Word to Life: Christ’s coming calls us to hope

More Word to Life columns.

(Dec. 21, Fourth Sunday of Advent)

Cycle B Readings:

1) 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16

Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29

2) Romans 16:25-27

Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

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"The Lord ... will establish a house for you" (2 Samuel 7:11)

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

For the second time, we’re getting ready to put a house on the market, which usually means going over it with a fine-toothed comb and looking for potential deal breakers. Then comes the inevitable question: Given our budget, what absolutely has to be repaired, remodeled or replaced, and what can we let go?

Watching TV shows on home remodeling and “house-flipping” doesn’t help. They prompt comparisons between our home and the showcases, inspiring more fix-up projects that require even more time and money. For us, it usually comes down to praying for guidance, making tough choices and hoping we get it right in a real estate market we don’t know.

In the first reading of this fourth Sunday of Advent, King David saw a problem and envisioned a building project that sounded good at the time — erecting a dwelling for the Ark of the Covenant — so that the house of the Lord of Israel would measure up to those of his neighbors’ gods.

But neither David nor the prophet Nathan “got it right.” In a play on words, God made it clear that the dwelling was not David’s to build; rather, the Lord would raise up from David’s descendants a royal “house” that would have a significance far greater than anything he could imagine.

Luke’s Gospel picks up that theme and, not accidentally, mentions that Mary is betrothed to Joseph, a member of “the house of David.” But in a startling turn of events, the angel Gabriel makes it clear to Mary that the child whose coming he announces will fulfill the promise made to his ancestor David — not through the intervention of flesh and blood, but by the power of God — and in this way, “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Though the outcome was beyond Mary’s comprehension, she “got it right” by trusting in God’s promise and its incredible implications for future generations.

Every day we find ourselves in situations that cry out for answers and appeal for “quick fixes,” and too often we first look to our own insufficient resources for solutions. Christ’s coming, announced anew every Advent, breaks through our shortsightedness, carries us beyond our inadequacies and calls us to hope beyond our imagining.

QUESTIONS:

In what present situation are you trying to rely on your own inadequate resources to “fix” a problem? How can you more fully rely on God’s power and find hope in God’s promises?

Word to Life: We have seen the fruit of his coming

More Word to Life columns.

(Dec. 14, Third Sunday of Advent)

Cycle B Readings:

1) Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11

Psalm, Luke 1:46-50, 53-54

2) 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28

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"I am 'the voice of one crying out in the desert, Make straight the way of the Lord'" (John 1:23bc).

By Jeff Hensley
Catholic News Service

Jesuit Father Hubert Schiffer led quite a varied life as a priest. But his survival of the 1945 atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima is what brings him to mind in connection with today’s Advent readings.

Having removed most of the glass embedded in his skin by the explosion, he and other surviving members of his religious order went about gathering up orphans, caring for their needs and bringing them to the train station, so they could travel to safety away from the radioactive debris.

Jesus is coming.

Sister Mary Augustine Matzner, SSMN, had many stories of her service of others. One involved taking care of a number of infants in an isolated cabin in the Dakotas. A blizzard hit unexpectedly, and wood for the heating stove ran out. The only way she and her charges were able to survive the extreme cold was to huddle under blankets, the small children snuggled against her body to draw on her warmth. And survive they did.

Jesus is coming.

Another friend, Mary Schad, had a glow of holiness. Her simple, gentle nature was evident to anyone who met her. Mary would regularly join others to serve food to the homeless in the basement of a Dallas church. One day as she was dishing out cornbread, the line extended much further than the cornbread that remained in the serving tray. But as long as people came through the line, the meager amount of cornbread lasted.

Jesus is coming.

These are the acts of those who reflect the Isaiah Scripture: “He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted … to announce a year of favor from the Lord. …” They echo Mary’s proclamation when she says, “He has filled the hungry with good things,” and they reveal the One whom we await in Advent, the One of whom John the Baptist said, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

We know this to be true because we have seen the fruit of his coming in those who serve him.

Jesus is coming.

QUESTIONS:

As we walk through this season of waiting, can you identify people in your own life who have shown you evidence that Jesus has come? What did their revelation of God’s presence teach you?

Word to Life: Hearing God’s voice in unexpected places

More Word to Life columns.

(Dec. 7, Second Sunday of Advent)

Cycle B. Readings:

1) Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

Psalm 85:9-14

2) 2 Peter 3:8-14

Gospel: Mark 1:1-8

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1-2).

"The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. ... Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way" (Mark 1:1-2).

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

Paul was 70 years old before he heard the voice crying out in the wilderness.

He had been a good Catholic his entire life, attending Mass regularly. He was a loving, dedicated husband and father and a successful business executive. Then, one night shortly into his retirement, Paul heard the voice crying out, first in a dream.

It was so real to him that he listened. But the idea of such a dream was so irrational and unfamiliar that he was embarrassed to recount it to anyone. However, the dream recurred — several times — and he felt compelled to tell his wife Chris.

“I dreamed I was building a school. In Guatemala!” he said incredulously (he’d never been to Guatemala). It seemed a little strange to her, too, to be talking about this dream. But it struck her as significant.

Then the two of them together heard the voice crying out, this time at church in the person of a visiting Haitian pastor. He wanted to build a school in a remote village in his country.

Recognizing the voice, the couple committed themselves to helping their parish fund construction of the school. A few months later Chris became terminally ill and her final, urgent wish was to ensure that the school would be built. They donated the amount needed.

After Chris’s death, Paul, fluent in French, and the Haitian pastor became close personal friends and Paul became deeply involved in the life and development of his Haitian community.

Peter’s words in this weekend’s readings tell us that God doesn’t mind that it took Paul 70 years to get to this place: “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day,” he says.

What happened was Paul and Chris made straight the paths of the Lord to enter the life of a Haitian village. Unexpectedly, but just as powerfully, the paths also led to the transformation of their own life with Jesus.

This story was foretold in Isaiah. “A voice cries out … the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together … here is his reward with him.”

Paul and Chris listened to the voice, opened the path and the Savior came.

QUESTIONS:

What obstacles in your life might keep you from hearing God’s voice in an unexpected place? How can you clear the way for Christ to be present in your day-to-day living?

Watching and waiting during Advent

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"Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come" (Mark 13:33).

One of the hidden gems here at Catholic News Service is our weekly “Word to Life” column on the Sunday Scriptures. As you prepare for Mass on this first Sunday of Advent or reflect on what you heard, here’s the column for this weekend by Jeff Hedglen:

(Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37)

I can clearly remember sitting on the front porch with my brother and watching down the street for my uncle’s car. We knew he was coming sometime that day and with him would be our cousins. We were not a patient duo. We had many plans of forts to build in the basement and, if it was winter, snowball fights to be staged. These plans burned in our minds and every minute that passed meant one less minute to play.

To keep the boredom at bay we would play tricks on each other. If I caught my brother not looking down the street I would excitedly say, “There they — aren’t!” He would do the same to me when I tired of gazing down the empty street.

Every now and then we would hear a car coming. We would crane our necks to see who it was but be deflated when we realized it was not our uncle. After the momentary disappointment faded we would go back to watching and waiting.

I think the Gospel writer had this kind of watchfulness in mind when he exhorted the faithful to stay on the lookout for the coming of the Lord. He said, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

It is impossible to have this high a level of watching and waiting every day of our lives. For this reason the church brings us the season of Advent. It is, in effect, a time when the church sits on the front porch eagerly longing for the coming of the Lord.

Through signs and symbols we are put on alert. In the Scriptures we wait with the Israelites as they continue their watch for a Messiah. We also hold vigil with the early Christians as they anticipate (and we still await) the return of Jesus.

Advent is a time to switch gears, and, like my brother and me waiting for my uncle’s car, we must stay alert and watch, for Jesus is coming. We don’t want to miss it!

QUESTIONS:

Share a story of a time you watched and waited for something or someone. What did that feel like? How can we stay alert and watch for the Lord amid the busyness of the holidays?

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