Bible Diary for December 4th – December 10th

December 4th

2nd Sunday of Advent
St. John Damascene

1st Reading: Is 11:1-10:
From the stump of Jesse a shoot will come forth; from his roots a branch will grow and bear fruit. The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him—a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and fear of Yahweh. Not by appearances will he judge, nor by what is said must he decide, but with justice he will judge the poor and with righteousness decide for the meek. Like a rod, his word will strike the oppressor, and the breath of his lips slay the wicked. Justice will be the girdle of his waist, truth the girdle of his loins.

The wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will rest beside the kid, the calf and the lion cub will feed together and a little child will lead them. Befriending each other, the cow and the bear will see their young ones lie down together. Like cattle, the lion will eat hay. By the cobra’s den the infant will play. The child will put his hand into the viper’s lair. No one will harm or destroy over my holy mountain, for as water fills the sea the earth will be filled with the knowledge of Yahweh. On that day the “Root of Jesse” will be raised as a signal for the nations. The people will come in search of him, thus making his dwelling place glorious.

2nd Reading: Rom 15:4-9:
And we know, that whatever was written in the past, was written for our instruction, for both perseverance and comfort, given us by the Scripture, sustain our hope. May God, the source of all perseverance and comfort, give to all of you, to live in peace in Christ Jesus, that you may be able to praise, in one voice God, Father of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Welcome, then, one another, as Christ welcomed you for the glory of God. Look: Christ put himself at the service of the Jewish world, to fulfill the promises made by God to their ancestors; here, you see God’s faithfulness. The pagans, instead, give thanks to God for his mercy, as Scripture says: Because of that, I will sing and praise your name among the pagans.

Gospel: Mt 3:1-12:
In the course of time, John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea and began to proclaim his message: “Change your ways; the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was about him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice is shouting in the desert, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord; make his paths straight!’ John had a leather garment around his waist and wore a cloak of camel’s hair; his food was locusts and wild honey. People came to him from Jerusalem, from all Judea and from the whole Jordan valley, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan, as they confessed their sins.

When he saw several Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he baptized, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who told you that you could escape the punishment that is to come? Let it be seen that you are serious in your conversion; and do not think: We have Abraham for our father. I tell you, that God can raise children for Abraham from these stones! The ax is already laid to the roots of the trees; any tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire. I baptize you in water for a change of heart, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I am; indeed, I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He has the winnowing fan in his hand; and he will clear out his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff, he will burn in inextinguishable fire.”

It is a remarkable fact that the Messiah who is announced as coming soon throughout this period of advent is a strange mixture. In some Bible texts he is presented as establishing universal peace. In Isaiah we are told that “his dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Is 9:6). But in some other Bible texts, as is the case in today’s first and third readings, the Messiah is presented as quite violent: “Like a rod, his word will strike the oppressor, and the breath of his lips slay the wicked,” Isaiah tells us. And John the Baptist says that the Messiah will burn the chaff “in inextinguishable fire.”

So, what can we say about this apparent tension between these two presentations of the Messiah? What can be said is that Jesus was both extremely gentle and peaceful, but at times extremely forceful, even brutal. It all depended on what sort of people he was dealing with. With the simple and sincere people, he was the essence of kindness, communicating to them God’s reassuring peace. But with the arrogant and the religious hypocrites, he was unremittingly severe. For them he reserved his shock treatment in the hope of shattering their smug self-satisfaction. Such was Jesus. Let us ask the Spirit to burn in the fire of his love whatever in us is contrary to the Gospel. Examine the way you treat others. Do you know when to be gentle and when to be harsh?

December 5th

1st Reading: Is 35:1-10:
Let the wilderness and the arid land rejoice, the desert be glad and blossom. Covered with flowers, it sings and shouts with joy, adorned with the splendor of Lebanon, the magnificence of Carmel and Sharon. … Say to those who are afraid: “Have courage, do not fear. See, your God comes, demanding justice. He is the God who rewards, the God who comes to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unsealed.

Then will the lame leap as a hart and the tongue of the dumb sing and shout. For water will break out in the wilderness and streams gush forth from the desert. The thirsty ground will become a pool, the arid land springs of water. … There will be a highway which will be called The Way of Holiness; no one unclean will pass over it nor any wicked fool stray there. … For the ransomed of Yahweh will return: with everlasting joy upon their heads, they will come to Zion singing, gladness and joy marching with them, while sorrow and sighing flee away.

Gospel: Lk 5:17-26:
One day, Jesus was teaching, and many Pharisees and teachers of the law had come from every part of Galilee and Judea, and even from Jerusalem. They were sitting there, while the power of the Lord was at work to heal the sick. Then some men brought a paralyzed man who lay on his mat. They tried to enter the house to place him before Jesus, but they couldn’t find a way through the crowd. So they went up on the roof, and, removing the tiles, they lowered him on his mat into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “My friend, your sins are forgiven.”

At once the teachers of the law and the Pharisees began to wonder, “This man insults God! Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” But Jesus knew their thoughts and asked them, “Why are you reacting like this? Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk’? Now you shall know, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” And Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” At once, the man stood before them. He took up the mat he had been lying on, and went home praising God. Amazement seized the people and they praised God. They were filled with a holy fear, and said, “What wonderful things we have seen today!”

Modern psychosomatic medicine is based on the fact that there is an intimate connection between our minds/souls and our bodies. For example, excessive stress can cause ulcers. Fear can make us tremble. Anger or any strong passion can raise our blood pressure. Well, apparently an extreme sense of guilt can affect our bodies, too, perhaps even paralyze us. Perhaps this was the case for the paralyzed man of today’s gospel reading.

It seems that Jesus, who did occasionally manifest supernatural knowledge, instinctively knew that the cause of this man’s paralysis was his crushing sense of guilt over some past sins. And this would explain why he first absolves the man before healing him. Another interesting detail of this story is the fact that the text says: “When Jesus saw their faith…” For all we know, perhaps the paralyzed man did not want to meet Jesus but that his friends brought him to Jesus against his will. That would explain Jesus’ reference to their faith. In the Christian life, our faith can carry others through many hardships, just as the faith of others can carry us in difficult times. We are all interdependent.

December 6th

St. Nicholas

1st Reading: Is 40:1-11:
Be comforted, my people, be strengthened, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, proclaim to her that her time of bondage is at an end, that her guilt has been paid for, that from the hand of Yahweh she has received double punishment for all her iniquity. A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way for Yahweh. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be raised up; every mountain and hill will be laid low. The stumbling blocks shall become level and the rugged places smooth. The glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all mortals together will see it; for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry.” and I say, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty as the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, when the breath of Yahweh blows upon it. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will forever stand.” Go up onto the high mountain, messenger of good news to Zion, lift up your voice with strength, fear not to cry aloud when you tell Jerusalem and announce to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes Yahweh Sabaoth with might; his strong arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and here before him is his booty. Like a shepherd he tends his flock: he gathers the lambs in his arms, he carries them in his bosom, gently leading those that are with young.

Gospel: Mt 18:12-14:
What do you think of this? If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside, and go to look for the stray one? And I tell you, when he finally finds it, he is more pleased about it, than about the ninety-nine that did not go astray. It is the same with your Father in heaven. Your Father in heaven doesn’t want even one of these little ones to perish.

God is a God of comfort and of all consolations! This is the Good News that prophet Isaiah proclaims today. He would come to make straight in the wasteland a highway for the Lord so that whoever would come to follow him would never get lost. And if one goes astray, it would be easy for him to notice it and take him back to the fold. This is the fulfillment of today’s Gospel. Jesus speaks the parable of the shepherd who has lost just one sheep out of one hundred. He leaves all the ninety-nine and goes in search of the stray. And, when he finds it, he brings it back.

He was happier over this lost sheep than the ninety-nine who never wandered away. Indeed, God counts on every one of us. He loves us unconditionally and is not only ready to have us back in the fold but is positively overjoyed about it. Christmas season is an opportune time for us all to reflect our own way of tending and shepherding those whoever is entrusted to us. Am I fulfilling the mission of a good shepherd, just as Jesus did? This is the message of Christmas: Be a good shepherd and companion to others. Accompany those in need of your presence. Lead them to Jesus. Enjoy the company of Jesus. Amen.

December 7th

St. Ambrose

1st Reading: Is 40:25-31:
To whom, then, will you liken me or make me equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and see: who has created all this? He has ordered them as a starry host and called them each by name. So mighty is his power, so great his strength, that not one of them is missing. How can you say, O Jacob, how can you complain, O Israel, that your destiny is hidden from me, that your rights are ignored by Yahweh? Have you not known, have you not heard that Yahweh is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth?

He does not grow tired or weary, his knowledge is without limit. He gives strength to the enfeebled, he gives vigor to the wearied. Youth may grow tired and faint, young men will stumble and fall, but those who hope in Yahweh will renew their strength. They will soar as with eagle’s wings; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and never tire.

Gospel: Mt 11:28-30:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy; and my burden is light.”

Nowadays there is a lot of talk about stress and about burnout. It seems that the pace of modern living has become such that our nervous system just cannot cope with it. Despite all our so-called “labor-saving devices,” we never pack enough meetings, textings, interviews, cellphone calls and messages to do everything we want to do— including some forms of dangerous multi-­tasking like texting and driving a car. No wonder people develop all kinds of psychosomatic disorders. We simply do not know how to rest, and this is making us miserable.

By contrast, it is interesting to notice some exceptional people who lead very active lives but who are always relaxed, serene, self-possessed. What is their secret? If you observe them closely, you will soon discover that, every now and then, they withdraw from the general frenzy and pray. If you ask them what they are doing, they might answer you, “I am recharging my batteries with the Lord. He told us to go to him when we feel burdened and weary. Well, that is what I do. And I come out of my prayer wonderfully refreshed. Try it and you will see. It always works.” That is what they will tell you. Why not try it yourself?

December 8th

Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

1st Reading: Gen 3:9-15, 20:
Yahweh God called the man saying to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree I ordered you not to eat?” The man answered, “The woman you put with me gave me fruit from the tree and I ate it.” God said to the woman, “What have you done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” Yahweh God said to the serpent, “Since you have done that, be cursed among all the cattle and wild beasts! You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life. I will make you enemies, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” The man called his wife by the name of Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.

2nd Reading: Eph 1:3-6, 11-12:
Blessed be God, the Father of Christ Jesus our Lord, who, in Christ, has blessed us from heaven, with every spiritual blessing. God chose us, in Christ, before the creation of the world, to be holy, and without sin in his presence.

Gospel: Lk 1:26-38:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God, to a town of Galilee called Nazareth. He was sent to a virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the family of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Mary was troubled at these words, wondering what this greeting could mean. But the angel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for God has looked kindly on you. You shall conceive and bear a son; and you shall call him Jesus. He will be great, and shall rightly be called Son of the Most High.

The Lord God will give him the kingdom of David, his ancestor; he will rule over the people of Jacob forever; and his reign shall have no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the holy child to be born of you shall be called Son of God. Even your relative, Elizabeth, is expecting a son in her old age, although she was unable to have a child; and she is now in her sixth month. With God nothing is impossible.” Then Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.

When St. John Paul II assumed the papacy the among first words that we hear from him are these: “Do not be afraid”. These are strong words from a spiritual leader. This will signal to all that fear will have no bearing in our faith journey. Our Gospel today is also anchored on the words of the Angel Gabriel: “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God.” With these words of the angel, Mary could only utter the words of faith and trust in the Lord. “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto e according to your word.” May we also be anchored on the very words of the Scriptures whenever we are confronted with fear and anxiety. This is a challenge to always believe in the Word– who is Jesus himself.

December 9th

St. Juan Diego

1st Reading: Is 48:17-19:
Thus says Yahweh, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I, Yahweh, your God, teach you what is best for you; I lead you in the way that you must go. Had you paid attention to my commandments, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would been like the sand, and those born of your stock like its grains, their names never cut off nor blotted out from my presence.

Gospel: Mt 11:16-19:
Now, to what can I compare the people of this day? They are like children sitting in the marketplace, about whom their companions complain: ‘We played the flute for you, but you would not dance. We sang a funeral song, but you would not cry!’ For John came fasting, and people said, ‘He is possessed by a demon!’ Then, the Son of Man came. He ate and drank; and people said, ‘Look at this man: a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet, wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Jesus reminds us of this one most neglected Christian virtue: to listen to what God is saying to us in every moment of our lives. Today, Jesus reproaches the crowds for not listening. The message of the Gospel comes to us through hearing. Thus, when John came and proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, people thought of him to be possessed by an evil spirit. When Jesus came, people thought of him to be glutton and drunkard simply because he was with the sinners, tax collectors and they persecuted him in the end.

Prophet Isaiah in the first reading, reminds us that the Lord, our Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, would teach us always what is good for us. He would lead us to the way we should go. If only we would listen to his voice, our prosperity would be like a river flowing down the streams giving life to all it passes by. The birth of Jesus is the embodiment of the faith we heard from our forefathers. What we have listened to and meditated upon, has now a Face – Jesus of Nazareth.

December 10th

1st Reading: Sir 48:1-4, 9-11:
Then came the prophet Elijah, like a fire, his words a burning torch. He brought a famine on the people and in his zealous love had them reduced in number. Speaking in the name of the Lord he closed the heavens, and on three occasions called down fire. How marvelous you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Who could ever boast of being your equal? You were taken up by a whirlwind of flames in a chariot drawn by fiery horses. It was written that you should be the one to calm God’s anger in the future, before it broke out in fury, to turn the hearts of fathers to their sons and to restore the tribes of Jacob. Happy are those who will see you and those who die in love, for we too shall live.

Gospel: Mt 17:9a, 10-13:
And as they came down the mountain, the disciples asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus answered, “So it is: first comes Elijah; and he will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come; and they did not recognize him; and they treated him as they pleased. And they will also make the Son of Man suffer.” Then the disciples understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.

A lot of people imagine that it would be a good thing for humans to know in advance when they will die. Why? Because they think that humans could be better prepared when the time came for them to meet their Maker. Perhaps. But when we study the case of people who do know when they are to die (because their doctor told them or because they have been condemned to death by a criminal court), we notice that this prospect weighs on them like a terrible burden and robs them of any real joy in living. Well, Jesus knew he was going to die of a terribly agonizing death.

We do not know how exactly he came about this knowledge (a special revelation from God? the descriptions of the Servant of Yahweh’s sufferings in Isaiah? the mounting hatred he encountered?), but the fact remains that he had that knowledge, and it weighed so heavily on his mind that he frequently referred to his death—sometimes just in passing, as in today’s gospel reading, sometimes in great detail. This certainty of his impending death was an added suffering that he endured out of love for us.