There is a spirit of tender intimacy in today’s liturgical readings. While
the physical and material world are hurrying, our spirits and imaginations
are urging us to quiet down, slow down, reach down to the simplest of truths.
As when we do exercise such as running, while the body moves more quickly
than usual, our interior sides, our spirits tend to clean out trivia and rest
more easily with the simple truths of life.
A feast of faith is being prepared for us and we are invited to slide our
contemplative selves into the chairs at the table of mysteries. Something
is being given, something is being done for us, but we can only eat at this
banquet when we stop, look and receive. This is not a fast-food operation.
We are preparing to pray and live with God’s permanent embrace of the human
condition so that each of us may also embrace it more sacredly. We are invited
to enjoy the reality of how long God had waited to finally say It as clearly,
simply, and intimately as ever it could be said. Read no further if
you are in a hurry!
There are two related issues in the First Reading. Ahaz is a king who has
heard the news that enemies are preparing to terrorize and destroy his kingdom.
He has been told by the Prophet not to fear and stay calm. The
Lord tells him that the invasion will never happen. It is in this context
that our reading begins.
Ahaz is invited to ask for a “sign,” but refuses to test the Lord.
The test seems to be whether Ahaz can trust the power of the Prophet and whether
Ahaz can believe that God will save Israel, the Chosen People. Will God be
faithful? So a “sign” is given. A young girl, the Hebrew uses a word
which includes a young married girl, will be found already with child. She
will give birth and give the child a name which means “God is with us,” Emanuel.
This child will continue the Davidic line which ensures that the kingdom
will not fall to the invaders.
The Gospel is Matthew’s version of how it all happened to Joseph.
It is a fitting Gospel for Advent. Matthew has no description of the
birth, but after the opening section of the “begots” in which all the Davidic-family
history is related, all we have is the narration of how Joseph believed the
message from an angel as did Mary in Luke’s account. It is just so tender.
Joseph is a very religious man and knows what the Law of God prescribes. He
intends to save Mary from shame and himself from breaking the religious law.
Here is the intimate and tender scene then. Love and faith seem to be in
conflict. Through faith, love conquers. Joseph slowed down by a dream lives
through faith into a deeper reality. As with Ahaz, Joseph is offered the invitation,
the gift, to see beyond what is sensibly present. Faith is a way of seeing
through what can be blinding. Joseph could see only Mary’s being pregnant
and his having to separate from her. Gifts are usually wrapped so as to intensify
the interest of the recipient. Jesus is wrapped in Mary’s mystery. Joseph
is wrapped in a dream.
The more we love someone, the less we find ourselves satisfied with the
gift we offer them as a sign of that love. I know a loving couple who,
on their wedding anniversary, go together each year, to the card store. Individually
they spend time looking for just the right card. When they each find it, they
show it to each other, smile, kiss, put the cards back and go home. They
smile, because they know that no one card, no one perfect gift can say what
they want to say.
Perhaps we wrap gifts to hide their poverty of expression. We can walk through
aisles and aisles with a special person in mind and frustration arises as
we find nothing special enough. We usually find a something which just
might say something. What we want to say is more than we can ever pay. We
say in the gift, wrapped and ribboned, I had you in mind; I thought
of you when searching for something. I want you to know I know you,
your personal history. All I want is that you receive
the more which also enwraps this memory-wrapped gift.
This last week of Advent, with its gift-wrapping, is a prayerful time as
well. God wrapped infinite Love within the flesh of Mary. God says to each
of us, “I know you; your history and I want to give you
the perfect gift. I have you in mind and all I desire is that
you receive the Gift and all that this Gift means.”
As with Joseph and Mary, we do not know all that this Gift means; we spend
our lives unwrapping the meaning. We celebrate our belief that the Giver,
the Sender, can not keep love hidden; it has to be offered again and again
and that is the nature of time and eternity. We can become blinded by what
we expect or perceive a gift to be. We are spending these days of Advent,
not exactly asking for signs, but just unwrapping the gift of each day and
waiting for its full meaning to be seen and received. As with Joseph and Mary
we wait, watch, ponder and receive it all as the gift it is all meant to
“Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the
earth bring forth a savior.” Is. 45, 8