Each issue carries an imprimatur from
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
Celebrating Promise, Joy, Hope
By Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J.
Advent, the season of beginnings, contrasts
with the end of our calendar year.
Advent’s prayerful pondering is jarred
by shopping and holiday preparation.
A season of joy becomes a season of stress.
Nevertheless, Advent is a time of expectant
hope, when we look to the future and the
past in order to focus on the present. God’s
reign is in our midst!
In this Update we turn our attention to
the Scripture readings for Sundays of Advent
2006, offering a prayerful way to guide each
week’s celebration of this holy season.
First Week: A Season of Hope
SUNDAY: Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12–4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
To appreciate the richness of this season of
hope, the late Scripture scholar Raymond
Brown, S.S., suggested that we begin
Advent by reflecting on the meaning of
gospel and by introducing the Gospel that will be the center of the new liturgical year
that starts the first Sunday of Advent (this year it is the Gospel According to Luke).
At first glance, the Gospels seem to be biographies of Jesus’ life, but they are not.
Official Roman Catholic teaching tells us that the Gospels are faith proclamations,
stemming from the apostolic preaching about salvation in Jesus.
The Gospels embody three stages: the public ministry of Jesus, the preaching about
Jesus, the writing of the gospels. The final two stages are periods of reflection, synthesis
and interpretation, proclaimed with a post-resurrection perspective. Appreciating this
complexity helps us to look for the meaning of the Gospel and not expect literal history. This view will be especially important when
we consider the stories of Jesus’ birth.
The Gospel of Luke (along with Luke’s
second volume, the Acts of the Apostles) was
written sometime around the year 85, perhaps
even later. It proclaims that the good news of
Jesus is for all peoples. Some of Luke’s other
emphases that we will hear in this coming year
are compassion, prayer, the presence
and role of women, special
care for the poor. We will see this
final point already in the Christmas
story when the angel announces
glad tidings to the shepherds!
On the first Sunday of Advent,
the Church turns our attention to the
God who fulfills promises and to the
distant future, the end time, the return
of the Son of Man. The apocalyptic
style of the Gospel, with its dramatic
images and symbols, communicated
hope to fearful people by revealing
how God would definitively save
faithful people from evil forces.
Past, present and future, God
comes to save us, strengthening our
hearts with abundant love. During this
first week of Advent, prayerfully ask yourself:
What is my understanding of gospel? How is it
good news? What are my fears? What are my
MONDAY: Is 2:1-5; Mt 8:5-11
TUESDAY: Is 11:1-10; Lk 10:21-24
WEDNESDAY: Is 25:6-10a; Mt 15:29-37
THURSDAY: Is 26:1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27
FRIDAY: Gn 3:9-15, 20; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12;
SATURDAY: Is 30:19-21, 23-26;
Mt 9:35–10:1, 5a, 6-8
Second Week: A History of Salvation
SUNDAY: Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6
Our Advent readings frequently speak of
time and history. This is not surprising,
for both Judaism and Christianity
believe that God works within history,
freeing, choosing, loving and saving people
in specific times and places. Advent is much more than preparation for a celebration of
the nativity. Advent invites us to prepare
again for the coming of the reign of God
in our lives.
This Sunday’s first reading, from the
Book of Baruch, returns to the past in order
to move into the future. Baruch uses images
of the return from exile in Babylon to speak
about the new Jerusalem of the end time—and all this to stir up hope in the present.
God’s faithful love leads the people home,
in mercy and justice.
History is also a central element in Luke’s
writings, a key for interpreting the action of
God. Recall that the Gospel from last Sunday
directed our attention toward the future, to
the unknown time of the return of the Son
of Man. In that passage Luke acknowledges
that the end time is not imminent; he sees this
period as a time for the Church’s mission and
witness to the world.
This Sunday’s Gospel looks back to
John the Baptizer (all the Gospels describe
John’s ministry as setting the stage for Jesus).
With almost solemn, if not perfectly accurate,
historical details, Luke sets the stage for the
action of God in John and then Jesus.
Do the words of Baruch and Isaiah,
Luke and Jesus still speak to us? It is so easy
to feel the opposite—hopeless and oppressed,
like a people in exile. There are so many
reasons: poverty, war, violence of all kinds,
division and anger in our families and
Church. How good it is, then, to ponder
these words of hope and comfort, rooted
in God’s faithfulness, words for us today.
God continues to save us, to lead us from
slavery to freedom at home and in our
communities. God’s reign is in our midst!
This second week of Advent, ponder
how God has been active in your history.
Where do you experience light, joy, mercy
MONDAY: Is 35:1-10; Lk 5:17-26
TUESDAY: Zec 2:14-17 or Rv 11:19a;
12:1-6a, 10a; Lk 1:26-38 or Lk 1:39-47
WEDNESDAY: Is 40:25-31; Mt 11:28-30
THURSDAY: Is 41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15
FRIDAY: Is 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19
SATURDAY: Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:9a,10-13
Third Week: A Promise of Joy
SUNDAY: Zep 3:14-18a, Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18
This Sunday’s Scriptures offer us a curious
mix of joy and love along with profound
challenge. The prophet Zephaniah lived
around 625 B.C., a time of great political
turmoil among the superpowers: Assyria,
Egypt and Babylon. Israel suffered under
these powers, and its people turned away from
faithful religious observance. After a strong
call to conversion, the prophet speaks a word
of hope and promise.
What a wonderful word of comfort!
“The Lord, your God, is in your midst. . .
he will rejoice over you with gladness, and
renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully
because of you, as one sings at festivals”
Surely, then, we can rejoice, rooted not
in some hollow optimism but in profound
hope and promise. Our God is in our midst,
renewing us in love. Surely, then, we can
know peace, as Paul writes in his affectionate
letter to the Philippians, a peace that
surpasses all understanding. We can rejoice
in the Lord always.
The mood switches as we turn to Luke.
Here we meet again John the Baptizer,
but now getting some sense of his strong
message. We are reminded that discipleship
has a cost. The haunting figure of John the
Baptizer now stands in our midst, leading
us to ask: “What then shall we do?” His
response still rings true (a message to be
affirmed by Jesus): generous care for those
in need, fairness in business practice, no
violence. Advent themes suddenly present
us with profound social, economic and
political challenges. Issues of global poverty
and hunger, corporate corruption, and
national policies of war and nuclear arms
become gospel concerns.
No hunger, no cheating, no violence.
What a challenge for us and our society!
Paradoxically, accepting this challenge of
discipleship leads to authentic joy.
This third week of Advent, in the midst
of stress and consumerism, how will you
respond to John and Jesus? “What then
shall we do?”
MONDAY: Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-25
TUESDAY: Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a; Lk 1:5-25
WEDNESDAY: Is 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38
THURSDAY: Sg 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18a;
FRIDAY: 1 Sm 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56
SATURDAY: Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Lk 1:57-66
Fourth Week and Christmas: The Word Made Flesh
FOURTH SUNDAY: Mi 5:1-4a; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-45
As we near the end of Advent,
our Scripture readings turn to
Christmas themes. Even though
we merge the details into one
story and crib scene, the originals
(Matthew and Luke are the only
Gospels with Christmas stories)
are very different. The creche has
both Magi and shepherds, but
neither Gospel has both. Matthew
focuses on Joseph, has Mary and
Joseph living in Bethlehem, and includes
the magi and the flight into Egypt. Luke
focuses on Mary, has Mary and Joseph
living in Nazareth (going to Bethlehem
for the Roman census), and includes the
shepherds and a peaceful visit to
The birth stories are first of all
proclamations of faith, not exact historical
accounts. The two stories do agree that the
central meaning is about Jesus’ identity:
He is Son of David and Son of God.
These infancy narratives also serve as a
bridge from the Jewish Scriptures to the story
of Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel writers made a
summary of Old Testament stories and related
that summary to the beginning of Jesus’ life.
In Luke’s account, Elizabeth and Zechariah
point to the much earlier story of Sarah and
Abraham (see Gn 18:1-15 and 21:1-8).
Mary’s Magnificat is closely patterned on
the song of praise that Hannah recites after the
birth of Samuel (1 Sm 2:1-10). Jesus is linked
to and fulfills the Hebrew Scriptures.
Fr. Brown liked to call the infancy narratives
“complete gospels.” They contain the
basic revelation of the full identity of Jesus and the way in which the revelation was
shared with the poor (the shepherds) and the
non-Jew (the Magi).
Our Advent and Christmas readings have
led us into holy mystery. God’s word comes
deeply embedded in human words and in
human flesh. Promise and meaning, hope and
life, pregnancy and flesh—how wonderful
that God so loved the world!
How fortunate we are to hear
and ponder this good news.
Still, the world is full
of cynicism and suspicion,
of oppression and violence,
of sickness and death. It was
for Micah and Isaiah, for
Mary and Elizabeth, for John
and Jesus. It is for us.
Right there in these
difficulties God’s word
comes embedded in human
words and human flesh.
Modern prophets creatively
search for justice and peace.
Family members choose to
forgive old wounds. People of hope look for
light in the darkness. Faithful disciples delight
in the simple joy of children and in the warmth
of good friends.
During these darkest days of the year
in the North and in all our wintry seasons,
we still live in a world of grace. God’s
word in human words and human flesh—are we listening?
CHRISTMAS VIGIL: Is 62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Mt 1:1-25
CHRISTMAS AT MIDNIGHT: Is 9:1-6; Ti 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
CHRISTMAS AT DAWN: Is 62:11-12; Ti 3:4-7; Lk 2:15-20
Christmas Season: God’s Gift of Love
CHRISTMAS DURING DAY: Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18
God so loved the world that God gave
the only Son, so that everyone who
believes in him might have eternal life
(see Jn 3:16). The Word became flesh not
to suffer but to live and to share divine love.
John’s Gospel does not see Jesus’ life and
death as atonement or ransom. There is
instead emphasis on friendship, intimacy,
mutuality, service, faithful love—revealing
God’s desire and gift for the full flourishing
of humanity, or in other words, salvation.
John’s meditation on God’s supreme
act of love in the Incarnation (see Jn 1:1-18)
provides the heart of this vision: that
the whole purpose of creation is for the
Incarnation. Jesus’ life fulfills God’s eternal
longing to become human, to share life and
love in a unique and definitive way. God’s
overflowing love, the very life of the Trinity,
is expressed in creation, Incarnation and
final fulfillment. Incarnation is God’s first
thought, the original design for all creation.
Our Advent and Christmas prayer helps
us appreciate this transformed image of
God. God is not an angry or vindictive God,
demanding the suffering and death of Jesus
as a payment for past sin.
God is, instead, a gracious God, sharing
divine life and love in creation and in the
Incarnation (like parents sharing their love
in the life of a new child). Such a view can
dramatically change our celebration of
Christmas, our day-by-day prayer, indeed
our very understanding of God.
NEXT:The New U.S. Catholic Catechism—An Introduction (by Carol Ann Morrow)