Archive | January, 2006

John The Baptist- Luke 1:57-80

23 Jan

In my last article on the Gospel of Luke, I left off at Mary’s Magnificat. Mary, pregnant with Our Lord, humbly recognized the power of God and her role in God’s plan of salvation. Mary spent three months with her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant by way of a miracle from God. Most thought Elizabeth was too old to conceive. Even Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, thought so. But God silenced Zechariah until the birth of his son John. Likewise, we are often silenced by awe at God’s might and pure goodness.

Luke’s story of the birth of John the Baptist ties in nicely with today’s Gospel reading at Mass. From the Gospel of Mark, we hear from Jesus:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)

John the Baptist was born to eventually proclaim the same message, to prepare the way for Christ to fulfill His mission as one among his people. This is an important message. Firstly, the kingdom of God isn’t meant as some far-off entity. Rather, God intends that earth be part of His kingdom. It is up to humankind to allow this kingdom to come to earth. To do this, we are asked to make ourselves as nothing before God. The Lord is other-worldly to us, yet in the miracle of the Incarnation God sent Christ to dwell among us as a human being. We ask that God’s will be united with human will in the Lord’s Prayer:

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven.

Christ is the ideal human being. He is humanity as God intends. He is the perfect image of God because He is one with God. And Jesus calls us, with His help always at hand, to deny ourselves before him so that we might more fully be Him to His people. To fulfill this mission, we need to seek God’s mercy. We need to repent. Repentance involves not only asking for forgiveness for our actions, but also for wrongful thoughts and for actions not taken when they ought to have been. At Mass, the words of the Penitential Rite are therefore important:

I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault: In my thoughts, in my words, in what I have done, and in what I’ve failed to do.
I ask Blessed Mary ever Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Repentance is necessary to make God’s kingdom apparent, and it involves not only a change in actions, but in the mindset behind how we act. If human beings are to be of one will with that of God, we must transcend ourselves in word, thought, and deed. Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) Thus, although His kingdom transcends this world, Christ came to us in human form. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Christ’s disciples, in human form also, continue to bring Him to other people.

By coming to repentance, we accept the coming near of God’s kingdom, and the good news becomes impossible to contain. Out of awe comes silence, then a breaking of that silence. In Luke’s Gospel, Zechariah breaks his silence after naming his son:

“His name is John…Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God.” (Luke 1:64) Zechariah, along with those gathered at the presentation of John, had felt the mercy of God, and happily proclaimed it. The child was named John, meaning “merciful” in Hebrew. Indeed, all those present rejoiced with Elizabeth once they knew that “the Lord had shown his great mercy to her.” (Luke 1:57) In response, this joy was spread “throughout the entire hill country of Judea.” (Luke 1:65) Our joy over our redemption by God continues to be spread today, unhalted by earthly boundaries. We wonder what God will do next, like the people who saw the presentation of John wondered: “What then will this child become?” (Luke 1:66) Yet we trust that “the hand of the Lord” is with us, so that we may be strengthened in spirit, even if it appears to us as if we are in a wilderness of confusion before God’s plan (cf. Luke 1:66, 80)

God will strengthen us if we allow Him to do so. In the meantime, we praise God’s mighty name as Zechariah did after his mouth was opened:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

(Luke 1:68-79)

Lord guide our feet along your pathways of mercy and peace. Help us to bring your kingdom that transcends this world to earth, so that with your grace we may bring your awesome presence to earth. Then all might know you better and sing to your praise forever. My Lord and my God!* Amen.

WRS

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Three

12 Jan

Here I am…back again. I’m officially “settled in” to my new residence now. Instead of one great roommate, I now have two, which makes three of us. Also, we have about three times the space in the new condo than I had in my apartment. And there’s at least three times less noise. That comes from not living across the street from one of the city’s largest hospitals with the screeching sirens that once disturbed my study and sleep time. Not to mention there were three garbage dumpsters behind the old place that would be emptied every Monday morning to loud banging, ending my hopes of sleeping past 6 AM, even on the odd occasion I wasn’t working on a Monday.In the midst of the move, I’ve been observing the post-Christmas leg of the Canadian federal election campaign. The seats in Parliament will likely be shared between the front-running (for now) Conservative Party, the Liberals, the left-leaning New Democratic Party, and the separatist Bloc Québécois. Well, that makes for at least three federalist parties who will have MPs elected to the House of Commons. Of course, I’m leaving out the Bloc, whose sole purpose is to break Canada apart along linguistic lines and then to have Quebec exist on handouts from the rest of Canada. The Bloc can dream on, but I digress. The Green Party has a faint chance of a seat or two, maybe from the west coast constituencies somewhere. But again that’s beside the point.

This post is about threes. I particularly liked the homily given by the chaplain of St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta. Sunday’s Mass celebrated the Epiphany. The familiar story is that of wise men following a star to a stable where they found the infant Jesus in a manger. Prior to this, the wise men had visited the murderous King Herod, and had asked Herod where they might find the Messiah:

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Matthew 2:2)

Herod was driven to fear, jealousy, and rage by that apparently naïve question:

Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” (Matthew 2:4-8 )

Obviously, Herod had no intention of doing homage to a potential usurper of his power. Herod wanted to destroy this threat, along with every other male child under two years old near Bethlehem. (cf. Matthew 2:13, 16). Thus, the wise men, who in their first encounter with Herod had seemed not so wise in telling Herod of their intentions and of the time the star appeared, were warned by God, source of their wisdom, not to return to Herod. (cf. Matthew 2:7,12,16)

It is appropriate here to discuss the significance of the “wise” men. They are actually referred to in scripture as magi. This word is translated from the Greek word ‘magus’

, meaning an astrologer. These men in Matthew’s Gospel went largely unnoticed, watching the stars. They knew, though, that the star of Bethlehem was no everyday occurrence. So they followed it day and night until the star brought them to a baby. A baby is also pretty normal, like the stars. But again there’s something special about this humble but supreme baby. He is God, and continues to draw people to Himself by everyday signs.Notably, Scripture also never tells us how many magi there were (although we traditionally say there were three), only that there were more than one and that they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is often associated with joyous times (for example, the “golden” wedding anniversary) or with royalty. Christ was certainly royal, and His birth was a joyous occasion. Frankincense is a perfume. Incense is often used during Mass, so that it has become a ritual, somewhat like the regular motions of life that we go through that are nonetheless important, like getting out of bed each morning. Myrrh was used as a spice for bodies after burial. The innocent Christ was to die the death of a criminal. Many people die in suffering and pain, but their lives are still of significance to God and should be to other people also. Sadly, the proper loving care of the suffering, disabled, or dying is lost in portions of today’s society.

In the second chapter of Matthew, three big encounters with God in dreams are mentioned. Firstly, God appeared to the magi to tell them not to return to Herod. (Matthew 2:12). Then God appeared twice to Joseph, first to have him flee to Egypt, as Herod was set to kill all boys under two around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13), and then to tell Joseph to return to Israel after Herod had died. (Matthew 2:20)

Finally, the journey of the magi can be split into three parts. Their journey mirrors our own today. First, they followed the star to Bethlehem. The magi, like Jesus’ followers then and now, knew that God was speaking great things to them by means they could understand, whether by the stars that the astrologers watched, or by the beauty of nature we see today. The magi then encountered the God-child. We can see God in other people if we try hard enough. God created us all in his likeness, and resides in us. In turn, we, like the magi, go forth on our journey filled with the Holy Spirit “to love and to serve the Lord”. If we allow God to fill us with wisdom, he will. And God will help his people through difficult times.

All praise be to the God of past, present, and future. God is three persons in the perfect unity he desires for His people- the unity of the triune majesty: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May God’s glory aid us to journey toward Christ, to encounter Him faithfully and joyfully, and to go forth with His love and wisdom to spread His good news.

Amen.

WRS

 

 

 

Foretelling Christ’s Birth, Visitation, And Magnificat- Luke 1:26-56

3 Jan

In the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary to announce that she had conceived a son by the Holy Spirit. (cf. Luke 1:35) Mary didn’t fully understand Gabriel’s announcement, but she accepted God’s great gift anyway.

Prior to Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, he also came to the priest Zechariah to foretell the birth of John the Baptist. Here, Gabriel’s words were met with skepticism from Zechariah. He couldn’t comprehend how his aged wife Elizabeth would be able to conceive a child, so God made him speechless until the birth of John the Baptist. (cf. Luke 1:13-20)

Talk of angelic appearances is popular today. For example, television shows like “Touched by an Angel” have enjoyed success. We identify angels as messengers, and often as helpers, or “guardians”. Appearances by angels helped people to understand key steps in God’s mission to save us. I can think of at least four appearances by angels that are documented in Luke’s Gospel, three of which occur at or before the Nativity. Angels appeared to Zechariah to announce John the Baptist’s conception, to Mary at Jesus’ conception, and then at the birth of Jesus. Three is an important number to Christianity. For example, we believe in the Holy Trinity: three persons- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- in one God. Many of the Mass parts are strucuctured in threes. The fourth angelic appearance I’m mindful of is extra special. It’s like the aforementioned three appearances plus one bonus: the two angels’ appearance to the women at the empty tomb. (cf. Luke 24:4-7) At that point, we learn that Jesus is resurrected. Humankind is redeemed. Salvation becomes a real possibility at that point, and we no may no longer dwell in sin by which we seclude ourselves from God. Christ’s earthly mission is completed by His resurrection.

Elizabeth also “remained in seclusion” for five months after conceiving John (Luke 1:24). After this time, God revealed more aspects of His redemptive plan to humanity. First, God sent the messenger angel Gabriel again, this time to Mary. Gabriel said to Mary, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28 ) Mary found it difficult to understand the significance of Gabriel’s words. At Mass, we are greeted by the priest’s words, “The Lord be with you”, to which we respond, “And also with you”. Later, we hear, “Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit…” We respond with a great “Amen”. Then we respond “Amen” again when receiving Christ’s Body and Blood at Communion. The word “Amen” roughly means “I believe”. It’s important that we mean it and be reverent and joyful when we say it, because this word is so powerful.

We say “Amen” though we all have questions, even doubts, about our faith. Mary was told this of her son-to-be:

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

Mary’s first reaction was: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) She was quickly reassured by Gabriel that she would be under the power of the Holy Spirit. Gabriel said, “the child to be born will be holy, and he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:36) But Gabriel didn’t stop there. He informed Mary that Elizabeth, too, was expecting a child. (cf. Luke 1:37) Mary was thus filled with joy that was endless as the kingdom of the Lord she carried in her womb. There are few things that are without end. I recall a silly children’s “Song that Doesn’t End”. That and some of my blog posts come close to being endless… But God is the Alpha and the Omega, Beginning and End. In God is the promise of everlasting life in happiness and joy. Mary responded to God’s eternal plan with great humility and joy:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 )

Filled with this joy, Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, whom she stayed with for three months. (Luke 1:56) Mary’s joy couldn’t be contained, and it rubbed off on Elizabeth, such that as soon as she heard the sound of Mary’s greeting, “the child in (Elizabeth’s) womb leapt for joy.” (Luke 1:44). Mary was truly blessed among women, and blessed was the fruit of her womb (cf. Luke 1:42), as Elizabeth said: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)

Following Elizabeth’s acknowledgement of God’s gift to Mary (and indeed the world), Mary praised the Lord. By Mary’s Magnificat, we are shown how to humbly praise God. Mary said the words of the Magnificat, and lived by them, following Jesus’ ways:

My soul magnifies the Lord.
And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
For he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
For the Mighty One has done great things for me,
And holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him,
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
And lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
In remembrance of his mercy,
According to the promise he made to our ancestors,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.

-Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s example is so ideal that she is to be revered as the foremost Saint. Her feast day is the first feast day of each year, on January 1.

Our Magnificat is to simply say “I believe”, and then to live by it. Christ is our Great Amen. Blessed be those who walk in His paths.

Amen.

WRS