Prayers for today: People of Zion, the Lord will come to save all nations, and your hearts will exult to hear his majestic voice. Is.30:19,30
God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy, so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
St. Nicholas (d. 350?)
The absence of the “hard facts” of history is not necessarily an obstacle to the popularity of saints, as the devotion to St. Nicholas shows. Both the Eastern and Western Churches honour him, and it is claimed that, after the Blessed Virgin, he is the saint most pictured by Christian artists. And yet, historically, we can pinpoint only the fact that Nicholas was the fourth-century bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, a province of Asia Minor. As with many of the saints, however, we are able to capture the relationship which Nicholas had with God through the admiration which Christians have had for him—an admiration expressed in the colourful stories which have been told and retold through the centuries. Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. In the English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Claus — further expanding the example of generosity portrayed by this holy bishop.
The critical eye of modern history makes us take a deeper look at the legends surrounding St. Nicholas. But perhaps we can utilize the lesson taught by his legendary charity, look deeper at our approach to material goods in the Christmas season and seek ways to extend our sharing to those in real need.
“In order to be able to consult more suitably the welfare of the faithful according to the condition of each one, a bishop should strive to become duly acquainted with their needs in the social circumstances in which they live.... He should manifest his concern for all, no matter what their age, condition, or nationality, be they natives, strangers, or foreigners” (Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office, 16).
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (3.1-6)
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar — when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene — during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.' (
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
The liturgical season of Advent is the time when we relive the preparation for the coming of the Messiah, which God expected of his people. The word “Advent” refers to the coming of God to us. We place ourselves in the Scripture scenes of Advent in order to recapture the spirit of preparedness which should characterise our lives continually. While God has indeed come, nevertheless he is always coming. The rise of John the Baptist as a great prophet marked the climax of the long preparation recorded in the Scriptures for the coming of God to save his people. John’s message was, God is about to come. “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” Luke 3:1-6. The person of John the Baptist is an outstanding example of the dispositions with which we ought receive Christ our Lord. In the Prologue of John’s Gospel, the figure of John the Baptist is placed before the reader from the outset, and he is the counterweight of the sad statement of the Prologue that the Word came unto his own and his own did not receive him. John is a great model of all those who do receive him. So during Advent let us contemplate the example of John the Baptist. But let us also go beyond John to the One who prepared him from before birth and during his childhood and youth, and who then placed him before the chosen people of God as a prophet of the Most High. I refer to the Holy Spirit. Every Sunday at Mass we proclaim together the Nicene Creed. It is a proclamation of our Catholic Faith and it is a prayer of praise and thanks to God for all he has done. In the Creed we state that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. He proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets. The office and ministry of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures is seen as especially the work of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of John is a pre-eminent example of it.
As we read in the Gospel of St Luke (1:15,41), John was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. As St Luke says in the same chapter (1:78), John is the Elijah who was to come again, and this was confirmed by our Lord himself (Matt 17:10-13). In John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit brings to its climax his work of speaking through the prophets prior to the Messiah. John is the “voice” of the Consoler who is coming. John comes to bear witness to the light, just as the Holy Spirit himself will do after Christ has gone to the Father (John 15:26). John the Baptist himself was very aware of the Holy Spirit, and he defined the mission of the Messiah as being the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. “I baptize you with water,” he said, “but there is coming one stronger than I, and I am not worthy to undo his sandal-straps. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). As St John reports the Baptist’s words, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Just as John himself was the work of the Holy Spirit, so too in announcing the coming of the Messiah, he was announcing the coming of the Holy Spirit. So it is that in beginning the Gospel with the ministry of John the Baptist, the inspired authors are reminding us of the work of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of the prophets up to John. They are also pointing to his future work in the life of the Church. Just as the Holy Spirit raised up John, so the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to bring the Church to birth and to make it the instrument whereby we each of us receives this divine Gift. As John was a sign and a promise of the presence and action of the Spirit, so is the Church. As the Church is a sign and promise of the Holy Spirit for each of us, so we should be a sign and a promise of the Holy Spirit for the world. The Holy Spirit has been given to each of us at our Baptism. He is the same Spirit who came to John before his birth, and who sustained him in his mission through life. He has come to each of us to sustain us in our Christian vocation in life.
Let us think of the person and example of John the Baptist, who announced the coming of Jesus. John bears witness to Christ, and does so by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us, like John, welcome Christ as our Redeemer. Let us prepare for his continual comings to us, and for his final coming at the end. This we do by the grace of the Holy Spirit who led John the Baptist, and who wishes to lead each of us in the footsteps of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is our Consoler and our Friend, and it is his work to transform us into the image of Jesus.