The Gospel reading for Sunday, Jan. 1, helps us understand why the calendar year begins with the celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.
It all began with the shepherds tending their flocks when an angel appeared to them and told them to go to a stable in Bethlehem, where they would find a savior who is "Messiah and Lord." "You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
The feast of the Birth of Jesus is perhaps the most attractive feast of the liturgical year. Children, adults and elders gaze into the manger at the "infant wrapped in swaddling clothes" and are speechless in awe and admiration.
How could an infinitely great God show more affection for fallen mankind than by becoming a helpless baby, born in a stable and placed in a manger? Normally, babies were born in the family home, surrounded by extended family, to provide support for the mother and father.
Sunday, Dec. 18, is a week from the celebration of the birth of the God-Man who comes to save the world from sin. The closer we get to this great event, the deeper we enter into the mystery of His coming in time and in our hearts.
In the first reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, God desires to reveal a sign of God's coming to Ahaz, but proud Ahaz refuses to ask for the sign, saying, "I will not tempt the Lord!"
On Dec. 11, the third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate "Gaudete" Sunday. The entrance antiphon exhorts us to: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near." The readings blend twin calls to have hope and patience.
The first reading from Isaiah celebrates the marvelous future transformation of the parched land and the desert into a land that "will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song." "They will see the glory of the Lord and the splendor of our God."
The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent validate the hunger our hearts experience for a lasting peace and harmony that eludes us now. As St. Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you, O Lord." God placed in our hearts a profound hunger for unity, harmony, happiness and fulfillment, and that hunger nurtures our hope for what God promises in the depths of our spirit.
The responsorial psalm captures and simplifies the theme of the readings for the first week of Advent. We're called to walk in the "light of the Lord."
Isaiah states: "In the days to come, the mountains of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills." This doesn't mean Mount Zion is physically the highest mountain, rather God chose this mountain as His special dwelling place.