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This Sunday's Programme

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3rd Sun Advent B

Sunday 17th 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

Jn 1: 6-8; 19-28

There was a man commissioned by God
and his name was John.
He came as a witness to bear testimony about the Light
so that all should believe through him.
He was not the Light
but he came to bear testimony about the Light.

And this is the testimony of John.
When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him,
‘Who are you?’
he avowed publically, he did not deny it, he avowed,
‘I am not the Anointed One.’
So they asked him, ‘What! Well, are you Elijah?’
He said, ‘I am not.’
‘Are you the Prophet?’
‘No.’
They said to him then, ‘Well, who are you? We have to give an answer concerning you to those who sent us.’
He said, ‘I am the sound of one imploring in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, just as the prophet Isaiah said.’
These questioners had been sent by the Pharisees and they now asked him, ‘Then why are you baptising if you aren’t the Anointed One, or Elijah, or the Prophet?’
John answered them, ‘I baptise with water but there is one in your midst of whom you are not yet aware, he it is who is coming after me and I am not fit to act like the lowest slave and untie his sandal.’
These things happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan where John was baptising.

Psalm

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

This Sunday's Psalm

Lk 1:46-50, 53-54.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit exults in the God of my salvation,
for he looks on the lowliness of his slave;
from now on all generations will call me happy.

For the all powerful One has done great things to me
and holy is his name!
His mercy is on all the generations
that fear him.

The ones who hunger he fills with good things,
those who are rich he sends away empty.
He upholds Israel, his servant,
mindful of this mercy.

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 often call us out into the wilderness and we find ourselves uncertain of our calling. Send us the Spirit that you gave to John the Baptist that we may prepare the way of Jesus in our hearts and trust in your love even in dark and lonely times. We ask this in Jesus’ 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 is drawn from two different early sections of John’s Gospel. The first paragraph comes from the opening prologue of the Gospel which is full of mystical theology and elevated poetry. These few sentences, which have quite a different tone and which many regard as a secondary addition, are essential to its message. As elevated as Christ’s divine origin is, he comes to humanity involved in the events of history. In our faith God is not remote from human experience but immersed in it. God’s presence in the person of Jesus is to be witnessed to. John the Baptist is the initial great witness to that reality, that light – the first in a long line which includes the writer of this Gospel and comes right down to us, here and now, in the world in which we live.

The second part of the reading comes from ‘First Days of Jesus’ section in which John the Baptist witnesses to Jesus over a number of days. This is done in such a way as to recall the progressive revelation of God to Moses when the Law was revealed on Mt Sinai. The Jews who come to question John represent those who have the legitimate role of ensuring that the Law is faithfully followed. They question him as to whether he is the Messiah or at least a precursor of the Messiah. John repeatedly rejects all these roles, significantly with the term ‘I am not.’ In contrast throughout this Gospel, Jesus will describe himself with a series of ‘I am…’ statements. Over and again, those who presume to know who Jesus is are found to be blinded and lacking in faith. Those who are open and humble, like John the Baptist, are those who come to the light.

Finally, the Jews question John about the baptism he is offering. Commentators offer a number of suggestions from contemporary practice as to what this baptism could mean. John’s response in stating that he is not fit to untie the coming Messiah’s sandal places him lower than the lowest slave in a household.

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

Sometimes things expressed in the negative can tell us more than things expressed positively. In this Sunday’s Gospel, the religious authorities who came to John the Baptist had legitimate reasons to question him. They had responsibility for the practice of their faith. And the questions asked were to be expected. John looked like he was fulfilling the role of, perhaps the Messiah, if not the forerunner for the Messiah (which he actually was). But he answered, ‘No!’ to all their questions. He wasn’t lying, it was just that their ideas on what the Messiah, and indeed the forerunner, should be were so narrow and circumscribed, that to reply positively would lock him, and the coming Messiah, into categories and images that were false.

John’s answers give us an example of how one should approach the mystery of God. In his first answer, he states that he is simply a voice, a channel for God to use and the message he gives is for his hearers to prepare for the Lord. We cannot control how God comes into our lives; we have only to make ourselves ready and open. His second answer stresses the greatness of the coming Messiah before whom the only proper response is humility.

The mystery of God is beyond us yet we know that God has come into our world. In the face of such a mystery, we can be tempted to confine God into holy categories and develop strict rules of religious living and worship. Ritual and rules we do need but they should be a means to openness and humility before the mystery of God. As we prepare for Christmas, let us continually remind ourselves how God’s mystery is so much beyond our words and rituals. Let us wait for God’s coming in openness and humility.

 

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

Rarely has someone in the spotlight worked so effectively to deflect attention from himself. The opening words of this Gospel describe John as a ‘witness’ and the series of responses that he gives to the questions of the Jews show the depth to which he sees his identity in relation to the person to whom he is to give witness. What is extraordinary is that, at this time, John didn’t know who the Christ would be, how he would act or even what type of Kingdom he would inaugurate. In all his responses he shows that he is capable of living a vocation which was largely undefined. But what he did know he was utterly faithful to. He knew a Messiah was coming who was greater, far greater, than himself and that the proper response to coming Messiah was to prepare – to make straight the way of the Lord.

Many of us have times when the calling of God within our lives can be unclear: times of transition, crisis or illness. The diminishments of age can bring this about. Until God makes things clearer there is nothing we can do…except be faithful to what we know we should do. Sometimes that can seem to amount to little. John the Baptist, in such a time, saw himself simply as a voice, a voice crying in the wilderness, a voice that was passed over once the Christ had come. But John needed nothing more: that was his fulfilment. He was the voice preparing for the Bridegroom, the one prepared to diminish, so that the Christ could increase, the one who could see that ‘it was all about Christ’.

 

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

– Note Rembrandt’s use of light and dark The Preaching of St John the Baptist in this scene. Note also how the people are discussing what he says while the women tend their children.
– In this painting by Carravagio note the interplay between darkness and light.
– Look at the faces of the people in this painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Note the note the lamb – a common symbol in paintings of John the Baptist.. Note also the dog, which often also appears in these paintings on John the Baptist. Why? I have no idea. Any suggestions?
– Béla Kontuly also has a dog in this interesting modern painting of John the Baptist preaching.  Who is the woman with the halo?

 

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 your usual activities this week, mull on how you can witness to Christ in the simplest of actions and words, for example, in how you drive, by being cheerful in conversations, by being calm when you feel like being brusque.
Notice how such witnessing ‘straightens out’ your life and prepares you to be more open to the grace of God.

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.

God is far beyond our comprehension, the mysteries of faith beyond our words and definitions. When you are at rest in the love of your God, ponder on those aspects of your faith that seem dark and incomprehensible. Like John the Baptist, don’t seek clear definitions simply remain open to the mystery of your God.

As you rest in God’s love, ask that love to draw you even more deeply and peacefully into that mystery.

Rest in the love of your God.