Tag Archives: Advent

December 17: The Tree of Jesse

treeofJesse

Tree of Jesse, Chartres Cathedral

From December 17th until Christmas, we read on weekdays from the infancy narratives  of Matthew and Luke to prepare for the  Christmas feast.

Today the gospel is  Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, tracing his ancestry as “the son of David and the son of Abraham.” Jesus’ descent from Abraham fulfilled the promise God made to him: “in your descendants all nations would be blessed,” As a descendant of David, Jesus is a royal Messiah.

Matthew’s genealogy offers a Messiah whom Jew and Gentile can claim for their Savior. His roots are worldwide, his ancestors reach beyond Palestine.

He’s not just a Jewish Messiah in Matthew’s listing. His bloodline includes women like Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba– foreigners, but also women with questionable backgrounds. In his humanity,  Jesus didn’t come from perfect ancestors or untainted Jewish royalty ; he’s rooted in all humanity. His bloodline includes saints and sinners, or can we say he comes from a line of sinners and some saints? He shares our human DNA.

Matthew obviously wants us to look at Jesus’ family tree and see it as our own. We can be at home there. The Tree of Jesse, based on Matthew’s genealogy  was a favorite subject for medieval artists working on illuminated manuscripts or creating stained glass windows for churches. A great way to see the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Luke in his genealogy goes further and sees Jesus beyond Abraham, descended from Adam. He becomes the new Adam. We are born from his side, we share his blood; he is the first born of many like us. So we pray in today’s opening prayer:

“O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature…your Only Begotten Son, having taken to himself our humanity, may you be pleased to grant us a share in his divinity.” (Collect)

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent

Isaiah


Yesterday, Second Isaiah said to the exiles in Babylon: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” In today’s reading Jesus says:“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” A favorite reading.

Notice Jesus speaks to the “crowds” in Matthew’s gospel, not just to the disciples who know him or to the Jewish Christian church Matthew wrote for at the end of the first century.  God’s love and God’s promises reach far beyond the circle of disciples or the church.  Jesus Christ reaches out to refresh the world that labors and is burdened, even if it doesn’t know him.

Who does Second Isalah speak to? Scholars say today’s readings that begin with the 40th chapter of Isaiah come, not from Isaiah the priest who spoke in Jerusalem as Assyrian armies threatened the city in 8th century BC, but from an unknown prophet speaking to Jewish exiles in Babylon centuries later. He urges them to return to Jerusalem and build it up. He uses Isaiah’s name and language, perhaps,  to avoid trouble with Babylonian’s leaders for suggesting such a thing .

Not many Jews returned to Jerusalem at his call. historians say. Some did, but others were not interested in the prophet’s invitation. Taken captive to Babylon centuries before, they’re part of the place now. Babylon’s their home. They have families and jobs there; Jerusalem is far away and its future uncertain.

Yet, many remain faithful Jews in Babylon, and in Rome and other parts of the world in exile. Later, the Christian church became established in the world through them. 

We need to study Judaism more fully as a template for our own church today, I think, especially the mystery of Exile. We’re now experiencing an exile in our church– in the United States for every one person who join’s us, six leave. We need to study the exile of the Jews. 

Will those we lose be our way to become a more universal church?

The unknown prophet in today’s readings warns Jewish exiles not to abandon God for Babylon’s gods. 

“To whom can you liken me as an equal?
says the Holy One…
Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.”

We have to pray for our own exiles. God still holds them in his hands, sustains and comforts them, even if they do not know him or seem to care.  God’s Spirit is still within them.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

We tend to see the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, which says that Mary was preserved from original sin from conception, as a gift just for her and not affecting us at all,  a gift that makes her unlike us.

St. Anselm, the 12th century monk, later archbishop of Canterbury, sees it differently. Mary shows us what being human and being part of God’s creation was meant to be. She’s the first to be blessed by Jesus Christ, her son. All of us, yes creation itself,  benefit from the gift:

“Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to our power or use – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace. All creatures were dead, as it were, useless to us or for the praise of God, who made them. The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by human acts of idolatry. Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices.

“The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God, its Creator, it sees God openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.

“Through the fullness of the grace given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new. Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.

“Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.”

2nd Sunday of Advent: “Go with Joy”

In the time of Jesus pilgrims from Galilee came up to Jerusalem a number of ways. Many came down the Jordan Valley, a journey of 90 miles. When they reached the city of Jericho they turned eastward onto a steep, winding road that ascended for 3500 feet and 15 miles to the city of Jerusalem. A picture taken from an airplane in the 1930s shows that winding, climbing road through the desert. It had to be the hardest part of their journey.Jericho Rd  3
Jericho road modern

Now travelers go that route in air-conditioned buses. It took ancient travelers four days. Not it’s a few hours.

The bible sees the journey to Jerusalem, especially the last part up that steep winding desert road as a symbol of our journey to God. We’re pilgrims on our way, The way’s still hard, even with air-conditioned buses.

John the Baptist preached where that winding, climbing road began. His father, Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, told him at his birth: “You, my child shall be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1)

John invited weary pilgrims into the refreshing waters of the Jordan river, that they might be strengthened for the journey.

John Baptist preaching

Last week readings warned about falling asleep through complacency and laziness. This week readings remind us the day by day journey can tire us,  Life can wear us out, even a life doing good.

Then, unexpected things, like sickness, failures and disappointments, come along, robbing our energy. The parable of the Good Samaritan happened on this road to Jerusalem. Unexpected things happen.

John the Baptist, and the Prophet Isaiah before him, spoke to weary pilgrims. “‘Comfort, give comfort to my people,’ says the Lord…They spoke words of hope to those on the way:

With God’s help, the winding, climbing, wearying road becomes a highway; every valley  filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the rugged land  made plain, the crooked way straight.

The Lord is ” a shepherd feeding his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40: 1-5,9-11) So don’t be afraid.

Advent is a beautiful season. “Go up with joy to the house of the Lord.”

Feast of St. Nicholas

You would do a little friend, or child, or relative of yours a favor if you would introduce him or her to the real Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, whose feastday is today. My good friend, Mauro DeTrizio, whose family comes from Bari, Italy, has had a lifelong devotion to St. Nicholas. He’s also a good videographer and his dream has been to produce a video on St. Nicholas, our Santa Claus.

So we teamed up to produce a couple of them as part of our campaign for saving Santa Claus. Santa’s more than a salesman; he’s a saint, and his gift for quiet giving is in the spirit of our coming season of Advent and Christmas. He mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways to save him from being captured by Macys and Walmart. Previously, we offered a version for little children. Now here’s another modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADevygB9jNs

What You Find in the First Week of Advent

The daily Advent readings at Mass for the first week of Advent are beautifully arranged..

In the Old Testament readings,  the Prophet Isaiah speaks as a fierce Assyrian army heads towards Jerusalem. Bad times ahead, but the prophet sees something else. All nations are streaming to God’s mountain.

The nations will come to God’s mountain, Jerusalem, where the temple stands, the prophet says.  They’ll be fed a rich banquet (Wednesday),  the poor will triumph (Thursday),  the blind will see (Friday). Safe on this rock, children play around the cobra’s den, and the lion and the lamb lie down together (Tuesday). The prophet  challenges us to see our world in another way.

In the gospels  Jesus Christ fulfills the Isaian prophecies. The Roman centurion, humbly approaching Jesus in Capernaum, represents all nations approaching him. (Monday)  Jesus praises the childlike;  they will enter the kingdom of heaven.(Tuesday)  He feeds a multitude on the mountain.(Wednesday) His kingdom is built on rock.(Thursday)  He gives sight to the blind to find their way.  (Friday)

Many Advent readings in these early weeks of Advent are from the gospel of Matthew, who portrays Jesus teaching on a mountain (Isaiah’s favorite symbol). His miracles affect all. Jesus is the new temple, the Presence of God, Emmanuel, God with us. He brings hope beyond human hope.

Lord, help us see what you and the prophets see.

Saving Santa Claus

Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store  for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.

IMG_1506

But Santa Claus is more than a saleman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADevygB9jNs

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

 

 

Mary temple

Mary, Presented in the Temple: Giotto

The Presentation of Mary, November 21,  is an ecumenical feast that originates, not in the bible, but in an ancient tradition of the church of Jerusalem. The tradition claims Mary was born near the temple in Jerusalem, where her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. He and his wife Ann were old and childless until they were blessed with a daughter whom they presented in the temple as a little child. The tradition is honored by Christian churches of the east and west.

The present church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, next to the ancient temple site, is where the tradition says Mary was born. Besides Jerusalem, Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris also claim to be where she was born.

st.ann basilica

Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem tradition may have some support in Luke’s gospel, which says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest.  Could Mary’s family also be connected to the temple?

Luke links Mary a number of times to the temple.. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Luke also says Mary and Joseph brought Jesus as a child to the temple to celebrate the feasts. Mary’s Son calls the temple familiarly “my Father’s house.”

According to the gospel of James Mary was presented in the temple as a little girl and it gives the impression she lived there until her arranged marriage to Joseph. But the four gospels seem to place Mary far from the temple most of her life, in Nazareth. That’s where the angel speaks to her.    

We might say that for Mary the temple signifies God’s presence, where prophets speak and wisdom can be found. Like Jesus she loved that holy place, but like him she believed the temple of God can be found everywhere, (cf. John 4, 22-26), in Nazareth, Bethlehem, even on Calvary. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul would say later to the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 3, 16) 

St. Paul of the Cross,  founder of the Passionists, had a great devotion to this mystery and dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy to the Presentation of Mary. He saw his retreats as places where his religious, like Mary, would find themselves in God’s presence, where they could pray, where they would meet prophets and teachers, where they would gain wisdom. 

December 20: The Annunciation

Annunciation 

St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation to Mary, read today at Mass,  follows the announcement of the birth of John to Zechariah in yesterday’s advent readings. An angel announces that Jesus will come as her son, but Mary receives the angel so differently than the priest Zechariah. (Luke 1, 5-25,)

In the temple, where great mysteries are celebrated, the priest won’t believe he and his wife can conceive a child. They’re too old. He doubts.

In  Nazareth, a small town in Galilee and an unlikely place for a major revelation, the angel approaches Mary with a message far more difficult to grasp. “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Mary believes and does not doubt, and so by God’s power she conceives a Son who will be born in Bethlehem. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,”

The Annunciation scene pictured above was placed at the beginning of a medieval prayer book with the words beneath it in latin: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.” Most medieval artists assumed that Mary was at home in prayer when the angel came and so they put this scene at the beginning of an hour of prayer. Prayer enables Mary to believe and accept what would come.

Isn’t that true for us all? As with Mary, prayer helps us discern and say yes to what God wills. “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

My community, the Passionists, still begins the prayers of the liturgy of the hours by reciting the Angelus, a prayer that repeats this gospel story. “The angel of the Lord declared to Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit….”

Prayer opens the way to mysteries beyond us. As a woman of faith, Mary knew that, and we learn from her.

At Mass today we pray:  “O God, grant that by Mary’s example, we may in humility hold fast to your will.” Open our eyes to see and our lips to say yes.

Readings www.usccb.org

The Yet Empty Stable

by Howard Hain

There’s a little stable not too far from here.

It sits in a church that has seen better days.

The parish is poor and the people seem to disappear.

But a few persistent peasants won’t stay away.

I love it there.

The priest is wonderfully uncertain.

He is afraid of God.

He instinctively bows his head at the mention of the name.

He knows how little he is in front of the great star.

I imagine he was involved in setting the stable.

It is a good size, on the relative little-stable scale.

It is surrounded by ever-green branches.

Probably snipped from the few Douglas Firs placed around the altar and yet to be trimmed.

The stable itself is composed of wood.

A little wooden railing crosses half the front.

A single string of clear lights threads through the branches laid upon the miniature roof.

They are yet to be lit.

I love it there.

I kneel before the empty scene.

For as of yet, not a creature or prop is present.

Not an ox or a goat, not a piece of hay or plank of fencing.

Not even a feeding trough that is to be turned into a crib.

No visible sign of Joseph and Mary, nor a distant “hee-haw” of a very tired donkey.

I wonder if I could get involved.

Perhaps I could slip into the scene.

There’s a darkened corner on the lower left.

In the back, against the wall.

I could hide myself within the stable.

Before anyone else arrives.

I don’t think they would mind.

I’d only be there to adore.

To pay homage to the new born king.

I might even help keep the animals in line.

Yes, a stagehand, that’s what I can be!

I know there’s no curtain to pull.

That’s to be torn in a much later scene.

But to watch the Incarnation unfold from within!

That’s what I dream.

To see each player take his and her place.

To see the great light locate the babe.

To watch the kings and shepherds stumble onto the scene.

Hark! To hear the herald angels sing!

O the joy of being a simple farmhand.

Of being in the right place at always the right time.

Of course though I wouldn’t be alone.

In that darkened corner, also awaiting the entire affair, there are many others.

Most I don’t know by name.

Too many in fact to even count.

But a few I know for sure.

For certain, present are those few persistent peasants who won’t stay away.

And of course there’s that wonderful anonymous parish priest.

The one who helped set into place this yet empty but very expectant stable.

The one whose fear of God is so clearly the beginning of wisdom.


(Dec/16/2016)

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com