Gospel of Luke

ACTA COMMENTARY

THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY

FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT
YEAR C: YEAR OF LUKE

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READINGS

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 33:14-16

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 24:4-5. 8-9. 10. 14. R/. v.1

A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians
3:12 - 4:2

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
21:25-28. 34-36

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There are two non-negotiable elements in the business of Christian living: worship and mission. Our Eucharist is the powerhouse that energises us to be what we are called to be: apostles, proclaimers of God’s love, preachers of God’s justice and God’s righteousness. Pope Francis, God bless him, keeps reminding us of who we are and what we are for:

… all of us are asked to obey the call of Jesus to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.
The Joy of the Gospel, chapter One, §20.

To become what we are called to be, Christians must worship in a manner that reveals to us the call of God and empowers us to go out to the world, proclaiming the good news of God’s love and mercy. We must break the Word and break the Bread. Advent, which means ‘the coming’, is a time of preparation, a stirring of our memories so that we understand what happened in Bethlehem long ago. Advent is a time to ponder yet again who it was who came and why he was sent. Then we must ask ourselves why we are sent, as God’s Son was sent. We need to ask who we Christians are and what we are called to do in this world.

As we make our way to Christmas, we must not prepare exclusively to celebrate the crib, to dwell only on the angels and shepherds, the baby in the manger, and on Joseph and Mary. We must look to the Jesus who comes to us today and every day to call us to join him in shaping the world to God’s design. We must look to the past, to the present and to the future. Our calling is to be a light to the world. Think on these words of Jesus and worry about them:

As the Father has sent me,
so I am sending you.
John 20:21

Christmas is not a time for children, as the advertisers like to convince us. To be sure, children must know that this is a special time, that it is a time to spoil and to bring ecstatic smiles to little faces. Yes, of course, it a time to begin to tell them the story. But essentially Advent and Christmas are serious times for adult Christians. For in pondering during Advent and in praying Christmas we will learn why the Father sent Jesus, and, in doing so, we will discover why Jesus has sent us. It is time to put the adult Jesus back into adult Christmas.

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 33:14-16

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.
The word of the LORD.
When you are planning your Christmas celebrations, at home or in your church, think about words spoken by a man from around Bethlehem who lived eight hundred years before Mary and Joseph laid the baby in the manger. Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa, a village next door to Bethlehem, made himself very unpopular by proclaiming these words as God’s words to anyone who would listen:

I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever- flowing stream.
Amos 5:21-24

When you are hanging up the decorations at home and getting out the Crib in church, think justice and righteousness. Two words. In your celebrations around the Christmas tree and around your altar the noise of your songs and the melody of your carols must not drown out two words: justice and righteousness. Two hundred years after Amos the prophet Jeremiah shouted at the crowds who were flocking into the Temple in Jerusalem the words that come to us today in our first reading: justice and righteousness. With this difference. Jeremiah announces that one day God will cause justice and righteousness to come to our world, not in a reading from holy Scripture, but embodied in a man. Justice and righteousness will come to the peoples of the world not by way of a letter or Christmas card. Justice and righteousness will come in a person, a descendant of King David and he will do God’s justice and God’s righteousness.

 

Justice and Righteousness

What is God’s justice? What is God’s righteousness? What are the Christmas gifts that come to us in the child swaddled in the manger?

To understand these two words is to understand the whole of the Old Testament and the whole of the New Testament. For these are the words that best describe who God, as far as we can know God. These are the words that define our world as God intended it to be. When the six days of creation were ended,
God saw everything that he had made,
and behold, it was very good.
Genesis 1:31

To keep our world “very good”, with all the goodness that flowed into it from the heart of God, then men and women of the world must,

… let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever- flowing stream.
To “dwell securely” in this little piece of earth, justice and righteousness must rule in every place, in every time, in every heart. To understand what Jesus is for, to understand what the Church is for, to understand what your parish is for, to understand what you are for, justice and righteousness must well up as from a gushing spring and form a stream of righteousness watering the world.

Advent is the time to ponder justice and to forge righteousness so that we can shout around our crib,

Glory to God in the highest heavens,
and on earth peace
among people in whom He is well pleased.
Luke 2:14

Justice

When we think of justice, we think of the Old Bailey. We think of a judge, a jury, and someone in the dock for an alleged crime. We expect that, if a guilty verdict is returned, justice will be served and the criminal will get justice, a well-deserved sentence for crimes committed. This is, in legal terminology, called the justice of retribution, the justice of punishment. This is the justice that makes the criminal pay for crimes committed. God does not seek this kind of justice. God is not in the business of making people pay.

God’s justice is not concerned with getting even, with sentencing the criminal or locking up the wrong-doer. The kind of justice that God does, the kind of justice that we are bound to, if we are to be an image of the God who created us, is not fasting and abstaining and beating your breast (important as these penitential acts are). Isaiah speaks for God when he tells us what we must do if we are to image the God in whose image we are made:

Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the LORD?

 

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;.
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Isaiah 58:5-8
About the time that Isaiah’s disciples proclaimed the true nature of justice, the Book of Deuteronomy said the same:

You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin …
You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner (= immigrant) or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.
Deut 24 :14-22

Notice the quid-pro-quo: I brought you out of slavery/don’t you enslave people. To do so is to pervert justice. The very first chapter of the Book of Isaiah is a cry for justice declares,

Wash yourselves; make your selves clean!
Remove the evil of your deeds
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause
Isaiah 1:16-17
Or in the beautiful words of the prophet Micah,

[The LORD] has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice,
to love with steadfast love,
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

Beware! To do justice, to love with steadfast love is to love with the very love of God. It is to have the very passion of God for all creation.

And if you are looking for the Bible’s only definition of what religion, true religion, truly is, then turn to the words of James, everywhere known as ‘the brother of the Lord’ in the New Testament:

Religion that is pure and unsullied before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. Letter of James 1:17

But, to repeat, let the voice of the earliest of our prophets who wrote down their wisdom ring in our ears:

… let justice
roll down like waters,
and righteousness
like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos 5:24.
Righteousness
It is right and just.

So we pray. But what do we mean? The justice of God is not the justice of retribution, of paying back, of balancing the scales. God’s justice is restorative justice. It is a justice which distributes the riches of creation to everyone so that all may have sufficient to live in the quiet peace of God’s love. Righteousness is what happens when justice prevails. The old hymn says this: God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. That demands sharing and outlaws every kind of exploitation. It is, in short, the right way to live. Righteousness is creating, sustaining, and protecting the life of all. As God’s will is the well-being of all, so we humans are commanded to live for the well-being of all and to join in the creation of well-being for all. Not just for all people but for all creation, as Pope Francis has taught us in his encyclical Laudato Si:

This [Mother Earth] sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor …
Laudato Si §1

It is not right in God’s sight to abuse our planet, to abuse our neighbour, to abuse our child, to abuse the immigrant, to abuse the stranger, to abuse ourselves. It is not right to deface God’s image, to scar God’s imprint, in every human being born of God into this world of ours:

… God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27
There is a rightness about what God has done, about what God does. That is the way God does things. God demands that humanity lives in the way that it comes from the hand of God. Everything is right; everything is just. The prophets of Israel are rightly called the Conscience of Israel. They headline every injustice that we commit on this earth and condemn them for they are not right. The deliverance of the slaves of Pharaoh is the model of the rightness of God. But we have sought to return to slavery so many of those who should be neighbour to us, who should be loved by us:
O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I wearied you?
Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
and redeemed you from the house of slavery …
Micah 6:3-4
Micah tells us that God did this great deliverance “that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD”. God does the right thing and that imposes on men and women everywhere to do as God does. To do the right thing. God’s righteousness is always restorative justice. That is why our Bible shows every human misery and demands that we right them, that we restore people to the dignity that God gives to everyone. We are commanded to right every wrong, to restore to every face the image of God.
Today’s first reading demands that we do in our days and in our place what justice demands. If we do justice, then we can look God in the face and point to what we have done and say in all honesty and with integrity,
It is right and just.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 25:4-5. 8-9. 10. 14. R/. v.1

R/. To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation. R/.

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way. R/.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies
The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant

R/. To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

Psalm 25 is a lesson in the Hebrew alphabet for the first line begins with Aleph, the first letter of the alphabet and each line follows the alphabet down to Omega that begins the last line. Then there is added a short prayer for all the people. Though the psalm is an individual prayer “to know the ways of the LORD”, there are lessons here for all. We learn that the LORD is full of compassion and forgiveness. A key word in the psalm is ‘remember’, though it is not in the verses quoted as our psalm today. This is the word that you will find on every Jewish grave stone to this day. It is not merely a plea that the living remember the dead. It is a prayer to God to remember who is buried and to remember to show compassion and forgiveness:

… consider what is in my favour,
as befits your goodness,
O LORD.
Psalm 25:7

Remember and remembering words occur over 260 times in our Bible. All our praying is a remembering, our remembering of God and, above all, God’s remembering of us. That is why we take bread and “Do this is remembrance of me”.

A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians
3:12 - 4:2

May our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Finally, then, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
The word of the LORD.

The letter from which this passage is taken is the first piece of writing we have from St Paul, the greatest of our teachers and the greatest among the apostles. It may be the very first of all the 27 writings that make up our New Testament. Paul wrote it to “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. It is worth pausing a moment to reflect on to whom Paul is writing.

… the church …

Paul always uses the word “church” to refer to the local church, to the parish (to use our word). The seven authentic letters of Paul never use the word “church” to refer to the universal Church. It didn’t exist in Paul’s days. What existed were tiny house churches. Think of a handful of Christians in your front room. Each of these tiny groups was, in Paul’s eyes, the church. Everything that he could say about each little church was later applied to the universal Church but we need to remember that what was applied to the small church was later applied to the big Church and we need to remember the order in which this happened. To know what the Church is you first look at your parish, not at Rome. Here is a quick run through of a few names Paul gives to those Christians in the front room:

Loved by God
Called to be saints
Sanctified in Christ Jesus
You are the body of Christ
Church of the saints
Sharing abundantly in Christ’s sufferings
A new creation
You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
You know the gospel of Jesus Christ
The God of love and peace is with you
Partners in the gospel
It is God who works in you
Faithful brothers and sisters in Christ
The church … in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Approved by God
Destined to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ
The work of God

… and many, many more words of the Spirit that identify who you are.

 

… in God the Father …

Those in that front room, that little house-church, are the work of God. Those few Christian people in Thessaloniki are the church brought into being in that city by God. It is a little community sustained by God. It is a handful of people in whom dwells the Spirit of the LORD God. It is, as Paul proclaims, a community who received the word of God and is filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. It is a missionary community: “your faith in God has gone forth everywhere”, says Paul. What God has done to these few in that little room he is doing in your parish.

… and the Lord Jesus Christ …

This huddled people come to God the Father through the life death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel of God that came to them in the preaching of Paul is the gospel he learned and, in learning it, he became an apostle. For all who hear the word of the LORD must become proclaimers of the word of the LORD.

This little church is in Christ. It is in in Jesus they live and in Jesus they trust:

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
1 Thessalonians 4:14

 

And so …
And so today’s reading from Paul’s letter is both a prayer for a blessing and a word of urgent appeal. Paul prays that their love for one another may increase and go out from that little front room to the whole human race.

Paul urges them and appeals to them, that they may progress in the kind of life that God intends them to live. That life is modelled on that of Jesus - which brings us back to justice and righteousness. For that is what we must live if we are to live the life of Christ.

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
21:25-28. 34-36
There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
The Gospel of the LORD.
St Luke began his Gospel with the coming of Jesus into our world. He called us to the manger in Bethlehem. But we cannot remain there and while Luke’s Gospel leads us along the way of Jesus, he, like Mark and Matthew, points his readers and hearers to the future coming of the Son of Man.

When Jesus predicts that the Temple in Jerusalem, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, would be destroyed, his disciples asked, “When will all this happen?” Of course, by the time Luke wrote his Gospel (about 90 A.D.), this House of Prayer had already been razed to the ground (70 A.D.) by Rome’s legions. In answer to the disciples’ question Jesus provides an answer typical of such visions as had become popular since the days of the prophet Daniel. The very words of Luke’s speculation come from Isaiah, Joel, Zephaniah, and Daniel. In other words, what we have is Luke’s apocalypse (21:7-36), part of which forms today’s Gospel reading. There are the usual signs. The strange movement of sun, moon, and stars reflect the human turmoil, the clamour of turbulent oceans, people dying of fear as their world is collapsing around them. It is a terrifying vision. But strangely for Luke the apparition of the Son of Man, his coming “in a cloud with power and great glory” is not ushering in a catastrophe for believers. Rather amidst the convulsions of nature, the coming of God’s Son is a time for hope.

If the community Luke’s Gospel addresses manages to “stay awake, praying at all times that you may have strength to escape all these things and to stand erect”, they will realize that “redemption is drawing near”. That is to say, the coming of the Son of Man does not signal the destruction of humanity. Rather, God’s purpose is not to destroy but to save. Luke’s apocalyptic language turns into eschatological hope. What he means is this. There will be a most alarming turbulence in earth and sky, as indicated by “the End is Nigh” school of horrors. But, in fact, the eschaton, the final destiny of humanity, is not to be consumed by fire and brimstone. It is to come safely into the open arms of God. It is to be received by the God of justice and righteousness.

Joseph O’Hanlon

Reminder

Today, the First Sunday of Advent should see the beginning the Crib. As part of Entrance procession the foundations of the Crib scene should be carried in: a small lectern with a Bible, straw, a lantern (good size), ass and ox, an angel or angels etc., as in my page on Cribbing for Christmas. The song “Were you there?” to form the musical contribution to the Mass.

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