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The Second Sunday (Advent 2008/2017) Boarbank Hall
Good News of the Kingdom of God (Mk 1:1)
The Roman Emperors on taking office in the first century inaugurated their reign as “Good News”- in the plural. The Christians in that same world, responded with their ‘Good News’ in the singular- the Good News was just Jesus Christ. The Gospel writers prefaced their account with thestory of John the Baptist. By the time they came to write what we now read, John the Baptist was long dead, and Jesus had come back to life in resurrection.
The World of the Baptist
The Baptist’s was a time of expectancy. People must have been very eager to hear what John had to offer; great numbers sought him out otherwise the numbers seeking him out. The idea of personal repentance would not normally be very appealing. Who wants to change radically unless there is a radical reason for doing so? The way John was living, in such austerity, in the desert, and in a garb so clearly like the prophet Elijah, would have demonstrated in his context, that he John was not engaged in this for himself; he was not seeking after power, but making proclamation in the traditiona Jewish prophetic mould. There was only one God, only one way to honour him and ultimatge happiness when fidelity reigned. The people had their sufferings. There was a lot of sickness then, and not least mental sickness, and ordinary people believed that the devil was in control- until God should finally take over. They laboured under extortionate property owners. It was an agrarian economy, and the taxes were very high. Over it all was an occupying power, taking 25% of the profits on all produce. The mode of collecting the taxes was to farm them out to the best bidders- the system made for corruption. The social aspects of John’s teaching, especially as given in St.Luke, would have been very congenial to those in need. People like Levi (Matthew), and Zacchaeus later, were good illustrations of conversion from corruption. Herod (Antipas) eventually arrested the Baptist as a politically destabilising threat. Later the Sadducees as aristocrats and senior priests, connivers with the occupying power and with Herod, would monitor closely developments concerning Jesus. Herod too would have kept a careful eye on such adherents to Jesus, -they were potentially dangerous people. When Herod had eliminated John the Baptist he wanted to see Jesus later, having thought that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead. He did eventually see him at the time of his trial and treated him as a buffoon. So what was the Good News?
This is what we now celebrate in today’s liturgy. But we need the Old Testament background to understand it. In Israel there was no earthly king to rival God as king. David and Solomon were the best in Jewish history. Their memory lived on. And David beame an ideal model of kingship…because he recognised God as king. In the days of the Baptist and Jesus the only kings around were the Herods who owed their status to the good will of the occupying Romans. They were all awful. One could hardly expect the values of the kingdom of God, in other words the way God wanted things, to come to realisation under these wretched people. Yet this is what happened with and through Jesus, as it was announced by the Baptist.
As a prophet the Baptist was in the pay of no man. He spoke only for God- in the best Israelite tradition. That is why people listened to him. He had the courage to tell things the way they were. Of course there was a major social implication in all that he was saying and doing. But was that all there was to the story? Of course not. He explicitly said that he was preparing the people for the arrival of the Messiah. The only problem was that there was no agreement about who precisely the Messiah was. The question was not clear even to the Baptist, as we know later from Mt 11: 2-6. This was just the beginning of the Good News, not the end of it.
Advent for us
In our Advent, we are reintroduced to the whole New Testament drama. And it is lived now as liturgy for the Church, to be thought through, all over again. It is about the meaning of what happened in Palestine in those three years, when the coming of the Kingdom of God was foretold by John, and actualised by and in Jesus. This is our season when the Church re-commits itself to its own faith. It wants to be ever more faithful to the values of the Kingdom of God.
The Way it Worked Out in the Life of the Church
Liturgy in the first place is public prayer to God. But it is lived out as drama; that is why we have different narratives, colours and music in these seasonal Masses. We are always in our own local setting. We have to be interested in what is happening now. But we must also be interested in the big picture. What is it all about ultimately for everyone? That is why Advent gives us the chance to think about these things as Church; we are those called by God to understand and proclaim the meaning of life, as personal, and social and international. ..and eternal.
The Advent Wreath
This year the fourth Sunday of Advent falls on Christmas Eve. We recall that the candles specifically symbolize the Christian concepts of hope (week one), peace (week two), joy (week three) and love (week four). It is a very fitting introoduction to the season of love. Our love is greatly enhanced by celebrations of it. The ordinary world advertises during Advent that Christmas is a time for showing love to others, the homeless, the poor, the lonely.We read these adverts in the papers and hear them on the news.
And that is why we are here together to Mass this morning and every Sunday. We are- the Church at prayer in Advent- waiting- and ultimately celebrating what life is all about. Its name is love.