Through Shadows and Images...

A Blog by Tom Gourlay

Month: December 2017

10 December – Second Sunday of Advent (Year )

Gospel Mark 1:1-8

“All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him…”

John the Baptist is an extraordinary, enigmatic figure. Mark tells us that he wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey – essentially he was a wild man, with a hard hitting message.

And yet despite his wild persona, he drew all sorts of people from Judea and Jerusalem, who came out to hear him and his challenging and mysterious message. Something that about him and his message awoke something within those who saw and heard him – it captured the hopes so strongly that many were confused thinking him to be the one that they were waiting for and he had to correct them, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am…’

The mission of the Baptist was to prepare the way and point beyond himself to the one who was still to come, namely Christ, the Lord.

In His absolute charity, God deigned it fitting that there would be one sent ahead to prepare the way – not because Jesus needs someone to go before him to work the crowd – but because so often we need to be shaken from the comfortable lethargy which we have fallen into. The preparatory work of the Baptist is in fact what the season of Advent is designed to imitate – to reawaken us from the humdrum monotony of the every-day to the fact that Christ has already, and will again come amongst us.

The danger in this anticipatory time is that we confuse the sign with the thing signified, as many had done with the Baptist. Confusing him with the one who was to come, John had to remind them that there was someone greater to come. In this season of Advent, we are tempted to live as though Christmas has already come. All the talk of the big day and the season which follows, all the preparations etc can fool us into thinking that we have arrived.

Let us hearken to the words of the Baptist today and continue to look forward in hope to the one who is still to come.

 

Point to Ponder

The liturgical texts for this Season of Advent renew the invitation to us to live in expectation of Jesus and not to stop looking forward to his coming so as to keep ourselves open and ready to encounter him. Heartfelt watchfulness, which Christians are always called to practise in their daily life, characterizes in particular this season in which we prepare joyfully for the mystery of Christmas…. Christians are asked to live Advent without allowing themselves be distracted by the bright lights but knowing how to give things their proper value and how to fix their inner gaze on Christ. Indeed if we persevere in “watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise”, our eyes will be able to recognize in him the true light of the world that comes to dispel our gloom.

Benedict XVI, Angelus, 11 December 2011

3 December – First Sunday of Advent (Year )

Gospel Mark 13:33-37

‘Stay awake!’

As a father of two children currently under the age of two, I, unfortunately, have very little difficulty in meeting this request of Jesus. Staying awake simply comes with the territory – despite my best efforts to catch up on some sleep!

Jesus’ words in this passage seem to be a bit ominous though – there a is a threatening tone to it that puts us on edge.

Surely, this is a text that not to be read fundamentally, as if Jesus is prohibiting his followers from the human necessity of sleep. The metaphor calls us to an alertness. But what are we to be alert to?

In a lot of literature the Second Coming of Christ is imagined as a triumphant, and even violent event, as though Christ will come again trying to catch us by surprise in the act of wrongdoing so that he can punish us and satisfy some kind of sadistic lust. This imagery though does not adequately align with the vast majority of biblical literature.

Jesus calls us to an alertness to the mystery of Salvation. He calls us to remain interested in what first captivated us – the event of the Incarnation, God come in human flesh.

It is so easy to neglect the wonder of the faith – to allow the trappings of the faith to usurp the place that the person of Jesus should hold in our hearts. We can find ourselves simply going through the motions of saying our prayers, attending the Mass and the Sacraments, and even engaging in acts of service all the while forgetting that presence that first captured our attention.

This is why the popes of recent decades have encouraged us to always return to the contemplation of the face of Christ, to start afresh from Christ.

We must remain awake to the memory of Christ alive, not a dead memory of someone who was once with us and who is no longer, but a presence who remains with us, even “to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).

 

Point to Ponder

“I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). This assurance, dear brothers and sisters, has accompanied the Church for two thousand years… From it we must gain new impetus in Christian living, making it the force which inspires our journey of faith. Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: “What must we do?” (Acts 2:37).

We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!

It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new programme”. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a programme which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This programme for all times is our programme for the Third Millennium.

St John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte

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