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This Sunday's Programme

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2nd Sunday Advent Year B

Sunday 10th December 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mk 1:1-8

The Origin of the Gospel of Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God.
As it was written in the prophets:
‘Look, I am sending my messenger before you
to prepare the way ahead of you.
The voice of one imploring in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord.
Straighten his paths.’

John the Baptist was in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the pardon of sins. All the people of the province of Israel and of Jerusalem went out to him and were baptised by him in the river Jordan and they confessed their sins.

John was clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt and he ate locusts and wild honey.
And he proclaimed: there is one coming after me who is stronger than I am and before him I am not even worthy enough to act like a slave and undo his sandal strap. Indeed, I have baptised you with water but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 84: 9-14

I shall hear what God has to say
for God speaks of peace to his people
peace for his saints.
Yes, to those who fear him he offers salvation,
the presence of his glory in our land.

Kindness and truth have embraced.
Righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth spouts from the earth,
while righteousness gazes down from heaven.

Yes, God will give all that is good.
Our land shall yield its riches.
Righteousness goes before God’s face
and give firm footing to our steps.

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, you call out to us in the wilderness of our lives that we straighten our minds and hearts to live by your love. Give us your Spirit to guide us into the ways of Jesus that we may know in our lives his joy and his consolation. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

This Sunday’s Gospel while seeming to be a fairly straightforward piece of writing is actually extraordinarily dense. In this short space I can only touch on a few of the features of this distinctively Marken piece of writing.

To begin, the first verse can be read as the title of Mark’s book. Mark effectively invented the Gospel genre. His use of the term “Good News” draws on the prophet Isaiah’s oracles of hope to the people in the Babylonian exile _and_ the Greco-Roman word for the announcement of the coming of a divine emperor. Mark presumed that his readers already believed that Jesus was “Messiah” and “Son of God” and this book was to help his readers understand even more deeply what those terms meant. They are only used in their true meaning at significant points in the Gospel. The rest of the time Jesus is correcting wrong understandings of his role, both from the demons and from the people.

The quotes from the Prophets that follow the title are like the quotes that authors sometimes put at the beginning of their books: they set the tone. In these two quotes Mark mixes texts from right across Jewish history – from Exodus, Isaiah and Malachi with a dash of latter day experience of the Jewish diaspora thrown in – to prepare us for what is to come. As people have always longed for salvation so too do we.

John the Baptist comes preaching about repentance and sin and Mark says that _all_ the people of both Judea and Jerusalem responded with baptism and confession of their sin. The description of John’s clothing reminds the reader of Elijah that fiery prophet who confronted evil and, instead of dying, was taken to heaven in a chariot.

In the final section, an important image of Jesus is introduced that will be significant for this Gospel. Jesus is the one ‘stronger’ that John. He will be the Strong One who will be able to take on all the forces of evil, especially in his death and resurrection, and overcome them. As weak and broken humanity align themselves with him, they enter into a salvation beyond the dreams and hopes of Isaiah and the Jewish forbears.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Change – we all need it but often we can be unsure of what we truly need. Advent is a time offering us hope and the promise of new things, but we can well ask ourselves what practical measures we can take to allow God’s grace to enter our lives.

This Sunday’s Gospel offers us two interlocking and integral parts of a programme of spiritual change: admission of sin and the notion of repentance. The two go together and are preparation for real and lasting change. The word used for ‘sin’ in this this Sunday’s Gospel has its roots in archery and the idea of an arrow missing the mark as can happen when an archer aiming for the goal is distracted or disturbed and sends the arrow off course. So we, who are made in God’s image and who are to reflect God’s love, often get disturbed and distracted in the way we live our lives. Our lives go off course, sometimes disastrously. Focussing on the mess can be disillusioning and counterproductive – what we need to do is to look at the cause and this is where repentance comes in.

Repentance is another word where study of the origin bears rich insight. It originally meant ‘change of mind and heart’. When we repent we change the attitudes that cause us to act in destructive and sinful ways. What could this mean? I once read of a priest who wanted to ask people in confession why they did the things they confessed. For example, a mother who confessed being angry with her children maybe would answer that question, ‘because they were naughty.’ If that were so, he would question whether her actions were a sin. But if she answered ‘because I was hurt by my husband,’ then he could answer, ‘that is the issue that caused your sin’ or, in the imagery from above, ‘that is what made your miss the mark.’

As we hear the call of John the Baptist this week, let us take time to realistically consider our lives and where we need to be open to the grace of God to straighten our twisted and crooked ways so that our hearts may truly aim for the fullness of God’s life and love.

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

Why John the Baptist? All the Gospels give great importance to the person and preaching of John the Baptist. In the iconography (religious paintings) of the early Church he held a prominent position. But did Jesus really need him?

John the Baptist represents the culmination of the Old Testament. In him all the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people across the centuries find expression. But did God really need the Old Testament and Jewish history in order to offer salvation?

No, God didn’t need any of this. God could offer salvation personally and individually to any one of us. But God’s plan of salvation involves not merely the supreme human mediation given through Jesus but all the many other people through whom God choses to bring to us grace and love.

A prayer of thanksgiving often said in my community is for those who have brought our faith to where we are today. As a way of preparation for the coming of the Lord we would do well to recall the people who have formed our faith to what it is today. Perhaps it was grandparents, parents, teachers, the atheist who challenges or the friend who dies tragically – there are many different ways, both positive and negative, that God has used these people as channels of grace into our lives. As we recognise who they are and give thanks we make ourselves even more open to the coming of God in our lives.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

Saint John the Baptist Preaching to the Masses in the Wilderness  by Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

–  Preaching of John the Baptist by Rembrandt. (click painting for better view).

St. John the Baptist Preaching  by Mattia Preti.

Sculpture of John the Baptist preaching  by Rodin.

St John the Baptist by Harold Copping.

St John the Baptist preaching   by Béla Kontuly.

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

As you go through this week mull on how your thoughts, words and actions could be more closely aligned to the life of God.  In your regular routine, imagine what subtle changes you could make to focus you more clearly on living a life of love.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the love of your God.

When you are at peace, consider before God what you consider to be some of your failings – certain ways of acting that you believe fail to show the life and love that you believe God wants of you. Choose one of these failings and gently hold it before God. At this point make no judgments or decisions on this but ask God’s Spirit to guide how you look at this behaviour. What could be some of the causes for you acting like this? What are the deeper roots of your behaviour?

As you hold this behaviour before you, ask the Spirit to transform your mind and heart in relation to it.

Rest in the love of your God.