Stephen Talbutt

Watch out! Be ready!

The message in today’s readings is quite blatant, St Paul in his letter to the Romans gives us a stark warning “Times almost up guys! You better sort yourselves out”.  He says “Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy.” I will admit I had to look up licentiousness which apparently means being promiscuous and unprincipled in sexual matters (thank you Google), but apart from that it’s a very straightforward message.  It seems quite appropriate that this message appears at the first week in Advent, prior to the Christmas party season with its raucous office parties and works doo’s. It’s easy to get caught up in Christmas fever but we have to remember that as Catholics we should be spiritually aware that Advent is a time to focus on the coming of Jesus. Not just the first coming in Bethlehem born of the Virgin Mary, but also of the second coming at the end of time.  It’s a chance to look at our lives and ask the question “Am I ready?” and indeed is the world ready? If we look at the first reading we see how far the world is from Isaiah’s vision where “Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.” And wouldn’t it be great if we could hammer our proverbial swords into ploughshares and our spears into sickles, grow food instead of dropping bombs, feed the world instead of trying to destroy it. Heaven should be on earth, the only reason it isn’t is because we are preventing it!

It seems quite fitting to hear Jesus’s warning in the Gospel, comparing the second coming with that of Noah’s flood.  The people suspected nothing, they carried on in their worldly ways right up until it started raining, and it wasn’t just a damp shower, this rain washed the world clean, there was no escape!  “Then of two men one is taken, one left; of two women one is taken, one left.” I hope and pray that I will be one of those that is taken into the Lords arms, welcomed home when the time comes. It all sounds a bit scary, a bit hellfire and brimstone, but we don’t need to worry, God is a loving and merciful God.  A loving parent would tell their child not to put their hand in the fire, that if they are not ready when the taxi comes they won’t be able to come to the fairground, “no toffee apple for you Jimmy”.  At the end of the day Jesus can give us all the advice and encouragement but we have to make the effort, Noah warned them, it’s going to get wet out! Best start preparing your ark, they took no notice! And see what happened! Jesus is doing the same!  So let’s make a decision that this advent we will start getting our house in order, start to become spiritually prepared “because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’”

A voice cries in the wilderness!

Today we see the rather enigmatic character of John the Baptist appearing in the Gospel, as one of my favourite biblical characters with his camel hair tunic and leather belt he has always struck me as someone whose appearance would fit it quite well at Glastonbury festival! Here is a man who has given himself over totally to the work of God and he doesn’t mince his words. It’s a great image “A voice cries in the wilderness!” although here we are talking of the spiritual wilderness rather than bracken filled wilderness of deepest Cumbria. God’s people had lost their way once again and John was there to reorient them back to the right path, they flock to him to confess their sins and be baptised.  He repeats the theme we have found in last week’s readings, that of preparation, “Be ready”, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”   His warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees is as relevant to us today as it was to them, “If you are repentant produce the appropriate fruit”, or rather “if you are sorry make sure it is genuine remorse and not false piety, and then change your ways!, there is no time for posturing because the one who is coming will see through your façade and look directly at your heart. 

His justice is true and absolute and his judgments are just.  The theme of Gods justice is seen throughout the first reading as well, we see a prefiguring of the coming of Jesus (as a descendant of Jesse, King David’s father).  The author tells us that this messiah doesn’t make any mistakes, he doesn’t judge on gossip, hearsay or on appearances.  His Judgments are true and totally just, “. Integrity is the loincloth round his waist, faithfulness the belt about his hips.” Once again the readings and Gospel this week are filled with that sense of foreboding but we are encouraged not to worry, we are given a picture of the Kingdom of God where peace and harmony reign, even “the cow and the bear make friends”

Today’s readings and Gospel are a warning but also a message of hope, we are told once again to prepare and make ourselves ready for the coming of our saviour who is infinitely loving and totally just.  His kingdom is a glorious kingdom to which we are all invited.  In preparation we can make ourselves ready as the people in the Gospel did by going to confess their sins, in their day to John the Baptist, but in our day through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). Here our sins will be washed away. What better way of preparing for the coming of our Lord at Christmas.

 Lord Christ sits in the confessional, with heart of love for penitents; No heinous crime or gravest sin is Beyond God's forgiving power!   

Gaudete, Rejoice in the Lord

What a great first reading ‘rejoice and sing for joy’, we are really beginning to get a sense of the expectation of the coming of Christ at Christmas.  We are told not to be afraid, this is one of the phrases that is repeated throughout the bible, both in the Old and New Testament, but why is this so important.    Fear sometimes seems to be our default state, we fear for our children’s future, we fear for our families, we fear for our financial future, we fear for our safety.  We only have to open the newspapers to read about wars, conflicts, persecution, violence, crime, natural disasters, terrorism, economic uncertainty, unemployment, divisions, disease, and death.  All these stories breeding fear in the name of greater ratings and higher sales.  Why then are we told “Do not be afraid”, because when we live in fear we find it hard to love, and this is Gods message, the good news! Don’t fear, just love! If love is our way of life we will find that fear simply vanishes. 

We see in the Gospel that our man John the Baptist has been imprisoned and sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, the one they have been waiting for.  The Jews of the time thought that the Messiah would be a great political or revolutionary leader, he would come and set the people free from the bonds of the Roman overlords, and the Jewish nation would be great once again!  It would seem from the text that John was doubting that Jesus was the Messiah, but in fact John was rather doing that which he had always done, pointing his disciples to Jesus, telling them to ask him if he is the one, the messiah.  John didn’t doubt who Jesus is, but he wants his disciples to experience the reality of Jesus and his message. What was Jesus response? Trust me, ‘happy is the man who does not lose faith in me’.  John didn’t doubt but I think we all sometimes go through periods of doubt, is the message of our faith real? Did Jesus really die and then rise from the dead? Is the host that we receive at Holy Communion really Jesus, body blood soul and divinity, there in the form of a little piece of bread? Can our God exist in this world of fear and confusion?  Of course the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’, but we shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed of these doubts, we should use them to question ‘why do we believe what we believe’ so that our faith will become deeper, our relationship with Jesus become more real, our knowledge of the good news become more substantial.  There is a great prayer in Marks Gospel (Mark 9:24) where the man who brought his son to Our Lord to cure says to Jesus “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”.  I think that at times of doubt and questioning this is a great prayer

 “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”

What are we doing? Why are we celebrating?

I bet Joseph wasn’t celebrating, his fiancée was pregnant, the woman he loved and intended to marry was having what would appear to be someone else’s baby. In those times having a baby out of marriage would have been scandalous and punishable by death.  Joseph must have been distraught, he knew that the law stated that if Mary was found guilty of adultery she could be sentenced to death through stoning, but Joseph was a good man, he intended to call off the wedding quietly to spare her the publicity and shame.  But that night he had a dream! It wasn’t the sort of dream that vanishes as soon as you wake, this dream stayed with Joseph and had a very specific message, “Do not be afraid, this is all part of Gods plan”.  

The appearance of an angel is Josephs dream is quite significant, in biblical Symbology angels are portrayed as God’s messengers, so this dream was actually a message from God.  For Joseph was told that something great was going to come out of this apparent calamity.  The one to be born of Mary would save his people from their sins, he would be the one spoken about in Isaiah’s prophecy “the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Emmanuel, a name which means “God-is-with-us.””. 

What a great title “God is with us”. The creator of the universe and everything in it was about to lower himself to such an extent that he would take on human flesh and blood and come to be with us!  He would come to us in order to show us the way back to Him. 

If we pause and think about this for a while the consequences are truly immense. Why would this all powerful being we call God, become human? Because of what He is, He is love.  In lowering himself to our level he would them be persecuted for His message of truth love and justice, and then be brutally tortured and murdered, the ultimate sacrifice of God dying for his creation. But that wouldn’t be the end, he would rise from the dead showing us that death isn’t the end, love is the end and love is the way.  The beauty is that before His death and resurrection He left us His real physical presence at the last supper, when He took bread and wine and said, “This is my body and this is my blood”.  This is what we are celebrating, the God who created and loves us so intimately that he first became man to teach us the way and then further to become food, to nourish us spiritually for the journey. 

All this only possible because of Mary and Josephs trust and total abandonment to the will of their Heavenly Father. 

Maranatha “Come Lord Jesus, God-with-us”