Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sunday word, 04 Dec 2011

Advent Sunday 2 (04 Dec 2011)
Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 85; 2Pt 3. 8-14; Mk 1. 1-8
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Welcoming, Receiving, Living

The poetic word, tidings, hails from Old English. It means announcement and news. In Isaiah glad tidings has long been translated good news. God’s good news became gospel: the beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Christ the Son of God. Gospel is about Jesus; more, it is the good news Jesus proclaimed, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”1 Many identify the word gospel with its later meaning as a portrait of Jesus. It first meant the living announcement Jesus made: The kingdom of God is at hand. Gospel’s more important meaning involves and engages us: God’s word invites our response.

Our response shares the prophetic conviction that history does not repeat itself. Rather, God’s creating and saving actions unfold in history according to a steady pattern. Of that Isaiah was convinced, and Jesus advanced Isaiah’s conviction: The kingdom of God is at hand. God’s action-pattern is a grand reversal. Mary’s canticle on her visit to Elizabeth summarized the divine pattern: God has dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”2
Recall Mary’s disposition when she sang her words: The angel had announced she would be the mother of God; she moved through her anxious fear to feel deep within an overwhelming joy in God, whom she named her savior.3
When you and I recall moments when we felt deep joy, we can better appreciate Mary and Jesus and all faithful people. Some examples: When an acceptance letter comes to an eager student longing for it; when someone tells another for the first time, “I love you”; when an unemployed person gets a job; when a patient receives good news after medical tests—name your experience: the reactions are robust. As one person exclaimed: “Yes! Yes! Everything is all right with the world!”

Mary knew every hunger had not been reversed, not every injustice remedied; yet she didn’t lie. She affirmed again God was remaining faithful and true to God’s way. So it is with the student receiving the acceptance letter; the lover who hears what she intuited; the worker working again; the patient, who may never have untroubled health, looking forward to live more days with gusto. They know the reversal is not total, and they do not lie. They, too, echo God’s gracious pattern of recreating life anew.

God’s recreating at each moment does not remove all our limits now. God’s recreating does assure an unlimited future is promised each of us according to God’s promise to our ancestors. God’s promise enfleshed: Jesus, the union of the divine with the human, embodied that promise in his life, suffering, death and resurrection—not resuscitation, but resurrection to an absolutely new, unlimited life. That points us to another feature of our prophetic conviction.
A vital texture of our prophetic conviction is that God’s faithful, steady pattern of continual creating is unearned. When we hear, Repent, and believe in the gospel, repent “means allowing God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”4 We did not bring ourselves into being, and we cannot give ourselves unlimited future. We can pray for it and welcome it. Of that today’s Prayer Over the Offerings reminds us:
Be pleased, O Lord, with our humble prayers and offerings, and since we have no merits to plead our cause, come, we pray, to our rescue with the protection of your mercy. Through Christ our Lord.
Without knowing Latin, we can hear legal echoes in the prayer. The original language recognized we have no voice;5 legally no voice means no power: no power to give ourselves what God gives in Jesus by their Spirit; yet, we have power to welcome their promise, to receive it and to live it. That is good news, which Advent helps us reclaim.
  • Give Jesus 15 minutes each day this week.
  • Rest in the creative love of the Trinity.
  • Ask John the Baptizer, who began the gospel for the church, to present you to Jesus.
  • Praise Jesus for announcing the reign of God.
  • Ask Jesus for the grace to welcome his good news and to notice how his word is alive for you and lives in you.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us so that his words could pray for us when our words fail: when life is too much; and when God unlocks joy no words can describe.

  1. Mark 1.15.
  2. Luke 1.51-55.
  3. See Luke 1.47.
  4. Reginald Fuller, Preaching the New Lectionary,  Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976, p.290.
  5. For the curious, two Latin words operate in the phrase, ubi nulla súppetunt suffrágia meritórum [since we have no merits to plead our cause]: meritorum (a merit, service, kindness, benefit, favor) and suffragium (a voting-tablet, ballot, vote, voice, suffrage).
Wiki-images of John the Baptizer preaching and of a portion of the Isaiah scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in the public domain.

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