God is with us! Today we celebrate God’s self-gift of Jesus Christ. The prologue of John’s Gospel sets out a breathtaking and compelling scene. John the evangelist refers to Jesus as the Word. A word exists to be spoken, heard and enacted. How do I listen for God in my life? How do I act upon what I hear?
The Word was ‘with God’ and ‘was God’. The passage leaves us in no doubt as to the divinity of Jesus. The sweep of the Johannine vision is indeed grand. Since he was ‘with God’ and ‘was God’, the Word was also part of the creation of the world. Our first inkling is in the opening words of the Gospel ‘in the beginning’ which is an echo of the book of Genesis. The prologue goes on to to make it explicit: ‘all things came to be through him’. The passage goes on to clarify that we do not just exist because of Jesus but have life: ‘and this life was the light of the human race’.
Lest we think only positives are covered in this passage: ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’. The example of Jesus continues to shine for each of us – and that example will lead us out of any darkness in which we may find ourselves.
‘And the Word became flesh’ ‘and we saw his glory’, ‘full of grace and truth’. The Greek word translated as ‘flesh’ could also be translated as ‘guts’. The passage emphasises that Jesus was fully human, too. Of all the gifts that Jesus brings, the Incarnation is significant. As God’s children the Incarnation is at work in us too – so we need to remember that God’s glory can be seen in humanity. In a world hung up on ‘deserving’, this is more grace from God that rains down on each of us.
This Christmas may we remember to listen to God in our lives and act upon what we hear. May we remember that God created everything and that it is good. Jesus gives us an example of life – and can help us out of any darkness. Finally, God’s glory is in every human. Our task is to have our eyes open!
I wish you Christmas blessings and a peace-filled 2023. It is my intention to have a break now. We’ll see what happens!
After three years of a pandemic-affected world, we are all tired. Some of us have developed better coping strategies than others but the grinding, ongoing nature of it all has taken and continues to take a toll. At such times, it is easiest to reach for the ‘anaesthetic’ or ‘analgesic’. That could take the form of social media OR binge-watching shows on multiple streaming platforms OR food OR any number of other addictions. But we each need to give ourselves space – to be, to reflect on what has been going on for me, to connect with our loved ones. Welcome to the shape of Advent 2022 – where our pre-Christmas time of personal reflection is both urgent and necessary.
So, have you given yourself time to stop and reflect? Or are you still running headlong from one commitment to the next?
God is always present in our lives. But, like the sun, we can ‘pull down the curtains’ to try to shut God out. Conversely, we can never ‘make God present’ but we can have a consciousness, or state of mind where we are more likely to perceive God. We can engage in activities that encourage the perception of God. It is in this context that the truth of the responsorial psalm emerges: ’Let the Lord enter’. By engaging in such attitudes and behaviours we allow God to enter our lives, make us whole and holy, become our best selves – so that we might each be a small flame of truth in the world.
The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for ‘rejoice’. This theme is begun in the first reading from Isaiah, continuing the theme of overturning from last week: ‘strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!’ In this time when we anticipate God-with-us, we have every reason to rejoice because when we live like God is with us, justice will reign and all inequities will be wiped away. Yet, living in this now, when we perceive that God is not yet with us, we need God to ‘come and save us’ as the responsorial psalm says. Further: ‘the Lord raises up those who were bowed down’.
Christmas looks different for different people. Clearly Christmas is a time for lots of commercial sales – and there are plenty of ads on every possible media platform to encourage those sales. I’m not decrying gifts given with love – but the Scripture readings give a very different reason for rejoicing. The theme for today’s readings is emphasised in the Gospel. Why should we rejoice? The coming of God-with-us will be marked by justice: ‘the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed’.
Then, as now, injustice is visible. If we live as though God is with us, then our actions can bring the miracle of justice. God with us means living justice and right relationships in our behaviours every day. This brings the salvation of justice in this life – for ourselves and those around us.
We know we are waiting to celebrate ‘God-with-us’ at Christmas – but what happens then? The first reading outlines that the one who comes to establish the reign of God will do so with wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and an awe of God. He will ‘judge the poor with justice’ and ‘decide aright for the land’s afflicted’. With ‘the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked’. To emphasise that this coming of the one to establish the reign of God is a time of overturning ‘the way the world works’, a number of seeming opposites are put together: ‘the calf and the young lion shall browse together’. This is to make the point that despite what seems impossible to humans, all things are possible for God. Who wouldn’t want such a time to come?
The Gospel reminds us of another important component of Advent – acknowledging our past mistakes then looking to change, to be our best selves. This is well described by the Greek word metanoia or ‘change of heart’. John the Baptist concludes his teaching by pointing to ‘the one who is coming after me’ – the one referred to in the first reading.
Let us take time this week to reflect upon the ways that we can change to be our best selves. A good starting point would be ways that we can promote justice in our daily lives. Justice can be speaking for those who have no voice. Justice can be donating to those in need. If we open our hearts and listen to God, what we need to do will become clear.
And so we begin Advent, our time of preparation for Christmas, when we celebrate God coming among us. This is a time of excitement and anticipation for many. For others, it is a time when absence is highlighted and pain is increased. This tension must be respected if we are to speak about life.
The first reading from the prophet Isaiah speaks of what God’s coming will look like, war will be no more. While there have been times in human history where advances are made in bringing peace, it is clear such progress is not linear. God is among us but there are those who march to the beat of a different drum.
The parousia or second coming of Christ was expected imminently in the first century. The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans and today’s Gospel of Matthew show this. During this time of Advent it is good for us to consider our preparedness to celebrate God’s presence among us at Christmas – am I ready for God’s self-gift to me? Am I living a life that is true to my beliefs? And if my answer is ‘no’ what am I going to do about it? Today’s readings challenge us to be the best version of ourselves, establish habits that enable our best selves to shine.
Again and again our faith confirms that, while we must each do our part of individual conversion to what God asks of us, we find our salvation in community. Thus I need to think about ‘we’ rather than just ‘me’. Am I ready to do that? This could be a goal for our Advent journey.
‘My kingdom is not of this world’ (John 18:36). This quote from John’s Gospel is at the heart of our understanding of today’s feast of Christ the King. There have been many times over the centuries when the Church has adopted a triumphal persona – aligning itself with temporal power, including crowning kings, queens and emperors. But this is not the type of king that Jesus is. It is not just a matter of a correct understanding of the type of king that Jesus is and what God’s reign looks like but this feast provides a salutary lesson to us about power and how we should wield it.
The second reading gives us an idea of the scope of the Christ – universal: ‘in him, all things hold together’. Take a moment to ponder that – and let it blow your mind! It doesn’t really matter where you start, on the macro level of the vastness of space with all its galaxies or the micro level of the sub-atomic, along with everything in between. ‘in him, all things hold together’ – now there’s a statement!
Since Jesus Christ is king, what does his reign look like? Paul tells us that God’s reign comes through a Greek word that is translated as ‘righteousness’. Rather than leap to ‘self-righteous’ with its pejorative connotations, the Greek word can also be translated as ‘justice’ and ‘right relationships’. Those are words we humans can get our heads around more easily, emphasising the relational nature of our salvation: ‘whenever you did this to one of the least of these members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matt 25:40).
If we humans hold power over others, then we need to use that power to promote justice and right relationships. This is the servant leadership of Jesus at the foot washing of the disciples: ‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’. Such is the kingship of Jesus.