We begin today, the last and fourth week of the season of Advent, the season in which we look forward to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. As we have been preparing throughout this season, we now want to put special attention on what we are preparing for. The readings if we listen to them carefully tell us about something that is astounding and yet I think that in many ways we have come to take it for granted. In fact, we have let many other things distract us from this message, an astounding message from God that God is coming in to our midst, the eternal God, all powerful, all loving. This God is going to become part of human history. Breaking into our history, becoming part of us.
The Peace Pulpit
When I began to reflect on this Gospel lesson that we hear today, I immediately began to think of the first lesson in relationship to it. You can tell they’re very closely related.
When we hear this message today I hope that first of all and most of all we hear the words of John: "The reign of God is at hand."
This is what we will be celebrating when we celebrate the feast of Christmas. We remind ourselves and celebrate that the Son of God has come into human history and, from that point, the reign of God is ready to break forth in its fullness. It's at hand.
Editor's Note: Bishop Gumbleton is in Haiti this week with Johanna Berrigan, a member of the House of Grace Catholic Worker in Philadelphia, Penn. Instead of a homily, below is a letter the two sent describing their trip and the situation in the struggling nation.
The three lessons today seem to put forth a very discouraging or even dismal and perhaps frightening perspective or picture of what judgment, death, end of the world, that type of thing. But to truly understanding these readings, the passages from Malachi and the letter from Paul to the church in Thessalonica and the Gospel of Luke, we must consider the context in which each of them was written so we really can begin to understand what the writer is trying to bring forth for us.
This is one of those Sundays when, if we listen to the lessons very carefully, especially the first lesson in the gospel lesson, we will come to see how Jesus so clearly fulfills what had been revealed to people through God's chosen people in the Old Testament. In that first lesson, as I mentioned in introducing it, we discover someone who has a very profound insight into God. This person has come to know God very deeply and shares with us the kind of God that we worship: "Because you are Almighty, you are merciful to God."
Perhaps the most important words from today’s gospel are what Jesus says at the end of the lesson, after he tells the parable.
He says that one person went down to his house justified, not the other. If we understand the full implications of what it means to be justified, we perhaps will have a deeper understanding of what Jesus means by this parable.
As we reflect on the readings today, I think it’s important to begin with what happens at the end of the Gospel, where Jesus says to the man who was cured -- the one among the 10 who came back -- he says to him: “Your faith has saved you.”
As we listen carefully to the lessons today, we discover some things about the reign of God -- the realm of God where God is in fullness of presence -- and what we pray for when we say the Our Father, “Thy Kingdom come.”
There is a passage in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah that I have always thought of as a very marvelous, extraordinary way of showing who God is and how God acts in relation to us. This is from the 30th chapter in the Book of Isaiah and it time when the prophet has been preaching to the people, who are threatened with an invasion from the north, not to enter into an alliance with the Egyptians and not to go to war. The prophet is pleading with the people "Seek peace and only peace." But they reject the prophet's message and they go to war. They are defeated, but then the prophet says these extraordinary words, speaking for God: "God is always waiting to be gracious to you. God comes to show you compassion." I have always thought of this as a very beautiful expression of who God is. God is always waiting, waiting to be gracious to us. No matter how we have sinned, rejected God, God is waiting. That is a very reassuring revelation about God.