Sunday 1 December 2013

Introduction to the Four Weeks of Advent

In the first week of Advent with the exception of Tuesday when Luke is read, the Gospel readings are all from the Gospel of Matthew. The readings begin by inviting us to look at Jesus who reaches out to a Gentile by healing his son and gives us a lesson on the meaning of perseverance in prayer. They then take us to Jesus who is the most perfect revelation of the Father and the unconditional love that the Father wants to lavish on the world. This love is shown not in words alone but also in deeds as is evident in the feeding of the four thousand and in Jesus inviting all listeners to show that their faith in him and his words is a practical and tangible faith. This faith is manifested by the two blind men who even though they cannot see, “know” who Jesus is and make their knowledge known. This gift of faith enables the disciples to be sent out like Jesus and to continue the work of preaching and healing that he began. The Mission which Jesus inaugurated is a mission that is shown in deeds and not words alone.

In the second week, except for Monday when the Gospel reading is from Luke, it is from Matthew on the other five days. Here the focus is on the revelation that Jesus makes in revealing his authority to forgive sin which is shown practically in his ability to heal a paralytic. Jesus shows tangible concern for the least in the community and also for the unlettered and ignorant by informing members of the community that the least are their responsibility since they are first God’s responsibility and inviting these to come and learn from him and be sated. These least are even greater than John the Baptist since they have had the privilege of encountering Jesus and hearing his words and seeing his works. However, those who close themselves to the revelation that he makes will continue to be blind and refuse to see. Though Elijah has come in John the Baptist and so the Messiah has come in Jesus, not everyone will be able to recognise him. Faith is needed to see.

In the third week of Advent, Jesus is questioned about his authority and in his answer invites those who pretend to be blind to open their eyes and see. These, however, though they say they know like the second son, do not really know because they do not act on that knowledge. Because Jesus acted so uniquely and unusually, even John the Baptist is not sure whether he is really The One and has to send messengers to ask who Jesus really is. Jesus answers the disciples of John the Baptist by inviting them to see and hear what he says and does. He then reveals to the people how the testimony of John was about him and thus his own testimony is greater because his testimony is that of the Father himself and no other.

In the days leading to Christmas from December 17 onwards, we focus exclusively on events leading to the birth of Jesus. This is done by beginning with the genealogy or origins of Jesus in Matthew and with the birth narrative there. Luke’s Gospel prepares for the birth of Jesus by the announcement of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus and Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth and her song of praise to God. The narrative of the birth of John the Baptist and Zechariah’s song of praise “The Benedictus” bring the Advent Season to a close and ready our hearts for the coming of the Saviour.

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