In the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream. The angel tells Joseph to not divorce, Mary, his pregnant fiancée. The angel tells him to take her into his home. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’ ” (Matthew 1: 22-23). God is with us in unexpected ways. Betrothed to marry Joseph, Mary conceives Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph discovers his bride-to-be pregnant. God is with us when the family of a critically ill patient keeps vigil in the ICU. God with us when a stranger in the check out line strikes up a conversation. God is with us when a young adult thanks his parents for raising him. How is God with you today?
In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent, imprisoned John the Baptist sends his disciples to find out if Jesus is the Messiah. ” ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them’ ” (Matthew 11: 3-5). Jesus affirms his saving mission to bless the needy. He recalls the promise of the prophets that God will save the people and heal them. Jesus is the one from God to heal our infirmities, repair our brokenness, free us from addictions, feed the hungry, restore justice, and transform the world. As a disciple of Jesus, you are the one too. How do you bless those in need?
In the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist preaches repentance for sin. ” ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Matthew 3: 2-4). John the Baptist announces good news. His listeners are about to experience the presence of God in a powerful and new way. John prepares the way for Jesus, God with us. This good news gives hope to those who are struggling. With God, things will get better. John wants us to repent of our reliance on shopping, work, entertainment, and other things to save us from our troubles. Christians put their trust in God who accompanies them in their difficulties. How does God accompany you in times of trouble?
In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, Jesus tells his disciples to prepare for the Day of the Lord. “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into” (Matthew 24: 42-43). Advent is a Christian wake up call. Advent readies us for the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. We watch everyday for the presence of God. We remain alert to the will of God. Acting on God’s behalf, we become Jesus for others. We do God’s will feeding a hungry family, reconciling with an alienated relative or friend, seeking help for an addiction, praying more often, and more. For what is God waking you up this Advent?
In the Gospel for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Jesus is is put to death with two criminals. One mocks him. The other asks for mercy. ” ‘And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ ” (Luke 23: 41-43). The repentant criminal has deep faith in Jesus. He believes Jesus has the authority to pardon him. Jesus has mercy on him. He promises the repentant criminal life hereafter. Jesus has the authority to pardon us too. Lately I am regretting the mistakes I have made as a sibling and as a parent. I can become spiritually paralyzed worrying about my past. Or like the repentant criminal, I can acknowledge sorrow for them and ask God for mercy. For what do you need God’s mercy?
In the Gospel for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus foretells persecution for his disciples. “You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Luke 21: 16-19). Aware that his enemies were plotting against him, Jesus anticipated the same for his disciples. He urged them to persevere in their faith. Christians daily experience crises that challenge faith: cancer diagnosis, jaundiced new born, sudden death of a loved one, loss of job, violence in the news, persecution of Christians overseas, racist and xenophobic rhetoric, and more. Jesus wants us to persevere. He reassures us God stands with us. A victim of persecution, Jesus compassionately accompanies us. As God raised Jesus from the dead, God secures our lives in this world and the next. How has God helped you perservere through a crisis?
In the Gospel for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus converses with the Sadducees about life after death. To disprove life after death, they pose to Jesus an absurd case about a women widowed seven times. They want to know who her husband will be in the after life. Jesus reminds them about Moses. “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20: 37-38). Jesus has confidence in the life giving power of God. God is the God of the living. God sustains our lives on earth and sustains the dead in resurrected life. I am becoming ever more grateful to God for living everyday. I give thanks to God for my living breath, the shining sun, the changing seasons, my loving family, and more. As God sustains me now, I believe God will sustain me somehow after my death. How does your confidence in God’s loving care give you hope for your resurrection from the dead?
In the Gospel for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector praying in the Temple. The Pharisee thanks God he is not like the despicable tax collector. “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former …” (Luke 18: 13-14a). Jesus exemplifies the tax collector as an authentic Christian disciple. The tax collector recognizes his need for God’s mercy. He is sorry for his sins. God’s mercy has no bounds. God forgives even the worst of sinners who repent. How much more God will forgive us for our jealously of our neighbors, intolerance of people not like us, fear of self-sacrifice, refusal of treatment for an addiction to drugs or alcohol, cheating at home or at work, and others actions or inactions that hurt ourselves and others. For what do you ask God’s mercy?
In the Gospel for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus tells the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge. With relentless persistence, a helpless widow pleads for a judgement from an unjust judge. “For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me’” (Luke 18: 4-5). Jesus wants his disciples and us, like the widow, to persist in prayer. If the helpless widow could prevail over the unjust judge, just think of the good works Christians can accomplish through prayer. How can God help you accomplish for what you are praying today?
In the Gospel for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus cures the ten lepers. “And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan” (Luke 17: 15-16). One leper acknowledges the power of God who heals him. He returns to thank Jesus . The story contrasts the gratitude of one with the ingratitude of the rest. On the occasion of the birthday of my wife, I thank God for her. I am glad she was born. Through her God has blessed me in wonderful ways, especially with three sons. I imagine myself the tailor in Fiddler on the Roof who sings about his fiancée, “Wonder of wonder, miracles of miracles, God has given you to me”. For what wonders in your life do you have to thank God?