Christmas 2020: The Deep End
The Deep End
December: Jane Mellett
January Tríona Doherty
Second Sunday of Advent
6 December 2020
The beginning of the good news
The second Sunday of Advent turns our attention to John the Baptist. John was an interesting individual. We are told he dressed a bit strangely and spent a lot of time in the desert, ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness’. Yet it seems he was very popular with ‘all the people of Jerusalem’ went out to hear him. John must have been a dynamic speaker and one in whom people found hope and inspiration. In John the Baptist’s time, the people lived under the oppression of the Roman Empire and were waiting for someone who would liberate them. John points to one that is greater than he, he points the people to Jesus.
When Pope Francis released the encyclical Fratelli Tutti in October this year he noted that dark clouds hang over our world and he urged everyone to embrace a spirit of friendship, kindness, compassion and solidarity as we move forward, to help ensure the dignity of every person and a more sustainable world for all. We have certainly experienced a type of wilderness this year as we continue to battle the effects of COVID19 and find a way forward. Our communities need messengers, like John, who bring good news, hope and a vision for the future, who point us towards a new way forward.
As we prepare to welcome Christ into our lives once more, let’s make the most of this advent time, the most of this waiting time. May we use this space to reflect on what type of world can be born out of this wilderness we find ourselves in. May we reach out to those who are crying out for hope during these difficult months, like John the Baptist, offering a positive vision for the future.
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The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8 December 2020
When have you felt God’s presence in someone you met or someone who visited you? The Gospel today is a reminder of God continuously present in our lives. We, like Mary, are invited to welcome those whom God sends us, even if we are amazed and alarmed by their message. We can ask ourselves: who brings us good news?
Advent is a season of hope, a season where we are reminded that God is present even when God appears to be hidden. God present in Mary’s womb speaks to us of God’s hidden presence in the world. We were reminded last Sunday to ‘keep awake’ and today this beautiful feast invites us to be more aware of God’s presence, through the messengers he sends us; in the most hidden parts of ourselves and the most hidden parts of society.
Perhaps at the end of each day you can glance back over the day and see the moments where God was present, the light, the joys, the gestures, the words. Where was there hope in your day? Was anything revealed to you today? Who were the messengers for you today? Keep alert in these days of Advent and watch for God’s presence in your daily life.
‘It is no use saying that we are born 2,000 years too late to give room to Christ . …Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts . …And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.’
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Third Sunday of Advent
13 December 2020 • Gaudete Sunday
A bearer of light
Last week we were introduced to John the Baptist as part of our Advent journey. We hear his story again but this time from the fourth Gospel. Light and darkness is a key theme of the fourth Gospel and in its opening verses proclaims that this light has always shone in the dark; the darkness cannot overpower it. The evangelist goes on to tell us that John the Baptist’s mission is that he has been sent by God to ‘speak for the light’. John is a light bearer, he is not the light, but he points to the light. He is a witness to the light of God in our world, a light that cannot be put out.
We celebrate this light today on Gaudete Sunday, Gaudete which means ‘rejoice’. We light the pink candle and we celebrate with joy. As our world continues to battle this pandemic, there is much fear about. People might not feel like celebrating or being joyful. But nature shows us that Spring always follows Winter. Like John, we are called to be light-bearers. To carry Christ’s love and light to those we meet in our daily lives. Our world needs light-bearers, especially in these Winter months. It might be a good opportunity to ask today ‘Who have been the light bearers for me in these past months?’ And also, ‘To whom can I carry light to this week?’ In this way we observe Christ’s ongoing incarnation in the world today.
‘Lord there is much darkness in society and in our church. We thank you that someone always comes on the scene, sent by you as a witness to speak for the light … teachers, community leaders, grandparents, children, a friend … they bear witness to the rest of us that somewhere in the dark a light shines that darkness cannot overcome.’
Michel de Verteuil
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Fourth Sunday of Advent
20 December 2020
The situation into which Jesus was born was one of huge stigma with dangerous consequences. God’s physical birth into this world was condemned socially; Jesus was marginalised from the moment of his conception. Imagine God choosing to be involved so intimately in this world and in such a ‘shocking’ way. Even the town of Galilee is problematic for this news as Galileans were considered by the religious leaders of the time to be ‘second-class Jews’. It is here Jesus comes. God surprises. God stands with the marginalised. God is present in the most hidden places at times.
On the first Sunday of Advent we were invited to ‘Keep Awake’. As we approach the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, what have you noticed this advent? What has your waiting been like? How have you prepared? Where have you seen God present this Advent? Where have you seen God being born around you? In the most unexpected places? In the most marginalised? Is your heart more open to receive a new birth of God again?
‘Quiet me within, clothe my body in peacefulness, that your Word once again may take flesh – this time, within me – as once it did in holy Mary; long Advent days ago.’
Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim
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The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)
25 December 2020
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven!’
The account we read this evening from Luke’s Gospel shows Jesus being born into a situation of total oppression. Luke reminds us of the political regime which controls the land and the effect this has on the people. Luke only gives one sentence to the actual birth of Jesus and then focuses his attention on the shepherds. There is a reason for their presence. Shepherds were considered ‘ritually unclean’ because of their close contact with animals. Their lives would have been full of poverty, fear and struggle. So, this scene that Luke paints is not a tranquil setting, this is a setting on the margins. Everything about this story is provocative and uneasy. It is into this ‘mess’ God comes as a homeless child. We are being invited to expect the unexpected.
Luke begins his gospel as he means to continue, turning the world upside down in solidarity with the outcast. He places angels rejoicing with shepherds, the ‘highest’ and the ‘lowest’, giving glory to God together. The good news of Jesus’ birth goes first to the marginalised. It is in their name that the shepherds are chosen. As you sing the Gloria during this Christmas season, come back to this marginal space where it was first sung, with the angels and the shepherds in a field. No boundaries, no walls, no purification rituals, but the promise of a deep peace for all, a peace for which the world desperately longs. It is for this reason we rejoice. We are invited to Bethlehem today, to open up our hearts to the One who has come. We return, like the shepherds ‘glorifying and praising God for all they have seen and heard’. All are welcome to the manger. May we welcome all as God does, with compassion and love.
‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, come forth from deep within me with Christmas luminous beauty. For my heart has become the sacred crib, the birthing place of God-among-us.’
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The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
27 December 2020
The Presentation in the Temple
Simeon and Anna welcome Mary, Joseph and Jesus to the Temple. They have been waiting for this moment. What kind of Messiah were they expecting? Simeon welcomes this family who must have seemed ‘ordinary’ and poor. He can see that this child will be ‘a light…for the glory of your people’. Already there is a note of reversal; of boundaries being stretched. Mary is told that this child ‘is destined for the fall and the rising of many’. There will be challenging times ahead for this family. Simeon knows that many thoughts will be exposed for God’s invitation and welcome has no boundaries and this radical hospitality might not sit well with everyone. Anna rejoices for all those who were looking for a change, for hope, she knows that this child will overturn systems of oppression and exclusion.
Luke is interested in how humanity responds to the Gospel. If Jesus’ message is really good news, then this requires a shakeup; a shakeup which challenges comfortable assumptions about the way God works. God’s abundant invitation to all may not sit comfortably with many. While Anna prays and fasts for a change of heart in the way Jerusalem operates, Simeon warns Mary that this will not be an easy road.
Many situations in our own world today need a shake-up, especially in our church. This can be uncomfortable as we have to let go of certain things and invite freshness. What situations in our own society and in our church require a shake-up; an uncomfortable but necessary change so that God’s love and welcome can shine through? Jesus came to show us how to live. We must constantly look back at his example.
‘We often make do with looking at the ground…I wonder if we still know how to look up at the sky? Do we know how to dream, to long for God, to expect the newness he brings, or do we let ourselves be swept along by life, like dry branches before the wind?’
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Second Sunday of Christmas
3 January 2021
We talk about having ‘roots’ as a way of describing our connection to a place or people. Being rooted somewhere means we are part of that place. When we are ready to settle down, to become part of a community, maybe to buy a house or start a family, we talk about ‘putting down roots’. It means we are making this place our home. It is a rich metaphor from the plant world. The roots of a tree or plant represent its relationship with the soil it is planted in and the elements around it. The deeper the roots, the more connected a plant is to its environment. It becomes part of the place where it’s planted. We use this expression in everyday language too – when an idea ‘takes root’ in us, it is something that becomes a part of us, inseparable from our very selves.
Today’s first reading speaks of the wisdom of God ‘taking root in a privileged people’. It describes it another way as ‘pitching a tent’. These images offer us a way into understanding the complex language of today’s gospel, which talks about God’s relationship with us by sending Jesus: ‘The Word was made flesh, he lived among us’.
By becoming human, God put down roots not just in our physical world, but in humanity itself. God pitched a tent among us and became one of us. It is a connection that cannot be broken – the roots go too deep. We are in God, and God is in us. This is the mystery we celebrate in this season of Christmas – that in Jesus, God became part of the very world that God created, and part of us: ‘He was in the world that had its being through him.’ We are indeed a privileged people!
‘Christ asks for a home in your soul, where he can be at rest with you, where he can talk easily to you, where you and he, alone together, can laugh and be silent and be delighted with one another.’
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The Epiphany of the Lord
6 January 2021
The God of surprises
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, but have you ever wondered what the word ‘epiphany’ actually means? The word comes from the Greek epiphainen, which means to ‘shine upon’ or ‘make known’. So we celebrate today the first occasion that Christ made himself known, in this surprising way, when the light of God shone into our world.
An epiphany is often described as an ‘Aha’ moment. I wonder if the wise men were taken aback at the ordinary scene they encountered when they arrived at the home of Mary and Joseph. After all, they were looking for a king. What they found was simply ‘the child with his mother Mary’. What an unexpected way for God to be revealed. Yet the wise men had enough insight to recognise that they were in the presence of something very special. They had followed the light of the star, and found the light of the world. They were so awed that they knelt to praise Jesus, offering lavish treasures as well as their love and adoration. Imagine the light they carried with them after that encounter, as they made the journey home.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes himself known to people in the most unexpected of ways. Perhaps we have got used to encountering God only at set times or in set places – at church on a Sunday, or in the sacraments. The events of this past year have taught us to expect the unexpected, and the Church had to get very creative with its mission to carry the light of Christ into the world. Our God is the God of epiphanies. God tends to surprise us with light and presence, if we only follow the star.
‘God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways.’
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Baptism of the Lord
10 January 2021
Come to the water
Today we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, the moment when God reveals who Jesus is. Our readings are rich with water imagery. Water is a powerful symbol throughout the Scriptures, from the story of creation and the crossing of the Red Sea, to the wedding feast at Cana and Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. It is a symbol of life and newness, an opportunity for God to reach out to us, be present with us and teach us something, as well as an opportunity for cleansing and a fresh start.
Our gospel today tells of Jesus being baptised by John in the river Jordan. This immersion in water marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. By approaching John for baptism, along with all the others, Jesus is identifying with the people and allowing himself to be counted among sinners. It is a sign that he submitting to God’s will. At this crucial moment, as soon as he emerges from the Jordan, Jesus sees the heavens open and the voice of God confirming him as ‘Beloved Son’. It is a moment of divine approval, confirming Jesus’ identity and launching him on his new mission.
The baptism of Jesus is a reminder of our own identity and mission. We are beloved daughters and sons of God, sisters and brothers of Jesus, members of God’s family. In today’s first reading we are invited: ‘Come to the water all you who are thirsty’. We are called to the water, to that moment when we recognise who Jesus is, who we are, and our mission to live as children of God.
‘In order to live a life of holiness, we must first receive new life from God — we must be born from above.’
J. Vernon McGee
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Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
17 January 2021
Come and see
There is a Brazilian proverb used when a visitor is leaving one’s home: ‘Whoever drinks of this water keeps coming back’. Offering a beverage such as a cup of water or tea to a visitor is a universal gesture of welcome and hospitality. Today we hear how Jesus invites two of his disciples to ‘come and see’ where he lives. He welcomes them into his home and they stay with him for the rest of the day, undoubtedly eating and drinking and conversing with him. Jesus’ invitation is simple, yet intimate. We don’t know where he lived or what his living arrangements were, but we know he wanted his friends to spend time with him and get to know him. This precious early time with Jesus must have set his friends up for a lifetime of discipleship. We too are invited to ‘come and see’, to spend time with the Scriptures and in prayer to get to know Jesus. He welcomes us with open arms.
As we reflect on the inviting love of Jesus, we are also encouraged to extend a warm welcome to others in a spirit of friendship. Pope Francis has often spoken of our responsibility, as individuals, communities and church, to welcome everyone – including those who are homeless or who have been forced to leave their home or country. Our welcome is a response to the Lord’s supreme commandment to love the other, the stranger, as ourselves. We all have opportunities to do this in our communities.
‘Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age.’
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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
24 January 2021 • Sunday of the Word of God
Now is the time
More than 50 years ago, in his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, Martin Luther King Jr talked about ‘the fierce urgency of now’. He urged people to take positive action and to march forward together to address inequality and injustice, and his energy and conviction brought about massive change.
That sense of ‘fierce urgency’ seems to grab Jesus and the disciples in today’s Gospel. In the opening chapters of Mark’s Gospel everything happens ‘at once’ or immediately. There is a sense of hurry; the time has come, the kingdom of God is near, and Jesus needs helpers to work alongside him. Simon, Andrew, James and John are certainly ready, so ready that they are prepared to leave behind their livelihoods, and even their families, to attend to the urgent business of spreading the Good News.
Jesus asks the same of us, his modern-day disciples: ‘Follow me’. We are summoned too. We are challenged to set aside our worldly concerns, to see the world in a new way, and to begin a new adventure with Jesus. For every person in our world who is suffering or oppressed or in need, there is a ‘fierce urgency of now’. The work of the kingdom is too immediate to wait.
‘This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilising drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children… The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.’
Martin Luther King Jr
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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
31 January 2021
‘But man, proud man,
Dress’d in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d…’
Measure for Measure –
We probably wouldn’t have to think too hard to come with examples of people who seem to fit the above description. Puffed up with a sense of their own importance, they are anxious to be seen as the expert on everything, in spite of limited knowledge or experience. We tend to criticise politicians and other public figures if we feel they are blind to the struggles of ordinary people. They don’t know what it’s like, to example, to live on a minimum wage, to care for a family member with a disability, or to be at risk of homelessness. On the other hand, it is refreshing when those in power have either faced some of these issues themselves or have made the effort to do some research and really listen to people. We can tell when someone is speaking with genuine authority, care and compassion.
In today’s gospel, those who listen to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue know there is something different and exciting about him. His teaching is in sharp contrast to the scribes they are used to hearing, and makes a deep impression on them. The difference, as stated twice in this passage, is his authority and it leaves his audience ‘astonished’. He does not use his position the way we might use our ‘little brief authority’ to make ourselves look good. Instead he uses his authority to serve, to love, and to bring mercy and freedom.