The Advent of Grace: “God-with-us”
Over two nights in October, parish liturgy teams and school teachers from across Melbourne gathered at the Catholic Leadership Centre to begin their preparations for Advent and for a new liturgical year.
Having expertly opened up the Gospel of Luke last year, Ria Greene returned to lead participants through an overview of the Gospel of Matthew, a text that points us unswervingly to the kingdom, and which speaks powerfully into many of the challenges facing the church today.
Ria has worked in Catholic education for more than twenty years, with a focus on religious education and faith formation, but has also worked as a parish catechist and sacraments coordinator, and has completed further studies in religious education and theology. She teaches a senior religious studies class at St Bede’s College, where she is Deputy Principal.
Matthew’s Gospel was written in about AD85–90, probably in Antioch in Syria, a region with a long—and ongoing—history of conflict. As Ria pointed out, while Matthew’s Gospel certainly has relevant things to say to us today, Roman-occupied Syria was a time and place very different from our own, and she cautioned against imposing 21st-century values and perspectives on the text.
Unlike the Gospel of Luke, which addresses a Gentile audience, Matthew’s Gospel was intended for a community of mostly second-generation Jewish Christians. This is evident in its central themes, with Jesus identified as the greatest prophet, or ‘the new Moses’, and as fulfilling God’s promises to Israel. The gospel contains more than 130 Jewish Scripture references and allusions, as well as examples of rabbinical writing techniques and a concern with the law and its fulfilment. It is, Ria pointed out, a story of continuity, not one in which a fickle God rejects the Jewish people or the law.
In the wake of the temple’s destruction by the Romans, and with the dawning realisation that the second coming was no longer imminent, this community—living as part of the Jewish diaspora in a religiously diverse imperial city—was experiencing growing pains and power struggles. It sought a clearer sense of identity, looking to consolidate its diverse membership and to establish structures, while also discovering a new sense of mission.
While traditionally this gospel has been associated with the disciple Matthew, he is probably not the real author, whose identity remains unknown. The gospel draws heavily on the stories and sayings in Mark’s gospel, but softens and adapts them for its own context. Along with Luke, the author also borrows material from the lost source that biblical scholars refer to as ‘Q’, as well as including some unique material, such as its infancy narrative.
The centrality of the kingdom of God is a particular feature of Matthew’s gospel, emphasising the teaching of Jesus rather than his actions. This results in a more ‘reflective and didactic account’, designed to keep its audience focused on the kingdom at a time when evidence of God’s reign was often hard to discern—an emphasis that is still relevant today, particularly in a climate that is often hostile to the church.
The final passage of Matthew’s gospel, as Jesus commissions his disciples and sends them out, brings the reader back, full circle, to Galilee, where Jesus’ ministry began. And here, Ria pointed out, is where we are presented with some of the most striking and important ideas in Matthew’s Gospel: the authority of Jesus; the church’s mission to the nations (including the ministries of baptism and teaching); the trinitarian formulation of ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’; and the eternal presence of Jesus, Emmanuel
, God with us.
Having learned the origins of the primary gospel for Year of A of the liturgical cycle, participants then returned the following week (Tuesday 22 October) to explore the practicalities of preparing for Advent. On offer were workshops to assist in selecting music and Mass settings, ways to use art in prayer (visio divina), ideas for how to engage the young in the Christmas story and how to encourage a culture of encounter and hospitality during the Season of Advent.
In addition to the two-part seminar, the Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation will be offering a range of easy-to-use downloadable resources this Advent including:
- The Advent of Grace daily calendar: Sign up to receive daily prompts (scripture quotes, sayings and prayers) to help you keep 'a holy space' this Advent
- The Advent of Grace weekly reflection sheets: for use by individuals and/or groups
- Advent/Christmas templates (Real estate boards, postcards, prayer cards and giving tree tags)
These resources will be available from mid-November from the AOFE website.