Bible Diary for December 17th – December 23rd
3rd Sunday of Advent
1st Reading: Is 61:1-2A, 10-11:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God. I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.
2nd Reading: 1 Thes 5:16-24:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil. May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.
Gospel: Jn 1:6-8, 19-28:
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, “Who are you?” He admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, “I am not the Christ.” So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” as Isaiah the prophet said.” Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “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.” This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John’s character is an enigma. The miracle son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, he took away the shame of his parents when he was born. Now as a grown up, he faces the “shame” of having to insist on his secondary status to the one whose sandal strap he is not worthy to untie. Clearly he could have gotten more stature than what he had if he played along with the expectations of people. He was a child conceived in miracle; now he is spreading the miracle of humility to all who meet him. He doesn’t have to be somebody other than himself. To be humble is a lifelong struggle. It needs a conscious decision on our part since it contradicts our human need to be recognized. Perhaps today is a good start to embark on our journey towards humility. Why not write down the many moments you think you have not handled well the praise and humiliation that have come your way. Find out the root cause or causes. It will give us a guide on how to be more humble next year.
1st Reading: Jer 23:5-8:
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name they give him: “The Lord our justice.” Therefore, the days will come, says the Lord, when they shall no longer say, “As the Lord lives, who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt”; but rather, “As the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of the house of Israel up from the land of the north”– and from all the lands to which I banished them; they shall again live on their own land.
Gospel: Mt 1:18-25:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
Traditional homilies tend to accept the fact that Joseph suspected Mary’s fidelity to him. This prompted Joseph accordingly to contemplate divorcing his betrothed quietly to spare her from possible death as prescribed by the Law. But few speak of the possibility that Joseph knew of the mysterious circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy. And being a simple God-fearing Jew, he thought himself not worthy of protecting the Son of God as an earthly father. This was beyond his competence. He decided to give way. And so God has to step in and confirm that indeed Mary is pregnant according to the plan of God. And he will name the child to signify his earthly fatherhood. Obedient and trusting, Joseph, like Mary, obeyed God faithfully.
1st Reading: Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a:
There was a certain man from Zorah, of the clan of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren and had borne no children. An angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Though you are barren and have had no children, yet you will conceive and bear a son. Now, then, be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean. As for the son you will conceive and bear, no razor shall touch his head, for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb. It is he who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the power of the Philistines.”
The woman went and told her husband, “A man of God came to me; he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed. I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name. But he said to me, ‘You will be with child and will bear a son. So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean. For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb, until the day of his death.'” The woman bore a son and named him Samson. The boy grew up and the Lord blessed him; the Spirit of the Lord stirred him.
Gospel: Lk 1:5-25:
In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years. Once when he was serving as priest in his division’s turn before God, according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”
Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was gesturing to them but remained mute. Then, when his days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”
God set in motion His plan of salvation when He sent the angel Gabriel to old Zechariah to take away his shame as a childless man. With the conception of the precursor, the Messiah will not be far behind. The opportune time has come. Not even the skepticism of Zechariah can put on hold the project of God. He will be silenced for a while. There is no use listening to doubts and fears when what has been planned will now be set in motion. The silence of Zechariah will be strategic in not preempting prematurely the dawn of salvation arriving at last.
1st Reading: Is 7:10-14:
The Lord spoke to Ahaz: Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!” Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.
Gospel: Lk 1:26-38:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
There is only one Annunciation that has changed the course of salvation history: that which is recorded in our Gospel today. However, there are countless annunciations that take place every day. Perhaps we too have been given a message from heaven. The central question is: are we as courageous as the young virgin in our generosity to respond to God’s invitation to serve? If we resist and reject, our ordinary life will continue. But we lose an opportunity to be bigger than ourselves. Greatness passes us by, the doors will close and the roads will vanish. Mary was blessed among women not merely because she was docile. It was her courage that made her great in heaven and on earth. When was the nth time when I postponed my plan to do something to help my church or the charitable organization that I vowed to support? Today is a good day to actualize that plan and not postpone it again.
St. Peter Canisius
1st Reading: Sg 2:8-14:
Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Here he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices. My lover speaks; he says to me, “Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come! “For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! “O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see you, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.”
Gospel: Lk 1:39-45:
Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
The older woman Elizabeth, mother of John, greets Mary, the young mother of Jesus. The Holy Spirit inspires her soul. She sings the blessing of Mary over all women and the uniqueness of her son, Jesus. Only in the grace of the Lord are we able to perceive and to praise God’s presence in the humble womb of Mary. For a moment, let us adore Jesus in these sacred nine months in the womb of his mother (pause). Mary is the mother of the Lord. As soon as she knew the pregnancy of Elizabeth, Mary came from Galilee to Judea to greet and help her older cousin. Elizabeth discloses the secret of her joy: the leap of John in her womb. For the first time, the forerunner and the Messiah meet together in so hidden and mysterious a way! Maybe, Elizabeth recalls the doubt of Zechariah as she praises the faith of Mary and reaffirms the hope of the Lord’s fulfillment. In this present Advent, when the feeling of the coming of Jesus is growing more and more, let us ask the Holy Spirit for the grace of rejoicing in Jesus like these two singular women at the threshold of our Salvation.
1st Reading: 1 Sm 1:24-28:
In those days, Hannah brought Samuel with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and presented him at the temple of the Lord in Shiloh. After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull, Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said: “Pardon, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.” She left Samuel there.
Gospel: Lk 1:46-56:
Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. for he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.” Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.
Today we have an excellent biblical lesson. The first reading tells us of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Eli on Hannah, the barren woman who became the mother of Samuel. The responsorial psalm is the mother’s canticle, a drawing of Mary’s canticle. In fact we find in it joy, thanksgiving, confidence in the strength of God, victory over mighty and exaltation of weak, hungry and childless. The Lord lifts up the lowly and the poor, to give them a glorious throne. The criteria of God are beyond the criteria of this world.
The preference of the Lord is in the lowly and weak rather than in the high and strong, because the latter are easily proud while the first trust in Him with open hearts. In Mary’s canticle we find similar expressions, but now the reason is higher. It is not the birth from a barren woman, but the birth of a virgin one, and the child is not a prophet but the Emmanuel. So the victory is complete; the enemy is defeated; the hope of the poor is fulfilled; and the promises to Abraham are accomplished. Let us ask Hannah and Mary to pour out on us the same spirit of joy and thanksgiving that comes from God and that prepares us for his coming.
St. John of Kanty
1st Reading: Mal 3:1-4, 23-24:
Thus says the Lord God: Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; And suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye. He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, Refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord. Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord, as in the days of old, as in years gone by. Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, Before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day, To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the land with doom.
Gospel: Lk 1:57-66:
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”
Zechariah was a priest. Elizabeth belonged to the descendants of Aaron. Undoubtedly, John was a Levite, and his destiny should have been to practice the Jewish priesthood. However his vocation was another to be the last and greatest of the prophets, the forerunner of the Messiah. Today we read the narrative of his circumcision, and the imposition of his name, John, according to prophecies. John is from the tribe of Levi – priests -, and Jesus from Judah – kings – but both will act as prophets. However, in the reading of Malachi the Messiah appears as purifying the priestly office: “He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made.”
Jesus is the Messiah, and the Church is the messianic People of God. May Jesus accomplish anew this “purification of the sons of Levi”, i.e. the priests of the New Covenant. May the Holy Spirit renew in them the strength of John the Baptist, to turn the hearts of the fathers towards their children and the hearts of the children towards their fathers, to prepare for the Lord a perfect people, with the support of consecrated persons and lay faithful in the Church and for the world.