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“And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, ‘I am not the Christ.’ So they asked him, ‘What are you then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of the one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord,” as Isaiah the prophet said’” (John 1:19-23).
 
In this Gospel passage, the priests, Levites, and Pharisees all ask John the Baptist what many Jews were wondering: “Who are you? … Are you Elijah? … Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-21). John denies any special role for himself. He says that he is just pointing toward “the one who is coming after me” (John 1:27).
 
John models the kind of attitude and behavior that all of us as Christians are called to imitate. All that we are meant to do is to direct others towards Christ. We are not to call attention to ourselves or to heighten our own importance. We are meant to reach beyond ourselves to help others live life to the fullest.
 
This selfless love is found amidst the often overwhelming evils in the world. It is found in those whose charity and works for justice help “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61: 1, which is this Sunday’s first reading).
 
These acts of selfless love illuminate our world as the holiday lights illuminate a December night. May our actions, too, light up the world.
 
Who are the people who have allowed their self-importance to recede so that you were able to grow and develop into the person God is calling you to be? How can you thank or acknowledge them?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1:6-8).

 

This Gospel opens with the declaration of Jesus as the Son of God and then introduces John the Baptist as the messenger who prepares the way of the Lord. To do so, John called the people to repent, acknowledge their sins, and undergo baptism for forgiveness.

 

Unlike Lent, Advent is not primarily a penitential season. However, Advent does invite us to acknowledge what stands in the way of God’s reign. While John was looking forward to Christ’s first coming, we are looking forward to his coming to us anew each day and to his return in glory at the end of time, when God’s reign will be fulfilled. John’s call is still valid to us – repentance and forgiveness are essential for those who prepare the way of the Lord.

 

What do you need to be forgiven for? Whom do you need to forgive? How can you make forgiveness real in your life this Advent, as a means of preparing the way of the Lord?

 

Our journey through Advent also teaches us a value needed while awaiting the fulfillment of God’s reign – patience. We sometimes want to “get through” Advent and get to Christmas. We are like the child who can’t wait to unwrap the presents lying under the Christmas tree. We naturally want to enjoy the glory of God’s reign here and now, but Advent feeds us the wild honey of joyful expectation, reminding us that the reign of God is already being experienced, but not yet complete.

 

What things try your patience? What might God be telling you about your response to situations that try your patience?

 

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening or at midnight, or at the cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33-37).

 

Advent is a time for prayerful reflection, a time to be particularly alert to the promptings of God’s grace. The Advent call in the Gospel is to “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33). This is not a call to passively wait for the risen Jesus to come again. This is a call to engage in an active watchfulness by putting your spiritual life in order. It is a challenge to put Christ at the center of your life, over all other pursuits, ambitions, or involvements.

 

Advent is a time for generous good works in which kindness and care for others supersedes self-absorption and concern. Openheartedness creates room for Christ’s vital presence. The distractions of Christmas can often lead to a passive waiting for the coming of Christ. You may find Christmas coming and going with little change in your life. So, “be alert!” and focus on the significance of this holy season.

 

In what ways is God’s grace urging you to a more conscious awareness of the presence of Christ and a deeper relationship with him in this Advent season?

 

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“’Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’” (Matthew 25:34-36).

This is the end of Matthew’s apocalypse series ─ a succession of parables in which Jesus talks about the end times. In it, Jesus sets out the standards for final judgment.

“’Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one these least of brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).

God’s love and care is for all people. Those who treat others with compassion are blessed and experience the reign of God. By showing love to others, we show love to God. God created all of us and dwells in everyone.

We will be judged based on our acts of kindness to the needy. We are not being asked to donate huge amounts of money or give every free hour to volunteering. We are being asked to share a little of our food with the hungry, to visit the sick, or to sit with a hurting friend. We don’t do these things just to enter the kingdom of heaven. We do these things because Jesus tells us that what we do to the least of our brothers, we do to him.

Do you make it a habit to reach out to help those around you? How does your faith impact the things you do every day?

Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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It was common in the time of Jesus for a master to leave some servants in charge of his affairs when he went on a journey. This master knew his servants well. He entrusted the savvier ones with greater responsibility. But even a less qualified servant might be left with some responsibility – as in the case Jesus describes in one of his parables.

“After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had receive the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back’” (Matthew 25: 19-26).

The master was risk taker. He didn’t just allow things to happen; he made them happen. Keeping his talent safe wasn’t good enough. Growth was the only option.

“His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten’” (Matthew 25: 26-28).

In their master’s absence, the successful servants acted just as the master would. For their accomplishments, the master rewarded them with more responsibility. The “wicked” servant did not follow his master’s example. He was punished by having his one talent taken away and then being thrown to the darkness outside.

Once we discover the talents we have been entrusted with, we must show gratitude to God for these gifts by nurturing them and putting them to good use. As members of the Body of Christ, we must use our talents to promote the values of God. When we do, we find our greatest success.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells this parable in the midst of other stories about the end times. As we wait for the second coming of the Son of Man, we must act as Jesus did. If we do so, we can be proud to present these accomplishments to God when we meet him face to face.

What gifts and talents have you discovered in yourself? How might you use them in ways that will build up the Body of Christ?

Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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