The Advent Season’s Brightest Jewels

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During the final week of Advent the Church offers us an intense time of preparation for the feast of the Nativity, and the Roman Church in particular sings a series of antiphons at Vespers that magnificently set forth the nature of the coming One.  I offer you a rendering of this “season’s brightest jewels” that can help us understand more clearly how Jesus has fulfilled the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Israel.

December 17  O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God (Sir. 24:3), you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care (Wisd. of Solomon  8:1).  Come and show your people the way to salvation (Isa. 40:3-5).

December 18  O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel (Exod. 6:2, 3, 12), who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:  come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

December 19  O Flower of Jesse’s Stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples (Isa. 11:10; Rom. 15:12); kings stand silent in your presence (Isa. 5:15); the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid (Hab. 2:3; Heb. 10:37).

December 20  O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven (Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7); come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom (Isa. 42:7; Ps. 107:14; Luke 1:79).

December 21  O Radiant Dawn (Zech. 6:12), splendor of eternal light (Heb. 1:3), sun of justice (Mal 4:2):  come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79; Isa. 9:2).

December 22  O King of all the Nations, the only joy of every human heart (Hag 2:8); O Keystone (Isa. 28:16) of the mighty human arch (Eph. 2:14); come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust (Gen. 2:7).

December 23  O Emmanuel (Isa. 7:14; 8:8), king and lawgiver (Isa. 33:22), desire of the nations (Gen. 49:10), Savior of all, come and set us free, Lord our God.

photo courtesy of CNS

Advent: a time to desire Christ’s second coming, from our affectionate and grateful remembrance of his first

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This year the liturgical season of Advent begins at sundown on Saturday evening, November 30, 2013.  Advent culminates with the birth of the Savior at Christmas.  The Advent season in its liturgical observance is devoted to the coming of God at the end of history when Jesus shall reign as king.  The time is chiefly a celebration of the coming of God in ultimate triumph. Advent confronts us and wakes us from our stupor.

Advent, far from being a penitential time or a time of despair, is a time of rejoicing in hope and a time of patient waiting. Christians are invited to quietly prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of the ever-greater one in the flesh. For what or for whom are we waiting in life? What virtues or gifts are we praying to receive this year? What material things do we seek? The people, qualities, things we await give us great insights into who we are.

FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH II. THE MYSTERIES OF JESUS’ INFANCY AND HIDDEN LIFE:

522. The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the “First Covenant”. He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming.

523. St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. “Prophet of the Most High”, John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ, and rejoices in being “the friend of the bridegroom”, whom he points out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”. Going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom.

524 When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Advent is the season of the prophets and the Scripture readings of these final days before Christmas help us to focus our vision and deepen our longing for the Messiah.  After the prophets died, even if their words seemed already to have been fulfilled, their sayings were handed on and became the vehicle through which the community expressed its hopes, dreams and aspirations.  When we speak of hopes and dreams, the question of their fulfillment cannot be verified by neutral, objective observers or scientific means, but rather from an experience, which involves all of the human faculties of those who share the dreams.

At a given point in history, a group of Jews who identified with the long, rich prophetic tradition of Israel encountered in the flesh a man named Jesus of Nazareth.  Their experience of this remarkable man transformed their lives in deeply significant ways.  They would never be the same because of him.  What did that early group of followers and believers say of Jesus:  “He is the man of our dreams.  In him, all our hopes and aspirations of our people have found fulfillment.”  In this way we can say that the prophetic texts of ancient Israel were all speaking about Jesus.  This kind of affirmation or assertion cannot be verified by neutral historical study of critical analysis of texts.  Only those who have shared the dreams and visions of Israel, and have experienced Jesus in their lives, just as the first Christians did, can proclaim that Jesus is truly “the man of our dreams”.

Long ago St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that almost everything about our Lord Jesus Christ is twofold:

He has two births: one from God before the ages, the other from the Virgin at the end of all ages.
He has two comings: the one is hidden and resembles the falling of the dew upon a fleece; the other, the future one, on the contrary will be manifest.
At his first coming, he was wrapped in linens and laid in a manger; at the second, light shall be his robe.
In the first coming he endured the Cross-, heedless of its shame; in his second coming he will be in glory surrounded by an army of angels.
Let us therefore not stop at his first coming but look forward to the second.
We hailed him at his first coming with the words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And we shall hail him in the same way at his second coming.
For we shall go out to meet the Lord and his angels, and, prostrating ourselves before him, we shall cry, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Advent teaches us that there are two ways of looking at history: one is sociological and the other is religious. The first, chronos, is essentially unredeemed and cyclic. The second, xairos, is redeemed by God in Christ Jesus and becomes the possibility of providence and sacrament.

You may appreciate part of a homily spoken by Blessed John Henry Newman, the great 19th century English bishop and teacher:

They watch for Christ who are sensitive, eager, apprehensive in mind, who are awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in honoring him, who look for him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if they found that he was coming at once? This then is to watch: to be detached from what is present, and to live in what is unseen; to live in the thought of Christ as he came once, and as he will come again; to desire his second coming, from our affectionate and grateful remembrance of his first.

***

Commentary on the readings for the First Sunday of Advent (Liturgical Year A) is found here:

Advent: A Time to Wake from our Hypnotic Sleep

On behalf of the entire staff at Salt and Light Television, I wish you a blessed Advent.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

(CNS Photo/ Lisa A. Johnston)

Hanukkah and Advent: Christians & Jews share a common hope for lasting justice & peace in the world

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This year on November 28, Jews begin their eight-day celebration of Hanukkah at sundown.  Then on Sunday, Christians begin the season of Advent, which culminates with the birth of the Savior at Christmas.  During the eight day period of Hanukkah, Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights and continue to long for the Messiah’s coming.

For many Christians and Jews celebrating these two seasons and feasts in the northern hempisphere, we do so during the season of winter.  Both faith communities draw on the symbols of candles and lights that shatter the winter darkness.

Both holiday seasons invite Christians and Jews to ask the deeper questions: How do we continue to long for the salvation that the Messiah will bring? What can we do to spread God?s light around us and dispel the darkness of fear, sin and despair? The Messianic kingdom for all of us still lies ahead.

While I was a student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University years ago, I heard a story about a certain Rabbi Menahem. When the old sage lived in Israel, a wild man climbed a high mountain, unnoticed, and from the top of the mountain began to blow a trumpet over the city below.

There was a great deal of excitement among the people and a rumour quickly spread: The trumpet is announcing our liberation!

When the rumour came to the ears of Rabbi Menahem, he looked at the world outside his window and said gruffly, “What I see is no renewal.”

At the first Christmas, there was just as little to see through the window of the world. Outside the later Gospels, only a couple of secular Roman historians of the time mention in passing the name of Jesus.

Even today, the questions arise: If Jesus is the Messiah “the bringer of peace” and if he really was born in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago, why is there still so much sin and suffering and turmoil in the world? Why so much terror, hatred violence and war, much of it in the name of God?

Why is there no renewal?Was the Messiah’s project a failure?

The kingdom that Jesus preached was the daring vision of Israel’s God of compassion, mercy, justice and righteousness, a kingdom that involved reforming lives, adhering to the law of love, alleviating the pain and suffering of others, building community, worshiping God in Spirit and truth. There is still much work to be done to realize God’s daring vision, made known to us through his only son.

Where do we begin? We start by working together as Christians and Jews to protect the most important human values, which are threatened by a world in continual transformation.  Christians and Jews have a special affinity for life and must do everything in our power to uphold the dignity of human life, from conception to natural death. We must promote the dignity of the human person.

At the core of Christian and Jewish life is the sacredness and centrality of the family. Christians and Jews must be known for our efforts in the areas of social justice, peace, and freedom for all human beings.

Hanukkah and Advent meet this year in a providential way. As Christians and Jews, we continue to pray together to God. The Jewish “Kaddish” and the Christian “Our Father” express a common hope: “Thy kingdom come!”

We must utter this prayer more loudly and clearly in these days of darkness for so many in the world, especially for the people of Syria, the Holy Lands of the Middle East that are still struggling for God’s justice and peace, and for all those suffering in war, poverty, famine, injustice.

Our common longing for the fruits of the Messianic kingdom invites us, Christians and Jews, to a knowledge of our communion and friendship with one another and a recognition of the terrible brokenness of the world.

As Blessed John Paul II taught us so powerfully through his friendship with the Jewish people, nothing and no one can ever wrench us away any longer from that deep communion and friendship.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI allowed that friendship to deepen and mature in a remarkable way with his meetings with Jewish leaders during his pontificate, and his historic visits to Synagogues in Rome, Germany and New York City.

And yesterday, Pope Francis wrote beautifully about our relationship with the Jewish people in his monumental Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”:

“As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God. With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.”

“Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.”

The tikkun haolam, the healing of the world, its repair, restoration and redemption, including the redemption of Israel, depends upon us, together.

To our many Jewish friends who view our network and read this blog each week, Hag Sameach!  Happy and blessed feast of lights!   Let us go forward in peace!  We have much good work to do together to heal a broken world and wounded humanity.

 

Video: Hanukkah 2012; Argentine Catholics & Jews celebrate Hanukkah & Christmas together
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s last Hannukkah in Buenos Aires

(CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

The 12 Days of Christmas

The 12 Days of Christmas continues with Cheridan Sanders and her memories of celebrating Christmas as a child in South Africa and the new special meaning Advent has taken on for her.

Perspectives Daily – Wednesday, Dec. 19

Tonight on Perspectives we take a look at today’s general audience and the Pope’s Twitter feed.

What can we learn from baby Jesus?


Pope Benedict’s third volume of “Jesus of Nazareth” demonstrates that the nativity has profound significance for our faith lives — and not just during the Christmas season. Dr. Josephine Lombardi, professor at St. Augustine Seminary, and Fr. Thomas Rosica, Salt + Light’s CEO, share what they’ve learned from the Pope’s latest book. This new episode of Perspectives Weekly airs Friday and Sunday night at 7 & 11 pm ET / 8 pm PT.

To purchase your own copy of “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives”, visit Pauline Books & Media at store.pauline.org.

The Word Made Flesh – Emmanuel: God With Us, a reflection by Bishop William McGrattan


In the Jubilee Year of 2000, John Paul II made a very insightful statement.  He said: “Our Christian witness would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated the face of the Lord.”  The same might be said of our fully entering into the Christmas season. Christmas is a time in which we are invited to fix our gaze on Christ in a new and fresh way. It is a time of jubilee, of celebration and the challenge to renew our Christian witness in the mystery of the Incarnation.  The Eternal Word, the Son of the Father took on flesh and came to dwell among us in time.

Have you noticed how natural it is for us to fix our gaze on the face of a newborn child? When they are awake or asleep there is a natural desire to look upon their face and to contemplate the very gift of humanity that is before our very eyes. There is also the opposite reaction when we witness the struggle and suffering of humanity on the faces of children and are moved with compassion.

I have also realized that in the many years of priestly ministry I have never failed to try and extend my hand and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of a young child. It is a sign of blessing from God who has made us in his image, secondly it is a reminder of the introductory ritual of baptism when the cross is traced on the forehead of the child by the priest, the parents, and the godparents as a sign that this child is being dedicated to Christ.  It is also a sign of Christ’s love which has fully embraced our humanity through the sign of our redemption: the cross.

The celebration of the feast of Christmas recalls through faith the moment in history when the “The Word became flesh”.  The Word who is the Son of God took on our humanity. This statement of faith we find in the opening Prologue of John’s Gospel on Christmas day.

[Read more…]

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…in the Vatican


When Christmas is near, we all become traditionalists. Even the most anti-establishment types among us are horrified by attempts to alter our treasured rituals.

As one example, Toronto shoppers were aghast at the unveiling of the modernized Christmas tree in the Eaton Centre shopping mall. Replacing the traditional, Swarovski-bedazzled faux-fir of years past, this year’s hot pink eyesore resembles Lady Gaga’s spaceship. Nostalgic shoppers have flooded the Eaton Centre’s Facebook page with pleas for the old tree to return.

Meanwhile, residents of Guelph, Ontario were outraged when the Stone Road Mall eliminated its nativity scene, ostensibly in the interest of saving space. A grassroots campaign quickly succeeded at restoring the nativity scene, along with the mall’s reputation. Guelph-native Cardinal Thomas Collins was among a large crowd who gathered there to celebrate the Holy Family’s return.

The Vatican is wisely playing it safe with its Christmas décor, but there is still something new to see in St. Peter’s Square. This year, the backdrop of the nativity scene was modeled after the terrain of the “sassi” in Matera, Italy. Famed for its ancient buildings hewn from the steep mountainside, the sassi looks like Jerusalem did 2000 years ago. As such, Matera has been a stand-in for the holy city in the making of films like “The Passion of the Christ”. The rock-like structure in St. Peter’s Square will display over 100 terracotta figures.

Just as the nativity scene changes every year, so does the origin of the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square. This season, a 78-foot silver fir was donated by the Molise region of Italy, 200 kilometres north of Rome. The previous tree was hauled from Ukraine.

You can watch the lighting of the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square live on Salt + Light. Tune in to S+L TV or online via our web stream this Friday at 10:30 am ET / 7:30 am PT, repeating at 9:00 pm ET / 6:00 pm PT. This is one of many live events that S+L will broadcast during the coming month, including Christmas Eve Mass on December 24 and the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi blessing the following day.

Shout for Joy, O Daughter Zion!


Biblical Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent C – December 16, 2012

The readings for this Sunday are: Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7; and Luke 3:10-18

Advent, far from being a penitential time, is a time of rejoicing. Christians proclaim that the Messiah has indeed come and that God’s reign is at hand. During these days we are invited to quietly prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of the Son of God in the flesh.

On this third Sunday of Advent — known as Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing — I would like to focus on two important themes found in today’s scripture readings: the biblical expression “Daughter of Zion” and what it means to “rejoice.”

The rich text of today’s first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah [3:14-18a-20] speaks of the Daughter of Zion, the personification of the city of Jerusalem. Let us reflect on the significance of this title of the holy city of Jerusalem and see how and why the Church appropriated the title for Mary, Mother of the Lord.

Daughter of Zion is the personification of the city of Jerusalem. Zion was the name of the Jebusite citadel that later became the City of David. In the many texts of the Old Testament that speak of the Daughter of Zion, there is no real distinction to be made between a daughter of Zion and the city of Jerusalem itself.

In the Old Testament, the title Virgin of Israel is the same as the Daughter of Zion. The image of the bride of the Lord is found in Hosea, Chapters 1-3: It reflects the infidelity of the people to their God. [Read more…]

John the Baptist, the Paradox of Advent – Second Sunday of Advent

Second Sunday of Advent, Year C – December 9, 2012
The readings for this Sunday are: Baruch 5.1-9; Ps 126; Philippians 1.3-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6

In today’s Gospel text, the evangelist who is called the “scriba manuetidinis Christi” (scribe of the gentleness of Christ) by Dante Alighieri, casts the call of John the Baptist in the form of an Old Testament prophetic call (Luke 3:2) and extends the quotation from Isaiah found in Mark 1:3 (Isaiah 40:3) by the addition of Isaiah 40:4-5 in Luke 3:5-6. In doing so, Luke presents his theme of the universality of salvation, which he has announced earlier in the words of Simeon (Luke 2:30-32). Let us consider several historical details offered by Luke in today’s prophetic call story.

Tiberius Caesar succeeded Augustus as emperor in A.D. 14 and reigned until A.D. 37. The fifteenth year of his reign would have fallen between A.D. 27 and 29. Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea from A.D. 26 until 36. The Jewish historian Josephus describes him as a greedy and ruthless prefect who had little regard for the local Jewish population and their religious practices (Luke 13:1). The Herod who is mentioned is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39.

Luke not only situates the call of John the Baptist in terms of the civil rulers of that period but he also mentions the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the religious leadership of Palestine. Annas had been high priest from A.D. 6-15. After being deposed by the Romans in A.D. 15 he was succeeded by various members of his family and eventually by his son-in-law, Caiaphas, who was high priest from A.D. 18-36. [Read more…]