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God of all creation,
the barrenness of winter is upon the landscape.
Cold is in the air.
Help us to be aware of your Spirit at work
in all we experience
in these special weeks of Advent.
May we embrace the season as an opportunity
to grow in our knowledge of ourselves
and in our relationship with you.
We pray with gratitude for all your goodness.
Amen.

 
From Advent Awakenings, Year C: Say Yes to God, published by RENEW International

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah
(Chapter 3:14-18A)
 
This prophecy warns the Jewish people of God’s judgment of the nation because of its sins but, like much of the prophetic literature, it ends with a promise of God’s blessings on those who survive: “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”
 
Now, that’s excitement! We Americans have had such moments—most recently VJ Day, the end of World War Two. People came out in the streets, bands played, and a whole country rejoiced at the end of that terrible war. The Jewish people, whose punishment would consist of the destruction of Jerusalem and exile in Babylon, would ultimately experience similar elation, but Zephaniah wants them to know that all this comes from the power of God. “The Lord has removed the judgement against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. … He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.” The prophet is well aware that there are political reasons why this could happen, but he wants the people to know that the mercy of God is the ultimate reason.
 
Today, something positive and important might happen to any one of us for what seem like obvious reasons but there is also the deeper dimension of our Father at work.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6)
 
“Cry out with Joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” When was the last time that you cried out with joy and gladness because of the presence of God in your life? Try to bring back that feeling in your life. It may have been lost among so much other “stuff.”
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapter 4:4-7)
 
Here is the whole of this beautiful reading: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: but, in everything, by prayer and petition rejoice! Your kindness shall be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
 
“Have no anxiety at all.” How can that work for us who live in an age of anxiety? Anxiety is a billion-dollar industry of multiple medications and therapies, many of which are extremely helpful in the healing process. But what about spiritual healing? More and more people seek spiritual healing through a variety of methods but all too often give up when they do not receive immediate relief from anxiety and the disorders associated with it. That is where prayer comes in—not a prayer here and there but an ongoing spirit of prayer to our all-loving Savior.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 3:10-18)
 
People were attracted to John the Baptist. They could hear and feel the power of his message, so they asked him. “ ‘What should we do?’ He said to them in reply, ‘Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He answered them. ‘Stop collecting more than what has been prescribed.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And what is that that we should we do?’ He told them, ‘Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.’ ”
 
John the Baptist was a challenging prophet and leader, calling on the powerful people of society to act with justice toward the poor and the oppressed. This did not sit well with the rulers of Israel and John died for his beliefs.
 
But in this passage, John says something amazing: “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. This is the same baptism that we receive today, and it imparts to us the presence of the Holy Spirit. That means that you and I are never alone. We have our lifetime spiritual partner living within us, the very Spirit of God. Please remember that, especially in times of trouble, and yes, anxiety.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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God, Father of us all,
your servant John the Baptist
proclaimed you in the wilderness.
May we listen to that call and hear you as well
in those who call to us now.
Make us more attentive to your Word:
forgive us for when we have not listened to you,
and help us to prepare for your coming
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
who was proclaimed by John.
Amen.

 
From Advent Awakenings, Year C: Say Yes to God, published by RENEW International

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Baruch
(Chapter 5:1-9)
 
The Hebrew word baruch means “blessing.” The man Baruch was said to have been a scribe of the prophet Jeremiah, but this book was written much later than the time of Jeremiah, around the era of the Maccabees when the Jews were being persecuted by the Greeks:
 
“Jerusalem, take off your robe of misery and mourning; put on the splendor of glory from God forever. … For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”
 
This is similar to messages of hope attributed in Scripture to a series of prophets who lived over many centuries. Throughout their history, the people of Israel were subjugated by other countries and rulers, and yet, they never gave up hope. One of the roles of the prophets was to give the people hope but also to remind them of God’s great love and mercy in the midst of their suffering. It is a powerful message for us today in the midst of the crises we face as a country and as a people of faith.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6)
 
“The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy.” Think for a moment of all the great things that the Lord has done for you. Allow yourself to rejoice in God’s goodness to you and experience the joy, even—no, especially—in your times of sorrow, disappointment, or suffering.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapters 1:4-6, 8-11)
 
Paul traveled all over what is now Israel, Syria, Lebanon, western Turkey, Greece, and eventually Italy, but he never forgot the people he loved so much in the city of Philippi: “I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. … God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge.”
 
Paul had a hard, often torturous life preaching the Gospel of Jesus. Without Paul, Christianity would not have flourished as it did in the decades after Jesus died. He was a dedicated, passionate man who was sometimes wrong but who always followed the man he had never met, Jesus Christ. Think of him sometimes as you travel in your car or on a train or plane, none of which had been invented in his time. His road was hot and dusty, often dangerous and always tiring, but he found peace and love among the many who heard and followed him, including his beloved Philippians.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 3:1-6)
 
Luke introduces us to John the Baptist by mentioning many of the leading political and religious leaders of the day. But then Luke tells us that “The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” Luke then has a long passage from the prophecy of Isaiah that ends with these words: “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
 
The Jewish people were familiar with a form of baptism that was for the forgiveness of sins. That is what John preached. Jesus brought a different form of baptism—the sacrament that we know today that brings us the everlasting presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to John as the greatest of all the prophets, and John led many to Jesus. We always think of him as the one who prepared the way of the Lord.
 
Most of us were baptized as infants, and we may not have been told about the true meaning of baptism when we grew up. It is no less a gift than the presence of the Holy Spirit. I say it again here because it is life-changing. We are never alone. God’s Spirit is always with us. How often do you think about your life partner, and pray to the Holy Spirit? It could be a life-changer.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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God of our journeys,
as we begin this season of Advent,
calm our hearts and minds
that we may focus
on what is truly important.
We ask this through Christ, Our Lord.
Amen.
 
From Advent Awakenings, Year C: Say Yes to God, published by RENEW International

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