By LINDA M. LINONIS
An Advent Bible study at St. Paul Church delves into the deeper meaning of the Christmas Gospel stories of Matthew and Luke.
The “Joy to the World” guidebook is taking the 12 or so participants, led by Sister Mary Ann McFadden, pastoral minister, on their journey revolving around the first Christmas.
“The two Gospels tell the birth of Jesus from different angles,” Sister Mary Ann said. The study guide asks questions to prompt discussion and self-reflection.
The group meets at 10 a.m. Wednesdays in the parish office building. Three sessions are taking place before Christmas, and three after.
Sister Mary Ann said the study looks forward to the Scripture passages for the next Sunday, and questions focus on how the meaning “may apply to our lives.”
Advent is a time of reflection and contemplation, Sister Mary Ann said. “It is a reflection on the coming of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago and how he comes to us today.” She added, “Advent is a prayerful time.”
The Bible study is almost something new for participants. “Other Christian churches regularly have Bible studies,” Sister Mary Ann said, “and Catholics have some catching up to do.”
She said participants “realize how much they don’t know and want to learn.”
Pat Boothe, a church member since 2003, said that was her reason for attending. “I just wanted to learn more about Jesus,” she said. “It’s a way of preparing for Christmas.”
Jan Schmidt, a member for about 18 years, said she’s attending because she “likes to learn.”
“The more I learn, the more wonderful it is,” she said, noting the study has helped her to better understand Scripture.
Sister Mary Ann said at “Advent we become aware of Jesus as a human being.” The study may help participants see how Jesus came into the world at the first Christmas, how he comes into lives at the present time and how he will come at the end of time.
This week’s study included passages from Matthew 2:1-23 with verse 11, “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
This prompted the discussion about when the wise men arrived to visit Jesus — at his birth or months or even longer afterward. During that era, travel and communication was arduous and time- consuming.
Another point of discussion centered on the number of wise men.
Though the Christmas carol touts “We Three Kings,” the Bible passage refers to “wise men from the east.” There is no mention of how many wise men.
The number of wise men that we think of today and see in nativity sets may come from the number of gifts they brought for baby Jesus — gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Sister Mary Ann said examining passages from Matthew and Luke presents the whole story. The magi search out Jesus to honor him. Though they are told by King Herod that he wants to do the same, a warning in a dream makes them aware of his deadly intention to kill the child Jesus.
Sister Mary Ann said the Bible study and secular accounts of the celestial happening, the bright star, provide different ways to look at the event. For some, it’s about the facts; and for others, it’s about building a personal relationship with Jesus.
The Advent study may “open minds and hearts” and help participants be more adept at “knowing our faith and sharing our faith,” she said. “Sharing is our responsibility and part of evangelism,” Sister Mary Ann said.
The study, she continued, may provide the opportunity “to meet God in an unexpected place.”
Ralph Dumovic, a lifelong church member, said he was attending the Bible study “to challenge myself.”
He said he sees the study as a “very personal” project for each participant. “Knowing, living and sharing your faith is everyone’s responsibility,” Dumovic said.
He added that “it’s our responsibility to do God’s will.”