Reflections on the Readings

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 21, 2014 – Year B

The Obedience of Faith

By Dennis S. Hankins

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)

What makes this time of the year so wonderful? After all, not everyone embraces the wonder, the beauty, the hope of the celebration of Christmas. The so called annual Christmas wars reveal concerns if not outright hostility to giving public space to displays of the Creche. Do I hear a sigh of disgust? I know, its appalling! But in a culture that has aborted millions of its babies what makes a baby born two thousand years ago special?

When our officers of peace use excessive measures resulting in the death of our sons and daughters, don’t we need more of Christmas rather than less? Do I hear an Amen? What we need, what our hearts yearn for, is for more of Jesus, is for more of his saving goodness, not less. Eliza Hewitt wrote the lyrics to More About Jesus, a beautiful hymn she composed 1887:

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.

Ms. Hewitt wrote her songs from a bed of pain. Her debilitating spinal condition was caused by a reckless student striking her on her back with a slate. Instead of sinking into the deeper depths of despair, Ms. Hewitt went deeper into Christ. In her pain she sought to know more about Jesus. Our strength, our hope, our help, is in the same Jesus Ms. Hewitt wrote and sang about. Grand Juries may fail us, but the holy child Jesus, resting in Mary’s womb, will bring us goodness and light; he is full of grace and truth.

So let us not surrender to the violence we harbor in our hearts. Rather, let’s embrace more profoundly to be obedient to the faith. To let the wisdom that is from above, that is first pure, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, and is without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy, be our guide. To surrender to the hope of this season we approach and say with an obedient heart with Mary, “Hear I am, a servant of the Lord.” Then will the world be a better place, our homes true sanctuaries of holiness, and our hearts filled with that holy mystery lying in a manger. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Third Sunday of Advent – December 14, 2014 – Year B

The Spirit at Christmas

By Dennis S. Hankins

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-21)

“Just who are you?” they asked John the Baptizer. Throngs of people were lining up to be baptized by him. News of his impact on the people reached the highest religious authorities in Jerusalem. Something new and never seen before was transpiring on the banks of the Jordan river. Looking straight into the eyes of his interrogators John explained, “I am not the Christ.”

“Well, who are you then?” they persisted. “We need to give an answer to those who sent us! Are you Elijah or the Prophet? What do you have to say for yourself?” John insisted he was a voice in the desert crying out announcing the coming of the Lord. “One last question,” they snarled. “If you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet, why then do you baptize.” John looked beyond them as though he saw something no one else noticed. And with the confidence of a prophet John whispered into the air, “I baptize with water; but the coming One whom you do not recognize is greater than me and will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I am not worthy to untie his sandal strap.”

From the very beginning, the story of Christ is a story filled with the Holy Spirit. When Mary asks how can she bear a child since she does not know a man, Gabriel’s answer is, “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.”

It is this same Holy Spirit Paul asks us to embrace and to welcome in the second reading. It is the same Holy Spirit we are promised who will lead us and guide us into all that is true concerning Christ and his love. It is the same Holy Spirit who inspires us to say, “Jesus is Lord!” In all that we say and do we are to invite the Holy Spirit and welcome him for he is the very breath of God. We can no more live in Christ without the Holy Spirit than we can live without oxygen.

The Holy Spirit gives rise to rejoicing. He helps us to know how to pray and to pray without ceasing. Through the Holy Spirit we give thanks especially in the Great Thanksgiving at the Holy Table. It is the Holy Spirit that Paul says that we should not quench nor despise. Rather we should as the Church did in its earliest days welcome and adore the Holy Spirit. As we confess every Sunday in the creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”

We should resist the temptation to regulate and tame the Holy
Spirit. The Spirit of truth leads us into the things of God, or as St. Paul said, the deep things of God. If we are to go deeper into the love of God we will allow the Holy Spirit more space, more control, more movement in our heart.

Pope Francis in his April 16, 2013 homily spoke about resistance to the Holy Spirit. He said, “To get to the point, the Holy Spirit annoys us, because he moves us…Do not take up resistance to the Holy Spirit: this is the grace for which I wish we would all ask the Lord; docility to the Holy Spirit, to that Spirit who comes to us and make us go forward on the path of holiness, that holiness of the Church which is so beautiful.”

The Holy Spirit gives us strength and courage and fills us with joy. There is a particular kind of joy that comes from tinsel and pretty paper and bright lights. But there is another source of joy. It is a joy filled with the glory and promise of peace on earth and good will toward all. That joy my friend is drawn from that deep well of the Spirit who reminds us always that our faith must not rest on the wisdom of men but in the power of God, in the real Spirit of Christmas. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Second Sunday of Advent – December 7, 2014 – Year B

Jesus and the Future – (Part II)

By Dennis S. Hankins

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13)

John the Baptist announces that in Jesus the future is full of promise and blessing. “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals,” says John. These words must have been thrilling to hear the first time John’s voice pierced the air and set the leaves of the trees to clapping their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)

Imagine being one of those coming up out of the Jordan and hearing John explain how his baptism is the doorway to even more. He says to his followers, “I have baptized you with water, he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This mighty voice of one crying in the wilderness preached with the insight of a prophet; a prophet much like Elijah whom he resembled in both speech and appearance. He understood that what he did mattered, and that the future he was ushering in has its beginning and conclusion in the ‘One mightier than I.’

John urged those who came to him to receive his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And throngs of people did. They came from Jerusalem and from the countryside of Judea. Moms and dads and children and old people and little people and babies and the sick and the dying came to confess their sins in the baptismal waters of the Jordan. John’s baptism was a powerful statement about the future and how to prepare for God’s presence, that is, the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

John’s message of promise brought comfort and renewal to all who received his words. Called from his mother’s womb to be a prophet of hope, John comforted the people God with the promise of forgiveness and restoration like we hear from the passage in Isaiah today:

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.”

These words were first proclaimed to bring hope and the promise of restoration to Israel’s exiled multitudes in Babylon about 550 BC. John likewise thundered the message at the dawn of a new era, “Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God…Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”

Hearing these words in this season of Advent, a time of expectation, reminds us again that the future is now. Now are we to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Now are we to live and work and play under the influence of the new wine of the Holy Spirit. As we wait patiently for the celebration of the birth of Christ we must also, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, be patient for the second coming of our Lord. What we must never forget, as St Peter tells us today, is that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day. The Lord is not delaying his promise of reunion with us. But he’s being patient with us, not wishing that any one of us should perish.

So the day of the Lord will come. He may come at morning, noon, or night. But when he comes, he will come like a thief, and everyone and everything will be open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13) But rather than be afraid and terrified we are admonished to understand what sort of persons we ought to be, living everyday in holiness and devotion, waiting for and even earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God. For we, according to his promise await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since we await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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First Sunday of Advent – November 30, 2014

Jesus and the Future

By Dennis S. Hankins

Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13:33)

Jesus does not ask us to speculate about the future. He asks us instead to embrace it, to look forward to the consummation, to understand that he has plans for us to be where he is. This is called eschatology and is that part of theology that has to do with the final events of history and the destiny of all things culminating in the glorious return of Jesus. Far from a future filled with disaster the end of time is not the end of us.

Scripture describes our future as a blessed hope: For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14)

It’s because of this blessed hope that we are not filled with fear about tomorrow. We don’t know about tomorrow, about its troubles or trials, about its beginning or its end. Yet he who holds tomorrow in his own care holds our hand. And in fellowship with God’s own Son we await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ who will keep us firm to the end; the future filled and running over with goodness, truth, and beauty.

Too often the blessed hope is preached with fear instead of as an invitation. Jesus invited people into his presence. His words, the miracles of healing and exorcism, the children who sat on his lap and the lepers who fell at his feet restored and the hungry who ate with him all found him inviting and approachable. I remember as a kid I heard preaching trying to scare all of us into salvation. But Christ is more than a fire escape policy provider. He is the way, the truth, and the life. The life we now live in the flesh is the life we find in him whose life is alive forever more.

For now the Lord has left his work in our charge and he will come again. In the mean time he inspires us with hope and invites us to be alive in our faith. Christ challenges us to be alert and awake to the future that he is preparing for all who love him. This future in Christ is filled with hope for all of us, for the living and the dead. For the dead in Christ shall all rise to meet him in the air and we who are alive shall join them and together we will enter into that heavenly procession to the Father’s house, prepared for all who love his appearing.

For you see my friend, He who is the centerpiece of time is the Lamb in the midst of the Throne of eternity, slain from the foundation of the world. Marked by the signs of our salvation on his back and brow, in his hands and feet, him we love because he first loved us. And that love will bring us home. May our love for him and one another never grow cold. We know not the day nor the hour, but that love that draws us toward him is familiar and endearing and covers a multitude of sins. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever.

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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