An "epiphany" is an appearance. In today's readings, with their rising stars, splendorous lights and mysteries revealed, the face of the child born on Christmas day appears.
Herod, in today's Gospel, asks the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah is to be born. The answer Matthew puts on their lips says much more, combining two strands of Old Testament promise - one revealing the Messiah to be from the line of David (see 2 Samuel 2:5), the other predicting "a ruler of Israel" who will "shepherd his flock" and whose "greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth" (see Micah 5:1-3).
Those promises of Israel's king ruling the nations resound also in today's Psalm. The psalm celebrates David's son, Solomon. His kingdom, we sing, will stretch "to the ends of the earth," and the world's kings will pay Him homage. That's the scene too in today's First Reading, as nations stream from the East, bearing "gold and frankincense" for Israel's king.
The Magi's pilgrimage in today's Gospel marks the fulfillment of God's promises. The Magi, probably Persian astrologers, are following the star that Balaam predicted would rise along with the ruler's staff over the house of Jacob (see Numbers 24:17).
Laden with gold and spices, their journey evokes those made to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba and the "kings of the earth" (see 1 Kings 10:2,25; 2 Chronicles 9:24). Interestingly, the only other places where frankincense and myrrh are mentioned together are in songs about Solomon (see Song of Songs 3:6, 4:6,14).
One greater than Solomon is here (see Luke 11:31). He has come to reveal that all peoples are "co-heirs" of the royal family of Israel, as today's Epistle teaches.
His manifestation forces us to choose: Will we follow the signs that lead to Him as the wise Magi did? Or will we be like those priests and the scribes who let God's words of promise become dead letters on an ancient page?
Why did Jesus choose to become a baby born of a mother and father and to spend all but His last years living in an ordinary human family? In part, to reveal God's plan to make all people live as one "holy family" in His Church (see 2 Corinthians 6:16-18).
In the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, God reveals our true home. We're to live as His children, "chosen ones, holy and beloved," as the First Reading puts it.
The family advice we hear in today's readings - for mothers, fathers and children - is all solid and practical. Happy homes are the fruit of our faithfulness to the Lord, we sing in today's Psalm. But the Liturgy is inviting us to see more, to see how, through our family obligations and relationships, our families become heralds of the family of God that He wants to create on earth.
Jesus shows us this in today's Gospel. His obedience to His earthly parents flows directly from His obedience to the will of His heavenly Father. Joseph and Mary aren't identified by name, but three times are called "his parents" and are referred to separately as his "mother" and "father." The emphasis is all on their "familial" ties to Jesus. But these ties are emphasized only so that Jesus, in the first words He speaks in Luke's Gospel, can point us beyond that earthly relationship to the Fatherhood of God.
In what Jesus calls "My Father's house," every family finds its true meaning and purpose (see Ephesians 3:15). The Temple we read about in the Gospel today is God's house, His dwelling (see Luke 19:46). But it's also an image of the family of God, the Church (see Ephesians 2:19-22; Hebrews 3:3-6; 10:21).
In our families we're to build up this household, this family, this living temple of God. Until He reveals His new dwelling among us, and says of every person: "I shall be his God and he will be My son" (see Revelation 21:3,7).
On this last Sunday before Christmas, the Church's Liturgy reveals the true identity of our Redeemer: He is, as today's First Reading says, the "ruler...whose origin is from...ancient times." He will come from Bethlehem, where David was born of Jesse the Ephrathite and anointed king (see Ruth 4:11-17; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 17:1; Matthew 2:6).
Jesus is that heir, the One the prophets promised would restore the scattered tribes of Israel into a new kingdom (see Isaiah 9:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-25,30; 37:35). He is "the shepherd of Israel," sung of in today's Psalm. From His throne in heaven, He has "come to save us."
Today's Epistle tells us that He is both the Son of David and the only "begotten" Son of God, come "in the flesh" (see also Psalm 2:7). He is also our "high priest," from the mold of the mysterious Melchisedek, "priest of God Most High," who blessed Abraham at the dawn of salvation history (see Psalm 110:4; Genesis 14:18-20).
All this is recognized by John when he leaps for joy in his mother's womb. Elizabeth, too, is filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. She recognizes that in Mary "the mother of my Lord" has come to her. We hear in her words another echo of the Psalm quoted in today's Epistle (see Psalm 2:7). Elizabeth blesses Mary for her faith that God's Word would be fulfilled in her.
Mary marks the fulfillment not only of the angel's promise to her, but of all God's promises down through history. Mary is the one they await in today's First Reading - "she who is to give birth." She will give birth this week, at Christmas. And the fruit of her womb should bring us joy - she is the mother of our Lord.
Zephaniah 3:14-18 Isaiah 12:2-6 Philippians 4:4-7 Luke 3:10-18
The people in today's Gospel are "filled with expectation." They believe John the Baptist might be the Messiah they've been waiting for. Three times we hear their question: "What then should we do?"
The Messiah's coming requires every man and woman to choose - to "repent" or not. That's John's message and it will be Jesus' too (see Luke 3:3; 5:32; 24:47).
"Repentance" translates a Greek word, metanoia (literally, "change of mind"). In the Scriptures, repentance is presented as a two-fold "turning" - away from sin (see Ezekiel 3:19; 18:30) and toward God (see Sirach 17:20-21; Hosea 6:1).
This "turning" is more than attitude adjustment. It means a radical life-change. It requires "good fruits as evidence of your repentance" (see Luke 3:8). That's why John tells the crowds, soldiers and tax collectors they must prove their faith through works of charity, honesty and social justice.
In today's Liturgy, each of us is being called to stand in that crowd and hear the "good news" of John's call to repentance. We should examine our lives, ask from our hearts as they did: "What should we do?" Our repentance should spring, not from our fear of coming wrath (see Luke 3:7-9), but from a joyful sense of the nearness of our saving God.
This theme resounds through today's readings: "Rejoice!...The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all," we hear in today's Epistle. In today's Responsorial, we hear again the call to be joyful, unafraid at the Lord's coming among us.
In today's First Reading, we hear echoes of the angel's Annunciation to Mary. The prophet's words are very close to the angel's greeting (compare Luke 1:28-31). Mary is the Daughter Zion - the favored one of God, told not to fear but to rejoice that the Lord is with her, "a mighty Savior."
She is the cause of our joy. For in her draws near the Messiah, as John had promised: "One mightier than I is coming."
Baruch 5:1-9 Psalm 126:1-6 Philippians 1:4-6,8-11 Luke 3:1-6
Today's Psalm paints a dream-like scene - a road filled with liberated captives heading home to Zion (Jerusalem), mouths filled with laughter, tongues rejoicing.
It's a glorious picture from Israel's past, a "new exodus," the deliverance from exile in Babylon. It's being recalled in a moment of obvious uncertainty and anxiety. But the psalmist isn't waxing nostalgic.
Remembering "the Lord has done great things" in the past, he is making an act of faith and hope - that God will come to Israel in its present need, that He'll do even greater things in the future.
This is what the Advent readings are all about: We recall God's saving deeds - in the history of Israel and in the coming of Jesus. Our remembrance is meant to stir our faith, to fill us with confidence that, as today's Epistle puts it, "the One who began a good work in [us] will continue to complete it" until He comes again in glory.
Each of us, the Liturgy teaches, is like Israel in her exile - led into captivity by our sinfulness, in need of restoration, conversion by the Word of the Holy One (see Baruch 5:5). The lessons of salvation history should teach us that, as God again and again delivered Israel, in His mercy He will free us from our attachments to sin, if we turn to Him in repentance.
That's the message of John, introduced in today's Gospel as the last of the great prophets (compare Jeremiah 1:1-4,11). But John is greater than the prophets (see Luke 7:27). He's preparing the way, not only for a new redemption of Israel, but for the salvation of "all flesh" (see also Acts 28:28).
John quotes Isaiah (40:3) to tell us he's come to build a road home for us, a way out of the wilderness of sin and alienation from God. It's a road we'll follow Jesus down, a journey we'll make, as today's First Reading puts it, "rejoicing that [we're] remembered by God."
Every Advent, the Liturgy of the Word gives our sense of time a reorientation. There’s a deliberate tension in the next four weeks’ readings - between promise and fulfillment, expectation and deliverance, between looking forward and looking back.
In today’s First Reading, the prophet Jeremiah focuses our gaze on the promise God made to David, some 1,000 years before Christ. God says through the prophet that He will fulfill this promise by raising up a “just shoot,” a righteous offspring of David, who will rule Israel in justice (see 2 Samuel ; Jeremiah 33:17; Psalm 89:4-5; 27-38).
Today’s Psalm, too, sounds the theme of Israel’s ancient expectation: “Guide me in Your truth and teach Me. For You are God my Savior and for You I will wait all day.”
We look back on Israel’s desire and anticipation knowing that God has already made good on those promises by sending His only Son into the world. Jesus is the “just shoot,” the God and Savior for Whom Israel was waiting.
Knowing that He is a God who keeps His promises lends grave urgency to the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel.
Urging us to keep watch for His return in glory, He draws on Old Testament images of chaos and instability – turmoil in the heavens (see Isaiah 13:11,13; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10); roaring seas (see Isaiah 5:30; 17:12); distress among the nations (see Isaiah 8:22/14:25) and terrified people (see Isaiah 13:6-11).
He evokes the prophet Daniel’s image of the Son of Man coming on a cloud of glory to describe His return as a “theophany,” a manifestation of God (see Daniel 7:13-14).
Many will cower and be literally scared to death. But Jesus says we should greet the end-times with heads raised high, confident that God keeps His promises, that our “redemption is at hand,” that ‘the kingdom of God is near” (see Luke 21:31)
What’s the truth Jesus comes to bear witness to in this last Gospel of the Church’s year?
It’s the truth that in Jesus, God keeps the promise He made to David - of an everlasting kingdom, of an heir who would be His Son, “the first born, highest of the kings of the earth” (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89:27-38).
Today’s Second Reading, taken from the Book of Revelation, quotes these promises and celebrates Jesus as “the faithful witness.” The reading hearkens back to Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would “witness to the peoples” that God is renewing His “everlasting covenant” with David (see Isaiah 55:3-5).
But as Jesus tells Pilate, there’s far more going on here than the restoration of a temporal monarchy. In the Revelation reading, Jesus calls Himself “the Alpha and the Omega,” the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He’s applying to Himself a description that God uses to describe Himself in the Old Testament - the first and the last, the One Who calls forth all generations (see Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12).
“He has made the world,” today’s Psalm cries, and His dominion is over all creation (see also John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17). In the vision of Daniel we hear in today’s First Reading, He comes on “the clouds of heaven” - another sign of His divinity - to be given “glory and kingship” forever over all nations and peoples.
Christ is King and His Kingdom, while not of this world, exists in this world in the Church. We are a royal people. We know we have been loved by Him and freed by His blood and transformed into “a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father” (see also Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9).
As a priestly people, we share in His sacrifice and in His witness to God’s everlasting covenant. We belong to His truth and listen to His voice, waiting for Him to come again amid the clouds.
In this, the second-to-the-last week of the Church year, Jesus has finally made it to Jerusalem.
Near to His passion and death, He gives us a teaching of hope--telling us how it will be when He returns again in glory.
Today’s Gospel is taken from the end of a long discourse in which He describes tribulations the likes of which haven’t been seen “since the beginning of God’s creation” (see Mark 13:9). He describes what amounts to a dissolution of God’s creation, a “devolution” of the world to its original state of formlessness and void.
First, human community--nations and kingdoms--will break down (see Mark 13:7-8). Then the earth will stop yielding food and begin to shake apart (13:8). Next, the family will be torn apart from within and the last faithful individuals will be persecuted (13:9-13). Finally, the Temple will be desecrated, the earth emptied of God’s presence (13:14).
In today’s reading, God is described putting out the lights that He established in the sky in the very beginning--the sun, the moon and the stars (see also Isaiah 13:10; 34:4). Into this “uncreated” darkness, the Son of Man, in Whom all things were made, will come.
Jesus has already told us that the Son of Man must be humiliated and killed (see Mark 8:31). Here He describes His ultimate victory, using royal-divine images drawn from the Old Testament--clouds, glory, and angels (see Daniel 7:13). He shows Himself to be the fulfillment of all God’s promises to save “the elect,” the faithful remnant (see Isaiah 43:6; Jeremiah 32:37).
As today’s First Reading tells us, this salvation will include will include the bodily resurrection of those who sleep in the dust.
We are to watch for this day, when His enemies are finally made His footstool, as today’s Epistle envisions. We can wait in confidence knowing, as we pray in today’s Psalm, that we will one day delight at His right hand forever.
We must live by the obedience of faith, a faith that shows itself in works of charity and self-giving (see Galatians 5:6). That’s the lesson of the two widows in today’s liturgy.
The widow in the First Reading isn’t even a Jew, yet she trusts in the word of Elijah and the promise of his Lord. Facing sure starvation, she gives all that she has, her last bit of food—feeding the man of God before herself and her family.
The widow in the Gospel also gives all that she has, offering her last bit of money to support the work of God’s priests in the Temple.
In their self-sacrifice, these widows embody the love that Jesus last week revealed as the heart of the Law and the Gospel. They mirror the Father’s love in giving His only Son, and Christ’s love in sacrificing himself on the cross.
Again in today’s Epistle, we hear Christ described as a new high priest and the suffering servant foretold by Isaiah. On the cross, He made sacrifice once and for all to take away our sin and bring us to salvation (see Isaiah 53:12).
And again we are called to imitate His sacrifice of love in our own lives. We will be judged, not by how much we give—for the scribes and wealthy contribute far more than the widow. Rather, we will be judged by whether our gifts reflect our livelihood, our whole beings, all our heart and soul, mind and strength.
Are we giving all that we can to the Lord—not out of a sense of forced duty, but in a spirit of generosity and love (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7)?
Do not be afraid, the man of God tells us today. As we sing in today’s Psalm, the Lord will provide for us, as he sustains the widow.
Today, let us follow the widows’ example, doing what God asks, confident that our jars of flour will not grow empty, nor our jugs of oil run dry.
Welcome to the "Year of Faith," which officially begins today (Oct 11. 2012), marking the 50th anniversary of the start of Vatican II, and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
After teaching Ca
tholic theology for a quarter century, I have yet to find a more "systematic and organic synthesis of the fundamental content of the faith," as Benedict XVI described the Catechism. Blessed John Paul II called it "one of the most important fruits of Vatican II, an indispensable tool, and a sure norm for teaching the faith."
Why not devote this Year of Faith to reading the Catechism all the way through... Just two pages a day, and you'll be done by the end of the Year of Faith. You won't regret it.