Discipleship. Pretty easy to pick a theme in today’s readings. Jonah, Peter, Andrew, James and John, all great examples of disciples, people who followed God, went where He sent them. People who truly spread the Good News. Look at Jonah and the great success we heard about in that first reading. Nineveh was a huge city, it took three days to walk through it. About the same time it takes to go from the West Gate to the East Gate! Our reading tells us that Jonah had spent only one day in the city preaching and everyone believed in God and repented. What a preacher! Then we see the first four fishermen that were called to be disciples and the Gospel tells us they immediately dropped everything, left their possessions, livelihood, family and followed Jesus. What disciples!
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. What does the church want us to learn from it, after all we really know almost nothing of the family life of Jesus. All we know is that at age 12 he got left in the temple and Mary and Joseph were a little upset. Instead, let’s ask why God came to earth as a child and part of a family? If there is something we know about, it’s families and it seems like there is a lot of “baggage” associated with being part of a family. Things get messy in a family.
Our Rose vestments and the lit pink candle is a dead give away that something is different this Sunday. In fact, it is called Gaudete Sunday from the Latin for the word “rejoice” and it marks the midpoint in our Advent journey. I looked up the definition of rejoice and it said, “to feel joy or great delight.” And joy is defined as “the emotion evoked by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” The prospect of possessing what one desires, isn’t that a great description of what our attitude should be in this Advent season and every day of the year! We are called to be a people of joy, a people excited about the prospect of possessing what we desire - eternal life with God.
This is probably the most confusing feast on the church calendar. Part of the reason is the Gospel that we just heard talks about Mary’s “yes” that allowed her to conceive Christ. But today we are celebrating the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are celebrating when MARY was conceived, NOT when Jesus was conceived. We celebrate that Mary was totally preserved from the stain of original sin AND that she remained pure from ALL personal sin throughout her life. That is why the angel Gabriel greeted her with, “Hail, full of grace!” She truly was Immaculate and full of grace as befits the mother of Jesus. This is a relatively new solemnity with Pope Pius IX declaring this dogma in 1854.
Probably if I asked what are the first words of the Bible, someone would get it right, even if it was just a lucky guess. The Bible starts with the Book of Genesis and the words, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” Now if the next question was what are the last words of the Bible I bet there would be a lot of silence. The last book of the Bible is the Book of Revelation and the last words are, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Between In the beginning and Come Lord Jesus is the whole of salvation history, the entire story of our God injecting Himself into time and history. And it is our story, a story of waiting, watching and hoping.