1. Isaiah 61, 1-2 and 10-11
- The reading has two separate passages
linked together for better effect. They sound to me like a call and its response.
- First comes
the announcement of a program of prophecy. The Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring glad tidings. I remember that Luke put these same words in the
mouth of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry.
- It is a program of freeing people
of their crushing burdens (poverty, distress, captivity, prison, debt), of threats to fullness of life, so they can begin
anew and rebuild their hopes. What kind of assuring voice can I provide as I banish all these barriers
to abundant life? There is a year of favor from the Lord.
- Once again
we could have begun Advent with this reading! But the church year is young. And we need
all the reminding we can get that a new birth is coming.
- Next is the response, a model thanksgiving prayer.
I rejoice heartily in my Lord. Do you hear the echoes of Mary’s praises in
the Magnificat? We are at our best when God is great (Islam says this, too), when God’s
way’s prevail, when justice and peace spring up before all the nations.
- Listen to
the images that evoke new beginnings. Speak them out with the same freshness: a bridegroom adorned
with a diadem, a bride bedecked with her jewels, the earth brings forth its plants.
- Central theme:
the prophet’s announcement of a year of favor is a clean break with the status quo, an invitation to
let God into our world where we have closed off most options for ourselves and others. Release
to the prisoners.
- Message for our assembly: A new birth is coming. Let us turn
from our cynical ‘been there, done that’ ways and welcome the approach of God’s kingdom.
- I will challenge
myself: To get excited about God at work in our day, to bear witness to the spirit of the Lord God.
Like John in today’s Gospel, like Mary in her Magnificat, I will find an unassuming way to
declare these lines to the church.
2. I Thessalonians 5, 16-24
apostle is closing his early letter to a young church, a more timid church than the one portrayed in Corinthians, a church
needing encouragement and fervor. Do not quench the Spirit. Test
- I will consider what parts of this message apply to my own church, then prepare to deliver
it to them accordingly. If they are to overhear certain comments, I will be subdued. If
the words are for them, too, I will make sure they hear.
- Here are some words that definitely apply to all churches.
Rejoice always, a very appropriate exhortation for the mid-point of Advent. In
all circumstances give thanks, just as we are doing around the altar table. May the God
of peace make you perfectly holy, attuned to the wavelength of Jesus, and ready to recognize the Lord when he comes.
- The message for our assembly:
Our own careful plans for our lives pale in comparison with the life coming to us from the one who calls you.
We may forget it if we don’t say it often enough, or if readers like myself lack conviction when we repeat it
in the liturgy.
theme: The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ for which we are to behave in a blameless way.
- I will challenge myself:
To make these appeals to greatness, that could turn into platitudes if I am not well prepared, into a plausible way of life
for my listeners – indeed, the only real alternative for them!
Gospel. John 1, 6-8 and 19-28
week I listened to the report about John and his innovative ministry along the Jordan. Today comes the
testimony of John, and the confrontation begins. Priests and levites
sent to him to ask him, Who are you?
- The animosity of the priestly institution toward this frontier
visionary comes out here more than in any other Gospel. What are you then? What
do you have to say for yourself? We live in an era in which credentials, certifications and authorizations
count for everything, outweighing and denying the efficacy of spiritual gifts. I’ll have no trouble
imitating the officious voice of these emissaries.
- I have met some giants of humanity in my life. They are all driven by the
cause of justice or peace, but they are not self-deluded: I am not the Christ, no, no. All
of them were self-assured, but unassuming about this and welcoming to me. They let their actions speak
for themselves. I am the voice. I baptize with water.
If they are followers of Jesus they reveal their admiration for him: One is coming after me, whose sandal strap
I am not worthy to untie. In my voice John will sound like such a person.
- We celebrate this Gospel during Advent because
it looks forward to Christ. There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming
after me. It reminds me of the times when Christ appears among us and we do not recognize him.
We look for signs, for comfortable images to bolster our flagging faith, and all the while the humble of the earth
are passing us on every city block. Advent is about listening more discerningly. How
can I help my listeners reach this point as a church faithful to the Lord?
- Central theme: John is not vindicated by his credentials
but by his fulfillment of the prophecy, to make straight the way of the Lord.
- Message for our assembly:
John has made the right response to God’s call. We must be open enough to the call to stand with
John, who came to testify to the light so that all might believe.
will challenge myself: To keep this passage from becoming a historical curiosity, by giving a sense of the modern-day tension
between institutions and the charismatic innovators in their midst.
Word to Eucharist: What is so new about our procession today? We have seen each
other before. Are we satisfied with this meal? Do we remember to watch for the Messianic banquet?