A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue: Dialogue: Advent in a Year of Faith
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Jeremiah 33:14-16). I will make a virtuous Branch to grow for David. Advent, from the Latin for “Coming”, is a time of waiting for some defined coming, of a person or event. For Christians it brings to mind Christ’s first coming at his birth at Christmas and his second coming in power and glory to judge and reward. In between we can think of Christ’s constant coming, the coming of God’s kingdom for which we pray daily. This is all about the Christian advent. We should not forget at this time the long Jewish advent, as God’s people awaited the coming, the advent, of the promised son of David. Messianism, belief in the coming of the Davidic Messiah, had its ups and downs in the history of Israel, from the days of David, about 1000 BC onwards. During the period of Jewish monarchy, with rule by sons of David, until the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC only two kings won praise from a Hebrew historian. Most of them were disappointments. This held true in particular for the very last king, named Zedekiah, whose Hebrew name would main “The Lord (Yahweh) is my righteousness”, (or integrity). This led to a lack of interest in the Davidic dynasty or a future son of David. For a short while after the restoration from exile, about 522 BC, there was renewed expectation of the restoration of the Davidic dynasty, but it appears that the Persian overlords sensed the danger and removed the would-be successor of David from the scene. Jeremiah himself had prophesied the coming of this heir to David (Jeremiah 23:5-6): “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’”, the righteousness of the people (“our”), not of the individual Zedekiah (“my”). Jeremiah made this prophecy possibly after the fall pf Jerusalem, and about the year 580 B.C. Through the darkest period God kept the hope of a true successor to David alive, a true heir (called “the Branch”). All about him would spell integrity and inspire confidence in the community. Today’s reading is from the section of the book of Jeremiah (chapters 30-33) known as “The Book of Consolation” in which we have a retelling of some of Jeremiah’s prophecies for a slightly later age, this one on the Branch of David a retelling of Jeremiah 23:5-6, probably from the years 522-520 when there was renewed interest in the advent of and heir to David. The promise of the advent of the righteous Branch who shall execute justice and righteousness in the land is again repeated, but this time the emphasis is on the people and Jerusalem, rather than on the king himself and on Judah, and it is the holy City, Jerusalem, rather than the king, that is given the name: “The Lord is our righteousness”.
The beautiful Responsorial psalm (Ps 24) reminds us that the Lord is faithfulness and love; he shows the path to those who stray.
Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2). May the Lord confirm your hearts in holiness when Christ comes. This brief reading is part of the oldest piece of Christian literature that has survived. It is part of a letter written by the apostle Paul in the year 51, some two decades after the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul knew full well that the beginnings and growth of Christian life come from the divine initiative. Hence his words to the Thessalonians are in the form of a prayer that his initial work of evangelization might continue and prosper, a Christian life characterized by love for one another and the whole human race and by holiness — all, even then, in the spirit of advent, waiting in a blameless life for the coming of God. The passage ends with an exhortation to continue their Christian journey, among other matters not forgetting the Christian doctrine they had been taught by Paul himself, teaching he had given with full authority from the Lord Jesus to do so.
The Gospel (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36). Your liberation is near at hand. The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent for each of the three years contains an admonition by Christ to his followers to be alert and remain prepared for his coming to judge. In all the readings this is part of the long discourse of Christ, in answer to a question by the apostles, on the destruction of Jerusalem and the end. Today’s reading describes some of the signs which Jesus says will precede the end. For believers the coming of Jesus as the Son of Man to judge should be an occasion of joy, that their liberation is near at hand. The reading ends with a call for the preparation required for the period of waiting, of advent. It means living in keeping with God’s law.
B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: Advent: a call to renewal of Faith
Reflection and Dialogue. Renewal of faith. The heading for our dialogue with questions of the day for the Second Sunday of Advent last year on this internet site was: “Living in Patience and Perseverance with the Living God”. Advent by definition is a time of waiting, inviting reflection on this theme. We live in an age very conscious of time, of the countless millions of years since the big bang, since life began, since the first humans and the first of our species appeared on earth. Throughout its history Israel awaited some future redemption. It had visions of better times. It lived through trials and suffering. Likewise with the Church. When we think of Advent, of waiting and coming, we can think of the kingdom of God, long awaited by Israel, and, even after fulfilment by Christ, still coming.
A theme worthy of reflecting on during this Advent is that of faith. All believers are witnesses to the kingdom of God, that the awaited One, the One that was to Come, has come in Christ, and continues in the Church. But given the changed world in which believers now live serious reflection on their faith is called for today. In 2011 Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a year of faith and has written an Apostolic Letter on the matter, which is available on the internet.
The Pope in his Apostolic Letter has made a number of points that merit consideration. He notes (paragraph 2): “It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied. Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people”. These are words addressed to the Catholic Church world wide, but can be applied in a special way to Ireland today. Somewhat later the Pope returns to the same theme. Reflection on the faith will have to be intensified, so as to help all believers in Christ to acquire a more conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially at a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing. To a greater extent than in the past, faith is now being subjected to a series of questions arising from a changed mentality which, especially today, limits the field of rational certainties to that of the scientific and technological discoveries. Nevertheless, the Church has never been afraid of demonstrating that there cannot be any conflict between faith and genuine science, because both albeit via different routes, tend towards the truth (paragraphs 8 and 12).
Reflection on these central truths of the faith is more important than giving undue attention to matters of Church organization or related matters. If shortcomings in the Church are to be overcome, it will be by reason of her central beliefs.