First Sunday of Advent – Watch Out! & St. John of Damascus

In Advent, we celebrate our hope that the Lord might come more fully into our lives. In the readings this weekend, the first reading from Isaiah voices the hope of sinners for a redeemer. As sinners, we too hope for forgiveness. Unlike Isaiah, we know that God has come to bring us back, when he sent his Son, Jesus, to save us. God’s power was manifest in the raising of Christ from the dead. Our faith in Jesus leads us to a new way of looking at the world. We can see what God is doing as well as remembering what God has done.

The Gospel reminds us to look constantly for signs of God’s work. Jesus says simply, “Watch!” Like the gatekeepers in Jesus’ short parable, we need to keep our eyes open for him. Just as we expect people driving cars to turn off their cell phones and keep their eyes on the road, so we can stop looking for whatever makes us comfortable and watch for ways to love others as God loves us. When we only look out for ourselves, we may miss the signs of God’s presence around us. Instead of looking at the difficulties of life as obstacles, we can watch for them as opportunities to stretch our faith, to rely on God, or to show God’s love to a friend.

The Corinthians were also watching for the Lord to come. Paul encourages them (and us) by his reminder that we “are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7). The Holy Spirit gives us all we need to help each other prepare for the Lord’s coming. They were thinking of Jesus as coming in glory. Though we don’t see the full glory of the Lord, part of that glory is his presence in the sacraments. In them we celebrate not just the coming of the Lord, but his working in the world. He shares his life with us in baptism, gives us his Spirit in confirmation, and himself in the Eucharist, heals us in reconciliation and the anointing of the sick, and calls us to make him present to others in holy orders and matrimony. You could almost say his second coming is taking place now.  Watch for it.            -Tom Schmidt, Diocesan Publications

December 4 St. John of Damascus (c. 675-749)

From almost 1300 years ago, John’s message for the church’s spirituality and mission is surprisingly contemporary. Pope Benedict says that, in our modern culture of images, sacred images often speak more eloquently than words. This “incarnational theology,” the concept that visible, tangible elements can give believers access to divine realities beyond, found an eloquent champion in John of Damascus. He challenged the Iconoclasts (image-breakers), whose misinterpretation of the biblical prohibition of idolatrous images (Exodus 20:4-5) led them to campaign for the destruction of all sacred art. Before this controversy, however, John bore witness to Christ in a way that provides a timely example for Christians in today’s pluralistic society. Succeeding his grandfather and father, John served as chief financial officer to the Muslim Caliph, professing his Christian faith without compromise, while winning the esteem of his Islamic sovereign by his competence and integrity. No wonder John could eloquently defend icons as “windows into heaven”—he had already learned to see Christ in the living icons of people different from himself yet fashioned in the same divine image!                —Peter Scagnelli, Diocesan Publications