Bible Diary for December 17th – December 24th

18 de diciembre

4to domingo de Adviento

1st Reading: Is 7:10-14:
Once again Yahweh addressed Ahaz, “Ask for a sign from Yahweh your God, let it come either from the deepest depths or from the heights of heaven.” But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask, I will not put Yahweh to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Now listen, descendants of David. Have you not been satisfied trying the patience of people, that you also try the patience of my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The Virgin is with child and bears a son and calls his name Immanuel.

2nd Reading: Rom 1:1-7:
From Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, an apostle, called and set apart for God’s Good News, the very promises he foretold through his prophets in the sacred Scriptures, regarding his Son, who was born in the flesh a descendant of David, and has been recognized as the Son of God, endowed with Power, upon rising from the dead, through the Holy Spirit. Through him, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and for the sake of his name, we received grace, and mission in all the nations, for them to accept the faith. All of you, the elected of Christ, are part of them, you, the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy: May God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, give you grace and peace.

Gospel: Mt 1:18-24:
This is how Jesus Christ was born: Mary his mother had been given to Joseph in marriage, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph, her husband, made plans to divorce her in all secrecy. He was an upright man, and in no way did he want to disgrace her. While he was pondering over this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She has conceived by the Holy Spirit, and now she will bear a son. You shall call him ‘Jesus’ for he will save his people from their sins.” All this happened in order to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he will be called Emmanuel, which means: God-with-us. When Joseph awoke, he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do, and he took his wife to his home.

Today’s gospel reading, often called “The annunciation to Joseph,” has been interpreted very diversely in the course of time. Three main interpretations have been proposed, all very ancient. According to the first one, Joseph supposes that Mary is adulterous (the translation of most Bibles reflects this theory). According to the second interpretation, Joseph is convinced of Mary’s innocence and suspects a mystery. According to the third interpretation, Joseph knows that Mary has conceived of the Holy Spirit (because she told him) and, not knowing what could be his role in all this, respectfully withdraws in awe: how could he take as his wife a woman whom God has chosen as his sacred vessel?

This interpretation was defended by Origen already in the third Century, by St. Basil, St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc. Today it is defended by dozens of first-class exegetes. Unfortunately, the arguments in favor of each of these interpretations are quite technical. If we accept the third interpretation, we now understand that Joseph was so humble that he could not imagine himself playing a role in the history of salvation–until finally an angel enlightened him on that score. Let us earnestly ask God to make us as humble and as flexible as Joseph. Today let us courageously listen to God’s call and embrace the responsibilities of our state of life.

19 de diciembre

1st Reading: Jdg 13:2-7, 24-25a:
There was a man of Zorah of the tribe of Dan, called Manoah. His wife could not bear children. The angel of Yahweh appeared to this woman and said to her, “You have not borne children and have not given birth, but see, you are to conceive and give birth to a son. Because of this, take care not to take wine or any alcoholic drink, nor to eat unclean foods from now on, for you shall bear a son who shall be a Nazirite of Yahweh from the womb of his mother. Never shall his hair be cut for he is consecrated to Yahweh. He shall begin the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistine oppression.”

Gospel: Lk 1:5-25:
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah, belonging to the priestly clan of Abiah. Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, also belonged to a priestly family. Both of them were upright in the eyes of God, and lived blamelessly, … but they had no child. … Now, while Zechariah and those with him were fulfilling their office, it fell to him by lot, according to the custom of the priests, to enter the Sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. … On seeing the angel, Zechariah was deeply troubled and fear took hold of him. But the angel said to him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, be assured that your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall name him John. …

This son of yours will be great in the eyes of the Lord. Listen: he shall never drink wine or strong drink; but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. Through him, many of the people of Israel will turn to the Lord their God. He, himself, will open the way to the Lord, with the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah; he will reconcile fathers and children; and lead the disobedient to wisdom and righteousness, in order to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I believe this? I am an old man and my wife is elderly, too.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel, who stands before God; and I am the one sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news! My words will come true in their time. But you would not believe; and now, you will be silent and unable to speak until this has happened.” … When his time of service was completed, Zechariah returned home; and, some time later, Elizabeth became pregnant. For five months she kept to herself, remaining at home, and thinking, “This, for me, is the Lord’s doing! This is his time for mercy, and for taking away my public disgrace.”

Both readings used in today’s liturgy narrate an angelic annunciation about the birth of a son. In the first annunciation scene, an anonymous angel tells an equally anonymous sterile woman that she will bear a son. She believes this and tells her husband about it, and apparently he believes it too. In the second annunciation scene, the angel Gabriel tells the old priest Zechariah that his old sterile wife will bear a son, despite her age. But Zechariah does not believe this, even though this good news is delivered by no less than an angel.

He asks the angel: “How can I believe this? I am an old man and my wife is elderly too.” In Gabriel’s answer we can detect a trace of impatience. He presents Zechariah with his full credentials: “I am Gabriel, who stands before God, and I am the one sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news.” We can almost hear Gabriel add under his breath “You idiot!” Some Christians are natural skeptics. Skepticism is good to a certain point. But we must reach a point when, after having expressed all our doubts and reservations, we finally take the leap of faith.

20 de diciembre

1st Reading: Is 7:10-14:
Once again Yahweh addressed Ahaz, “Ask for a sign from Yahweh your God, let it come either from the deepest depths or from the heights of heaven.” But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask, I will not put Yahweh to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Now listen, descendants of David. Have you not been satisfied trying the patience of people, that you also try the patience of my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The Virgin is with child and bears a son and calls his name Immanuel.

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.

Yesterday’s gospel reading presented us with the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist, and today’s gospel reading presents us with the angel’s annunciation to Mary of the birth of Jesus. Obviously these two scenes are similar and parallel, all the more so that they follow each other in the same chapter of the gospel text. They invite a comparison between the protagonists. Zechariah is skeptical and withholds his acceptance of Gabriel’s announcement: “How can I believe this?” he asks.

But Mary’s attitude is quite different. She accepts Gabriel’s announcement unreservedly. She is just puzzled as to the manner in which the announcement will be fulfilled. And, quite candidly, she voices her perplexity. She believes, but she asks Gabriel to enlighten her faith. In this, too, Mary is our model. Like her, we must not be afraid to try to enlighten our faith through study, dialogue with well-informed Christians, prayer. Faith will always remain partially dark in this life, but it must not be the faith of an automaton. It must be that of an intelligent being. And it will be all the stronger as it will be enlightened.

21 de diciembre

San Pedro Canisio

1st Reading: Song 2:8-14:
She The voice of my lover! Behold he comes, springing across the mountains, jumping over the hills, like a gazelle or a young stag. Now he stands behind our wall, looking through the windows, peering through the lattice. My lover speaks to me, He “Arise, my love, my beautiful one! Come, the winter is gone, the rains are over. Flowers have appeared on earth; the season of singing has come; the cooing of doves is heard. The fig tree forms its early fruit, the vines in blossom are fragrant. Arise, my beautiful one, come with me, my love, come. O my dove in the rocky cleft, in the secret places of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice. Your face—how lovely! Your voice—how sweet!”

Gospel: Lk 1:39-45:
Mary then set out for a town in the hill country of Judah. She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and, giving a loud cry, said, “You are most blessed among women; and blessed is the fruit of your womb! How is it, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby within me suddenly leapt for joy. Blessed are you, who believed that the Lord’s word would come true!”

Many Christians, without being too much aware of it, are still under the influence of various heresies (Gnosticism, Manicheism, Montanism, Puritanism, Jansenism, etc.) which are anti-body. These Christians are distinctly uneasy when the topic of sex and physical love is mentioned. And so, they are shocked upon reading the Song of Songs, from which today’s first reading is taken. For this literary masterpiece describes the physical love between a young man and his young wife in lyrical terms of great beauty, not hesitating to go into some anatomical details!

This praise of mutual love is meant to be read at various levels. Its deepest level refers to God’s love for Israel and, by extension, to Christ’s love for his Church. Also, it refers to the union between Christ and the individual soul (which has no gender, being spiritual). But also, let us not forget it, this exquisite poem is an inspired portrayal of ideal human love. Here God himself describes with unmatched poetry the sacredness and depth of married union. Let us not look down on what he has declared holy and sublime. Human love was invented by God, let us not forget.

22 de diciembre

1st Reading: 1 S 1:24-28:
When the child was weaned, Hannah took him with her along with a three-year-old bull, a measure of flour and a flask of wine, and she brought him to Yahweh’s house at Shiloh. The child was still young. After they had slain the bull, they brought the child to Eli. Hannah exclaimed: “Oh, my lord, look! I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to Yahweh. I asked for this child and Yahweh granted me the favor I begged of him. I think Yahweh is now asking for this child. As long as he lives, he belongs to Yahweh.”

Gospel: Lk 1:46-56:
And Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exults in God, my savior! He has looked upon his servant, in her lowliness, and people, forever, will call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, Holy is his Name! From age to age, his mercy extends to those who live in his presence. He has acted with power and done wonders, and scattered the proud with their plans. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up those who are downtrodden. He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. He held out his hand to Israel, his servant, for he remembered his mercy, even as he promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned home.

It is always a risky undertaking to attempt to read another’s mind. Only the humblest and the wisest can do this with some hope of deciphering a person’s inner world. And the task is even more daunting when we attempt to plumb Mary’s soul, the soul of a sinless human. We, who are sinners, how can we begin to imagine what it is to be sinless? In today’s gospel reading we hear Mary make two astonishing statements which, uttered by anybody else, would be judged to be crass boasting.

“People, forever, will call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me.” But on the lips of Mary these two statements simply express the naked, unadorned truth. And here we are given an opportunity to revise once and for all our notion of humility. Taking our cue from Mary, the humblest creature who ever lived, we discover (finally!) that truth and humility are the two sides of the same coin. If you are a genius and you deny it from fear of appearing boastful, then you are a liar! Humility consists in acknowledging the truth, but also in praising God as the source of your brains.

December 23rd

San Juan de Kanty

1st Reading: Mal 3:1-4, 23-24:
Now I am sending my messenger ahead of me, to clear the way; then, suddenly, the Lord, for whom you long, will enter the Sanctuary. The envoy of the Covenant which you so greatly desire, already comes, says Yahweh of hosts. Who can bear the day of his coming and remain standing when he appears? For he will be like fire in the foundry and like the lye used for bleaching. He will be as a refiner or a fuller. He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them, like gold and silver.

So Yahweh will have priests who will present the offering as it should be. Then Yahweh will accept with pleasure the offering of Judah and Jerusalem, as in former days. I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the day of Yahweh comes, for it will be a great and terrible day. He will reconcile parents with their children, and the children with their parents, so that I may not have to curse this land when I come.”

Gospel: Lk 1:57-66:
When the time came for Elizabeth, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the merciful Lord had done a wonderful thing for her, and they rejoiced with her. When, on the eighth day, they came to attend the circumcision of the child, they wanted to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.” They said to her, “But no one in your family has that name!” and they made signs to his father for the name he wanted to give him.

Zechariah asked for a writing tablet, and wrote on it, “His name is John;” and they were very surprised. Immediately, Zechariah could speak again, and his first words were in praise of God. A holy fear came on all in the neighborhood, and throughout the hill country of Judea the people talked about these events. All who heard of it, pondered in their minds, and wondered, “What will this child be?” For they understood that the hand of the Lord was with him.

In his play Romeo and Juliet (II, 1-2), Shakespeare makes Juliet ask: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.” This view of things is thoroughly Western, for in the Bible a name is considered very important. It is not a mere identity tag. It has a mysterious affinity with its bearer, it can even predict the kind of person he or she will be. It often expresses religious belief or a prayer of petition. Today’s gospel reading revolves around what name should be given to Zechariah’s child. Zechariah in Hebrew means “Yahweh remembers.”

But in the Bible this name is ambiguous. In some contexts it refers to a remembrance by God of a person’s sins and with a view to punishing that person. On the other hand, the name John (Yehohanan in Hebrew) means “Yahweh is gracious,” a name much more fitting in the circumstances than the name Zechariah. Besides, the orders of the angel Gabriel were clear: “You shall name him John” (Lk 1:13) What’s in a name? A lot. Do you know why you were given your name? Any connection with God, by chance?

December 24th


1st Reading: 2 S 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16:
When the king had settled in his palace and Yahweh had rid him of all his surrounding enemies, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I live in a house of cedar but the Ark of God is housed in a tent.” Nathan replied, “Do as it seems fit to you for Yahweh is with you.” But that very night, Yahweh’s word came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, this is what Yahweh says: … I took you from the pasture, from tending the sheep, to make you commander of my people Israel.

Now I will make your name great, as the name of the great ones on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel and plant them that they may live there in peace. They shall no longer be harassed, nor shall wicked men oppress them as before. … Yahweh also tells you that he will build you a house. … Your house and your reign shall last forever before me, and your throne shall be forever firm.”

Gospel: Lk 1:67-79:
Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, sang this canticle: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has come and redeemed his people. In the house of David his servant, he has raised up for us a victorious Savior; as he promised through his prophets of old, salvation from our enemies and from the hand of our foes. He has shown mercy to our fathers; and remembered his holy Covenant, the oath he swore to Abraham, our father, to deliver us from the enemy, that we might serve him fearlessly, as a holy and righteous people, all the days of our lives.

And you, my child, shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you shall go before the Lord, to prepare the way for him, and to enable his people to know of their salvation, when he comes to forgive their sins. This is the work of the mercy of our God, who comes from on high, as a rising sun, shining on those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, and guiding our feet into the way of peace.”

In psychiatry, we learn that one way for the psyche to protect itself from pain is to project on others the psyche’s inner fears, guilt, shame, desires or any painful and inadmissible impulse. We find something of this defense mechanism operating in all the people connected with Jesus (except possibly Mary). They all see Jesus as a great king who will free Israel of the detested Roman forces occupying Palestine. For example, in today’s gospel reading, which features Zechariah’s canticle, Zechariah refers to the coming Messiah as to “a victorious Savior” who will provide “salvation from our enemies” and who will “deliver us from the enemy.”

All this is true of Jesus, except that the enemy he has come to war against is sin. He has come to rid us of our pride, our selfishness, our hypocrisy, and so on. That is the inner enemy that we have problem recognizing and confessing. Instead we project our inner enemy onto a political enemy, much easier to deal with. As the comic strip character Pogo (author: Walt Kelly) says, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”