I love the readings for this week! The interplay between the daily Mass readings and those of the Divine Office are so beautiful. They echo the deepest yearning of the human heart for the coming of Our Savior. The “O” antiphons that accompany the Magnificant, and are recited before and after this Canticle of Mary during the Evening Prayer are particularly poignant:
O Key of David, O Royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom- Liturgy of the Hours for December 20.
And tomorrow’s is equally beautiful:
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of Eternal Light, Sun of Justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death- Liturgy of the Hours for December 21.
Without the Light of Christ, our lives are indeed prisons of death and darkness. Sin, weakness, failure, hopelessness are inescapable without Him. However, Jesus is willing to be born in our human hearts- to enter into our misery with His Divinity, and save us from the consequences of sin. The first intercession in the Evening Prayer of today’s Divine Office is:
Dispel our darkness with the Light of Your Presence, and make us worthy of Your Gifts.
To which we are instructed to “cry out to Christ Our Lord, the Light of the World, with joy:”
Come, Lord Jesus!
In the First Reading from today’s Holy Mass, Ahaz was directed by the Lord to ask for a sign from the Lord. This weak and worldly king, who ruled Judah in Jerusalem in 735 B.C. is the legitimate ruler of Israel, and as such the God speaks to him and says:
Ask for a sign from the Lord your God: let it be deep as the nether world or high as the sky- Isaiah 7:11.
But Ahaz – like the rest us- is weak, stubborn and bold enough to defy God. He prefers to rely on his own strength (and that of Assyria) rather than putting his confidence in God. He responds:
No, I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord! – Isaiah 7:12.
I don’t know about you, but this fits me perfectly! How often do I see God’s plan sketched out before me – His rules, His directives, His plan – and I excuse myself with resounding, “No!”. Like Ahaz, I even twist it to make it seem that rather than laziness or lack of confidence in Him, I’m disobedient because I merely do no not want to offend Him. (Yes, it is pathetic- how often I need the Sacramental Grace of Penance!) Yet , even in this sinful, dark state, Our Lord is willing to bring the Light of His Love.
Then Isaiah said:
Listen, O House of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the Virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. – Isaiah 7: 13-15.
God Himself offers the sign, and it is truly deep as the nether world and high as the sky. Jesus dies, and descends to the nether world, rises from the dead, and ascends into Heaven. Thus, just as foretold, the sign is both as deep as the netherworld and as high as the sky. The Virgin Mary does indeed conceive and bear the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In today’s Gospel, we hear of the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel of Our Lady’s high calling. St. Gabriel refers to Our Lady as “Full of Grace (Kεχαριτωμένη),” and presents to her God’s plan. Unlike Ahaz, The Blessed Mother affirms God’s plan with her whole being, and in the instant of her fiat, God acts within her to fulfill the promise made so very long ago.
The Child of the Promise is Our Lord and Savior, and it is His coming into our hearts for which we have been readying ourselves. These final few days of Advent direct us to finish our preparation- and like the Virgin Mary to offer Him our fiat – a robust and confident “yes”.
When the children and I were at Holy Mass this morning at the Basilica of Holy Hill, National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians, we stopped by the outdoor nativity. Over the weekend, this nativity was full of life – the Carmelite Friars held their annual living nativity. Teens from the St. John Bosco Youth Group sang carols, as Fr. Cyril Guise, O.C.D., and Fr. Jude Peters, O.C.D. narrated the story of Our Lord’s Birth. As the crowd watched and listened, Mary and Joseph sat amid the hay with baby Jesus. The three Wise Men and multiple shepherds stood close to the stable, while camels, donkeys, chickens, and sheep fed nearby. It was like standing in a living Christmas card! My family loves attending this annual display. Watching the young Mary pull her veil close to shield her face from the chill of the breeze, while the sheep “baaaaaed” at her feet conveyed a sense of reality. Each time we participate in this event, I am struck by the humility of Our Lord in choosing such a stable for His birth.
Well, today the stable was rather quiet, and a bit empty. Lovely plastic statues have taken the place of the human figures that filled the stable only a few days ago. The hum of cars moving to and fro replaced the sounds of camels and donkeys braying. The empty manger in the cold stable reminded me of the cold and empty places left in my own heart that needed to be warmed and readied for the arrival of my King of Kings. I need Him, and am acutely aware of the clock ticking toward His impending arrival. I want my life to be a living Nativity – warm and real in what often seems a cold and plastic world. Only with the Light of His coming can my life be transformed. With joy we wait and hope:
Your Light Will come Jerusalem, the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty- daily Advent Liturgy of the Hours Morning Responsory.
Ad Jesum per Mariam