Objective: To offer a biblical grounding for the observance of Advent and the celebration of Christmas.

Faced with modern society's increasingly secular approach to the Christmas season, Christians often yearn to recover the connection between Jesus and the season that celebrates his birth. Although Advent can be hectic, time may be set aside to gather with others to discuss biblical concepts related to the new liturgical year, the Advent season, and/or the Incarnation. A four-week course will perhaps be unrealistic. Instead, you may want to offer a shorter presentation, perhaps a scriptural mini-retreat at the beginning of Advent or a Sunday afternoon session on the infancy narratives.

The First Sunday of Advent marks the start of the new liturgical year and, with it, a new cycle of Sunday readings from a particular Gospel (Matthew - A; Mark - B; Luke - C). An issue focused on the Gospel to be featured may be an excellent choice for early Advent (See Index for applicable issues). Advent also highlights concepts such as Christ's second coming and messianic passages from such prophets as Isaiah. Following is a list of issues from which to choose.

Optimists and Pessimists Read the Book of Revelation By Leslie Hoppe, O.F.M. N1197

Perhaps no other book of the Bible generates so much misunderstanding and fear as the Book of Revelation. Hoppe tackles the book's visions, prophecies and dragons to demonstrate that there is far more reason for optimism than pessimism to be found in its pages.

Understanding the Apocalypse By Wilfrid Harrington, O.P. N1199

Apocalyptic writing is bewildering to modern readers because the literary style is no longer in use. Add to this the complication that almost nothing in apocalyptic literature is intended to be taken literally, and the confusion rises to fever pitch. Harrington brings cool logic and a steady beam to guide the reader through this often astonishing landscape whose most familiar territory is found in the Book of Revelation.

John the Baptist: Preparing the Way By Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P. N1299

The Bible may contain no more unusual character than John the Baptist. His unyielding sense of the need for repentance and justice is nearly as intimidating to those who read his words today as it must have been to those who first heard them. And yet, John is the only figure besides Jesus to play a major role in all four Gospels. Perhaps someone who has lived many years near the sites of John's ministry can shed some light on the subject. Murphy-O'Connor prepares us for John as John prepares us for Jesus.

Isaiah: One Prophet or Three? By Lawrence Boadt, C.S.P. N1298

"The Book of Isaiah has greater power than almost any other book of the Bible because it testifies to the enduring will of God to save in every age. It is no wonder that the New Testament cites Isaiah as the prophetic preparation for Jesus Christ more than any other book of the Old Testament," Boadt writes. He explains the stages of development in this magnificent literary and religious document and its importance and impact on contemporary religious tradition.

The Romans in Israel By Elizabeth McNamer. N1100

Roman dominance of Galilee and Judea profoundly influenced life there at the time of Jesus' birth. Luke uses a Roman census to take the Holy Family to Bethlehem so that Jesus could be born in the hometown of his royal ancestor, David. As McNamer points out, Roman influence was deep and pervasive, casting its shadow over many areas of Jesus' public and private life.

Mary's Magnificat By Daniel W. Casey. N1200

Luke's Gospel contains several exquisite canticles. The most familiar, and some would say the most beautiful, is found on Mary's lips as she arrives at the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Casey helps the reader to see this literary gem as tapestry, weaving together verses from the Hebrew Scriptures with Lukan themes such as the poor; as song, a daily component of the Church's official prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours; as journey, into a "solidarity with all oppressed people."

Christmas, like Easter, is a liturgical season, not merely a one-day celebration. Also like Easter, the season ends with a second important observance, the Baptism of the Lord. The following four issues center on the season in its entirety.

The Christmas Stories: Exploring the Gospel Infancy Narratives By Raymond E. Brown, S.S. N1294

America's foremost Scripture scholar and the author of The Birth of the Messiah, Brown explores the theological and spiritual meanings of the accounts of Jesus' human origins found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Touched by Angels By Barbara E. Reid, O.P. N1297

From the archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation in Luke to the messengers who appear to Joseph in dreams in Matthew, angels are very much a part of the Christmas tradition. Reid cuts through the fluff on these majestic beings, offering a solidly Catholic, contemporary, biblical perspective.

King of the Jews: the Herod Dynasty By Elizabeth McNamer. N1295

Members of the Herodian dynasty, from Herod the Great to Herod Antipas, are key figures in the Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles. They play major roles in the infancy narratives, the beheading of John the Baptist and the Passion narratives, among others. Who were they? How much of their story is factual? Were they as wicked as they are portrayed in Scripture?

Baptism's Biblical Roots By Carolyn Thomas, S.C.N. N0200

The sacramental baptism so familiar today is quite different from that administered by John the Baptist. Jesus' own baptism signified his commissioning, as it were, to public life. How do all of these concepts relate to one another? "The New Testament provides the basis and focal point for the Church's understanding of baptism," Thomas writes. "The Church's baptismal tradition has shaped the rite as we know it in the Catholic Church today." This issue is especially appropriate as the liturgical year moves into its record of Jesus' ministry during Ordinary Time.

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