Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 5)

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum was first published in 1986. Although it is sometimes criticized for being simplistic, many of its short essays still find resonance for readers.

One such lesson, which we not only learned in kindergarten but in our homes – especially if that home involved siblings – was to share everything. Sharing is a good activity. It helps us be more aware of others around us. It helps us to be charitable. It helps us exercise kindness. It helps us recognize the good things we have, and many times, brings joy with it.

The Gospel account for this Sunday’s liturgy recalls the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist. The ministry is one of preparation. John makes ready the way for Jesus. His is a call for all to open their hearts so that they may receive the one who will come after him. His mission shares the good news that the dawn of salvation is arriving.

As St. Luke introduces the ministry of John, he first sets it into a context, an historical context. He mentions the time period and the leaders of the day in the world and in his homeland. Tiberius Caesar is the emperor, Pilate the governor of Judea, Herod is tetrarch in Galilee and his brothers in the surrounding regions. He mentions Annas and Caiaphas as the religious leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem.

Mentioning these figures is important because it situates God’s saving activity in the everyday life of humanity. God involves himself in our history. He enters into human activity to save.

The good news of God’s saving activity is acclaimed in the first reading and the responsorial psalm. Baruch exhorts the people of Israel to rejoice in hope for the God who delivered in the past will once again deliver his people: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of morning and misery; 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.”

Psalm 126 recalls the rejoicing when God brought Israel home from the Babylonian exile. For 50 years they were held captive in a foreign land, now they are home and the Israelites sing the praises of God – “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” Israel is encouraged in both these readings to share the good news of God’s saving activity. God has delivered in real time and will deliver again.

St. Luke, in describing John’s ministry, quotes from the prophet Isaiah. In doing so, he points forward to the definitive salvific action of God – deliverance from sin and death – in the advent of the Savior. Everything will be transformed with the coming of Christ. His love will establish the Kingdom of God and “all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.” This is good news indeed. This is the message that the Baptist shared.

Advent provides us a time to be renewed in hope. We remember God’s saving activity in time and realize that he still comes to deliver us. The celebration of the Eucharist each Sunday provides us with a real-time encounter.

God breaks through the barrier of time and enters into history – our history, our time, our lives. He is present in the community gathered. He is present in the Word proclaimed. He is present in a unique and unparalleled way in the Eucharist. In this celebration the God who saves leads us, speaks to us and nourishes us for this journey through life as we long for and anticipate his return.

Last week the Archdiocese of Philadelphia started an awareness campaign called “Nothing Compares to Being There.” The efforts in the upcoming year seek to share the good news and celebrate God’s presence among us in the Sunday celebration of Mass.

We are all encouraged to spread the good news and to invite people who have been away (for whatever reason) or have never had the experience to come and join in the celebration of God’s love. The Mass is a great gift to us from God himself, a gift whereby he is present to us here and now, a gift we are all called to share.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.