Faith, Keeping the Word

Keeping the Word: Second Sunday of Advent

Jan_van_Eyck_075I am going to begin a new segment on this blog where I reflect on the Sunday readings of the scripture at Mass. So often I have all these thoughts that swim around in my head during the homily, and I never get them out, and they fritter away amid the rush of lunch and diapers and dishes!

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So every week I will make it a priority to Keep the Word in my heart, pondering it as Mary did, each week a new revelation of God’s providence for us. I’d love to hear your thoughts in return!


This week, I actually didn’t get to go to Mass. Three minutes before Mass begins, my husband and I are frantically trying to collect our children, I am popping the baby into a sling, calling out for the kids to collect their coats, my husband is tracking down the ones who ran out the door to climb in the tree, the toddler is hiding under a piano — and my poor dear daughter is looking for a place to lose her lunch. So I sent my husband and our oldest in to Mass, and I and the sickies went home, anticipating the prayers of our men.

So that was the context. And I think my thoughts and prayers were a little more piqued with longing, with awareness of my need for grace.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, 2018

It is so, so easy for us to look back on the Jews of Jesus’ time and say, “How could they possibly have dismissed him? What–they wanted a powerful king to come and kill off all their foes, put them in political power? They didn’t want someone crying in the wilderness, “Repent!” — much less someone who would die on a criminal’s cross? How could they not see the Glory of God before them, dressed in the humble guise of a lamb?”

Brooklyn Museum - The Pharisees Question Jesus (Les pharisiens questionnent Jésus) - James Tissot
It is easy for us to say that from our comfortable living rooms, reading affirming Instagrams from our cozy little couches. It is less easy when we are in the midst of real suffering — real pain — real consequences of sin in this fallen world. Mountains of pain and rocky earthly paths we just don’t think we can keep stumbling through.
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And then there is the Gospel– the Good News– on this second Sunday of preparing the paths of the Lord:
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“Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; The rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”

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Oh, thank goodness you have come, Lord God!, the weary soul says. I could not have taken one more day of mountains to climb, of this struggle in life, of financial problems or family problems or hospital stays, or the extortion of my tax collector or the inhumanity of our governor or my inability to seek any just redress from our ruling government… But “the mouth of the Lord has spoken!” You have come, my God, to wipe out these pains!
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With the Prophet I will
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“Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!
Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; Here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.”
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His recompense! How dearly I need that cure, that job, that deliverance from our oppressors.
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It is not so hard for me to see where they were coming from, those outraged Jews who looked at this poor, friendless little Rabbi, too young to have decently-long tassels or broad enough phylacteries, too poor to have any influence, any power, any way to save me from this wretched life. Where is his strong arm? What recompense could he possibly offer to take away this suffering?
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In a few short weeks, we will celebrate it again–the Lord will come.
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“The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
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He will come in all his glory–as a little child in a hut. Or a cave, or a shed–whatever it is, there he will be, the weakest among us, with the donkeys’ lips nibbling around him, looking for their supper.
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In a way–the most worldly way, in the way in which my mind revolves as often as not–He has not come to flatten any mountains, to level any difficulties. He has only come down into them with me! Most days that is a humbling enough thought. Some days, though… some days, this voice in my heart says with the hard-hearted of Jesus’ peers, “Where is my recompense? Where is my savior??”
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And the mountains grow higher in my heart.
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For the voice cries out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” More than that, “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”
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First of all, I’m not just to sit around with my hands out–there is something I must do! Make straight a highway? Good Lord, You know! I can barely keep my feet on the path.
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Not that wasteland, the still Voice says. Look to the beam in your own eye…
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And there it is. The wasteland I have been wading through has seeped into my heart. It is no longer around me, today, because in the thoughts I have been carrying with me today, I have become it.
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My anger must be made low; my pride, my envy, my despair must give way the the low valley of peace. Of trust, and patience.
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For, as Peter points out in our second reading,
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“with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
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His day of freedom from the tribulations our sin has wrought on this world is delayed, not to give me more pain–but to give me a chance to let go of it. For oh, how the bitterness in my heart wells up as I cling to it. The path twists under my feet as I fight against it and the mountains of anger against it rise up.
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But the baby — the baby! He lies in a manger, with the sheep and the donkeys nuzzling him in their hunger. A poor one, rejected by the world, born to parents rejected by the Geertgen_tot_Sint_Jans,_The_Nativity_at_Night,_c_1490world, of the littlest tribe of Israel.
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“Near indeed,” says the Psalm.
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“Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land.”
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Here is my glory. Here is my joy, my freedom from pain. Here is my salvation.
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Not from the pain of this world, or the sufferings it has for God’s little ones. Freedom from the power this world has to make me fear. Freedom from worry, from the need to have control over my health, my family’s wellbeing, my ability to pay the electric bill. For
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“The Lord himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.”
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His steps right now are small — barely a crawl. Which is good, because that is about all I am up to right now.
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I find myself laid low by life now, down in the muck the fall has wrought on this world, but I keep my hope on the promise that He will bring Himself low to join me.
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I may not be able to bedeck my home with Advent goodies, to lay out rows of St. Nicholas treats or baskets of neatly-wrapped picture books to bless my children with a new gift each day, but I can lay out my pride as a gift for the Lord. I can put my desires to succeed, to achieve, to matter in the eyes of this world — I can lay them down as so much straw in His manger, the crabbed threshings of these fields fit only for livestock to eat.
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For He has spoken tenderly to me, “that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated. Indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.”
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In this desert, I will prepare the way of the Lord. I cannot solve these problems in my life, I cannot clear a path through these troubles, but I can level the desires I cling to, the frustrations that I stumble over when I face them.
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For my Lord, the Lamb, goes before me. Justice walks before him, and salvation along the way of his steps. Lord, lead me in your path of humility. Guide me along the way of acceptance, and save me from the mountains I rise against you. Though my faith is barely the size of a mustard seed, I beg you to say to these mountains, Move, and to move my heart to say it with you.
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“According to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”

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