In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79
This morning it is Thursday of the 4th Week of Advent. At sundown, it is Christmas Eve , the Christmas Vigil.
All I ask for you today is to meditate on the above words of Zechariah in the Gospel of Luke. Feel the tender compassion of our God pouring over you.
Hear the words of St. Paul to the Philippians (not part of the readings today, but very worth hearing):
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who,though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!
Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand. – Responsorial Psalm
Today is the last day of the O Antiphons. Why? The O Antiphons are typically recited at Evening Prayer, before the Magnificat. And tomorrow is Dec. 24, Christmas Eve. The evening of Dec. 24 is already the vigil for Christmas Day, so….no O Antiphon for the evening of Dec. 24. Today is the end; my family is quite thankful that this final verse is so familiar!
I recently re-watched the movie The Nativity Story. What it does so well is to capture the wildness of God’s plan and the deep faith and trust of those involved. Mary’s “yes” was beautiful, but complicated. Joseph was willing to take on quite a lot. Neither one had bargained for such an unconventional life. Both were able to trust completely in God’s word and in one another.
Mary and Joseph did not know how the story went, for they were living the story. There was no comfortable tradition in the going to Bethlehem, the birth in the stable, the star in the East, the shepherds and wise men. Each part of the narrative unfolded in front of their very eyes, and it was full of wonder and awe, but also a great deal of uncertainty.
In this uncomfortable and uncertain year of 2020 (and events already unfolding that make it seem that 2021 may begin in a rough manner), it is good to remember that that our faith was not built on comfort. The pretty nativity scenes and Christmas cards are art. What really happened was unrefined, rough, unfiltered.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love… – Zeph. 16-17
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. – Luke 1:46-47
Rejoice! The word echoes through the readings today.
Hannah prayed – desperately prayed – for a son, and when her prayer was granted, dedicated little Samuel to the Lord. In the 1st reading, she fulfills her vows to the Lord, bringing Samuel to begin his training with Eli at the Temple.
After Hannah presents Samuel to the priest, Eli, her heart is moved with praise to God. Her prayer is our psalm for the day. It is very familiar to our ears, for it foreshadows Mary’s Magnificat, many years later.
“My heart exults in the Lord,
my horn is exalted by my God. I have swallowed up my enemies; I rejoice in your victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord; there is no Rock like our God. – 1 Sam. 2: 1-2
Mary would have been very familiar with this story and these words. Perhaps she pondered them after the Angel Gabriel made his startling announcement. For, like Hannah, Mary knew the child she bore belonged to God, more so than any other child ever had. She was tasked with bearing him and raising him, but the life she felt stir within her was already dedicated to service of the Lord. Hannah’s words, the words of a woman blessed by God to bear a son who was destined to spiritually lead his people, would have moved Mary’s heart and soul.
And so in the Gospel, we again today hear Mary’s Magnificat, that beautiful prayer of praise for the mighty, inscrutable, works of God. Mary’s prayer is Hannah’s, perfected.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. – Luke 1:46-48
Ponder: How has God worked in your life in unexpected ways? Sometimes we forget, in our day-to-day existence, of the signs and wonders God has done in our own lives. Remember, and offer praise today! And pray along with Mary this beautiful Magnificat.
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love… – Zeph. 16-17
Do not be discouraged!
What a beautiful reminder from Zephaniah! This has been a year when it has been easy to get discouraged – by the behavior of other people, by politics, by events out of our control.
The study of world history is always time well spent, for it can remind us that there is no time in history that is free from trouble. It is easy to forget that, with the multitude of distressing things that seemed to have occurred in 2020.
There is so much we cannot control. But the Lord IS in our midst. He will renew us in his love.
Christmas is almost here. One of the greatest gifts of the season is renewal, a reminder of what really matters – loving God and loving all those around us. And this love is His love, poured out on us so that we may pour it out on others. When we do so, He WILL renew us in His love.
Love came down from heaven. Let us love, and so be renewed in our hearts and souls.
Challenge – How can you love others in a special way today? Recognize His love in the kind acts you see today.
The final week of Advent begins today! Christmas is in sight!
The Gospel reading today stands in sharp contrast to yesterday’s reading. Yesterday, Zechariah did not believe the Angel Gabriel’s pronouncement. Today, we hear Mary’s “yes” – complete and total agreement to what God asks of her, and trust in the way in which God will bring it about.
“Fiat” – “Let it be done”.
Mary’s “fiat” is our example. She said yes, not knowing how or why. She said yes, even though it would lead to complications in her life. She didn’t know how Joseph would react, or if he would even stay with her. She didn’t know how her life would work out. She wasn’t promised life would be easy or worldly-happy.
She said, “Yes,” anyway.
Mary’s yes brought Christ to the world, literally. Like our Holy Mother, we are called to say yes to God, to bear Christ to the world in our hearts, deeds, and actions, and to trust God to work out all the details.
Pray: try to pray the Angelus this week. It is traditionally prayed at 6am, noon, and 6pm, but you can make your own schedule. For example, I will try to pray it once a day, around noon.
L (leader): The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: R (response): And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
All: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinner, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
L: Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
R: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
All: Hail Mary…
L: And the Word was made Flesh:
R: And dwelt among us.
All: Hail Mary…
L: Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,
R: that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
L: Let us pray:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.
set up your Christmas tree (if you haven’t already)
set up your manger scene (if you haven’t already)
Decide how you are attending Christmas Mass – this year of 2020 requires a great deal of thought. If you don’t already have plans, you can join me for the 6pm Christmas Eve vigil at Our Lady of the Angels in Allen, Texas. I will be singing at this service. Reservations for seats is full, but you can watch HERE!
The readings this week are full of joy – God’s plan is beyond our understanding and is revealed in miraculous ways to ordinary people. Mary responds with joyful thanksgiving to the unveiling of God’s plan; Israel is exhorted to sing joyfully; John the Baptist, in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth jumps for joy in the presence of the Messiah and his mother, while Elizabeth is filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit; and Zechariah, after initial fear upon hearing God’s plan, has come around and is filled with the Holy Spirit as he prophecies over his newborn son.
Legacy, likewise, is another theme this week. Salvation history is one big legacy story, telling the way God has worked among people of all times. The legacy of the house of David is a much more lasting legacy than David ever dreamed of – the Savior of the world will be of the house of David. We, too, are invited to ponder how our “yes” to God adds to the tapestry of testimony to the glory and love of God.
The Savior draws near. Are you ready?
May joy and peace fill your hearts and homes this week.
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!
Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” Luke 1:18
Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Zechariah and the promise of the angel Gabriel concerning John’s birth.
Scripture leaves out many details in its stories. This leaves us room to imagine, to meditate, and to wonder.
An initial read-through of the story of Zechariah and the angel Gabriel would lead us to believe that Zechariah’s response to Gabriel’s message – that his barren, older wife would become pregnant and give birth to a son who would not only be the front-runner of the Messiah, but would bear the name John, a name unheard of in Zechariah’s family – this response is not much different from Mary’s reaction to the news that she – a virgin – would bear the long-awaited Messiah:
Yet the reaction of the Angel Gabriel to each tells us that the two are not the same: one was closed to the news, filled with disbelief, while the other was open to both the news and the will of God.
To Zechariah, Gabriel responded:
“I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Luke 1:19-20
There is a feeling here that Gabriel had to get stern with Zechariah and remind him to whom he was speaking.
Zechariah was not a bad man. He was not a coward nor was he despicable. He was just completely frail-ly human, beset by fears and doubts. His faith was tested and found wanting.
On the other hand, Mary’s question upon hearing Gabriel’s news – “How can this be?” – wasn’t a reflection on the state of her heart or her faith, but rather a practical question; more like, “You know I am not married and I have never been with a man, right? Will this be a problem?”.
And Gabriel responds with the news that the Holy Spirit will take care of all the details. Whereas Zechariah wanted some kind of proof in order to believe, Mary believed and rested in trust of God’s plans.
Zechariah’s ability to speak was taken away until the day John was born. This seems like a harsh punishment, but we know God does all things in love, so why this? It was just that Zechariah, who sassed the Angel Gabriel (and therefore God, to his face, so to speak) lost his ability to speak for a time. An eye for an eye, the inability to speak because of unwelcoming words.
But God is justice and mercy. The silence was perhaps, for Zechariah, exactly what he needed to not only accept the words of Gabriel, the will of God, but to fully prepare to raise a child who would be the long-awaited “return of Elijah” – the one who prepares a way for the Lord.
John the Baptist seemed a quirky adult (wearing animal skins, eating locusts and honey, choosing to live an unconventional life). Odds are he was quirky all his life. God gave Zechariah – an honest, upright, rather rigid, priest – time to learn to accept the unusual, the unexpected, so that Zechariah would be prepared to father this unusual, unexpected child.
May we have the faith of Mary to say to God daily, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”
May we have the courage of Zechariah, who accepted the correction of the Lord with humbleness, allowing his heart to change and learn and grow.
O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power!
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. – Mt. 1: 24
Pope Francis has proclaimed this new liturgical year as the Year of St. Joseph, in special memory of Pope Pius IX’s dedication 150 years ago of the universal church to the patronage of this loving, silent saint.
Almost exactly 10 years ago, I was able to hear an amazing homily titled “St. Joseph the Ignored” by Deacon Vic Machiano (may he rest in peace). I remember that Deacon Vic spoke so lovingly of St. Joseph. The homily so moved me that I contacted Deacon Vic in 2010 and he sent me a copy of his words. Sadly, I have somehow, somewhere lost it. Maybe St. Joseph would rather it be that way?
The gospel today is one of the few times we hear in scripture about this quiet saint. He must have been very honorable; we are told he was seeking a way to end his marriage contract with Mary without causing her harm. He must have been very receptive to the Holy Spirit to have this dream/vision and respond without hesitation. He must have been very loving to be chosen as the foster father of God-made-man.
Joseph the Ignored – he raised Jesus, provided for his household, and supported his wife, who was the Mother of God. He would have taught Jesus his own craft of carpentry. He gave human fatherhood a face to the Savior. Yet we know little about him.
And we don’t need to know much. That he was chosen to be with Mary in the moment of birth, to hold the infant Jesus in the first moments of that Holy Night, tells us all we need to know.
St. Joseph the father; St. Joseph the worker; St. Joseph the faithful; St. Joseph the listener; St. Joseph the branch which connected a house of Israel to the Savior of us all – pray for us.
Fun Facts – It is more common during Christmas to reflect on Mary’s experience of the Nativity, but there are a few really wonderful songs doing this same thing for Joseph. 4Him’s “Strange Way to Save the World”, and – my favorite – MercyMe’s “Joseph’s Lullaby”.
O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!
It starts to feel really, really real today – Christmas is just around the corner! Today is the beginning of the O Antiphons. From now until Dec. 23, the Church focuses on just one title of the prophesied Messiah per day. The O Antiphons have been part of the Church’s prayers since the 8th century, preceding the Magnificat at Evening prayer during these seven days. Even if you don’t think you are familiar with the O Antiphons, you know them – they are part of the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.
Our family will sing the closest verse to the day’s antiphon when we light our Advent wreath candles.
All the readings for today seem to shiver with excitement that the Messiah is near! The 1st reading is the promise that the tribe of Judah will be the ruling tribe. Matthew’s genealogy is the Gospel reading, establishing Jesus as a descendant of the house of Judah and of the line of King David. The psalm is the beautiful promise of the just king:
Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May he rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
If your Advent spirit is flagging, give it a good shaking and keep on! Our Lord is near!
That that time, John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” – Luke 7: 18B-19
While still in the womb, John the Baptist recognized the Messiah and leaped for joy. Now, years later, he has lost that sense of childlike intuition. He hopes, but he isn’t quite sure. Worn with all he has seen and experienced, tired out from the work he so willingly does for God, he sends two of his disciples to ask. At least there is that – John asks. He isn’t afraid to seek the truth.
We, too, need to not fear asking God for anything. If he is God – as we believe – He can take it. He can take our doubts and wondering, he can take our moments of brokenness and fear, and he will give us truth.
But that truth may not be as direct an answer as we sometimes want.
Jesus replies to John’s emissaries,
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus tells John to look at the signs. All that was promised concerning the Messiah was happening. The signs are there.
Why doesn’t Jesus just say, “Yup, it’s me!”
Is that any easier to believe?
We often think, “If God would just answer us! If He would just SPEAK to us, we’d believe.”
But history – salvation history – shows that simply isn’t true. God spoke, daily, to Adam and Eve, and yet they chose something other-than-God. Balaam’s donkey literally opened her mouth and spoke to him, warning him of the angel of the Lord’s presence. Balaam then saw and spoke to the angel. Although he followed God’s commands at that time, at the end of his life, he only served himself, finding ways to corrupt the Israelites. King David – a man after God’s own heart – took Bathsheba as a wife through dishonesty, betrayal, and murder, turning from God for a time. Zechariah was visited by the angel Gabriel, who told him his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son – John the Baptist – who would be the front runner of the long awaited Messiah, and Zechariah did not really believe it.
How often has God spoken in your life? In mine? And how often have we dismissed it, ignored it, forgotten it, discounted it?
I have struggled greatly this year, as have many others. A couple of months ago, I was deep down in the pit of sadness and grief – for lost jobs, lost faith, lost church community. For days upon days I struggled, until one day I could not stay silent.
“I know we should not place demands on you, Lord,” I cried, “but I need a sign. I need to know that You hear me, You see me, You love me, and that You have a plan. The waters are up to my neck and I am drowning. Please, place me on the heart of a friend – one who doesn’t normally communicate with me – and have them reach out to me today.”
I said this, knowing that it may not happen, and my faith wouldn’t shatter if all I heard was silence. I said this with the cry of a trusting child.
Before noon that day, a friend I have known for years, but only email or communicate with a little, sent me an email. It was titled “Hey” and began with this sentence: “I really hope you don’t think I am weird for sending this…”, and OF COURSE, God had laid me on her heart that morning, and she gave me some very encouraging words.
I responded to her with my request of God, and we both recognized the work of the Lord. It wasn’t just in the email and the act of reaching out, but in the very air around me. I knew.
Was that enough to change my life forever? Was it even the first time God had answered me or revealed His love directly to me in a personal way? No. Why isn’t it enough?
Again, last week, I had been struggling again. A different friend reached out to me – another friend I have known a long time and with whom I communicate lightly – with words God had given her that she felt led to share with me. And again, the message was bang on. And, again, I felt His presence and love.
Will it be enough? Will I ever doubt again? I wish I could say that I am now firmly faithful, but the truth is that I will probably stumble and fall, and stumble and fall, and stumble and fall all my life.
Jesus doesn’t just answer John with a “Yes, it is I, the Messiah.” Instead, he points John to look around him, to see the signs and wonders, to know the presence of the Lord with his own senses.
God doesn’t want to MAKE us have faith. He invites. He encourages. He leave clues and treasures, even when it’s dark around us. We must wake up and pay attention. We must be willing to have hearts softened enough to see the signs. We must be willing to reach out to others, and be willing to have them reach out to us. We must be willing to ask God, most of all, for the heart, for the faith, to see.
The presence of the Lord is near. What are the signs in your life?