunities for people to remember the loves and the loss of lives as well as hope and pray for the future. It has been the custom of our parish to celebrate Eucharist in the midst of the Medicine Wheel. This year I was the celebrant. How can I find words to describe the experience? 2o of us parishioners of St Ignatius and members of the Jesuit Urban Center gathered around a stone table listening to the prophet Isaiah speaking Advent words of hope and consolation and Matthew speaking of Jesus moved to pity with the suffering of his people. We could barely hear the word proclaimed because all around us in the Cyclorama so much else was happening. At least a hundred people were speaking, singing, moving, laughing, and crying. And here in the midst of all this human activity, here in the midst of all the symbols of pain and loss of life from Aids, we were consecrating bread and wine in memory of Jesus. Holding up the sacred bread, saying "this is my body given up for you". Not just for you around the table but this is bread for the world. This is my blood poured out for you and for all. Not just for you around the table but this is the cup of life for all.
I have rarely experienced the power and truth of the Eucharist in such a way. Just think of it. As we gather today here in this place, people are waking and sleeping, loving and hating, working for peace and losing their lives in wars. All of what is human, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the horrific is happening around us. This bread and wine, this body and blood of Christ given in sacrificial love is not just for our personal spiritual nourishment. It is so much more. It is the soul shaking, mind-blowing experience of divine love breaking into our world again and again and again.

December 1, 2016




Paul VI Audience Hall

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

Now that the Jubilee is over we shall return to usual, but there are still some reflections on the works of mercy, and so we shall continue with this. Today’s reflection on the spiritual works of mercy concerns two works which are firmly linked: council the doubtful and instruct the ignorant. That is, those who are uniformed. The word ignorant is too strong, but it means teaching those who do not know something. They are works which can live either in a dimension that is simple, familial, available to everyone, or — especially the second, that of teaching — on the most organized, institutional level. For instance, let us consider how many children still suffer from illiteracy, the lack of education. This is incomprehensible: in a world where technological-scientific progress has come so far, there are illiterate children! It is an injustice. How many children suffer from a lack of education. It is a condition of grave injustice which undermines the very dignity of the person. Without education, one easily falls prey to exploitation and various social disadvantages.
The Church, over the course of centuries, has felt the need to be committed to the area of education, since her mission of evangelization carries with it the responsibility of restoring dignity to the poorest. From the first instance of a “school” founded here in Rome in the second century by Saint Justin — so that Christians might better know Sacred Scripture —, to Saint Joseph Calasanctius — who opened the first public schools in Europe that offered free education —, we have a long list of saints who, in various eras, brought education to the most disadvantaged, knowing that through this path they would be able to overcome poverty and discrimination. How many Christians, lay people, consecrated brothers and sisters, priests have given their own lives to teaching, to the education of children and young people. This is great: I invite you to give them a big round of applause! [The faithful applaud.] These pioneers in education fully understood this work of mercy, and created a way of life in order to transform society itself. With ordinary work and few facilities, they were able to restore dignity to many people! And the education that they gave was often also work-oriented. Let us think about Saint John Bosco, who prepared young boys from the street to work, with the oratory and then with schools, offices. From this arose many different professional schools, which enabled them to work while being educated in human and Christian values. Education, therefore, is truly a unique form of evangelization.
The more education increases, the more people gain assurance and knowledge, which we all need in life. A good education teaches us the critical method, which also includes a certain kind of doubt, the kind used for asking questions and verifying the results achieved, with a view to greater knowledge. However, the work of mercy of counselling the doubtful is not about this kind of doubt. Rather, it is about expressing mercy towards those who doubt, alleviating that pain and suffering which comes from the fear and anguish caused by doubt. It is therefore an act of true love, whereby support is given to someone in their weakness which has been provoked by uncertainty.
I think that some of you might ask me: “Father, but I have many doubts about the faith; what should I do? Don’t you ever have doubts?”. I have many.... Of course, everyone has doubts at times! Doubts which touch the faith, in a positive way, are a sign that we want to know better and more fully God, Jesus, and the mystery of his love for us. “Still, I have this doubt: I seek, I study, I consult or ask advice about what to do”. These are doubts which bring about growth! It is good, therefore, that we ask questions about our faith, because in this way we are pushed to deepen it. Doubts, however, must also be overcome. For this, it is necessary to listen to the Word of God, and to understand what he teaches us. An important path that really helps with this is catechesis, in which the proclamation of the faith is encountered in the concreteness of individual and community life. And there is, at the same time, another equally important path, that of living the faith as much as possible. Let us not make of faith an abstract theory where doubts multiply. Rather, let us make of faith our life. Let us seek to practise it in service to our brothers and sisters, especially those who are most in need. And thus, many doubts disappear, because we feel the presence of God and the truth of the Gospel in love, which — without our deserving it — lives in us, and we share it with others.
As you can see, dear brothers and sisters, even these two works of mercy are not far from our lives. We can each commit ourselves to living them, to put into practise the Word of the Lord when he says that the mystery of God’s love is not revealed to the wise and the intelligent, but to the little ones (cf. Lk 10:21; Mt 11:25-26). Therefore, the most profound lesson which we are called to transmit, and the most certain way to get out of doubt, is the love of God with which we have been loved (cf. 1 Jn 4:10). A great love, free and given to us forever. God never goes back on his love! He always moves forward and waits: he forever gives us love, from which we must feel the steadfast responsibility to be witnesses, offering mercy to our brothers and sisters. Thank you.

November 30, 2016

Saint Andrew, the first called




Wednesday, 14 June 2006 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the last two catecheses we spoke about the figure of St Peter. Now, in the measure that sources allow us, we want to know the other 11 Apostles a bit better. Therefore, today we shall speak of Simon Peter's brother, St Andrew, who was also one of the Twelve.
The first striking characteristic of Andrew is his name:  it is not Hebrew, as might have been expected, but Greek, indicative of a certain cultural openness in his family that cannot be ignored. We are in Galilee, where the Greek language and culture are quite present. Andrew comes second in the list of the Twelve, as in Matthew (10: 1-4) and in Luke (6: 13-16); or fourth, as in Mark (3: 13-18) and in the Acts (1: 13-14). In any case, he certainly enjoyed great prestige within the early Christian communities.
The kinship between Peter and Andrew, as well as the joint call that Jesus addressed to them, are explicitly mentioned in the Gospels. We read:  "As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'" (Mt 4: 18-19; Mk 1: 16-17).
From the Fourth Gospel we know another important detail:  Andrew had previously been a disciple of John the Baptist:  and this shows us that he was a man who was searching, who shared in Israel's hope, who wanted to know better the word of the Lord, the presence of the Lord. 
He was truly a man of faith and hope; and one day he heard John the Baptist proclaiming Jesus as:  "the Lamb of God" (Jn 1: 36); so he was stirred, and with another unnamed disciple followed Jesus, the one whom John had called "the Lamb of God". The Evangelist says that "they saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day..." (Jn 1: 37-39).
Thus, Andrew enjoyed precious moments of intimacy with Jesus. The account continues with one important annotation:  "One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah' (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus" (Jn 1: 40-43), straightaway showing an unusual apostolic spirit.
Andrew, then, was the first of the Apostles to be called to follow Jesus. Exactly for this reason the liturgy of the Byzantine Church honours him with the nickname:  "Protokletos", [protoclete] which means, precisely, "the first called".
And it is certain that it is partly because of the family tie between Peter and Andrew that the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople feel one another in a special way to be Sister Churches. To emphasize this relationship, my Predecessor Pope Paul VI, in 1964, returned the important relic of St Andrew, which until then had been kept in the Vatican Basilica, to the Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of the city of Patras in Greece, where tradition has it that the Apostle was crucified. 
The Gospel traditions mention Andrew's name in particular on another three occasions that tell us something more about this man. The first is that of the multiplication of the loaves in Galilee. On that occasion, it was Andrew who pointed out to Jesus the presence of a young boy who had with him five barley loaves and two fish:  not much, he remarked, for the multitudes who had gathered in that place (cf. Jn 6: 8-9).
In this case, it is worth highlighting Andrew's realism. He noticed the boy, that is, he had already asked the question:  "but what good is that for so many?" (ibid.), and recognized the insufficiency of his minimal resources. Jesus, however, knew how to make them sufficient for the multitude of people who had come to hear him.
The second occasion was at Jerusalem. As he left the city, a disciple drew Jesus' attention to the sight of the massive walls that supported the Temple. The Teacher's response was surprising:  he said that of those walls not one stone would be left upon another. Then Andrew, together with Peter, James and John, questioned him:  "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?" (Mk 13: 1-4).
In answer to this question Jesus gave an important discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and on the end of the world, in which he asked his disciples to be wise in interpreting the signs of the times and to be constantly on their guard.
From this event we can deduce that we should not be afraid to ask Jesus questions but at the same time that we must be ready to accept even the surprising and difficult teachings that he offers us.
Lastly, a third initiative of Andrew is recorded in the Gospels:  the scene is still Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion. For the Feast of the Passover, John recounts, some Greeks had come to the city, probably proselytes or God-fearing men who had come up to worship the God of Israel at the Passover Feast. Andrew and Philip, the two Apostles with Greek names, served as interpreters and mediators of this small group of Greeks with Jesus.
The Lord's answer to their question - as so often in John's Gospel - appears enigmatic, but precisely in this way proves full of meaning. Jesus said to the two disciples and, through them, to the Greek world:  "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. I solemnly assure you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (12: 23-24). 
Jesus wants to say:  Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will take place, but not as a simple, brief conversation between myself and a few others, motivated above all by curiosity. The hour of my glorification will come with my death, which can be compared with the falling into the earth of a grain of wheat. My death on the Cross will bring forth great fruitfulness:  in the Resurrection the "dead grain of wheat" - a symbol of myself crucified - will become the bread of life for the world; it will be a light for the peoples and cultures.
Yes, the encounter with the Greek soul, with the Greek world, will be achieved in that profundity to which the grain of wheat refers, which attracts to itself the forces of heaven and earth and becomes bread.
In other words, Jesus was prophesying about the Church of the Greeks, the Church of the pagans, the Church of the world, as a fruit of his Pasch.
Some very ancient traditions not only see Andrew, who communicated these words to the Greeks, as the interpreter of some Greeks at the meeting with Jesus recalled here, but consider him the Apostle to the Greeks in the years subsequent to Pentecost. They enable us to know that for the rest of his life he was the preacher and interpreter of Jesus for the Greek world.
Peter, his brother, travelled from Jerusalem through Antioch and reached Rome to exercise his universal mission; Andrew, instead, was the Apostle of the Greek world. So it is that in life and in death they appear as true brothers - a brotherhood that is symbolically expressed in the special reciprocal relations of the See of Rome and of Constantinople, which are truly Sister Churches. 
A later tradition, as has been mentioned, tells of Andrew's death at Patras, where he too suffered the torture of crucifixion. At that supreme moment, however, like his brother Peter, he asked to be nailed to a cross different from the Cross of Jesus. In his case it was a diagonal or X-shaped cross, which has thus come to be known as "St Andrew's cross".
This is what the Apostle is claimed to have said on that occasion, according to an ancient story (which dates back to the beginning of the sixth century), entitled The Passion of Andrew:  
"Hail, O Cross, inaugurated by the Body of Christ and adorned with his limbs as though they were precious pearls. Before the Lord mounted you, you inspired an earthly fear. Now, instead, endowed with heavenly love, you are accepted as a gift.
"Believers know of the great joy that you possess, and of the multitude of gifts you have prepared. I come to you, therefore, confident and joyful, so that you too may receive me exultant as a disciple of the One who was hung upon you.... O blessed Cross, clothed in the majesty and beauty of the Lord's limbs!... Take me, carry me far from men, and restore me to my Teacher, so that, through you, the one who redeemed me by you, may receive me. Hail, O Cross; yes, hail indeed!".
Here, as can be seen, is a very profound Christian spirituality. It does not view the Cross as an instrument of torture but rather as the incomparable means for perfect configuration to the Redeemer, to the grain of wheat that fell into the earth.
Here we have a very important lesson to learn:  our own crosses acquire value if we consider them and accept them as a part of the Cross of Christ, if a reflection of his light illuminates them.
It is by that Cross alone that our sufferings too are ennobled and acquire their true meaning.
The Apostle Andrew, therefore, teaches us to follow Jesus with promptness (cf. Mt 4: 20; Mk 1: 18), to speak enthusiastically about him to those we meet, and especially, to cultivate a relationship of true familiarity with him, acutely aware that in him alone can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death.

November 28, 2016

The second coming of Jesus Christ with His Holy Angels



Meditation and Reflection for Advent

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Advent is not only about preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We live between the first coming of Jesus when he was born at Bethlehem and his Second Coming at the end of time when he will come as Judge of all. Advent is also a time for us to reflect on the Second Coming of Jesus. So Advent is concerned with the two comings of Jesus; our preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and our preparation for his Second Coming. In two of the Eucharistic Acclamations we profess our faith in Jesus’ Second Coming:

We proclaim your Death, O Lord,
and profess your Resurrection
until you come again.
When we eat this bread and drink this cup,
we proclaim your death, O Lord,
until you come in glory.
In the Creed which we profess every Sunday we proclaim:
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

In both Eucharistic Prayer III and Eucharistic Prayer IV just after the consecration at Mass, the Body and Blood of Jesus is offered to the Father as we await the Second Coming of Jesus,

Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial
of the saving Passion of your Son,
his wondrous Resurrection
and Ascension into heaven,
and as we look forward to his second coming,
we offer you in thanksgiving
this holy and living sacrifice.
(Eucharistic Prayer III)

 Therefore, O Lord,
as we now celebrate the memorial of our redemption,
we remember Christ’s Death
and his descent to the realm of the dead,
we proclaim his Resurrection
and his Ascension to your right hand,
and, as we await his coming in glory,
we offer you his Body and Blood,
the sacrifice acceptable to you
which brings salvation to the whole world.
(Eucharistic Prayer IV)

During the early part of Advent (until December 16th) the Church asks us to reflect on the Second Coming of Jesus, and not just to reflect on it but to prepare for it. That is why on the first Sunday of Advent each year we read excerpts from a chapter in each of the Gospels where Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD but which we may also see referring to his Second Coming,
For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In (those) days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be (also) at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
(Matt 24:37-44 NAB First Sunday of Advent Year A)
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’ 
(Mark 13:33-37 NAB First Sunday of Advent Year B)

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.
(Luke 21:25-28 NAB First Sunday of Advent Year C)

The readings of the first Sunday of Advent each year invite us to watch for the Second Coming of Jesus and the readings of the Second Sunday of Advent invite us to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus. That is why each year on the Second Sunday of Advent the Gospel is John the Baptist asking us to prepare a way for the Lord. And on the third Sunday of Advent each year we can detect some of the readings encouraging us to be patient for Jesus’ Second Coming.
In the early years after Pentecost the Church believed the Second Coming of Jesus would be only a matter of years away. Many are of the opinion that St. Paul, early in his ministry, believed the Second Coming of Jesus would be so soon that he himself would not die before it occurred. Many believe this is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Thessalonians,
We who are still alive for the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have fallen asleep. At the signal given by the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God, the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and only after that shall we who remain alive be taken up in the clouds, together with them to meet the Lord in the air.(1 Thess 4:15-17)
But as time went by the early Church gradually began to realize that the Second Coming of Jesus would not be as early as originally expected. Therefore it became important for the Church to have written records of Jesus so the Gospels were composed.
Why did the early Church long for the Second Coming of Jesus and why are we invited now to reflect on it and long for it during Advent? Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem, his death, and resurrection are not yet the final victory over evil. The final conquest of evil will take place when Jesus comes again as Judge. Jesus’ Second Coming will complete what Jesus began with his birth in Bethlehem, his death and resurrection. It will bring the fullness of salvation to the world. Therefore in the early Church they longed for Jesus’ Second Coming and we are invited now to reflect on it and long for it during Advent.
God is present with us throughout all of history but the Second Coming of Jesus and the General Judgment will show all of history leading to God’s final purpose and goal. At the General Judgment we will see how God’s plan for all of history worked itself out. There are two ways of looking at history. You can look at history as a secular historian or you can look at history with the eyes of God. For example, how do you look on the Second World War? The result of mad man named Hitler? That could be one secular view of the war. There is another way to look at it. When Our Lady appeared to the children at Fatima on July 13th 1917 during the First World War she said,
“…if men do not cease offending God, another and more terrible war will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XII. When you see a night lit up by an unknown light, know that it is the sign God gives you that he is about to punish the world for its crimes by means of war, hunger and persecution of the Church and the Holy Father.”
That unknown light occurred on January 25th 1938 and meteorologists called it the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. This is just one example of two ways of looking at an event in history. At the Second Coming of Jesus and the General Judgment we will see all of history leading towards God’s goal and purpose. The final conquest of evil will take place when Jesus comes again the second time as Judge which is why we look forward to it.
So the Church invites us to long for and prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus. How do we prepare for it? Let us place God first in our lives and love our neighbor as ourselves. Let us cleanse our hearts from sin. The second reading during the first three Sundays of Advent each year has much encouragement to prepare our hearts and lives as we await the Second Coming:
And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness (and) put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
(Rom 13:11-14 NAB First Sunday of Advent Year A)
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.
(Rom 15:5-7 NAB Second Sunday of Advent Year A)
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brothers, about one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
(James 5:7-9 NAB Third Sunday of Advent Year A)
I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ). God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
(1 Cor 1:4-9 NAB First Sunday of Advent Year B)
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard "delay," but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought (you) to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.
(2 Peter 3:9-14 NAB Second Sunday of Advent Year B)

Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.
May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Thes 5:16-24 NAB Third Sunday of Advent Year B)

Now may God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.
(1 Thes 3:11-13 NAB First Sunday of Advent Year C)

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
(Phil 1:9-11 NAB Second Sunday of Advent Year C)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(Phil 4:4-7 NAB Third Sunday of Advent Year C)

Advent is not only about preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. We live between the first coming of Jesus when he was born at Bethlehem and his Second Coming at the end of time when he will come as Judge of all. Advent is also a time for us to reflect on the Second Coming of Jesus. The final conquest of evil will take place when Jesus comes again as Judge. Jesus’ Second Coming will complete what Jesus began with his birth in Bethlehem, his death and resurrection. It will bring the fullness of salvation to the world.
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’ 
(Mark 13:33-37 NAB First Sunday of Advent Year B)

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

May our love for each other may increase more and more as we await the coming of Jesus.

November 26, 2016

Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat, (Obverse)



(from Luther Seminary)

To preach on this text stands us in good stead: Isaiah preached on it, too! Or so it seems. The text occurs twice in the Bible-with minor variations-here in Isaiah and again in Micah 4:1-3.
Interpreters have had as little success solving the "Which came first?" question as folks have had with the proverbial chicken and egg. Micah and Isaiah are contemporaries, both prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. and both concerned primarily with issues of justice and integrity before God in a time of social inequality and hypocritical worship.
Yet, despite their common messages of judgment and calls to repentance, both prophets pick up this oracle about the nations coming to Zion where they will beat their swords into plowshares and learn war no more. And, "pick up this oracle" is apparently just what both of them do-take an existing oracle of promise and preach on it for their own purposes.
"In days to come," says Isaiah, signaling that, however attractive the promise of no more war sounds, it is not one that we can usher in in our own time or in our own way. When and how it comes is God's business-though this does not at all mean that the word has no hook for present hearers. If it is merely an isolated promise of a messianic age somewhere over the rainbow then it may perhaps have no immediate application-then or now. But Isaiah anchors it in his own history ("The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw...") and then uses it to make a timely point. We will do well to follow his example. The passage represents one of the traditions of Zion, important throughout the book of Isaiah, in which the nations recognize the presence of God on God's holy mountain and come streaming in. Unlike some of the Zion psalms (Pss 46; 48), here the nations do not come defeated, but positively and voluntarily in order to learn God's ways, walk in God's paths, study Torah ("instruction," v. 3), and hear the word of the Lord. It is that turn to the ways of God that will motivate the destruction of the implements of war and the rejection of war itself. Amazing! Wonderful! And how do we get there from here?
That is where Isaiah turns this into a sermon for his own people. He, too, knows that the kingdom to come is not theirs to construct, but he has something to say about life in the meantime. He follows the peace oracle with a warning to Israel that is addressed in precisely the same way:

The Nations
Address: "Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord." (v. 3)
Promise: "For out of Zion shall go forth instruction." (v. 3)

Isaiah to Israel
Address: "Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!" (v. 5)
Promise: "For thou hast rejected thy people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of diviners from the east." (v. 6 RSV)

Isaiah takes this perhaps familiar promise of peace and transforms it into a sermon in which, surprisingly, the nations become role models for Israel. Returning to his theme of judgment, Isaiah admonishes Israel to come and relearn God's ways, following the lead of the nations who, coming to seek Torah, have now become the teachers of Israel. Isaiah seeks to shock Israel out of its complacency by demonstrating how the nations have chosen a better way. The nations, more commonly seen as bad influences on Israel (and again, for example, in 2:6-8), make a breakthrough in the peace oracle, opened by God to a radical conversion that God's word through Isaiah makes possible for Israel as well.
What shall we do with this sermon? Advent, as we know, is a time of hope and longing, but also a time of repentance. Isaiah reminds Israel (and us) that we can't appreciate the promise without hearing the judgment. If there is no need, there is nothing for which to hope. As preachers, we will have to name the need, the recalcitrance, the resistance to God's peace, of our congregations (and ourselves) so they can repent and return to the ways and paths of God. Like Israel, we, too, stand under the judgment of God; and-precisely for that reason-for us, too, the promise is overwhelming. God is taking us somewhere we cannot go on our own, not because of our righteousness, but because of God's goodness. The coming peace is God's, but it is promised to us. And thus, like Israel, Isaiah calls us to act in the meantime as though the promise is ours. We cannot usher in the kingdom of peace. But, by God's grace, we can practice peace-within ourselves, among our families, in our congregations, in our neighborhoods, for our world. Why not? "Blessed are the peacemakers!" Christmas comes not to awaken nostalgia, but to awaken our hearts to the ways of God, calling us to conversion and setting us free to be agents of God in the world to which Christ came-even, as Israel is urged to do, to learn from and make common cause with the "nations," the outsiders, the others. For, under God's instruction, there is no more "other," no more "we" and "they"; and until that happens, there is no peace. God is taking us there, says Isaiah, and, though that kingdom is not ours to make, it is ours to practice-for, as we learn at Christmas, it has come in person to reside in our midst. Perhaps by practicing God's peace we can make our own little piece of "Zion" begin to reflect some of the attractiveness of Isaiah's "mountain of the Lord" that will draw others to come and see just what God is up to among these odd people who worship a baby in a manger.