Mabuhay at Mabuting Balita
Month of the Divine Infancy
Second Sunday of Advent
21 Days Before Christmas
First Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17: Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Second Reading: Romans 15:4-9
Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Reflection: What kind of Messiah did God promise to send to his people and how would he bring God’s kingdom to them? The prophet Isaiah foresaw the day when God would raise up a Messianic King long after King David’s throne had been overthrown and vacant for centuries. God promised that he would raise up a new king from the stump of Jesse, the father of King David (Isaiah 11:1). This messianic king would rule forever because the Spirit of God would rest upon him and remain with him (Isaiah 11:2).
Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah
Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be equipped with the gifts of the Spirit – with wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2 – for an explanation of the gifts see this helpful article). This king would establish the kingdom of God, not by force of human will and military power, but by offering his life as the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. Through his death on the cross, Jesus, the true Messiah King, would defeat Satan, overcome death, and win pardon and reconciliation for sinners. God’s plan of redemption included not only the Jewish people but all the nations of the earth as well. Through his death and resurrection Jesus makes us citizens of heaven and friends of God. The Lord Jesus wants us to live in joyful hope and confident expectation that he will come again to fully establish his kingdom of righteousness and peace.
John the Baptist’s prophecy of the Messiah
Why did John the Baptist prophesy that the Messiah would come and “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11)? Fire in biblical times was often associated with God’s presence and with his action in the lives of his people. God sometimes manifested his presence by use of fire, such as the burning bush which was not consumed when God spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:2). The image of fire was also used to symbolize God’s glory (Ezekiel 1:4, 13), his protective presence (2 Kings 6:17), his holiness (Deuteronomy 4:24), righteous judgment (Zechariah 13:9), and his wrath against sin (Isaiah 66:15-16). Fire was also used as a sign of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence (Matthew 3:11). When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared over the heads of the apostles and disciples of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The fire of the Holy Spirit purifies and cleanses us of sin, and it inspires a reverent fear of God and of his word in us. Do you want to be on fire for God and for the return of the Lord Jesus when he comes again in his glory?
John pointed others to the coming of Christ and his kingdom
John the Baptist’s life was fueled by one burning passion – to point others to Jesus Christ and to the coming of his kingdom. Who is John the Baptist and what is the significance of his message for our lives? Scripture tells us that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15, 41) by Christ himself, whom Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit. When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth John lept in her womb as they were filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41). Like the prophets of the Old Testament, John devoted his entire life to prayer and the word of God. He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where he was tested and grew in the word of God. John’s clothing was reminiscent of the prophet Elijah (see Kings 1:8). The Holy Spirit prepared John for the mission entrusted to him as forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus Christ – the Word of God who became man for our salvation (John 1:1,14). John pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world by offering his life on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sin of the world (John 1:29).
John broke the prophetic silence of the previous centuries when he began to speak the word of God to the people of Israel. His message was similar to the message of the Old Testament prophets who chided the people of God for their unfaithfulness and who tried to awaken true repentance in them. Among a people unconcerned with the things of God, it was his work to awaken their interest, unsettle them from their complacency, and arouse in them enough good will to recognize and receive Christ when he came. Are you eager to hear God’s word and to be changed by it through the power of the Holy Spirit?
A new era of God’s restoration begins
Jesus tells us that John the Baptist was more than a prophet (Luke 7:26). John was the voice of the Consoler who is coming (John 1:23; Isaiah 40:1-3). He completed the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah (Matthew 11:13-14). What the prophets had carefully searched for and angels longed to see, now came to completion as John made the way ready for the coming of the Messiah, God’s Anointed Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. With John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to the human race of the “divine likeness”, prefiguring what would be achieved with and in the Lord Jesus.
John’s baptism was for repentance – turning away from sin and taking on a new way of life according to God’s word. Our baptism in Jesus Christ by water and the Spirit results in a new birth and entry into God’s kingdom as his beloved sons and daughters (John 3:5). The Lord Jesus gives us the fire of his Spirit so that we may radiate the joy and truth of the Gospel to a world in desperate need of God’s light and truth. His word has power to change and transform our lives that we may be lights pointing others to Christ. Like John the Baptist, we too are called to give testimony to the light and truth of Jesus Christ. Do you point others to Christ in the way you live, work, and speak?
“Lord, let your light burn brightly in my heart that I may know the joy and freedom of your kingdom. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and empower me to witness the truth of your Gospel and to point others to Jesus Christ.” http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/dec4.htm
Saint of the Day: St. John of Damascus (645-749)
Saint John Damascene has the double honor of being the last but one of the fathers of the Eastern Church, and the greatest of her poets. It is surprising, however, how little that is authentic is known of his life. The account of him by John of Jerusalem, written some two hundred years after his death, contains an admixture of legendary matter, and it is not easy to say where truth ends and fiction begins.
The ancestors of John, according to his biographer, when Damascus fell into the hands of the Arabs, had alone remained faithful to Christianity. They commanded the respect of the conqueror, and were employed in judicial offices of trust and dignity, to administer, no doubt, the Christian law to the Christian subjects of the Sultan. His father, besides this honorable rank, had amassed great wealth; all this he devoted to the redemption of Christian slaves on whom he bestowed their freedom. John was the reward of these pious actions. John was baptized immediately on his birth, probably by Peter II, bishop of Damascus, afterwards a sufferer for the Faith. The father was anxious to keep his son aloof from the savage habits of war and piracy, to which the youths of Damascus were addicted, and to devote him to the pursuit of knowledge. The Saracen pirates of the seashore neighboring to Damascus, swept the Mediterranean, and brought in Christian captives from all quarters. A monk named Cosmas had the misfortune to fall into the hands of these freebooters. He was set apart for death, when his executioners, Christian slaves no doubt, fell at his feet and entreated his intercession with the Redeemer. The Saracens enquired of Cosmas who he was. He replied that he had not the dignity of a priest; he was a simple monk, and burst into tears. The father of John was standing by, and expressed his surprise at this exhibition of timidity. Cosmas answered, “It is not for the loss of my life, but of my learning, that I weep.” Then he recounted his attainments, and the father of John, thinking he would make a valuable tutor for his son, begged or bought his life of the Saracen governor; gave him his freedom, and placed his son under his tuition. The pupil in time exhausted all the acquirements of his teacher. The monk then obtained his dismissal, and retired to the monastery of S. Sabas, where he would have closed his days in peace, had he not been compelled to take on himself the bishopric of Majuma, the port of Gaza.
The attainments of the young John of Damascus commanded the veneration of the Saracens; he was compelled reluctantly to accept an office of higher trust and dignity than that held by his father. As the Iconoclastic controversy became more violent, John of Damascus entered the field against the Emperor of the East, and wrote the first of his three treatises on the Veneration due to Images. This was probably composed immediately after the decree of Leo the Isaurian against images, in 730.
Before he wrote the second, he was apparently ordained priest, for he speaks as one having authority and commission. The third treatise is a recapitulation of the arguments used in the other two. These three treatises were disseminated with the utmost activity throughout Christianity.
The biographer of John relates a story which is disproved not only by its exceeding improbability, but also by being opposed to the chronology of his history. It is one of those legends of which the East is so fertile, and cannot be traced, even in allusion, to any document earlier than the biography written two hundred years later. Leo the Isaurian, having obtained, through his emissaries, one of John’s circular epistles in his own handwriting — so runs the tale — caused a letter to be forged, containing a proposal from John of Damascus to betray his native city to the Christians. The emperor, with specious magnanimity, sent this letter to the Sultan. The indignant Mahommedan ordered the guilty hand of Johnto be cut off. John entreated that the hand might be restored to him, knelt before the image of the Virgin, prayed, fell asleep, and woke with his hand as before. John, convinced by this miracle, that he was under the special protection of our Lady, resolved to devote himself wholly to a life of prayer and praise, and retired to the monastery of Saint Sabas.
That the Sultan should have contented himself with cutting off the hand of one of his magistrates for an act of high treason is in itself improbable, but it is rendered more improbable by the fact that it has been proved by Father Lequien, the learned editor of his works, that Saint John Damascene was already a monk at Saint Sabas before the breaking out of the Iconoclastic dispute.
In 743, the Khalif Ahlid II persecuted the Christians. He cut off the tongue of Peter, metropolitan of Damascus, and banished him to Arabia Felix. Peter, bishop of Majuma, suffered decapitation at the same time, and Saint John of Damascus wrote an eulogium on his memory. Another legend is as follows: it is probably not as apocryphal as that of the severed hand: — The abbot sent Saint John in the meanest and most beggarly attire to sell baskets in the marketplace of Damascus, where he had been accustomed to appear in the dignity of office, and to vend his poor ware at exorbitant prices. Nor did the harshness of the abbot end there. A man had lost his brother, and broken-hearted at his bereaval, besought Saint John to compose him a sweet hymn that might be sung at this brother’s funeral, and which at the same time would soothe his own sorrow. John asked leave of the abbot, and was curtly refused permission. But when he saw the distress of the mourner he yielded, and sang him a beautiful lament. The abbot was passing at the time, and heard the voice of his disciple raised in song. Highly incensed, he expelled him from the monastery, and only re- admitted him on condition of his daily cleaning the filth from all the cells of his brethren. An opportune vision rebuked the abbot for thus wasting the splendid talents of his inmate. John was allowed to devote himself to religious poetry, which became the heritage of the Eastern Church, and to theological arguments in defense of the doctrines of the Church, and refutation of all heresies. His three great hymns or “canons,” are those on Easter, the Ascension, and Satin Thomas’s Sunday. Probably also many of the Idiomela an Stichera which are scattered about the office- books under the title of “John” and “John the Hermit” are his. His eloquent defense of images has deservedly procured him the title of “The Doctor of Christian Art.” The date of his death cannot be fixed with any certainty; but it lies between 754 and before 787. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=66
More Saints of the Day
St. Cassian of Tangier
Bl. Edward Coleman
St. Francis Xavier
Bl. Johann Nepomuk von Tschiderer