Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent
December 15, 2013
Isaiah 35:1-6,10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Last week, John the Baptist emerged as a herald to announce the coming of the kingdom of heaven and today he is found imprisoned and he is anxious to know if Jesus is the real deal. When news reaches him that the foretold scripture passages are coming true, his happiness is fulfilled. The harsh conditions of his imprisonment cannot erode the joy he feels that God is certainly at work to tenderly care for his people. We see in the readings transformation from hardship to promise when we recognize the great extent God is hearing us and helping us be free from the confines of our self-imprisonment. When we cooperate with God’s plan and open our senses to the world around us, we can clearly know that God cares tenderly for us. God comes to save you from your hard existence.

Last week, many Jordanians came to the first locally produced Christmas musical in the city called Project Christmas. For two hours, audiences laughed and cried and had their heartstrings tugged by the references to serious social issues that beset their lives. Song and dance delighted their senses and took them away from the harsh realities of their brutal world. They said, “Our lives are filled with great drama. It is good to forget about it for an evening,” or “I never laughed so hard and I needed it because my life makes me so sad,” or “We need these types of performances to help lift our spirits and to give us hope once again.” Everyone exulted in the Christmas spirit and recognized they need more focus upon the blessings of life. For some of those people who are sick or elderly, it may be their last Christmas show. For others, it might be their first, so it was important for them to experience the wonder and magic of a Christmas gift freely offered.  

Two weeks ago, a Lebanese woman received hearing aids and could hear her teenage son’s voice with clarity for the first time. She wept so softly. She hugged him and asked him to sing to her. A friend told me of a memory of her mother receiving hearing aids for the first time. During a severe rain storm she asked her children, “What is that sound?” and they replied, “thunder.” She stood there in stillness and smiled because she could now begin to hear all the beautiful and terrifying sounds she never knew she missed. A dad told me that his ten-year old son just received a pair of eyeglasses and he was shocked when his son looked out the car window and gleefully pointed out every tiny detail his dad took for granted. The dad’s heart warmed to his son and he felt bad that he did not know sooner that his boy could not see.

These are the types of transformations we need in life to lift us from the drudgery of the difficult existence we have so that we can experience the joy that the Baptist did and the happiness that Jesus Christ wants for us. Isaiah tells us the deaf can hear, the blind can see, the desert will have rains; James tells us to be patient in belief that the Lord will reach out to us. Isaiah, James, and John the Baptist know that God comes to save you and to fulfill your needs and prayers through the good news God offers.

Jesus asked the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see?” In other words, he was asking, “What is it you want? For what are you searching?” You might expect the answer to be given from a holy one of God like John the Baptist, but just look around you and you have your answer. The answer is all around you. The good news is still breaking into your world – if you choose to look for the signs – and accept the invitations. The good news is there for those who let their senses, heart, and imagination be opened to receive the joy God offers.

Every single one of us has restrictions placed on our lives by others. We all have limitations. John the Baptist did not let his circumstances, that is, his imprisonment and death sentence, determine his life’s actions. He chose happiness and his heart burst open with affection to those life-giving possibilities. We need to lift our eyes from those restrictions placed upon us, especially the most crippling ones we place upon ourselves, so we can experience the beauty and wonder of God’s fresh coming into our world. Do not cripple yourself with your expectations any longer. It serves you no good and perpetuates the drudgery in life. It keeps you lame. Instead, learn to walk again, to see freshly, to speak with new patterns, and hear the richness of silence. Let it surprise and delight you so that you know God’s heart is very near to yours.

What is it you most want this Christmas? Ask for it now. Today. Clarify and articulate what you desire, but most of all, keep your mind and senses open to the many ways God is reaching out to you – to fulfill your needs – to grant you peace – to save you. It is your turn now – reach back with open palms – and receive God’s abundance.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: When Balaam went into battle and saw Israel encamped around him, the oracle of Baal told him that “a star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel.” Jacob assembled his sons and told them that Judah shall be praised from among his brothers and the scepter shall never depart from him. The prophet Jeremiah declares that the Lord will raise up a righteous shoot from David to produce a king who will govern wisely. In the Book of Judges, Manoah and his wife bore a son named Samson who was blessed by the Lord. Hannah was barren and had no children. In Isaiah, the Lord asked Ahaz to ask for a sing, but he would not do it. The Lord said this sign would be given: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel. In the Song of Songs, two lovers profess their affection and tenderness for one another.

Gospel: When Jesus entered the Temple area, the chief priests and elders asked him, “Why what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them by asking them a question about John’s origin. Since they were afraid to answer because of the effect upon the people, Jesus also refused to answer. At the beginning of the “O Antiphon” days, the genealogy of Joseph is read to show that Jesus came from the descendants of the Babylonian exile, directly from David, and from the Abrahamic line. Matthew explained that the birth of Jesus came about when Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit and Joseph, who was betrothed to her, decided to divorce her quietly until an angel persuaded him to take her into his home. The birth of John the Baptist and his naming is told when his father Zechariah was struck dumb during his time of priestly service. During the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John, Mary conceived a child through the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a son who will be called Emmanuel. Immediately, Mary set out in haste to greet Elizabeth, who instantly recognizes that she is the mother of the Lord when John jumps for joy in her womb.

Saints of the Week

Saints are not celebrated during the octave leading up to Christmas.

December 17 - O wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge.

December 18 - O leader of the house of Israel, give of the law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power.

December 19 - O root of Jesse's stem, sign of God's love for all the people: come to save us without delay!

December 20 - O key of David, opening the gates of God's eternal kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness.

December 21 - O radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Dec 15, 1631. At Naples, during an earthquake and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Jesuits worked to help all classes of people.
·      Dec 16, 1544. Francis Xavier entered Cochin.
·      Dec 17, 1588. At Paris, Fr. Henry Walpole was ordained.
·      Dec 18, 1594. At Florence, the apparition of St Ignatius to St Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi.
·      Dec 19, 1593. At Rome, Fr. Robert Bellarmine was appointed rector of the Roman College.
·      Dec 20, 1815. A ukase of Alexander I was published banishing the Society of Jesus from St Petersburg and Moscow on the pretext that they were troubling the Russian Church.
·      Dec 21, 1577. In Rome, Fr. Juan de Polanco, secretary to the Society and very dear to Ignatius, died.