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Contents: Volume 2 - Fourth Sunday of ADVENT -A- December 22, 2019


 

4th

Sunday of

ADVENT

2019

 

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

3. -- Brian Gleeson CP

4. --

5. --(Your reflection can be here!)

 

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Advent 4 A 2019

In the days of old, people believed in signs and wonders. They did so, partly based on superstition, but also based on the promises of the holy ones. Our readings today, both from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel according to Matthew, had solid foundations and would score BIG on any reliability scale.

In today's world, there is an over abundance of skepticism, however, and rightfully so. Not only do we have fake news that is really deliberately fake, but also fake news that can be fact-checked and is not fake at all. We have hackers and liars and those who will believe and follow anything that supports what they already think, no matter what. Add to that the true wonders of technology and science that produce legitimate discoveries far beyond what most of us could possibly dream.

This is the world in which we Christians are called to preach the Word of God. Now that is a tall order! Was then, is now, and will always be!

It is difficult to find a balance in what we should believe since there is a wide expanse of possibilities from the strict fundamental viewpoint to the anything goes perspective, even among Christians. We must do what the people of long ago did: we must familiarize ourselves with the meaning of the Scriptures and be open to the working of the Holy Spirit. We must belong to a community of believers who will help us discern foolishness from the Lord's ways.

"God is with us", even today. We must pray consistently to recognize that Presence. We must anticipate that Jesus is indeed with us in every situation.

As I was looking for the "saint of the day" this morning in response to a question from my grand daughter, I came across a former memorial feast that I did not recognize: the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It honored Mary's sentiments as she awaited the imminent birth of Jesus. Let us join her today as we await the birth of Jesus in our hearts again, to prepare him room, to prepare to follow the promptings of the Spirit, and to prepare to preach authentically.

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Fourth Sunday of Advent December 22 2019

Isaiah 7:10-14; Responsorial Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Gospel Acclamation Matthew 1:23; Matthew 1:18-24

What happened to weeks one, two, and three? Here we are with Christmas staring us in the face and plans half formulated and partially applied. Perhaps our dreams for this Christmas are likely only half baked. Correspondence and well wishes lay unfinished on desks. We’re setting ourselves up for a guilt trip of failing to achieve what might have been. In this period of anxiety we can look to Joseph as presented in Matthew’s gospel this Sunday.

We don’t know much about him. Who were his parents; did he have siblings. Some say he was married before and his wife died leaving him with children to be cared for. We know he was a carpenter because Jesus is called a carpenter’s son. Was he successful in his work? We’ll have to wait for answers to these and other questions that come to mind when we meet him face to face. This much we know of him. Mary was betrothed to him.

Matthew’s gospel is written for Jewish converts to Christianity. It is no more important an understanding than this Sunday’s gospel. An understanding of Jewish tradition of engagement, betrothal, and marriage steps helps us understand Joseph’s anxiety. It is equally important for us to understand the meaning and role of the Holy Spirit in Jewish thinking and religious understandings of God.

The Jewish faith were very serious about marriage and family. Family was and is the foundation for Jewish life. Engagement was the first step and was typically an arrangement between parents. Marriage was too important a matter to be left to mere attraction between a young man and a young woman. Arrangements were Frequently made when the couple were still children. They may never have met before or during this stage of engagement. During the time of engagement a girl could reject the arrangement. However, once the second period of betrothal began the arrangement could only be broken through a process of divorce. During the betrothal period the couple were considered man and wife without the rights and husband and wife. Betrothal lasted for a full year. The final phase in the marriage process was marriage itself. That celebration came at the end of the betrothal year.

When Mary returned from helping her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country, it was apparent she was pregnant. How could this be, since Joseph had not been with Mary during the time of her visitation with Elizabeth? It could only have occurred from an illicit and sinful action on the part of Mary and a man. For Joseph to overlook that sinful act would make him complicit in the sin. For him to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood for a child not his own would have condoned a serious violation of the Law. Compassion for Mary would not have mitigated the sin. We read Joseph was a righteous man, meaning that he was a practicing Jew, following the Law. But he evidenced compassionate in a way the Law would allow because he did not wish to shame Mary. He would quietly divorce her without exposing her apparent sin.

It must have been a night of tossing and turning following his decision. In that anxious state, Joseph received a dream. As is common for most, Joseph believed provided him with truthful answers to his dilemma. Matthew records two others dreams of Joseph. The next one was a warning that Herod was seeking Jesus to eliminate him as a contender for the throne. The third dream of Joseph was one telling him Herod was dead and that he could return to the promised land. In each of these dreams, Joseph learns something that causes him to change plans, his thinking about family and his family’s life.

Some would get caught up in how Mary came to be with child. That would miss what Matthew is trying to tell us. He says it in a single sentence a great deal of explanation about this child. "When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit." For the cynical among us this sounds like an explanation that calls on God’s intervention to explain. What writers call a "Deus ex Machina." This explanation requires faith in the God who cares about and intervenes for his people.

The phrase "of the Holy Spirit" is more than a simple cause and effect. For a devote Jew this statement carried with several truths experienced and believed by in the Jewish Tradition. The first is that the Holy Spirit brings God’s truth to humanity. God’s Spirit taught prophets what to say: that Spirit taught men what to do: that Spirit taught humanity the contents of truth through their experiences of faith. Being born of the Spirit would inform a faithful Jew that this child – named Jesus, which means Yahweh is Salvation – would bring the truth of God -- who and what God is -- to the world.

Secondly, in Jewish tradition, the Spirit not only brought truth to humanity but made it possible for humanity to recognize the truth when they saw it. How often we stumble over the truth in our quick and undiscerned way of rushing to believe what is in our best interest at the moment. Recognizing truth when it comes to us is as important as truth itself. Jesus comes to us to open our hearts to what is actually the truth. We should note the word "heart." It’s not only the mind that is operative when it comes to truth. For it is what we love that moves us, guides us, and directs our relationships and efforts.

A third Jewish understanding of the Spirit is the Spirit’s role in creation. The first verses of Genesis portray the Spirit as hovering over the waters, the vast chaotic stuff from which is formed the earth, the stars, the lights of the heavens and ultimately humanity itself. In this sense the Spirit is the giver of life. That primitive stuff is named in Hebrew as "what is nearly nothing." We should know and realize within our deepest selves that the gift of life is the greatest gift given us. Without life nothing happens, nothing grows, nothing can be appreciated, nothing exists, not even "what is nearly nothing."

A fourth and final Jewish understanding of the Spirit is about the Spirit’s work when things go wrong. In line with the Spirit being the creative force and energy of God, the Spirit is the agent that creates again. The story of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones in a vast valley of dry bones provides us an image of this re-creation. These dry bones gain sinew, muscle, skin, and vitality when the breath of the Spirit comes into the valley. I love that image, especially when life is filled with bumps and ruts that effectively kick us off the path of life. There’s that gift again: LIFE!

The gospel reading this Sunday tells us this simple but astonishing truth. There is much more here than the birth of a child to a virgin mother. In this short reading we are told, informed, energized by knowing in the person of this child, the Holy Spirit is entering the world in a way as never before. It means that humanity has never-before access to truth. Mankind is now provided the ability to recognize truth when they see it. This Spirit so instrumental in the creation of all that is, works now in a new way, a way that we can better understand. It is through this child who grows in wisdom, age, and grace like we all do who is the presence of the Spirit. And in his growth, we see new possibilities for ourselves far exceeding the ordinary. We are led to understand this Spirit stands ready and primed to re-create us we lose the life we should have.

All this would have been part of Joseph’s understanding of the angel of his dream. His heart must have been pounding when he realized his expanded responsibility. Have you ever noticed that all images we imagine of Joseph present him with something in his hand? He’s a doer, one who works. But we miss the point of Joseph if we fail to wonder why he never asked, "what’s in it for me?" He didn’t ask.

This Sunday let’s think about Joseph. He didn’t make a lot of noise. He didn’t fall in line with common thinking. He didn’t seek wealth or power or fame because he said "yes" the angel in his dream. He looked for the presence of God in his life. He understood how the Spirit of God solicited his help. In the very naming of this child, he understood that God loves his creation. Our God is the God of compassion who helps us accept his help. Joseph knows from his faith and from this dream that God is about life and life more fully. He stands ready with staff in hand, donkey rein guiding mother and child, hammer and chisel, plane and saw to do what is necessary.

This Spirit is whose overshadowing began this child’s life is the Spirit of the truth of what and who God is. This is the Spirit who authors Life, God is the source of compassion and mercy; God is the wellspring of love. This Spirit who overshadows Mary is the algorithm through which we understand truth. The Spirit is the creator of life and life fully lived. This Spirit is the source of repentance, of change from what is evil to what is truth and life-giving. May we imitate Joseph and bring the child and his Mother into all corners of our daily living, never wondering "what’s in it for me?"

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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FROM FEAR TO FAITH AND JOY: 4TH SUNDAY ADVENT A

Believe it or not, there are people who fear and even dread the approach of Christmas. The source of their fear and dread is not the religious side of things. It comes from other factors. For some it’s the hustle and bustle, the hassle and extra work that makes them afraid. For some it’s the strain put on their already overstretched finances by the Christmas splurge. For others it’s the fear of the conflicts and squabbles that sometimes erupt in families at Christmas time. For others still it’s because Christmas brings back awful memories – of a death or tragedy that happened around Christmas time.

Also, where there has been a loss during the past year, that loss is felt intensely again at Christmas. The sight of others surrounded by happy loved ones reopens a wound that was starting to heal. The result is an intense loneliness. Finally one’s fears may come from getting older, with all the weaknesses, restrictions, and sense of mortality that growing old brings with it. As one aging Passionist, Stanislaus, whom I knew when I was young myself, kept saying to Bonaventure, another aging Passionist: ‘Isn’t old age pathetic?’

But those who fear the approach of Christmas can take heart and hope from the story of the first Christmas. There was plenty of fear around then too. In fact, all the main characters in the Christmas story were afraid at one time or another, and in one way or another.

Joseph was afraid when he found that Mary was expecting a child even though they hadn’t lived together or had sex. But an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him in words we hear in our gospel today: ‘Joseph, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit-.’ Joseph, that just man, trusted God, and so overcame his fear and did what was respectful and right.

Mary was afraid when she heard the greeting of the angel Gabriel. But the angel said to her, ‘Mary, don’t be afraid, you have won God’s favour.’ The angel went on to tell her that she was to conceive and bear a son by the power of the Holy Spirit, and she must name him ‘Jesus’, i.e. ‘Saviour’. Mary put her trust in God, and so overcame her fear when she said ‘Yes’ to everything God was asking of her.

The shepherds too were afraid. The gospel tells us that when the angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, they were terrified. But the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you NEWS OF GREAT JOY... Today a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ The shepherds too trusted God, went over to Bethlehem, saw the Child, and went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God.

All of us are affected by fear. But we must not let our fears cripple us. What we have to do is to move from fear to faith. What empowers us to turn fear into faith and even to joy is trust. And this is where Christmas can be a mighty help, because at Christmas it can be easier to trust in God than at any other time. This is because we feel that God is very close to us and very loving towards us at this time. In Jesus, God comes to us in the form of a child. And surely no one can be afraid of a child, unless, of course, a particular child is a brat! (Brats can be very scary)!

Christmas challenges us to enter into an intimate relationship with God who is Love itself and only Love. It challenges us to keep trusting that we will receive love, and keep on receiving love, from God and others.

By all means, let us do whatever we can to improve our situations. But having done what we can to make life better, let us with a sense of trust and peace leave to God what is outside or beyond our control.

Our fears, then, can be an opportunity, leading us to courageously put our trust in God rather than in ourselves. Loneliness too can be a grace. In every human heart there is deep down an empty room waiting for a guest. That Guest is God. So, this Christmas, should we be feeling alone and lonely, don’t be afraid or alarmed. Christmas wakes up our deepest longings, longings which God alone can and will satisfy. So, in short, let us not allow our fears stop us from opening our hearts to that ‘GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY’ announced to the shepherds by the angel at the first Christmas - the good news that God is truly with us, and always with us!

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Volume 2 is for you. Your thoughts, reflections, and insights on the next Sundays readings can influence the preaching you hear. Send them to preacherexchange@att.net.  Deadline is Wednesday Noon. Include your Name, and Email Address.

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2nd SUNDAY Baptism of the Lord EPIPHANY Mary Mother of God Christmas/Holy Family ADVENT 4


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