Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Child Grew, Filled With Wisdom. And The Favor Of God Was Upon Him.

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Reading 1               1 John 2:12-17
I am writing to you, children,
because your sins have been forgiven for his name's sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have conquered the Evil One.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong, and the word of God remains in you,
and you have conquered the Evil One.
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 the God remains forever.


In today's First Reading, John speaks of the third condition necessary for a disciple of Jesus to "walk in the light": detachment from the world. He reminds his readers that their sins have been forgiven in the name of Jesus.  He addresses himself to each of the generations within the family: fathers, young men, and children.  In various ways, he repeats the same basic message: they have come to know Jesus, "who is from the beginning", and since the word of God dwells in them, they have overcome "the Evil One".

It is clear in the writing of John that "the Evil One" is not to be identified with the material world, as in the Gnostic way of thinking. Rather, this is the Source of Darkness that leads people away from the Light of Life.  At the same time, John tells us: "Do not love the world or the things of the world." In John's writings, the word "world" has two distinct meanings.  On the one hand, it can refer simply to the material environment in which we live, which includes not only everything on our planet, but in the entire universe.  In other words, it refers to the Creation, of which the writer of Genesis says, "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good!" (Genesis 1:21). We are called by the Gospel to be a part of this world, and to become fully involved in it.  "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). We are in fact an integral product of the created universe.  Our bodies are formed from the Earth's physical and chemical elements; and at the end of life, our bodies will decompose into the elements from which they were formed:  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

On the other hand, "the world" can refer, in John's vocabulary, to certain ways of thinking among people, notions that are far removed from God's thinking, as found in Revelation, and especially in the testimony of Jesus, the Word of God. In the Johannine context, reference to people as "worldly" is negative.  "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."  By embracing those things that are in conflict with God's vision, we turn our backs on Him, and on His love for us.  This is the "world" from which we must become detached.

Such "worldly" inclinations are expressed in John's epistle by "sensual lust, enticement of the eyes, pretentious life."  "Sensual lust" includes not only carnal knowledge, but every form of uncontrolled physical gratification.  "Enticement of the eyes" includes all forms of greed and envy of what others have. "Pretentious life" ("pride of riches", in another translation) points to all forms of arrogance and ostentation in one's lifestyle, attitudes by which people place themselves at the center of attention, with little concern for the needs of others.

All three of these tendencies refer to uncontrolled sensuality by which both onself and others are reduced to mere objects of pleasure, or to uncontrolled greed to possess everything one lays one's eye on ("materialistic consumerism" in other words), or to the uninhibited desire for wealth and the power of others that goes with it -- and, not rarely, to all three at the same time.  All of these attitudes are in total contradiction to the vision of the Kingdom, in which the ultimate passion is to find happiness in the well-being of others, to live one's life with only what is necessary, and to participate fully in the creation of a world of sharing, a world in which everyone contributes according to their abilities, and everyone receives according to their needs.  This principle is clearly expressed in the Gospel by Jesus:  "Give, and it will be given to you:  good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be pour out into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38).

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Responsorial           Psalm 96
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Give to the Lord, you families of nations,
give to the Lord glory and praise,
give to the Lord the glory due his name.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Bring gifts, and enter his courts;
worship the Lord in holy attire.

Tremble before him, all the earth.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Say among the nations: the Lord is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

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Gospel               Luke 2:36-40   
There was a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the Temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
Coming forth at that very time,
she gave thanks to God, and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The childn grew and become strong,
filled with wisdom,
and the favor of God was upon him.


Today's Gospel is a continuation of yesterday's reading about the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  It is the story of the second person who made her presence known on that day.  Her name is Anna, and she is described as a prophetess, someone who is a spokesperson for the Lord.   Most of the prophets in the Scriptures are men; there are very few women.  This one was elderly. She had lived seven years with her husband, who left her no issue, and then as a widow until she reached the age of eighty-four.  Widows, particularly those with no children, were at the bottom rung of the social latter in Israel:  they could not produce offsrping; they had little chance of marrying again; in many respects, they were social outcasts.

Yet, Anna was a deeply spiritual person, who spent all of her waking hours in the Temple; she fasted both day and night.  She arrives on the scene just as Mary, Joseph and the baby enter the Temple. The true identity of the infant, since upon seeing him she begins to praise God, and to speak about the Child to everyone, in particular those who looked forward to the redemption of Jerusalem -- and of Israel.

This brief episode includes several lessons for us:
*     Social status is of no positive consequence where our relationship with God is concerned.
*     If we would become closer to God, prayer must be a signficant part of our day.
*     The Lord can come into our life at any moment and in any environment: church, work, golf links.
*     Once we really come to know Jesus, we cannot keep it to ourselves, but must share the experience with everyone around us, especially those who seek greater meaning in their lives.

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