This Sunday's Gospel

Exegetical notes and homily themes to get you started this weekend:

11/7/21 – Sunday 32 / Pentecost 24
11/14/21 – Sunday 33  [Roman lectionary]
11/14/21 – Pentecost 25  [Common lectionary]
11/21/21 – Christ the King / Last Sunday after Pentecost

11/28/21 – Advent 1
12/5/21 – Advent 2
12/12/21 – Advent 3
12/19/21 – Advent 4

12/25/21 – Christmas
12/26/21 – Holy Family
12/26/21 – Christmas 1

1/1/22 – Mary the Mother of God / Holy Name of Jesus
1/2/22 – Epiphany
1/9/22 – Baptism of the Lord

November 7 – 32nd Sunday of the Year / 24th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 27]

“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.  They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers.”
“This poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty . . . ”
Mark 12: 38-44


Preaching in the Jerusalem temple days before the Last Supper and his crucifixion, Jesus indicts the scribes for their lavish but empty show of faith.  The scribes, in their haughty and arrogant attitude, are the antithesis of what Jesus wants his disciples to be.

In Jesus’ time, scribes, as the accepted experts of the Law, could serve as trustees of a widow’s estate.  They took a portion of the estate, as their fee.  Obviously, scribes with a reputation for piety were often entrusted with this role.  With their ability to manipulate the interpretations of the Law to their advantage, the system was rife with abuse.

Throughout Scripture, widows were portrayed as the supreme examples of the destitute and powerless (today’s first reading from the 1 Kings is an example).  Jesus again makes a considerable impact on his hearers, then, by lifting up a widow who has nothing as an example of faithful generosity.  Only that which is given not from our abundance but from our own need and poverty – and given totally, completely, humbly and joyfully – is a gift fitting for God.


The kingdom of God is realized only in our embracing Christ's spirit of servanthood: servanthood that finds fulfillment and satisfaction in the love, compassion and kindness we can extend to others, that enables us to place the common good and the needs of others above our own wants and narrow interests.

Greatness in the reign of God is not measured by what is in our portfolios, bank accounts or resumes, but by the love in our hearts that directs the use and sharing of those gifts.

The faithful disciple honors the dignity of the servant above the power of the rich, canonizes humility over celebrity and is inspired by the total generosity of the widow rather than the empty gestures of the scribe.

The widow's “reckless” giving from her poverty rather than from her abundance challenges our concept of carefully planned, tax deductible, convenient and painless giving.  Jesus’ concept of charity is centered in the kind of total and unconditional love that makes such sacrificial giving a joy.

In the economy of God, numbers are not the true value of giving: it is what we give from our want, not from our extra, that reflects what we truly value, what good we actually want to accomplish, what we really want our lives and world to be. 

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November 14– 33rd Sunday of the Year    

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree.  When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near.  In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Son of Man is near . . . ”
Mark 13: 24-32


The first generation of Christians expected Christ to return in their lifetimes.  When their world began to collapse around them under the Roman onslaught of Jerusalem, they wondered in their anguish, When will Jesus return for us?

With every experience of loss, with every sign of illness, with ever hint of age creeping upon us, we become more and more aware of our mortality.  We live on the edge of eternity.  Jesus does not deny the pain and anguish of the end (citing in today’s Gospel reading the graphic images of the prophet Daniel) nor that the earth will indeed pass away.  But the important thing is not when Jesus will come (for we know he will), but our readiness to meet him.


We face economic and environmental disasters of our own making that call for the wisdom and foresight of God’s vision: to realize that we hold the power to redeem our deeply divided world and restore our broken earth if we embrace the Gospel spirit of humility, selflessness and generosity. 

The unsettling images Jesus articulates in today’s Gospel confronts us with the reality that the things we treasure – our careers, our portfolios, our status, our bodies – will one day be no more and that our separation from them will be bitter.

The “signs” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel are all around us; the “fig tree” grows and blossoms in the lives of every one of us.  With eyes and hearts of faith, we can recognize such “signs” of God’s love in our midst.  The Gospel fig tree challenges us to listen beyond mere words, to look deeper than the surface, to realize the presence of God in times and places when and where God seems to be absent.    

Change – sometimes frightening, often traumatic, seldom easy – is part of that journey for all of us.  But when our “heavens and earths” pass away, the promise of the life of God and the values of the Gospel remain constant. 

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November 14 – 25th Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 28]   

“Do you not see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Mark 13: 1-8


Chapter 13 in Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’ discourse on the end times. 

The chapter opens with Jesus and his disciples leaving the temple in Jerusalem.  The disciples are in deeply impressed of the magnificent structure, but Jesus prophesies its destruction – as all the things of earth will one day be reduced to ashes and dust in the end times.  Mark’s community immediately hears Jesus’ words as a prediction of the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 A.D.; these first Christians saw its fall as the ultimate sign that the world was about to end and Jesus was about to return.  But Jesus’ discourse here reveals a far greater cataclysm than this singular event.

Warning his followers to beware of false prophets and messianic pretenders claiming to speak for God in times of great anguish and anxiety, Jesus exhorts his disciples to persevere in the turbulent times ahead; their faithfulness in times of such suffering will be beginning of the fulfillment of God’s reign.


Christ calls us to embrace, not the things of the body but of the soul, not the things of the world but the things of God: the lasting, eternal treasures of love and mercy, the joy that comes only from selfless giving, the satisfaction that comes from lifting up the hopes and dreams of others. 

Jesus urges us to recognize the “signs” of change with eyes and spirits of faith: to appreciate what a precious gift our limited time on earth is; to realize that every changing world and passing stage, every pain and triumph, are opportunities for growth, maturity and understanding of the transforming presence of God; to embrace change — the passing away of our own “heaven and earth” — as part of our journey to the dwelling place of God. 

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November 21 – Christ the King / Reign of Christ / Last Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 29]

“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
John 18: 33-37


We celebrate the kingship of Jesus with the John’s Gospel account of what is perhaps Jesus’ most humiliating moment: his appearance before Pilate.  It is a strange exchange: Pilate has been blackmailed by the Jewish establishment into executing Jesus for their ends; it is the accused who dominates the meeting and takes on the role of inquisitor; Pilate has no idea what Jesus is talking about when speaks bout “the truth.”

Pilate, a man of no great talent or exceptional competence, was under a great deal of political pressure.  He had needlessly alienated the Jews of Palestine by his cruelty, his insensitivity to their religious customs and his clumsy appropriation of funds from the temple treasury for public projects.  Reports of his undistinguished performance had reached his superiors in Rome.  Jesus proclaims himself ruler of a kingdom built of compassion, humility, love and truth – power that Pilate cannot comprehend in his small, narrow view of the world.


We cannot be Christians by default but only by choice; we cannot respond passively to the call to discipleship, only actively can we embrace the spirit of the “kingdom” of God, a kingdom built on compassion, justice and truth.

The kingdom of Jesus is not found in the world’s centers of power but within human hearts; it is built not by deals among the power elite but by compassionate hands; Christ reigns neither by influence nor wealth but by selfless charity and justice.

To be faithful disciples of Christ is to be servants of truth: truth that liberates and renews, truth that gives and sustains life and hope, truth that transcends rationalizations, half-truths and delusions, truth that serves as a looking glass for seeing the world in the intended design of God.

Christ’s reign is realized only in our embracing a vision of humankind as a family made in the image of God, a vision of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, a vision of the world centered in the spirit of hope and compassion taught by Christ.  

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November 28 – First Sunday of Advent [C]   

“When you see these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36


Advent begins at the end – the promised return of Christ at the end of time.  For the faithful disciple, history is a moving forward, a journey to the fulfillment of God’s reign when God’s Christ will return as Lord of all.  We therefore live in a permanent state of Advent: watchfulness, preparation and perseverance as we await the return of the Holy One who has already come.

In his Gospel, Luke depicts our final judgment very simply: “to stand before the Son of Man.”  Luke infers that our “judgment” before Christ will be a moment of illuminating truth, when all artifice will melt away, when our rationalizations will fail us, when we will see our holiness and face our failures.  But rather than make us tremble, the prospect of standing before Jesus should fill us with hope: that the “shoot of Jesse” comes to redeem us despite ourselves, that, in him, God loves us in our holiest moments and our most glaring sinfulness. 


Jesus calls us to pay attention to the “signs” of God’s Advent presence, to “stand erect and raise our heads” to realize God’s presence in our midst.

The moments we are given in this experience of life are precious and few.  God gives us these days in order that we might come to discover him and know him in the love of others and the goodness of this world in anticipation of the next.
Our lives are a continuing Advent in which we make our way to God by creating a road for that journey, a road built of justice, forgiveness and love.

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December 5 – Second Sunday of Advent [C]

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Luke 3: 1-6


So important is the emergence of John the Baptizer in human history that Luke dates his appearance in six different ways.  In his Gospel, Luke introduces John as prophets were introduced in the First Testament (“the word of God was spoken to John son of Zechariah in the desert”).  As does Matthew and Mark, Luke cites the famous passage from Isaiah regarding “a herald’s voice in the desert” to describe the Baptizer’s mission – but Luke quotes more of the Isaiah prophecy than his synoptic counterparts, including the promise of universal salvation that is so central to Luke’s Gospel.
Forms of “baptism” were common in the Judaism of Gospel times: in some Jewish communities, it was through baptism rather than circumcision that a Gentile became a Jew.  But John’s baptism was distinctive.  His baptism at the Jordan was a rite of repentance and metanoia – a conversion of heart and spirit.  The Baptizer’s ministry fulfilled the promise of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36: 25-26): that, at the dawn of a new age, the God of Israel would purify his people from their sins with clean water and instill in them a new heart and spirit.

In his book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Community, theologian Ronald Rolheiser writes about the two baptisms John speaks of in today’s Gospel: “John’s baptism is only a preparation for Jesus’ baptism.  What’s John’s baptism?  It is a baptism of repentance, a realization of what we are doing wrong and a clear resolution to correct our bad behavior.  What is Jesus’ baptism?  It is an entry into grace and community in such a way that empowers us internally to do what is impossible for us to do by our willpower alone.” 


Each one of us is called to be a prophet of Christ: to “proclaim” (the Greek word for prophet), in our ministries, in our compassion and generous, in our courageous and constant commitment to what is right that Jesus the Messiah has come.

The same Word that came to John in the desert comes to each of us in the deserts of our own hearts, enabling us to transform the wastelands and straighten the winding roads of our lives in the compassion and justice of God.

John comes to fulfill Isaiah’s vision of the prophet: to “make straight” a highway for God, to create a level road for all of us to travel to the kingdom of God.  In baptism, we take on that same prophetic role of “road building:” to create passageways and entries of hope, healing and support for all of us to complete our journey to God’s dwelling place

In giving the needs of others priority over our own interests, in taking the first humbling steps toward reconciliation with another, in seeing in other people the face of Christ, we make a “highway” in our world for the for the Lord who comes.

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December 12 – Third Sunday of Advent [C]

“Whoever has two cloaks should give to the one who has none . . . Stop collecting more than what is prescribed . . . Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”
Luke 3: 10-18

THE WORD:                                                                             

Today’s Gospel is unique to Luke’s Gospel: a summary of the themes of John’s preaching.

The Baptizer is approached by two groups whose professions were scorned by the Pharisees: tax collectors, who usually made handsome profits by gouging their fellow Jews, and Jewish soldiers who belonged to the Roman peacekeeping force.  John requires of them not a change of professions but a change of heart and attitude, that they perform their duties with honesty and integrity.  John calls for selfless concern for one’s disadvantaged brothers and sisters.

John assures his Jewish listeners that he is not the Messiah; in fact, John considers himself lower than the lowest slaves (only a non-Jewish slave could be required to loosen his master’s sandal strap and John does not presume to do even that).

In proclaiming the Messiah’s “baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire,” John employs the image of a “winnowing-fan.”  A winnowing-fan was a flat, wooden, shovel-like tool, used to toss grain into the air.  The heavier grain fell to the ground and the chaff blew away.  In the same way, John says, the Messiah will come to gather the “remnant” of Israel and destroy the Godless.


Like John’s proclamation at the River Jordan, we are called to be witnesses of God’s love by the love we extend to others; precursors of his justice by our unfailing commitment to what is right and good; lamps reflecting the light of God’s Christ in our forgiveness, mercy and compassion; harvesters of souls through our humble and dedicated servanthood.

As John preached at the Jordan, we can only welcome the Messiah into our lives when we move beyond ourselves to embrace the hurt and brokenness, the needs and hopes of others; we can only realize the “best” of humanity by taking on greed and arrogance and bigotry that diminish our humanity.  

Every of act of compassion, justice and reconciliation is a sign of the “expectation” that “fills” every human heart for the coming of God’s kingdom in our time as well as in the time to come. 

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December 19 – Fourth Sunday of Advent [C]

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, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . .”
Luke 1: 39-45


The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent each year shift the focus from Advent’s call to preparation for the Messiah to setting the stage for the birth of Christ.  In today’s Gospel, Elizabeth proclaims her joy-filled faith in God’s promise of salvation that will be accomplished through Mary’s child and praises her young cousin for her “yes” to God's plan.


In Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting and in our own similar “visitations,” the Spirit of God is present in the healing, comfort and support we can extend to one another in such moments.  In the light and hope of this holy season, may we “make haste” to bring such reconciling peace and healing justice in our own “visitations” to others, in our own encounters in which the grace of God enables us to see one another in God’s eyes.  

God’s Spirit, who inspired the prophets to preach, who enabled the nation of Israel to enter into the covenant with Yahweh, continues at work in the world in new and creative ways.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate and perfect fulfillment of that covenant.

The “mystery” of the Incarnation is not that God could become one of us – the inexplicable part is how God could give his love away so freely to his people, without expectation or condition.  As St. Ireneaus preached:  “Because of his great love for us, Jesus, the Word of God, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”

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December 25 – Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord [ABC]



“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.”
Matthew 1: 1-25 [18-25]

For Matthew, the story of Jesus begins with the promise to Abraham – that Jesus is the ultimate and perfect fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.  So Matthew begins his Gospel with “a family record” of Jesus, tracing the infant's birth from Abraham (highlighting his Jewish identity) and David (his Messiahship).  The historical accuracy of Matthew’s list is dubious; but that is not the point.  Matthew’s genealogy celebrates this Jesus as the fulfillment of a world that God envisioned from the first moment of creation – a world created in the justice and peace that is the very nature of its Creator.

Matthew’s version of Jesus birth at Bethlehem follows.  This is not Luke’s familiar story of a child born in a Bethlehem stable that will be read at Mass later tonight.  Matthew’s Gospel recounts the story of a young unmarried woman suddenly finding herself pregnant and her very hurt and confused husband wondering what to do.  In Gospel times, marriage was agreed upon by the groom and the bride’s parents almost immediately after the age of puberty; but the girl continued to live with her parents after the wedding until the husband was able to support her in his home or that of his parents.  During that interim period, marital intercourse was not permissible.  Yet Mary is found to be with child.

Joseph, an observant but compassionate Jew, does not wish to subject Mary to the full fury of Jewish law, so he plans to divorce her “quietly.”  But in images reminiscent of the First Testament “annunciations” of Isaac and Samuel, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and reveals that this child is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Because of his complete faith and trust in God’s promise, Joseph acknowledges the child and names him Jesus (“Savior”) and becomes, in the eyes of the Law, the legal father of Jesus.  Thus, Jesus, through Joseph, is born a descendent of David.

Matthew’s point in his infancy narrative is that Jesus is the Emmanuel promised of old – Isaiah’s prophecy has finally been fulfilled in Jesus: the virgin has given birth to a son, one who is a descendent of David's house (through Joseph).  Jesus is truly Emmanuel “God is with us.”


“For today in the city of David a savior has been born to you who is Christ and Lord.”
Luke 2: 1-14

Centuries of hope in God’s promise have come to fulfillment: the Messiah is born!

Luke's account of Jesus’ birth (Gospel) begins by placing the event during the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Augustus, who ruled from 27 B.C.-14 A.D., was honored as “savior” and “god” in ancient Greek inscriptions.  His long reign was hailed as the pax Augusta: a period of peace throughout the vast Roman world.  Luke deliberately points out that it is during the rule of Augustus, the savior, “god” and peacemaker, that Jesus the Christ, the long-awaited Savior and Messiah, the Son of God and Prince of Peace, enters human history.

Throughout his Gospel, Luke shows how it is the poor, the lowly, the outcast and the sinner who embrace the preaching of Jesus.  The announcement of the Messiah’s birth to shepherds – who were among the most isolated and despised in the Jewish community – is in keeping with Luke’s theme that the poor are especially blessed of God.


“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2: 15-20

Typical of Luke’s Gospel, it is the shepherds of Bethlehem – among the poorest and most disregarded of Jewish society who become the first messengers of the Gospel.

From the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel, we have a romantic image of shepherds as gentle, peaceful figures.  But that manger scene image is a far cry from the reality:  The shepherds of Biblical times were tough, earthy characters who fearlessly used their clubs to defend their flocks from wolves and other wild animals.  They had even less patience for the pompous scribes and Pharisees who treated them as second and third-class citizens, barring these ill-bred rustics from the synagogue and courts.

And yet it was to shepherds that God first revealed the birth of the Messiah.  The shepherds’ vision on the Bethlehem hillside proclaims to all people of every place and generation that Christ comes for the sake of all of humankind.


And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .
John 1: 1-18

The Gospel for Christmas Day is the beautiful Prologue hymn to John’s Gospel.  With echoes of Genesis 1 (“In the beginning,” “the light shines on in darkness”), John’s prologue exalts Christ as the creative Word of God that comes as the new light to illuminate God's re-creation.

In the original Greek text, the phrase “made his dwelling place among is” is more accurately translated as “pitched his tent or tabernacle.”  The image evokes the Exodus memory of the tent pitched by Israelites for the Ark of the Covenant.  God sets up the tabernacle of the new covenant in the body of the Child of Bethlehem.


The humility and selflessness of Jesus that will be the centerpiece of his ministry and mission as the Messiah are first seen in his simple birth among the poor.

The true miracle of Christmas continues to take place in the Bethlehems of our hearts.  In the emptiness of our souls, God forgives us, reassures us, exalts us, elates us, loves us.

Christmas is more than a birth of a child; it is the beginning of the Christ event that will transform and re-create human history, a presence that continues to this day and for all time.

In Jesus, the extraordinary love of God has taken our “flesh” and “made his dwelling among us.”  In his “Word made flesh,” God touches us at the very core of our beings, perfectly expressing his constant and unchanging love.

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December 26 – Holy Family [C]

After three days, they found Jesus in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.
“Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Luke 2: 41-52


Today’s Gospel was probably a later addition to Luke’s Gospel, a story from the rich oral tradition of stories told about Jesus.  Like many childhood stories of famous people, this one is retold because it shows signs in Jesus’ boyhood of the qualities that will emerge in his adulthood that will mark his life forever in history.  Luke clearly has the events of Holy Week in mind in the details he has included in the story: the journey to Jerusalem at Passover, the encounter with the teachers at the Temple, the three days Jesus is lost.
At the age of 12, a Jewish boy becomes a “son of the Law” – he becomes personally responsible for following the Torah.  The faithful Jesus reveals himself as the perfect servant of his Father from the time of his first legal pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
It was the Jewish practice for teachers to conduct classes not in a lecture format but as an open discussion in which participants were encouraged to ask questions.  Portrayals of Jesus dominating the scene, overwhelming the teachers with the depth of his insights, are from what actually happened.  As Luke tells the story, Jesus was listening to the teachers and eagerly searching for knowledge in his questions like a highly motivated and interested student typically much older than the 12-year-old boy from Nazareth.
Luke reports that Mary “kept all these things in memory” (Luke 2: 19)/  Perhaps Mary confronted for the first time the reality that, although she was indeed his mother, her son did not belong to her.


Today's feast is a celebration of family: that unique nucleus of society that gives us life, nurture and support throughout our journey on earth.  Families are the first and best places for the love of God to come alive. 

In Matthew and Luke’s stories of Jesus birth and childhood (which were later additions to those Gospels, drawn from the many stories about Jesus’ life that were part of the early Christian oral tradition that had developed), life for the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus is difficult and cruel: they are forced from their home; they are innocent victims of the political and social tensions of their time; they endure the suspicions of their own people when Mary's pregnancy is discovered; their child is born under the most difficult and terrifying of circumstances; they experience the agony of losing their beloved child.  And yet, through it all, their love and faithfulness to one another do not waver.  The Holy Family is a model for our families as we confront the many tensions and crises that threaten the stability, peace and unity that are the joys of being a family.

Jesus remains with us even when he seems most distant and farthest away, when he is nowhere to be found.  He is with us in the love and compassion of family and friends, in the forgiveness we receive and give, in the generosity and healing we make happen even in the simplest and most hidden ways.  

With Jesus, we must be about “the Father’s house,” bringing the justice, reconciliation and compassion won by the cross into our families and communities.

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December 26 – Sunday after Christmas [ABC]

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us . . .
John 1: 1-18


The Gospel for this first Sunday after Christmas is the beautiful Prologue hymn to John’s Gospel.  With echoes of Genesis 1 (“In the beginning,” “the light shines on in darkness”), the Prologue exalts Christ as the creative Word of God that comes as the new light to illuminate God's re-creation.

In the original Greek text, the phrase “made his dwelling place among is” is more accurately translated as “pitched his tent or tabernacle.”  The image evokes the Exodus memory of the tent pitched by Israelites for the Ark of the Covenant.  God sets up the tabernacle of the new covenant in the body of the Child of Bethlehem.


Christmas is more than a birth of a child, but the beginning of the Christ event that will transform and re-create human history, a presence that continues to this day and for all time.

In Jesus, the extraordinary love of God has taken our “flesh” and “made his dwelling among us.”  In his “Word made flesh,” God touches us at the very core of our beings, perfectly expressing his constant and unchanging love.

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January 1 – Mary the Mother of God / Holy Name of Jesus [ABC]

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus . . .
Luke 2: 16-21


In the Roman church, today’s solemnity is the oldest feast of Mary in the Church, honoring her by her first and primary title, “Mother of God.”

Jesus is given the name Yeshua – “The Lord saves.”  The rite of circumcision unites Mary’s child with the chosen people and makes him an heir to the promises God made to Abraham – promises to be fulfilled in the Child himself.


Today we honor Mary under her most ancient title, Theotokos, Bearer of God:  In accepting her role as mother of the Messiah, she becomes the first disciple of her Son, the first to embrace his Gospel of hope, compassion and reconciliation.

As Mary, the young unmarried pregnant girl, believes and trusts in the incredible thing that she is to be a part of, even the most ordinary of us can believe in our parts in the drama, too.

The God who makes all things new in Christ enables us to make this truly a new year for each one of us – a time for renewal and re-creation in the love of God, a time for making this year a year of peace in our lives and homes, a time for making this new year truly a “year of our Lord.”

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January 2 – Epiphany [ABC]

Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,  “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
Matthew 2: 1-12


The story of the astrologers and the star of Bethlehem is unique to Matthew’s Gospel.  Note that Matthew does not call them “kings” or does he give their names or reports where they came from – in fact, Matthew never even specifies the number of magi (because three gifts are presented to the Child, it has been a tradition since the fifth century to picture “three wise men”).  In stripping away the romantic layers that have been added to the story, Matthew’s point can be better appreciated.

A great many First Testament ideas and images are presented in this story.  The star, for example, is reminiscent of Balaam’s prophecy that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24: 17).  Many of the details in Matthew’s story about the child Jesus parallel the story of the child Moses and the Exodus.

Matthew’s story also provides a preview of what is to come.  First, the reactions of the various parties to the birth of Jesus parallel the effects Jesus’ teaching will have on those who hear it.  Herod reacts with anger and hostility to the Jesus of the poor who comes to overturn the powerful and rich.  The chief priests and scribes greet the news with haughty indifference toward the Jesus who comes to give new life and meaning to the rituals and laws of the scribes.  But the magi – non-believers in the eyes of Israel – possess the humility and the openness of mind and heart essential to faith that leads them to seek and welcome the Jesus who will institute the Second Covenant between God and the New Israel.

Secondly, the gifts of the astrologers indicate the principal dimensions of Jesus’ mission:


Epiphany calls is to a new vision of the world that sees beyond the walls and borders we have created and to walk by the light which has dawned for all of humankind, a light by which we are able to recognize all men and women as our brothers and sisters under the loving providence of God, the Father of all.

The magi’s following of the star is a journey of faith, a constant search for meaning, for purpose, for the things of God that each one of us experiences in the course of our own lives.

What we read and watch and listen to in search of wealth, fame and power are the “stars” we follow.  The journey of the magi in Matthew's Gospel puts our own "stargazing" in perspective, calling us to fix our search on the “star” of God’s justice, peace and compassion.

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January 9 – Baptism of the Lord [C]

After Jesus was baptized, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.   And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22


Today’s Gospel is the final event of the Epiphany: Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River by John.  The Christmas season “officially” (liturgically) comes to an end today at the banks of the Jordan.  Jesus is no longer the child in a Bethlehem manger but the adult Redeemer making his way to Jerusalem.  The good news spoken by the angels continues to unfold; the most wondrous part of the Christ story is yet to be revealed.  Today, the same Spirit that “anoints” the Messiah for his mission us to be about the work of Christmas in this new year: to seek out and find the lost, to heal the hurting, to feed the hungry, to free the imprisoned, to rebuild nations, to bring peace to all peoples everywhere.

Luke presents Jesus as the last person to be baptized by John, bringing John’s ministry to completion.  Luke describes the scene with many images from the First Testament:

Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan becomes the moment of God's “anointing” of his Messiah (the word Messiah means “anointed”) for the work he is about to do.


Baptism is more than just a “naming” ceremony but an ongoing process of becoming the people of faith that God calls us to be.

In baptism, we claim the name of “Christian” and embrace all that that holy name means: to live for others rather than for ourselves, in imitation of Christ. 

Our baptisms made each one of us the “servant” of today's readings: to bring forth in our world the justice, reconciliation and enlightenment of Christ, the “beloved Son” and “favor” of God.

In baptism, the same Spirit of compassion, justice and peace that “descends” upon Jesus at his baptism by John descends and rests upon us, compelling us to take on the work of the Gospel.
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