Tag Archives: Advent

Mary and Elizabeth

aThe full readings for today can be found here.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Luke 1:39-55.

 
In the name of the Living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

          I have a sneaking suspicion most of you know what I’m going to preach about this morning, but before I get there, there’s something I need to say. It’s kind of sad, but there are no words in the English language to express how grateful I am to this good parish for your warm welcome and loving care these past few weeks. I have been coming here for several years, and am always filled with a startling, wild, staggering gratitude for your hospitality.

          I know it’s a little early, but I thought I’d tell you a Christmas story this morning. It was about 48 years ago, and I was back with my family on Melody Lane one Christmas morning. And I don’t remember what it was, but I was disappointed with something I didn’t get among my Christmas gifts. And one of my brothers must have joined me in the muttering, because my mother packed all four of us, four little boys with burr haircuts, into the car and we went for a drive.

          We drove through Odessa, past the bad side of town, all the way to the Ranchito, where the poorest of the poor lived. And my brothers and I stared at the places those good people called home: cardboard boxes and plywood covered in black plastic to keep the rain out and dwellings made out of what we’d call garbage. And my mother didn’t say a word, but I understood perfectly. And I was ashamed of myself. It’s 48 years later, and I’m still ashamed of myself. I’ll circle back to that in just a bit.

          So, on this final Sunday of Advent, the Church offers us this wonderful Gospel story of two Jewish women meeting in a town in Judea. We’re told they were cousins, although Elizabeth was much older than Mary, who was probably not much more than a girl. Each of them knew shame and disgrace. Elizabeth had been without a child for a long time, and in that culture that was a humiliating thing. Mary was an unwed mother, and in that time, that was not only a shameful thing: it was the kind of thing that could get a girl killed.

          And, as they met, there was a moment of recognition: recognizing someone both familiar and yet wonderfully strange. Elizabeth recognizes Mary (her own people would have called her Miriam) and yet calls her “the mother of my Lord.” Now, in the Hebrew, that would be Adonai, the word commonly used to refer to God. So, Elizabeth recognizes Mary, and yet there’s something unusual: she calls her the Mother of God. And even the unborn child Elizabeth carries, who will grow up to be John the Baptist, knows that something wonderful is coming; something wonderful has already happened.

      But whenever I hear this story, I’ve always imagined the two of them giggling as they meet each other. First, I suspect they were laughing because they loved each other and it had probably been a while since they had been together. And secondly, because they were both with child, and neither of them was supposed to be.

          Scripture teaches that Mary was a virgin: and virgins just don’t get pregnant. Elizabeth was an old woman, well past child bearing years. And yet, here they were. If we go back through the Bible, that’s just the kind of thing that God does: he creates life where there isn’t any. He did it in Genesis, in our story of creation, created life out of nothing. God did for Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who was too old to have Isaac. He did for the mother of Samson, who was also childless. He did for Hannah, who was desperately barren until God intervened and she bore Samuel. And He did it again with Mary the Virgin and Elizabeth, an old woman. And in one sense, He does it again in the stories of Lazarus and the resurrection of Jesus.

          If we listen to Scripture, we find God creating life all over the place where there isn’t any: in old women, in the barren places, where there is nothing but death. We find God creating life so often and in so many places that we might come to the conclusion that that’s His business: making new life.

          But the Gospel lesson today teaches us something else about God’s business. In the song of Mary, which we sometimes call the Magnificat, we hear Mary erupt into a song of hope. She sings about what’s coming into the world: overturning a system of violence and oppression and corruption and replacing them with mercy and justice and love. And if we hear this song of Mary as revolutionary, as radical, I don’t think we miss the mark. She announces that Jesus is coming into the world to challenge the structures of sin and death and oppression and fear. It is a song of defiant resistance, the song of a militant refusal to accept the way things are. Mary is so filled with hope that she sings as though all these things have already happened.

          If we read the story of the Exodus or the prophets and their concern with justice for the weak and the forgotten, or the story of the birth of Jesus, or almost any story about Jesus’ ministry, we begin to get the sense that that’s also part of God’s business. And if God is so desperately concerned with the lives of those the world has forgotten (the weak, the poor, the powerless), then I think we had better be concerned with their lives as well. If we really want to call ourselves Christians, I think we had better join God in the business of hope. Because I don’t think God is looking for a Church full of cheerleaders to sit on the sidelines and yell, “Yay, God.” I think God is looking for collaborators, partners in the business of hope.

          And that’s just one of the reasons I love the season of Advent. It is the season of hope: longing for a better world; hope of a world without fear; hope that God will dwell with us—in our lives and in our hearts. Christmas is about joy, and I’m a big fan of joy, but Advent teaches us the virtue of hope. And it offers that hope to those the world has forgotten, those on the margins: those people like these two Jewish women who were nobodies from nowhere. And yet God chose them to announce that he was breaking into this world and would walk among us. He chose these two Jewish women who hoped…against hope.

          We live in a world suffering from “compassion fatigue,” a world where hope has become a very rare commodity, where cynicism has become our currency. We live in a world where almost 13% of the globe’s population is hungry, and 3 ½ million children die of hunger every year. We live in a world where children are forced to become soldiers and are trained as killers in 20 countries around the world. We live in a world where every 30 seconds someone loses their freedom and finds themselves enslaved in the business of human trafficking. And together with the Psalmist, we wonder: “How long, oh Lord?” How long is this going to go on? And we are brokenhearted. And we are ground down. And we begin, bit by bit, to lose hope.

          George Santayana once observed, the world “has music for those who listen.” Somehow, from above the struggle and the pain, we can here that music sometimes. And I think Mary has a music for those who listen: she sings a song pregnant with promise, with new life, a song of God’s presence with us. Mary sings a song for those good people who live outside Odessa in the Ranchito, for those living in refugee camps, those in Detroit and in the Sudan, and for those good people who live on the outskirts of Dripping Springs.

          And so, it is my Advent prayer that we will all, like Mary, be ready to carry the Christ child into a world that is dying of hopelessness. It is my Advent prayer that we will lead lives filled with expectation, lives which announce to the world: Emmanuel, God is with us. That was Mary’s prayer, and I hope it’s ours, too. But the real measure of our prayer comes in how we act and the kind of lives we lead, after we say “Amen.”

Amen.

 

Advent Study, Part II

My friends,

Here’s the link to the second week  of the Advent study. Again, there are both audio files and a PowerPoint presentation. Hope you find it useful.

http://christianformation-dwtx.org/middle-content-block-middle/mary-the-mother-of-god-overview/mary-mother-of-god-session-2/

God’s peace,

Br. James

a

Let It Be

Annunciation

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1: 26-38.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” In the name of the living God: Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

          She was just a little Jewish girl, not from a particularly important family. Not especially well-educated, almost certainly not wealthy in any sense to which anyone would pay attention. And she didn’t live in an important place, or hang around with the “important” people. She was just a teenage girl, living on the corner of a dead end street, in an occupied country at the outer edge of the Roman empire. She came from Nowheresville, and she was a nobody.

          In this final week of Advent, the Church invites us to reflect on something miraculous: a virgin being pregnant, God becoming human, the infinite becoming finite. In one sense, we shouldn’t be surprised by it, this is the sort of thing that God’s been doing all along: creating life where there was nothing: women too old to give birth (like Sarah and Hannah, like Mary’s cousin Elizabeth), life springing up where there where it was barren, where it was dead.

          The angel tells Mary that she is favored by God, that she is full of grace. This nobody, this teenage girl on the edge of nowhere, mattered to God. And the angel Gabriel called her “full of grace.”  You see, Mary found a place where all of her, and all of God, could dwell. A place deep within her life where her life and God’s life would be joined together in a bond that neither time nor trouble could ever break. Love was coming to dwell in her: to make a home there, to abide there. And I wonder if we can hear Gabriel saying that to us, telling us that we are also favored. God chose a very ordinary girl, in a very ordinary place, because God sees the grace in ordinary people and ordinary places. For all of us, that’s got to be good news.

          And there’s something remarkable about God coming to dwell among us, making an appearance, not on a fiery chariot or with bolts of lightning descending in some really cool special effects, but coming to us as a baby. Babies offer the bright, shining hope of something new, something full of promise, something noisy. And most importantly, something vulnerable. And Mary, in that moment, was remarkably vulnerable. Because you see, in first century Palestine, being an unwed mother wasn’t just something a little embarrassing, a little shameful. That was the kind of thing that could get you killed. So, Mary, took a risk. The risk of embarrassment and shame, humiliation and scandal. Well, that would mark her Son’s life, too. And that day, just like this morning, God took a risk, too.

          A lot depended on her response to God. For thousands of years, we had been mired in sin, separated from God, wallowing in our disobedience. A great chasm had opened up, long ago, in that garden, and we couldn’t get back across to the other side. Something had to change. We needed a miracle.

         Back in the 12th century, an important Saint of the church, a French Cistercian monk named Bernard, gave a really important sermon on the Annunciation and Mary’s response. And he wrote that for that brief instant, while waiting on Mary’s reply, time itself stood still.

          For that brief moment, all creation waited on her answer. In heaven, the angels and seraphim and cherubim stopped their singing. And in hell, for a moment, the screeching stopped. The principalities and the powers came to a halt. And even God leaned over the banister, waiting to hear Mary’s reply. You could’ve heard a pin drop, and then she said, ” “Fiat mihi secúndum verbum tuum.” Let it be with me according to your word. And a great music arose and the angels and all the host of heaven broke into shouts of joy, and in hell all the demonic forces cried in anguish because Lucifer’s plans for this world had been overthrown and God’s creation would be restored. But in a very real sense, Mary’s “yes” to God was simply an echo of God’s “yes” to humankind, the God who said “yes” to us time and time again, and is still saying that to you and me today.

          And in the 14th century, Meister Eckhart, one of my Dominican brothers, asked a very important question. He noted, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. But what good is it to us if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within us? And, what good is it to us if Mary is full of grace if we are not also full of grace? What good is it to us for the Creator to give birth to his Son if we do not also give birth to him in our time and our culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”

          So, I think we have to confront the question, are we willing to carry the Christ child, and bring Him into the world? Are we willing to risk God coming alive in us, here and today? Are we willing to answer yes to God, and share in God’s dreams for the world? You see, Mary’s story teaches us that very ordinary people (people like us), can do extraordinary, miraculous things when they are vulnerable to God’s choices in the world.

          This life is not always easy, but during this Holy Season of Advent, we might reflect on the words of St. John of Liverpool, who said:

 When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

          Let us cut a path through the noise and chaos and pain of this world. Let us make straight the way of the Lord, let it be.

          Let us build a temple in our hearts and make room for the Christ child in a world that still says there’s no room for God’s children. Let it be.

          In a world that is obsessed be power and wealth and stuff, let us turn to a woman who risked everything and a God who risked everything for the life of the world. Let it be.

          Let the lame walk, let the blind see, let us feed the hungry, and let the captives go free. Let the whole world look through that beautiful window and let them see nothing less than the kingdom of God in our hearts.

         Let us set aside for the moment our commitment to human justice, and live lives full of mercy. And from the springs of that mercy, let God’s justice rain down like a mighty river. Let it be.

          Let us turn away from racism, from our disrespect for God’s people and his world, and from treating some lives as more important than others. Let it be.

          Let it be that we beat our swords, our aircraft carriers and our drones, into ploughshares, turning away from violence and struggle and war. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us. Let it be.

          Let it be that those who are hopeless, living in fear and those tormented by illness and darkness find the Light of the World, and come to know compassion in a world that’s simply tired of caring. Let it be.

         Let us turn in love to those who are forgotten, those who are broken, those who are down on their luck, and share the good news of God’s love with a world that’s forgotten what love looks like. Let us set aside our own ambitions and share in God’s dreams. Let it be.

Let it be with you, let it be with me. Amen.

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2014 James R. Dennis

My Lord and My God!

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’  John 20: 24-28.

On December 21, the church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas, sometimes known as the Doubting Thomas.  This feast day may seem like a bit of an interruption in our Advent preparation, but I hope to convince you that it makes perfect sense.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the Incarnation.  Of course, the Latin root of that word is carnis, which means meat or flesh. So, the term Incarnation means that God became flesh and bone, that the immortal became mortal, that the spiritual became physical. God, in a sense, consecrated humanity by entering into our history.  

This was  not, however, some metaphysical entry, nor some encounter with an ethereal spirit.  No, Scripture tells us that Christ was born into human history, born among the animals in a stable or a cave or a stall.  This Incarnation was lowly, mean and decidedly real.

Similarly, in this story of St. Thomas, we learn that even the resurrected Christ bears the scars of his entry into human history, of his encounter with human sin.  Thomas doubted the reality of the resurrected Christ, and would not permit himself to believe until he saw the marks of that encounter in Jesus’ flesh.

I don’t think we should judge Thomas too harshly.  Most of us will face serious doubts at one point or another, and maybe face them again and again.  Perhaps because of my Jesuit education, I’m inclined to think a rigorous examination of our faith is healthy.  Otherwise, we consign ourselves to something I believe is perhaps more dangerous, a faith that is five miles wide and a quarter- inch thick.  Many of us have prayed, in some desperate hour, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  I certainly have, and so feel  a certain spiritual kinship with this good Apostle.

“Then Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” I think the point of this Gospel reading is not so much how Thomas came to the conclusion, but that he ultimately reached the conclusion of the  sovereignty and divinity of the Incarnate Word. 

So, we’ve been talking about what Advent means, in terms of the triumph of hope and promise over desolation and darkness.  Advent calls us to look beyond what John Newman called “the shadows and deceits of this shifting scene of time and sense”.  And as we approach again the entry of Jesus into the world, we hear Christ calling to us, “Do not doubt, but believe.” 

Emmanuel, God is with us.

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2011 James R. Dennis

 

 

 

Nothing Will Be Impossible

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1: 26-38.

So, we pretty much all know this story.  In fact, most of us have heard the Annunciation story so often that it’s lost some of its impact.  If we’re not careful, we can forget just how remarkable and surprising this story is.

In the first place, let’s look at the context.  After centuries of war, occupation and exile, the Jewish people were mired in hopelessness.  Mary, or Miriam as she would have been called, lived on a dead-end street in a long-forgotten town at the far corner of the Roman empire.  More importantly, she was a woman. In that culture at that time, being a woman means nothing much that’s important would happen to her.  So, the angel Gabriel’s announcement that “The Lord is with you” would have startled Luke’s audience. 

This passage clearly echoes Gabriel’s earlier announcement to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  So, St. Luke reminds us that God is up to something astonishing here, involving both Mary and Elizabeth.  God’s action in this regard actually begins much earlier, in the creation story.  In the birth narratives of both John the Baptist and Jesus we find God engaged in the same sort of thing we encountered in Genesis:  creation ex nihilo (from nothing).  The angel even tells Mary that God is doing precisely that with her cousin Elizabeth.  The notion of the virgin birth therefore raises the idea of the Lord resuming the work begun in creation:  re-creating the world.

But let’s return our focus to Miriam, the Theotokos.  Gabriel announces that she will bear a son and name him Jesus. (The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, who led the people of Israel into the Promised Land.  Thus, his very name involves the notion of God keeping his promises, fulfilling the covenant.) As was the case with the John, God seems terribly interested in Jesus’ name, as though the words themselves would act as icons of God’s power working in the world. 

Now, while the coming of the Messiah might have constituted very good news for the people of Israel, it might not have sounded like such good news for Miriam.  An unwed mother, at best, would provide the people of Nazareth with a fine scandal.  It’s the sort of thing that could get a girl killed.  I think the Holy Mother understood perfectly well the cost that she might have to pay for bringing God into the world. 

Jesus’ conception through the Holy Spirit will resonate later in the story of his baptism in the Jordan, as a dove descends and the voice of God announces that Jesus is God’s beloved son.  So, these two birth narratives (Jesus and John) will reconnect years later as Jesus begins his public ministry and God claims him as his own son.  All these things happen through Mary’s “fiat”:  “Let it be done with me according to your word.”  Mary thus serves as the real gateway of the Incarnation.

I wonder how many of us are able to hear God’s message in our own lives:  “The Lord is with you.”  Can we come to think of ourselves as  “favored ones”?  Can we bear the Christ child, and are we willing to bring him into the world?  Are we willing to respond, “Let it be with me”?   I ask these things because those same questions that the Holy Mother faced, well, I think the Gospel asks them of you and of me.  While it’s certainly true that God intended to draw Mary into his plan to re-create and redeem the world, I  believe He has exactly the same intent for us.

The Advent message centers on hope and promise, and setting aside our despair and our terror.  The season of Advent recognizes, as it’s so desperately difficult for us to see sometimes, that nothing will be impossible for God.   And while Gabriel says that as a matter of fact, I think for most of us it’s a kind of a prayer: a prayer we might say more often.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P. 

© 2011 James R. Dennis

St. John of the Cross On the Incarnation

Because today is the feast day of St. John of Cross, and we’ve been meditating on the mystery of the Incarnation, I thought we might look at what he had to say on the subject.  In the Eighth Ballad, he wrote:

Then he summoned an archangel;
Saint Gabriel came,
And He sent him to a maiden,
Mary was her name,

Whose consent and acquiescence
Gave the mystery its birth;
It was the Trinity that clothed
With flesh the Living Word.

Though the three had worked the wonder
It was wrought in but this one,
And the incarnated Word
Was left in Mary’s womb.

And He who had a father only
Now possessed a mother,
Though not of man was He conceived
But unlike any other.

And deep within her body
His life of flesh began:
For this reason He is called
The Son of God and Man.

The poem properly focusses on the figure of Mary, by whose acquiescence the mystery of the Incarnation begins.  In many ways, Mary operates as the lynchpin of the season of Advent.  Our Orthodox brothers and sisters call her the Theotokos, or God-Bearer. 

During this season of Advent, we might properly reflect on what it means to be pregnant with God.  I suggest that we consider that, not only as it pertains to the Holy Mother, but also as it pertains to each one of us.  What does it mean for you and I to bring God into the world, a world which is sometimes hostile and often indifferent to Christ?  And while we’re doing so, as with any expectant parent, we might properly wonder just what this event will cost.  How do we carry Jesus into the places where, as with Bethlehem so long ago, there’s just no room for Him?

Part of the mystery of the Incarnation, part of the wonder of belonging to the Body of Christ we call the Church, lies in the recognition that Christ must live within us.  Somehow, through the enigma of God coming to live among us, our very DNA has changed.  St. Paul recognized this, writing:  “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  Gal.  2:20.   Paul reminds us that following Christ does not so much hinge on an intellectual assent to a certain doctrine  as it does on surrendering to Christ’s indwelling within us and allowing Jesus to re-make us.

Our Advent hope lies in recognizing that God’s entry into the world is not an event that took place a couple of thousand years ago, and which made things a bit more bearable.  Rather, the very fabric of time and space have changed.  God has and will re-create all things (including you and me) through this Son of God and Man.

Have a good and holy Advent,

James R. Dennis, O.P. 

© 2011 James R. Dennis

Binding Up the Brokenhearted

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
           because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
          to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
          and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
          and the day of vengeance of our God;
          to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
          to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
          the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  Is. 61: 1-3.

In many respects, this passage from the book of Isaiah provides the perfect Advent reflection.  It gathers up many of the emotions of the people of Israel after the Babylonian exile.   King Nebuchadnezzar and his army had destroyed the Temple, the place where God and man intersected.  Many had been sold into bondage; families were scattered and broken.  The Jews had been humiliated and these were “the worst hard times”.    And Isaiah rose to tell them God remained with them, somehow, in all this mess.

Isaiah refers back to the book of Leviticus, to proclaim the year of jubilee.  (In the year of jubilee, which occurred every fifty years, the prisoners were released, and all debts were forgiven. )  We see this theme running throughout Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments):  God comes to shower his blessings on those whose spirits have been crushed and whose hearts have been broken.  God’s focus doesn’t rest on the superpowers, the wealthy, the priests or the religious elite.  Isaiah thus proclaimed that God was at work; the days of sorrow were over and the days of joy had begun.

 This passage from Isaiah should sound very familiar to Christian readers.  This is the exact passage Jesus reads from in the synagogue when he returns to his hometown, Nazareth.  When Jesus read from this scroll, he announced:  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Luke 4:20.  I think this reveals two important messages.  First, it tells us a good deal about Jesus’ understanding of his mission.  He came to bind up the brokenhearted, to release the prisoners and set the captives free, and to bring sight to the blind.

 If we take the Incarnation seriously and believe that we really are the body of Christ the second message of this Scripture becomes clear:  if we follow Jesus, this is our mission as well.  Because of the Incarnation, our task is clear:  we are to tend to the brokenhearted, the blind, those who mourn, and those who are enslaved.  Sometimes, those conditions may be literal, and sometimes they may be spiritual.  Either way, that’s the purpose and the proper function of the Body of Christ.

Thus, Advent announces something deeply joyous, a joy that reaches far beyond our understanding.  As Rabbi Heschel once wrote:

There is not enough grandeur in our souls
To be able to unravel in words
The knot of time and eternity.
One should like to sing for all men,
For all generations…
There is a song in the wind
And joy in the trees.

Our joy approaches, and the whole earth quickens as the Word nears.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2011 James R. Dennis