First Sunday of Advent
- · Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
- · Joke of the Day
- · Today’s Gospel Reading
- · Gospel Reflection
- · Reflection Prayer
Holy Father’s Prayer Intentions For December, 2012
Missionary Intention: that Christ may reveal Himself to all humanity with the light that shines forth from Bethlehem and is reflected in the face of His Church.
Today, and next Wednesday, I am going to share information on two holiday objects used by all people in a secular way, the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and the “Candy Cane”. However, these items started out as ways to catechize Catholics during times of suppression from governments of the day. I hope you enjoy the history and meaning behind these items.
The Real Meaning of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
by Father Edward T. Dowling, S. J | Source: Catholic.net
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written by the English Jesuits during the 16th century, though its precise author is unknown. The carol used obscure symbols to hide its true meaning from the enemy in time of persecution, Henry VIII. When Henry VIII was rebuffed by Rome in his request to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, he declared himself head of the Church in England. With replacing the Pope, the King demanded all to swear an oath of allegiance to him as head of the Church. St. Thomas More, the “Chancellor of the Realm”, (the equivalent of the Prime Minister today), refused the oath, and Henry VIII had him publicly beheaded. During this time, Catholic convents and monasteries were closed and looted.
The situation was made worse under his son, Edward VI, and better during the short reign of Catherine’s daughter, Mary Tudor. However, she was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth I, an ardent Protestant and the daughter of Anne Boleyn. The practice of the Catholic faith was banned. Priests were exiled and forbidden under pain of death from returning or performing the sacraments. It was a desperate, dreadful time.
With this as a background we can see the need for secrecy and deception. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written to educate the faithful in the doctrines of the faith and, at the same time, not be obvious to persecutors in the area. The numbers are simply a mnemonic to help Catholics remember some basic facts. Recall the words of the song:
“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: twelve lords a leaping, eleven pipers piping, ten ladies dancing, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”
The song celebrates the liturgical Christmas season, starting on Christmas Day and ending twelve days later on the “Feast of the Epiphany”.
· “My true love” refers to God, and “me” is the individual Catholic.
· The “twelve lords a leaping” are the twelve basic beliefs of the Catholic Church as outlined in the Apostles Creed.
· The “eleven pipers piping” are the eleven Apostles who remained faithful after the treachery of Judas.
· The “ten ladies dancing” are the Ten Commandments.
· The “nine drummers drumming” are the nine choirs of angels which in those days of class distinction were thought important.
· The “eight maids a milking” are the Eight Beatitudes.
· The “seven swans a swimming” are the Seven Sacraments.
· The “six geese a laying” are for both the Six Commandments of the Church and the six days of creation.
· The “five golden rings” are the first five books of the Old Testament called the Torah which are generally considered the most sacred and important of all the Old Testament.
· The “four calling birds” are the Four Gospels.
· The “three French hens” are the Three Persons in God and the three gifts of the Wise Men.
· The “two turtle doves” represent the two natures in Jesus: human and divine and the two Testaments, Old and New.
· The “partridge” is the piece de resistance, Jesus himself,
· The “pear tree” is the Holy Cross.
Today’s reflection: Jesus teaches His disciples to be vigilant and ready for when the “Son of Man” comes in glory. Are you “vigilantly ready”?
(NAB Luke 21:25-28,34-36) 25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” 34 “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise 35 like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. 36 Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, also called the first Sunday of a new liturgical year. The Advent season includes the four Sundays proceeding Christmas Day and is a time of preparation for the “coming of the Lord”. During the Advent season, we recall two essential and foundational elements of our faith:
- · The final coming of the Lord “in glory”;
- · the “incarnation” of the Lord – – through the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day.
The key themes of the Advent season are watchful waiting, spiritual preparation, and realizing God’s loving justice.
In this new liturgical year, the Gospel of Luke will be the primary Gospel proclaimed (for you techno-missal-geeks, we will be using Lectionary Cycle C). Today’s Gospel is taken from the chapter just before Luke’s “passion narrative” in which Jesus teaches in the Holy Temple. Jesus knows what is going to happen to Him soon! He is preparing, and giving hope and good counsel, and fair warning, to His disciples. Today’s reading has Jesus speaking to His disciples about the need for “vigilance and prayer” as they wait for the coming of the “Son of Man in glory”.
Jesus has already predicted the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, warned about the persecution and tribulations to follow, and is now identifying the “signs” signaling the “coming of the Son of Man in glory” to come.
From a historical viewpoint, the community – – the audience and readers – – for whom Luke wrote his Gospel may have believed that they were already experiencing some of the events Jesus described – – and they would be RIGHT! Luke, a Syrian from Antioch, wrote his Gospel and the Book of the “Acts of the Apostles” as a two-volume work in the late 90’s. At that time of Luke’s Gospel, many Catholic Christians interpreted the Temple’s destruction as an indication that Jesus’ “second coming” was very close at hand.
Luke, through his writings, shifts the early Christian emphasis away from an expectation of an imminent, about to happen – – NOW – – “Parousia” event, to that of a day-to-day concern of the Catholic Christian community – – in “waiting” – – individually, and as a Church. Luke is more concerned with presenting the “Words” and deeds of Jesus as instructions for the conduct of His Christian disciples during the intervening period between His Ascension and the His Second Coming, the Parousia – – whenever it is to happen. He also presents Jesus Christ Himself, as the model for a proper Catholic Christian life of goodness, faithfulness, and holiness.
Jesus’ eschatological discourse concerns doctrines (truths) about the human soul in its relation to death, personal judgment, heaven, and hell. Jesus is urging His disciples – – and at the same time, the Catholic Church as a whole – – inspiring them to be to be faithful and obedient through the trials and tribulations which WILL confront them – – and ALL OF US! (Sounds just like what is happening today! Please re-read my “Five stages of Persecution” in last Sunday’s blog for more on this subject.)
Jesus, through Luke, is urging a necessity to be constantly “vigilant” (literally meaning “watchful”) and not to have a misguided “Messianic hope” of deliverance from our trials and tribulations. We need to remember that no one but the Father knows the precise time of the Parousia:
“Of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).
Jesus’ “Second Coming” WILL be preceded by signs. Could Jesus’ “sign” be the presence of the bleak outrages and scandals coming from the Roman power profaning the Temple then(?) and the direct attacks on the Catholic Church from without and within today(?) – – NOW(?) – -! It certainly seems reasonable to me, so I’m definitely preparing!
So, what are these signs to be? Luke, being very astute at researching issues, looked for answers throughout Jewish Scriptures (our Old Testament) and John’s prophetic book, “the Revelation of Jesus Christ”:
“From a sling, wrathful hailstones shall be hurled. The waters of the sea will be enraged and flooding rivers will overwhelm them” (Wisdom 5:22);
“The stars of the heavens and their constellations will send forth no light; The sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not give its light” (Isaiah 13:10);
“When I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken all its stars. The sun I will cover with clouds; the moon will not give light” (Ezekiel 32:7);
“Before them the earth trembles; the heavens shake; Sun and moon are darkened, and the stars withhold their brightness … I will set signs in the heavens and on the earth, blood, fire, and columns of smoke; The sun will darken, the moon turn blood-red, Before the day of the LORD arrives, that great and terrible day … Sun and moon are darkened, and the stars withhold their brightness” (Joel 2:10; 3:3–4; 4:15);
“Then I watched while he broke open the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; the sun turned as black as dark sackcloth and the whole moon became like blood. The stars in the sky fell to the earth like unripe figs shaken loose from the tree in a strong wind. Then the sky was divided like a torn scroll curling up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place” (Revelation 6:12–14).
Luke relates that the “powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:26). Is this a reference to the “cosmic angelic armies” – – Satan’s armies – – manifesting themselves? Or, is it a reference to the physical celestial properties we know in our sphere of earthly human knowledge? I believe it is “Both/And”. That our physical environment is under the authority of God and the responsibility and authority which God delegated to the angels before they “fell from grace”.
The Lord continually forewarned His “chosen” family that there will be a periodic “shaking” and other “signs” we should pay attention to. In the Old Testament, Haggai warns Zerubbabel:
“For thus says the LORD of hosts: In just a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land … Speak to Zerubbabel*, the governor of Judah: I will shake the heavens and the earth” (Haggai 2:6, 21).
*(Zerubbabel was a descendant of King David and was a governor of the Persian Province of Judah (cf., Haggai 1:1). He led the first group of Jews who returned from the Babylonian Captivity around 538 BC. Zerubbabel also laid the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem soon after their return. Per Haggai, Zerubbabel will also have a “servant” role in God’s future Israelite kingdom – – to be established – – when God intervenes to overthrow the nations. )
Now, in the New Testament era, God counsels the Judeo-Christian family in the Letter to the Hebrews:
“See that you do not reject the one who speaks. For if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much more in our case if we turn away from the one who warns from heaven. His voice shook the earth at that time, but now he has promised, ‘I will once more shake not only earth but heaven.’ That phrase, ‘once more,’ points to [the] removal of shaken, created things, so that what is unshaken may remain. Therefore, we who are receiving the unshakable kingdom should have gratitude, with which we should offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:25-29).
Since this is the case when the Parousia happens, I can see why many will be so frightened. However, though I will always have apprehension and some “fear” of this incomprehensible event. God’s revelation and promise in Jesus helped to be prepared and constantly vigilant. In my spirit, filled with the Holy Spirit, I am eagerly awaiting His return daily, – – or whenever it shall occur. We do this at every Mass when the Priest right after the “Our Father” prayer, when the Priest prays:
“Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Another “sign” prophesied in today’s reading is:
“They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).
Jesus on a number of occasions prophesied He would return again at the “end of time” (the Parousia) to finish the work He came to accomplish through His death and resurrection. Jesus’ image of the “Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” is taken from a foretelling vision of the prophet Daniel:
“As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man. When He reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, His kingship, one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
Remember, Jesus always referred to Himself as “the Son of Man” and never as “the Son of God”! Why do you think Jesus chose this specific title? Hmm, He had a great reason, as you will soon find out.
Daniel’s vision [above] is a foretelling of a royal appointment of a “human” king before God’s throne. This “human” king, whose authority comes directly from God the Father, is given world-wide and everlasting kingship, authority, and power.
The faithful Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for a Messianic king who would free them from foreign oppression. Jesus, however, tells His disciples that when He returns, He will establish a universal kingdom of peace, righteousness, and justice for ALL – – not just the Jewish “chosen” people.
Jesus goes on to reveal that He will be:
“The ‘Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory”:
“There is none like the God of Jeshurun*, who rides the heavens in his power, who rides the clouds in his majesty;” (Deuteronomy 33:26).
* (“Jeshuran” is a poetic name for “the people of Israel”, used as a token of affection by the author. It translates to, “the dear upright people“. This word is used four times in Holy Scripture: (cf., Deuteronomy 32:15; 33:5, 33:26; and Isaiah 44:2. It is a term that can be applied to the Catholic Church.)
The word “clouds”, in Jewish Holy Scripture, indicates the presence of divinity. The image of the “cloud” being “the presence of divinity” is found extensively throughout the story of Moses interaction with “the Lord” during the Jewish exodus in the desert:
“The LORD came down in a cloud and stood with him [Moses] there and proclaimed the name, ‘LORD’” (Exodus 34:5);
“[The Lord] said to him [Moses]: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he pleases into the inner sanctuary, inside the veil, in front of the cover on the ark, lest he die, for I reveal myself in a cloud above the ark’s cover” (Leviticus 16:2);
“The LORD then came down in the cloud and spoke to him. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, he bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied but did not continue” (Numbers 11:25).
Thus, in His nature as the “Son of Man”, Jesus is truly a “divine person” (as well as being the “human” king) who will come “in power and glory”.
The last half of today’s reading is a collection of “sayings” relating to Luke’s understanding of the “end time” and the return of Jesus – – the Parousia event. Luke emphasizes – – for his readers – – the importance of being faithful to the instructions of Jesus in the period before the Parousia event occurs. This book was written long after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The early Catholic Christian expectations of an “imminent” second return of Jesus had to obviously undergo some modification. So, Luke cautions his readers against counting on this delay and acting irresponsibly. A similar warning can be found earlier in Luke’s Gospel:
“But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful” (Luke 12:45–46);
These verses are a warning for Jesus’ disciples to be ALWAYS (i.e., daily) ready for the Lord’s return, during the Parousia – – the promised Second Coming of Christ. It is also an implied acknowledgement of the “Final Judgment”, the ultimate acknowledgement of God the Father’s love and active participation in the course of this awesome event, the fullest revelation of God sharing His eternal love for each of us.
As Catholic Christians, we need to start living as if the Parousia is here now – – as if you see Jesus Christ descending on a “cloud” NOW!! Live holy lives; rejoice in hope; be alert to the various deceptions that Satan will launch against the Church in those days:
“Many false prophets will arise and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11).
“Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:15-17);
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought [you] to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to His promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13).
Be in a state of constant awareness and perpetual readiness and anticipation. Also, be in constant personal spiritual growth – – the best way to prepare. Luke is warning us to NOT have the attitude, “I will get right with God just before Jesus comes back”. This is truly a foolish attitude to cultivate. Live the scouting life: “Be Prepared!!”
Though Jesus predicts a time of destruction and fear, He indicates that others will be frightened; Jesus’ disciples are instead not to fear, but to stand tall. However, Jesus goes on to say that He does NOT promise deliverance from anxiety or tribulations in our earthly lives. Jesus encourages His disciples to pray for strength OFTEN!! The early Catholic Christian communities did not find consolation in the promise of an ideal and perfect place where ALL live in peace and harmony – – and neither should we today. Instead, we recognize – – in our Catholic Christian faith – – the instrument and ways by which we can witness to God’s unfailing love for us in ALL circumstances, even the rough times. These instruments are the Holy Sacraments: all contained in the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.
Jesus’ predictions about the end times may sound dire. However, in the very next verses in Luke’s Gospel, just after today’s reading ends, he tells us that people woke early to listen to Jesus’ teaching in the Temple area:
“During the day, Jesus was teaching in the temple area, but at night he would leave and stay at the place called the Mount of Olives. And all the people would get up early each morning to listen to him in the Temple area” (Luke 21:37-38).
In His personhood and in His personal message to those who listen, strength and consolation will be found. Like the first Catholic Christians, we will certainly encounter and experience events and circumstances leading us to periods of despair in our lives. (After all, we are ONLY human – – but saved by His grace.) Therefore, through prayer, we find strength and consolation in Jesus’ “Words” and in His continuing presence with us – – through all our trials – – bearing and undergoing, and sometimes suffering together, witnessing to the loving action of God in our world.
Since the early first centuries, many Churches in the east and west have marked “special seasons” to celebrate the central, essential, and foundational “truths” of the Catholic Christian faith. The Advent season reminds us that we are a “pilgrim people”, exiles from Christ’s eternal heaven, who long for our “true” home with God in His heavenly kingdom. We are awaiting – – with joyful hope – – the return of Jesus Christ at the end of the age – – the Parousia.
No one but God the Father knows the day of Jesus’ “return in glory”. But, it is certain that we are living in the end times, the culmination of this present age in God’s plan – – NOW! The end times began with the “first coming” of Jesus Christ – – through His “Incarnation” and birth – – which we celebrate at Christmas and the Epiphany. The end times culminates in His return on the “Final Day of Judgment”.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns His disciples against the apathy and lack of vigilance which can surface if one’s spirit becomes depleted by the anxieties of daily life. Many of us are all too familiar with this kind of fatigue which Jesus is referring to in today’s reading. It comes with being concerned about ours or another’s health, job security, education, financial problems, and any number of other reasons.
Yes, ALL these aspects of life are important matters indeed. Jesus does not promise to end our daily worries and fears. However, He DOES teach His disciples (and us) that they will have the “strength” to withstand these anxieties and trials IF and WHEN we stay focused on Him in our everyday lives. His disciples need to remain “vigilant” for His second return – – IT WILL HAPPEN – – someday! His disciples need to be consistent in praying for “strength” to endure all “tribulations”. Through prayer, God helps us stay focused on what (actually, “WHO”) is most important in our lives – – Jesus Christ!!
Recall your previous traditions of making New Year’s resolutions in preparation for a new calendar year. Today IS the first Sunday of Advent, which is the beginning of the new Church year. During the season of Advent, our Gospel readings ask us to consider what (and “WHO”) is most important to us as we prepare for Jesus’ coming, at His birth AND at the “end of time”.
Jesus describes “signs” which surely will disturb and scare many people. However, Jesus says that these “signs” should not be disturbing to His disciples. Remember, Jesus in today’s in reading, says that these “signs” indicate “redemption” is near. He even goes so far as to tell us how to behave:
“When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Luke21:28).
With this new Church year, what Advent “resolutions” might you make to help you stay focused on Christ; to help you be prepared to receive the salvation which we celebrate at Jesus’ birth, and anticipate at Jesus’ “second coming”. Pray for God’s help in following through on these “New Year” resolutions you just made.
“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul, my God, in you I trust; do not let me be disgraced; do not let my enemies gloat over me. No one is disgraced who waits for you, but only those who are treacherous without cause. Make known to me your ways, LORD; teach me your paths. Guide me by your fidelity and teach me, for you are God my savior, for you I wait all the day long. Remember your compassion and your mercy, O LORD, for they are ages old. Remember no more the sins of my youth; remember me according to your mercy, because of your goodness, LORD.
Good and upright is the LORD, therefore he shows sinners the way, He guides the humble in righteousness, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth toward those who honor his covenant and decrees. For the sake of your name, LORD, pardon my guilt, though it is great. Who is the one who fears the LORD? God shows him the way he should choose. He will abide in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. The counsel of the LORD belongs to those who fear him; and his covenant instructs them. My eyes are ever upon the LORD, who frees my feet from the snare.
Look upon me, have pity on me, for I am alone and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart; bring me out of my distress. Look upon my affliction and suffering; take away all my sins. See how many are my enemies, see how fiercely they hate me. Preserve my soul and rescue me; do not let me be disgraced, for in you I seek refuge. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; I wait for you, O LORD. Redeem Israel, O God, from all its distress! Amen.