Our second reading today is taken from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians—and it always takes my breath away. He says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.” For Paul, the coming of Jesus changed everything. His dying and rising turned everything upside down, so that the usual ways of thinking and acting are not longer valid. Grace has transfigured nature—and the three recommendations he gives are signs of this transfiguration.
In our magnificent first reading from the prophet Isaiah, which is echoed in the words of John the Baptist in today's Gospel, a voice cries out: “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low.” Advent is a great time for us to clear the ground, to make level the path, so as to facilitate what God, with all his heart, wants to do.
Every time Advent rolls around, I remind people to go back to the words of that most famous of Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” We hear, “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” Until we can move into the spiritual space suggested by those words, we will not catch the meaning of this season.
When Israel begins to long for a new David, the true David and true king of the world, we witness the longing for God. Jesus Christ is precisely this king: the Davidic king, and God ruling his creation. His ministry reveals the nature of his kingship, from the manger to the cross.
Your being increases in the measure that you give it away. That's the law of the gift, and it can be found from end to end of the Bible. One application of this law has to do with faith itself. Your faith will grow only in the measure that you give it away, sharing it with others.
How do we wait? That is the question addressed by Jesus' parable for today. While we wait for the second coming of the Lord, we should keep our lamps stocked with oil, that is to say, we should pray, study, love, do the works of mercy, and keep vigil. In so doing, we are ready for the arrival of the Bridegroom.
Our readings for this weekend are tough for everyone, but especially for those who are in positions of leadership in the Church. I’ve been a priest for 31 years (and now a bishop for going on three), and I will confess that the words we hear from the prophet Malachi and the Lord Jesus about the corrupt religious leadership of their time and place are deeply challenging and unnerving.
Today's magnificent Gospel should set the tone for your entire life. Trying to trap him, the Pharisees ask Jesus which of the commandments of the law is the greatest. His clear and simple answer is that we should direct all our love toward God, and therefore, love what he loves.
Many devout believers find the parable of the wedding feast in the Gospel of Matthew difficult to understand. The story is meant to stir us up with its exaggeration, to signal the spiritual destruction that follows from refusing the divine invitation. We are meant to see how valuable an invitation we have received and how odd it is that we would choose to reject it.