In this section you will hear about Mary and Joseph observing the Mosaic Laws, dedicating their son to God and later, including him as a 12-year-old in the Passover celebrations at the great temple in Jerusalem. I invite you to connect these stories to your experiences of sacraments of initiation—Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation—and/or other rituals and rites of passage such as bris, bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, pilgrimages of any and every kind, be it to Lourdes or Jerusalem or Mecca or the Taj Mahal. In addition, you may want to discuss your sensibilities about biblical prophecies and other forms of prophecy be they premonitions or hopes or expectations for yourself and for children in your life.
Let’s explore with greater emphasis the benefits and burdens of rituals in our lives. Sometimes we are drawn to them, sometimes they evoke ambivalence, and sometimes we anticipate them and flee! Yet, we would be hard pressed not to allow some concrete explanations of their value. In essence, rituals make public the inner personal dynamics and choices people make. They affirm our inter-connectedness, that we belong to a people, a group, a faith or country, and, in terms of Christian Sacraments, that we belong to God and are part of Jesus’ story, perpetuating his love and truth throughout our lives.
Rituals make evident that we depend upon one another for support in life’s passages with all their corresponding joys and sorrows. I hope you take some time to use Luke’s brief but richly condensed portrait of Jesus’ childhood as a springboard for appreciating and understanding rituals in your lives.
One of Luke’s primary purposes here is to show how Jesus and his parents are rooted in Judaism and are faithfully attentive to the God of Israel. We also have here a wonderful example of the importance of multi-generations of faith and how the young and the old benefit from interacting with one another. Many complain we no longer have true wisdom figures like Simeon and Anna among our seniors today. Is that true or are we simply not paying attention to the elderly? Or, if our seniors are feeling weary, maybe it’s because we do not draw them out, energizing them with our inquiries and interest. And as for Simeon’s and Anna’s words—would that we all long for peace, consolation and the redemption of the world as they did. What do we need from one another today to keep that hope alive?
I invite you to see my latest Luke Live Online! on YouTube and the reflection on the hand of God in all things to rejuvenate, transform, make good on the human condition and the vagaries of Nature. Faith –all the great faiths of the world invite trust in Providence. Every birth is willed by God –not its imperfections or illnesses–as a beginning toward transformation in this world of seeing, feeling, touching, being into an eternal communion. Go to:
Here’s a copy of the poem I read around in The Atlantic issue September 2018. The poem is by Carl Dennis and may be found in his collection NIGHT SCHOOL.
By Carl Dennis from his collection NIGHT SCHOOL
PROVIDENCE seems to be one of the words
That shouldn’t be mourned as it falls from fashion.
Goodbye to the notion that whatever happens
Is meant to happen, foreseen and approved
By a thoughtful heaven. A word that’s proven
Invaluable to the privileged when they’ve cautioned
The less-than-privileged to be content
With the portion that happenstance has assigned them.
It’s the work of providence that you were born
To a sharecropping family on a hardscrabble farm,
Not to the family that owns the land.
Goodbye to the word, and yet its disappearance
Might make it harder for the sharecropper’s daughter
To explain to her husband’s wealthy parents
Her reluctance to take a pill guaranteed
To make the baby boy she’s soon to bear
More handsome and clever than he would be otherwise.
Providential, meaning the baby for her
Is a gift meant to be welcomed as is, not a kit
To be assembled at home in the latest style.
A gift whether or not he later looks back
On his birth as providential or as a simple
Piece of good luck, providing him with a mother
Who would urge him to do the work
That pleased him most,
Work she believed he was meant to do.
For more Commentary and Reflection on Luke 2, go to:
1. What was your experience of applying ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH to your birth?
2. For Christians, combining stories of Jesus’ birth and our births confirms our belief that His story is ours, and our stories are His. The result: the very best of who we are reflects “Christ in us” to others. Did the song exercise help you own that? Why or why not?
3. For listeners of other faiths or philosophies, what song (and /or literature) would you use to affirm your birth, your goodness–the best of who you are? In what ways do you understand your scriptures to point to the ways you understand yourselves?
4. For Christians, what about our belief that God shares in all aspects of being human with us through Jesus, brings you the most comfort? The most? What aspects of this belief that we call “The Incarnation” may challenge you or trouble you?
King Saul’s paranoia and jealousies against the shepherd David
Arguments Among the Apostles as to who is the greatest
Peter regarding “the beloved” in John’s Gospel
Judas Iscariot personality of constant suspicion, cynicism, pride, and willful attempts to manipulate Jesus to the point of betrayal
Centuries of the Promulgation of Anti-Semitism
Catholic and Protestant Wars of Religion
Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope’s corruption, and greed
Original American Constitution -filled with so many foundational goods—yet willfully ignoring the outrage of Slavery
The US Supreme Court –remember its dreadful Dredd Scott decision confirming freed slaves as property to be returned to their masters? A decision for political concerns not for what was right.
The irrefutable sins that lead to the Great Depression, the suffering of millions of people throughout the world. What resulted from that? The Second World War.
The realities of systemic poverty contributed greatly to the rise of ideologies such as Fascism, the Nazi party, and Communist Dictatorship, Terrorism and Radical Islam
Egregious greed lead to the economic collapse of 2008. Then banks foreclosed on homes without negotiating with current owners only to re-sell the homes at much lower prices.
Scandals in the Church, Sports, Medicine, Scouts, Schools deprived millions of trust in institutions meant to serve and educate the public
Do we not realize that so much of our personal, national and world histories and many of our current crisis repeatedly disavow FOUR of the Great Commandments: One: “Thou Shall Not Covet another’s possessions,” Two: “Thou Shall Not Steal;” Three: “Thou Shall Not Kill;” Four: “I Am the Lord, your God, you shall not have false gods before me.” ALL who thwart these commandments are INDICTED by today’s Scripture Readings.
Yes, the parable was meant to reflect how the people rejected Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Covenant, but its application does not stop there. The parable’s vineyard workers offer a paradigm of entitlement, selfishness, and greed –sins every people, every nation are prone to commit, sins that continue to be an offense against Christ and His Body. We are indicted like these vineyard workers as we continue to reject Jesus and His Gospel. Christ made it clear—just as the Hebrew prophets did before him: humanity’s advancement is not to be at the expense or subjugation of any person or group. Furthermore, as we commemorate Saint Francis of Assisi this Sunday, we are not to abuse the earth, its natural resources, and the animal kingdom—for all relationships impact one another. Still, we have choices. We have faith to guide us. Yet, the Scriptures urge CAUTION, lest we descend into the Vineyard workers’ selfish rebellion.
It is time we accept how counter-cultural the Gospel is. All of us have put our faith in too many princes, too many idols, too many ideologies that distract us from Jesus. Jesus, who alone, is “our King and our God.”
Jesus’ tells us that there are tragic consequences for those who deny Faith’s reality: That all we have, and all we are, is a gift from God. In gratitude we are to cultivate –what Saint Paul wrote – “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious.”
We pray at Every Eucharist: “Grant us, O Lord, unity and peace” doesn’t that mean we must participate, cooperate, collaborate with all people for a better earth, a more just and compassionate society? That is what UNITY means.
Since Vatican II, the Church finally abandoned its triumphalism (that hell awaits all who are not Catholic) in deference to grace and to God’s mercy offered to people of every ethnicity, faith, and nation. It is time we as individuals, as members of imperfect families, as members of a fallible Church, Nation, and World, that we renew our commitment to advance God’s Kingdom with greater fervor. If we do not, Jesus’ parable tells us there will be consequences. Our choices not only impact the poor today but future generations, too, will suffer; not to mention the grave detriment to our souls’ salvation.
NOW is the time to cultivate our conscience to an extreme daily dedication to love of God and neighbor, lest the words of the Our Father make hypocrites of us all. Last week our Jewish brothers and sisters observed a day of Atonement. Let today be ours!
The signs of our times demand greater humility among all Catholic peoples. Lest we be discouraged, this mandate is not to disavow the good in us, the good and even the great things we as individuals and all humanity have accomplished. Nevertheless, our goodness requires balancing it with the reality of our sins and our failures. Clearly, we are not achieving the purpose for which God made us. Enough of pride! Enough of arrogance! Enough of resentment, and greed–off to the devil with them all, I say. It’s time a scrupulous examination of conscience engage us, our Church and nation. If not for the blessed assurance that a contrite heart will fortify God’s grace in us, we are lost. May today’s Word and Eucharist humble us, inflame our desire for the Holy Spirit’s fire! Re-commit ourselves to Jesus today! Through Him, with Him and In Him, may we become what we are called to be: LIGHT FOR THE WORLD!
Begin by going to my recitation of this passage with the accompanying Song Meditation. Simply copy this link and paste in your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X0Qw_Dq4T8 As you listen, you may follow along with the following text
The Birth of Jesus.1 [a]In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus[b] that the whole world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn son.[c] She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Night of Silence / Silent Night Counterpoint CREDITS
Your light that guides shepherds and kings from afar.
Shimmer in the sky so empty, lonely
Rising in the warmth of your son’s Love!
Star unknowing of night or day
Spirit, we wait for you loving son!
You have just heard part of the traditional Christmas proclamation including Daniel Kantor’s Night of Silence with Franz Gruber’s Silent Night in counterpoint.
What feelings are evoked?
I love the fact that Kanter’s NIGHT OF SILENCE was composed as a counterpoint to SILENT NIGHT. If you like, repeat the track, with your group singing verses of Silent Night to my singing NIGHT OF SILENCE. That experience, or just knowing about the song’s complementarity, offers a visceral understanding that unity and diversity can and must co-exist in our world for Peace to be realized.
I am often asked why Luke was inspired to include the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John the Baptist’s birth in relating Jesus’s story to his primarily Gentile audience. Luke had to make evident to them that Jesus were rooted in Judaism which alone, among all other religions at that time, had identified one, true God. Furthermore, Luke’s listeners had to understand that God willed Jesus to manifest Israel’s prophetic teachings: the importance of an honest, reverent relationship with God over and beyond the temple cult, the insistence that we improve the quality of our relationships with others especially those who suffer from society’s neglect, disrespect or prejudice, those who lack opportunities for work and livelihood, and those who suffer from being sick and/ or disabled. Also Luke’s Gospel will affirm the central Christian witness that God intended Jesus to inaugurate the Pharisaic belief in resurrection from the dead. The Jewish sensibility that the Messiah required a forerunner was an essential link to all of this. Here ‘s my commentary on Zechariah’s Canticle “Blessed be, the Lord,” also known as “The Benedictus” (Latin for ‘Blessed’). The same insights gleaned from Mary’s Magnificat apply here. Moreover, Zechariah’s Canticle highlights even more dramatically how the vision of prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Malachi and others was about to be realized in a way.
Since the Exodus, Israel professed God as the great Liberator, the One who frees people from oppression. Ever after, faithful Jews insisted that what God had done for their ancestors, God would continue to do for them and for all who seek God with a sincere heart. Zechariah embodies this belief as he rejoices that his people will now be “free from the hands of enemies” and “free to worship God without fear” i.e., without interference from worldly powers. When Jesus began his public ministry in Nazareth, he, too, embodies this truth by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “God has anointed me … to let the oppressed go free.”
Continuing with the Canticle, Zechariah makes clear that FREEDOM FROM OPPRESSION IS part of a progressive movement in which ultimately the entire world will accept God’s invitation to treat all people as equals–all peoples as children of God. Each in their own way, the Hebrew prophets insisted that God had invited Israel to become the world’s leader in this progression that would ultimately achieve harmony and peace for peoples everywhere. Through Judaism, and, for Christians, through Jesus, God invites humanity to return to the glory of Eden–the world as God intended it before free will turned much of humanity against God and God’s ways. As Zechariah’s canticle continues, this concept becomes clearer.
“Filled with the Holy Spirit,” Zechariah looks upon his son John and declares that this forerunner to Messiah will “give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins because of the tender mercy of our God.” This statement puts all peoples, all nations and all religions on equal footing. Indeed, one common denominator for humanity is that “everyone needs forgiveness.” Life and Hope cannot be sustained without it. It is this honest and humble recognition that will move the world out of its tribal sensibilities (the “us” against “them” mentality) toward a universal brotherhood and sisterhood working out conflicts with equanimity.
Of course, to forgive and receive forgiveness presents many challenges for us today as then. The choices as to the degree of accountability that each act of forgiveness must include wreak havoc with our souls. After all, it is not easy to decide how much, how little to exact from those who have harmed us or harmed others. Indeed, there are times when making demands on offenders is fitting, just and right. For example, there are times to insist that money lent to a relative or friend be paid back in full. Such accountability empowers the relative or friend to mature, to take responsibility for his or her actions. Other times, however, it may be best to wipe the slate clean and grant complete clemency. In the case of abusive relationships, it is right and just to abandon the relationship altogether—especially when the abusive party makes no attempt to change or proves incapable of improving. Forgiveness, like all human values, requires faith, dialogue and discernment with others.
Taking all of this into account, we need to note that the Bible offers a progression in its examples of how and when forgiveness is offered. One of the oldest biblical writings, for example, comes from Leviticus 24: 20 in which we find justice expressed as “an eye for an eye” which began to put limits on exacting justice. Genesis, however, (stories and events documented generations after the older “legal texts” of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) offers us “the mark of Cain”—evidence of an even greater mercy. You will remember God does not kill Cain for murdering his brother Abel. Moreover, God’s mark on Cain forbids others to take revenge upon him (Genesis 4:8—16). These sensibilities deepen over time throughout TANAKH and Jesus builds on these as evidenced n Matthew’s Gospel’s Sermon on the Mount (MT: 38—42) and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Lk 6: 27—42). These prescriptions reach their ultimate manifestation through Jesus himself when he cries out on the Cross “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Note that there is no exemption clause here—every one and all are forgiven. Ultimately, when we take the Bible as a whole, it insists that accountability always leaves hope for the offending party, even as it grants us some satisfaction in terms of justice. Hope is embodied in the opportunities it offers offenders to change, to make amends so that he or she can reclaim their inherent, basic, common human dignity. Humanity’s survival is dependent on a universal commitment to forgiveness for genuine love to manifest itself and grow in the world.
What biblical stories exemplify the importance of Zechariah’s pronouncement of the necessity for forgiveness of sins? Consult the ways all world religions, world literature, drama, films, television stories offer catharsis through forgiveness. How do you relate to these stories? How do they impact your understanding of forbearance, patience with yourself and others, mercy and forgiveness of yourself and others in your life?
Recall your childhood experiences of forgiveness and accountability. Was there a proper balance? How have these experiences informed your adult sensibilities?
What are your personal experiences of forgiving and being forgiven as an adult? How do you balance forgiveness and accountability in your life now? What criteria do you use? To what extent do the Golden Rule and Platinum Rule apply?
In what ways might you be struggling with forgiveness and accountability today? (Apply this to yourself as well as toward others.)
What historical and contemporary world events challenge your faith tradition or alter your convictions about forgiveness and the balance of mercy and justice?
There are abundant resources that help us engage in the process of forgiveness—forgiving yourself, forgiving others. See the corresponding page on the website for some suggestions:
There are abundant resources to explore forgiveness in your life. Here are just a few:
Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn:
DON’T FORGIVE TOO SOON (New York: Paulist Press, 1997)
 Genesis: Introduction by Jon D. Levenson in The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 11
Other sources include http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Book_of_Genesis: composed “just before or during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century, and the Priestly final edition was made late in the Exilic period or soon after.” FYI, scholars consider the OLDEST book of the Bible, the first to be recorded in writing is JOB.
EXPLORE Parallels between Zechariah’s Canticle and the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
The Canticle of Zechariah parallel lines: 69 [t]He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant,70 even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old: 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, 72 to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant 73 and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that, 74 rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 76 And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lordto prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on highwill visit us 79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL VS. 5 TO 7 Verse 5:O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery. Refrain(Verse 4 has this line: “O come, O Rod of Jesse’s stem (i.e. David), from every foe deliver them.”Verse 6:O come, O Day-Spring from on highAnd cheer us by thy drawing nighDisperse the gloomy clouds of nightAnd death’s dark shadow put to flight. RefrainVerse 7: O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all humankind; O bid our sad divisions cease, And be for us our King of Peace. Refrain
1. What feelings are evoked by listening to this portion of the hymn?
2. You’ve noticed that the hymn makes reference to the importance of Davidic descent in ancient Judaism and this concept of a “royal family” exists in many times and cultures. From ancient times up to the late middle ages, the world valued ancestral blood lines in leadership and revered them. Of what benefit is that to us today? Can we translate the importance of an ancestral line to a modern mindset? If so, how? If not, why?
3. Invite discussion on the many ways religious and spiritual leaders build on their predecessors’ lives and actions. What can we learn from this dynamic?