This evening we start our bible study on the season of advent. Tonight’s subject will be the prophesies that foretold the coming of the savior. I have not given anything away by sharing this information, but if you come tonight, you can look surprised when I introduce the topic.
As I was researching the subject, I came across a very interesting article that was written by an Old Testament scholar at Loyola University in Chicago. In the article she explained that an interesting thing happens when she lectures on the prophesies leading to Christmas. Catholics have a special, almost fanatic, opinion regarding the teachings of the Christmas story. She said that for Easter and the resurrection we are a lot more tolerant to the presentation of different perspectives, but when it comes to Christmas, we are deeply attached to the stories that we remember from our youth.
Maybe this is all tied up with the tinsel and decorations, but I find myself with a similar attachment. Of the two, Easter is theologically much more significant. Without the resurrection you can erase the last 2000 years of human history. Without the resurrection why are we here, what are we doing, what is the point. But, you will point out, without Christmas we have no savior, the prophecies are not fulfilled, and creation is missing the one piece that makes it complete. One feast is the beginning of the story and the other is …. The other beginning of the story. Together they tell who we are, what we believe and how we should live. So what makes some of us Christmas Catholics and others Easter Catholics?
This entire week, our first readings have been from the book of Maccabees. Those that have had to stand up here and share these readings will tell you that they are long, complicated and dark readings from the Old Testament. A couple of interesting facts about the books of Maccabees, they are not found in the Hebrew or the Protestant Bible. As a matter of fact, it used to be in the King James bible but was taken out. We traditionally read from this book at the end of the liturgical year and then rarely again.
The stories this week have been taken from the lives and hardships of the Jewish people. They are stories of their civil war, their persecution and harsh treatment. It seems as though that in one story after another someone is being killed, or tortured, or forced to turn away from God. And through it all the characters in the stories remain true to their God. In today’s first reading, Mattathias was so passionate in his Zeal, that “his heart was moved and his just fury was aroused”. I don’t need to go into what happened next but let’s just say that “the zeal for the Lord” argument is no longer an acceptable murder defense.
Perhaps first Maccabees is not a story about what Mattathias did maybe it was about what he felt. Perhaps the question is not whether we are Christmas or Easter people maybe it is whether we are God’s people.
What led to Mattathias’ outbreak was the fact that the king wanted him to “go along”. ”You are a leader, an honorable and great man in this city, supported by sons and kin. Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those who are left in Jerusalem have done.” And then, as if to prove his point a Jew walks in and does exactly what the king was asking of Mattathias.
We are days away from the beginning of Advent. For four weeks we will be in a period of preparation for the coming of our Lord. Let us enter that season with the zeal of Mattathias. I am not suggesting that anyone springs up and attacks someone, but perhaps during this advent we can look to the themes and teaching of our faith with enthusiasm. Maybe this is a good Advent season to make ourselves ready to receive our savior this Christmas season.
1MC 2: 15-29
The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy
came to the city of Modein to organize the sacrifices.
Many of Israel joined them,
but Mattathias and his sons gathered in a group apart.
Then the officers of the king addressed Mattathias:
“You are a leader, an honorable and great man in this city,
supported by sons and kin.
Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command,
as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah
and those who are left in Jerusalem have done.
Then you and your sons shall be numbered among the King’s Friends,
and shall be enriched with silver and gold and many gifts.”
But Mattathias answered in a loud voice:
“Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey him,
so that each forsakes the religion of his fathers
and consents to the king’s orders,
yet I and my sons and my kin
will keep to the covenant of our fathers.
God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments.
We will not obey the words of the king
nor depart from our religion in the slightest degree.”
As he finished saying these words,
a certain Jew came forward in the sight of all
to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein
according to the king’s order.
When Mattathias saw him, he was filled with zeal;
his heart was moved and his just fury was aroused;
he sprang forward and killed him upon the altar.
At the same time, he also killed the messenger of the king
who was forcing them to sacrifice,
and he tore down the altar.
Thus he showed his zeal for the law,
just as Phinehas did with Zimri, son of Salu.
Then Mattathias went through the city shouting,
“Let everyone who is zealous for the law
and who stands by the covenant follow after me!”
Thereupon he fled to the mountains with his sons,
leaving behind in the city all their possessions.
Many who sought to live according to righteousness and religious custom
went out into the desert to settle there.
November 18, 2021
November 18, 2021