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BELLS4The church is a sign of community, of worship, of celebration and mourning. We are the body of the church with Christ as its head.

“In Christian symbolism, the church has several meanings.  In its basic sense, it means the House of God.  It may also be used to signify the Body of Christ.  Sometimes, the church is alluded to as the Ark, and in this sense means the salvation of all its members.”

  Inspirational words about Church:

The actual inner unity of redeemed humanity united with Christ.

Karl Adam

Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 18:20 Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. 

The Body of Christian believers and transmitters of Christ’s mind and spirit through the centuries.

Rufus M. Jones

The Church should have a tapering spire, To point to realms where sin’ is forgiven, And lead men’s thoughts from earth to heaven.

John E. Woodrow

 

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If there is anyone out there who would like to continue until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, please send me a comment.    Otherwise, let me hope and pray that you had a good Advent season that found you ready for Christmas and the Epiphany!

 

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                  Merry Christmas!

Argentinia     Felices Pasquas y  Felices Año Nuevo

Baltic    Lettish Priecigus Ziemassvetkus

Bulgaria     Chestita Koleda

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ImageTo receive greetings from around the world each day of December, check out our Advent mailbox.

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1012booksigning

 

In reading Catie the Copycat the first time, I thought a sequel was necessary.  The author Juliana Howard, with the help of illustrations by Sophia Heymans, portrays a young girl who always decides what to do by watching others.   ‘She couldn’t hear the voice that said “Be what YOU want to be!” ‘

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Gospel, Matthew 3:1-12   “Phylactery” is a Greek word meaning “amulet”.  It translates the Jewish word “tefillin”, the two leather capsules, one fastened to the forearm by a leather strap and the other suspended from a headband, which contained small parchments on which are written Exodus 13:1-10, Exodus 13:11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21.  They are similar to amulets worn by people of other cultures in the ancient world, the difference being that the tefillin are signs of committing one’s deeds and heart to God as compared to amulets which contain magical inscriptions and are intended to protect the wearer from evil.  Although worn only during morning prayer since the Middle Ages, they were commonly worn throughout the day in previous ages of Jewish history.  From Jewish sources I read, it is believed that, during the time of Jesus, some people wore them or at least the head one almost all the time (the Pharisees are in this group), some just part of the time, and some never (the Sadducees are in this group).  The difference was not one of acceptance of the command to “bind them on your forehead…” but whether that command was to be taken literally or metaphorically to keep God constantly in mind. 

Tassels were attached to the hem or edge of the cloak which served as a prayer shawl for many Jews.  The tassels, called “tzitzit”, were more than decorative.  They were mandated by God (Numbers 15:37-41) as a reminder “to keep all the commandments of the Lord without going wantonly astray after the desires of your heart and eyes”.  In ancient times in the Near East the distinctive hem of an outer garment, of which the tassels were a part, represented the person and his/her rank or importance in society.  In 1 Samuel 24 David and his men, being pursued by Saul in the desert, hide in a cave into which Saul comes to relieve himself.  David cuts off the hem of Saul’s mantle but spares Saul’s life.  David later regrets having cut the hem for, according to Jewish commentary I read on the passage, it was a sign that he was taking away the authority of Saul who, for his part, becomes remorseful for pursuing David since this event was a sign to him that his God-given authority was being cut off to be given to David. 

The more important the individual, the wider and more elaborate the hem.  Along with widening the headband of their tefillin, the Pharisees were converting these signs of religious commitment into signs of their feeling superior to others for whom they prided themselves as models to be emulated and copied in following God’s law. 

The prescription against calling someone “rabbi”, “father” or “master” is not a linguistic lesson on acceptable and unacceptable titles.  If that were the case, the words we really shouldn’t use would be the original Aramaic terminology spoken by Jesus or the Greek words from the original Gospel account.  We all have teachers and fathers, after all, and we need some titles for them.  Jesus’ words are, instead, a call to humility in areas of responsibility, contrary to the pride of the Pharisees in seeking honor and admiration for themselves.  Whatever honor, authority or position we have is to be exercised as stewards of God who is forever our teacher, Father, and master.

Reading 1, Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10  The name Malachi is a Hebrew word meaning “my messenger” as found in the book of Malachi in 1:1 and 3:1.  It is believed to be a pseudonym rather than the author’s proper name.  The work was composed as a reproach against the priests and rulers of the Jewish people for their poor leadership around 445 BC during the period of restoration following the Babylonian captivity.  Given the charges he levels, he understandably preferred to remain anonymous. 

The specific breaking of the covenant referred to here was the law from Deuteronomy 7:1-4 against marrying people from other religions, something which was to be more strictly enforced after the Exile.

Reading II, 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13  In last week’s commentary I gave some background on the geography of Thessalonica.  Paul had visited the city on his second missionary journey but left when his ministry caused considerable disturbance among the Jewish population of the city.  He later sent Timothy to visit the community of Christians there and, after receiving Timothy’s report on the visit, wrote this letter around 52 AD.  Paul begins his letter by affirming them as a model for other Christian communities.  Here he reminds them of his personal dedication to serving them, not for any personal gain, but out of a desire to share the gospel with them.

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St. Dominic’s supports the Crisis Pregnancy Center through its volunteer help and through its Mother’s Day collection.  Last year our October 10 Rally for Life ended up afterwards at their new location. 

They are having a fundrasier banquest November 3rd at Buntrock Commons that promises to be a pleasant evening with good food and entertainment.   (If you have ever eaten there, you know the food is fabulous!) Here is an invitation from Liz Blanchard, the director of CPC of Northfield, on behalf of all of their clients – the young mothers and their babies and their families during or following a crisis pregnancy to join the gathering. If you have any questions, feel free to call the center at 507-645-7638.

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Gospel, Matthew 22:1-14  Those initially invited to the feast were the Jews, God’s chosen people.  Jesus is the Son of God in whose honor the wedding feast was prepared.  Not indicated here, but completing the wedding symbolism, the Church or people of God together is the bride.  The messengers sent to invite people to the feast were the prophets sent by God to call people to repentance and return to God.  Responses to the prophetic message ranged from ignoring the message to actually killing some of the prophets.  Thirty-some years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Jews defeated the Roman occupying forces and declared their independence.  Rome countered by sending her best army to quell the uprising and restore Roman control by sweeping the country from north to south.  Coming to Jerusalem, the Roman army laid siege to the city.  Jerusalem was taken over and the temple torn down.  It is possible that early Christians, believing that God brings about divine retribution in history, would have used the Roman army as his agent in punishing the Jews for rejecting the prophets and killing Jesus. 

Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, his followers engaged in missionary efforts to evangelize and invite people of every race and nation to know Christ and be baptized in the Christian faith…the second round of invitations to the wedding.  It is possible that some Christians presumed that they were “in” for all eternity by the mere fact of baptism into the Christian community as had some of their Jewish predecessors who believed eternal life was guaranteed merely for the fact of being members of God’s chosen race.  Putting on a “wedding garment” was still required.  In Colossians 3:12-14 Paul wrote that we should “put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…and over all these put on love”.  Peter, likewise, says “clothe yourselves with humility in your dealing with one another (1 Peter 5:5).  As soldiers against evil, Paul wrote that we should “put on the armor of God…with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace…hold faith as a shield…take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit(Eph. 6:13-17).”  In Galatians 3:27 Paul writes, “All who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” and in Romans 13:14 he succinctly states, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ”.  That is the wedding garment we must put on each day if we want to remain for the eternal banquet after receiving the invitation.     

Reading 1, Isaiah 25:6-10a  In the ancient cosmology God was considered to be up above.  Believing the world to be flat with God or gods being up above controlling everything, it is understandable that people in all cultures and religions went up on mountains to communicate with their gods.  Where no natural mountains existed, people built ziggurats as in Mesopotamia or pyramids as in Egypt, the Americas and many other locations around the world.  The mountain in this reading is Mt. Zion, the mountain on which the temple was constructed.  It was a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem, a perfect city of complete unity between God and his people. What, however, is to understood by the “veil that veils all peoples” and the “web that is woven over all nations”?  These could be interpreted to be attitudes which focus on our differences in ethnic, religious and national backgrounds and tend to divide us in this world.  Isaiah foresees a time when that veil which keeps us from seeing things as they really are will be lifted and people will no longer be caught in a web of separation and competition among groups.  The invitation to the great feast will be open to people of all nations.

Reading II, Philippians 4:12-14,19-20 The Christian community at Philippi was wealthy and had taken up a collection for Paul and sent it through Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25).  Paul’s personal policy was to be self-sufficient, raising the money needed to support himself and his ministry through his trade as a tentmaker (1 Thes. 2:9, 1 Cor. 9:18).  Paul recognized his right to be supported by his ministry but chose not to do so to make his intentions clear.  He was sharing Christ with others because of his faith, not as a way of receiving an income.  He doesn’t send the money back to Philippi.  He received money from them a few other times.  He obviously recognized that this was a way in which the Philippi community wanted to share in his ministry, and he did not want to let pride in his self-support deny them that sense of partnership.

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Gospel, Matthew 21:28-32  The section of Matthew’s gospel from 21:23 through 23:36 is a series of confrontations orencounters between Jesus and representatives of the major Jewish groups of his day.  In 21:23-27 some chief priests and elders challenge Jesus’ authority.  In today’s gospel from 21:28-32 Jesus turns the conversation against them and continues to do so in 21:33-46 with the parable of the tenants who try to take over the vineyard by killing the owner’s son.  Then in 22:1-14 Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast to which those initially invited did not come.  In 22:15-22 the Pharisees try to trap Jesus over the question of payment of taxes.  Then in 22:23-33 the Sadducees challenge him about the resurrection from the dead.  The Pharisees return to challenge Jesus in 22:34-40 as to which commandment of the law is the greatest.  Then Jesus goes on the offensive in 22:41-46 with questions about the Messiah in relationship to David.  When “no one dared to ask him any more questions” (22:46), Jesus directs himself to the crowds to denounce the Scribes and Pharisees in 23:1-36.  These groups had some major differences of opinion among themselves.  While the Pharisees, for example, believed in resurrection of the dead and life after death, the Sadducees did not.  While the chief priests and Sadducees supported the government to their benefit, the Pharisees were clear about their opposition to Roman rule.  All of these groups, however, saw Jesus as a threat.  Many people today would like to see our presidential candidates go head-to-head with some verbal sparring.  So it was with people of Jesus’ time.  Apparently Jesus was very witty and good with such encounters, something which delighted the crowds and silenced his opponents.  Unsuccessful in such public debates, they would eventually decide the only means of silencing him would be to have him put to death.

Reading 1, Ezekiel 18:25-28  The entire chapter of Ezekiel 18 recounts a word of God to Ezekiel regarding a previous common belief that children share in the guilt and punishment for the sins of their parents and vice versa.  The lesson makes it clear that God will not punish anyone for the sins of another, “I will judge you each one according to his ways” (18:30).  Within that teaching is given the message of complete forgiveness for the sinner who turns away from sins to lead a virtuous life: “None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him” (18:22).  What bothered those who heard Ezekiel’s teaching was the corollary regarding those who turn from virtue to a way of sin: “None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered because he has broken faith” (18:24).  That seemed unfair to them because they considered doing good deeds like putting money in a bank account.  They might consider it fair that some of their savings be withdrawn when they do evil, but not that their entire account be wiped out.  Paul will deal with the relationship between faith and virtuous deeds in his letter to the Romans as will James in his letter.  The key is the state of one’s relationship with God.  Virtuous deeds do not stand by themselves.  They are an essential outward expression of faith commanded by God and the individual’s personal response to God in the relationship.  The relationship is central.  Because of that, one breaking faith with God has truly lost the account while one turning away from sin opens a new account with no debt transfer.

Reading II, Philippians 2:1-11  Verses 6-11 are commonly believed to have been a familiar hymn quoted by Paul in his letter.  They beautifully teach how the Son of God in Jesus could retain his divine nature while emptying himself of all the divine attributes, thus taking on human nature along with all our human attributes.  Then, through his human nature, he offered himself back to the Father.  Thus, in Jesus, God reveals God’s love to humanity and humanity is offered back to God.

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Recalculating … what the Garmin, the GPS guidance system now used by so many car drivers,  says when you have gone in a direction contrary to its plan.

It reminds me of the recalculating that must be done when there is an unexpected pregnancy.  Working at the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northfield, formerly Birthright, I have seen how difficult it can be for the pregnant woman who may have planned to go  to college or her parents who are embarrassed or her boyfriend who doesn’t feel ready for the responsibility.

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