Introduction to Mark
The earliest and shortest of the gospels, Mark’s version of the Jesus story lacks the polish of Matthew with his five sermons/discourses or of Luke with his extended journey to Jerusalem. It also lacks any infancy story or, in its original version, any post-resurrection appearance. (Its brevity explains why on many Sundays John is read instead.).
Written for an ordinary, working-class audience in Rome, one caught in an often-exploitative society, it is a series of episodes about a working-class man who faithfully answers God’s call and finds himself working deeds of power and speaki ng words of challenge, for “with God all things are possible.”
Introduction to Advent
People often wonder why we hear so little during Advent about the events leading up to Jesus’s birth. The answer is that event is only one of his advents or comings. The first Sunday calls us to ponder how we will greet him when he comes again. The second and third describe how the people of his own day reacted to John the Forerunner who prepared them for his message—and make us ask how we would respond to his coming to us now. What needs to change in our hearts and our lives? The fourth Sunday tells us that only those with deep faith can help Christ come into the world—often in unexpected ways.
1st Sunday in Advent
Background: Year B of the liturgical year begins where Year A ended. Once again, we are called to lift up our eyes from the busy-ness of our daily concerns and to put things in their final perspective as we hear part of Mark’s “eschatological discourse.”
- What task has Jesus entrusted you to carry out for him in your personal life?
- What task has Jesus entrusted to you to carry out in our society?
- What task has Jesus entrusted to you to carry out in our Church?
- When do you find Christ strengthening you?
Practice: Discuss with your family or friends what would be a more Christ-like way to celebrate Christmas this year.
2nd Sunday in Advent
Background: John the Forerunner announces that Jesus has already come to straighten things up, to bring a world where justice will be at home. Yet our reaction should not just be fear but a sense of comfort and joy, for he is coming not just to forgive our failings but to bring each of us a new spirit of power.
- What change does the Spirit need to help you make in your own life?
- What change does the Spirit need to make in society for justice truly to make its home here?
- In what ways can the Church help in making our world more just?
- When has Jesus comforted you and carried in his arms like a lamb?
Practice: Christmas can be too much about “things.” Yet John the Forerunner prepares for Christ’s coming by leading a radically simplified life. Once again, how will you and yours “declutter” Christmas this year?
3rd Sunday in Advent
Background: Jesus comes to us right now as light, revealing to us our true selves so that, by our deeds of love, we can testify/bear witness to that light already shining among us.
- Where and when do you think that you do a good job of bearing witness to Jesus?
- What is keeping his light from shining more brightly through you to others?
- How do you bring glad tidings to the lowly? Healing to the brokenhearted? Or do you run from challenging situations?
- How can we as church do a better job of bringing glad tidings to the lowly?
Practice: If you have figured out how to “declutter” Christmas, where are you and yours going to volunteer this year? A canned food drive? A clothing drive? A soup kitchen?
4th Sunday in Advent
Background: At last we hear a story about the events surrounding the birth of the Child, but it is not what we were expecting if we look at the details. Luke’s annunciation story does not sentimentalize the event. A teenage girl from a working-class background is asked to become an unwed mother. The temple in which Jesus comes to dwell is a woman’s womb. And Luke’s readers would have known that the promise that the Child will sit upon David’s throne would be fulfilled when he is hailed as King of the Jews as he hangs upon the cross. It is only through humble and obedient faith that God can change the world.
- How has God’s call and your response already changed your life for the better?
- Did that change end up costing you something?
- What call to obedient faith are you still resisting?
- How do you think our society or church are resisting God’s call? What can you do about that resistance?
Practice:In prayer this week return again and again to Mary’s response: “Let it be done to me according to your will.”
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Background: Once again we must not sentimentalize this feast into a celebration of the nuclear family. Rather, we should look at these readings through the perspective of the carol that begins: “I wonder as I wander out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did come for to die.” Every character in today’s rich stories must be faithful or else God’s redeeming love will not be revealed in our world—often at a cost. Abraham and Sarah must leave their homeland. Mary and Joseph come to offer their Child to God and are told that he will bring discord and judgment as well as peace. Indeed, a sword will pierce his mother’s heart. Christmas happens in our real world, not in some fantasy land.
- How has your trust in Jesus brought division onto your heart or life?
- Where did you find the faith to go on even when life seemed impossible?
- Where does the light of revelation of God’s love shine for you most often? In prayer? In Scripture? In your relationships? In service?
- Which of God’s promises to you are you still hoping will be fulfilled?
Practice: Make Simeon’s song your own as you pray it every day this week. Each day ask yourself how the light was revealed to you that day.