Advent 04, Year A, and Christmas

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
The king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father” (Mt. 25:34)

After describing John the Baptist as being more than a prophet, Jesus explains, “This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you’” (Mt. 11:9-10).

An InterVarsity Press commentary notes that Jesus’ divinity is implied in this passage from Matthew’s gospel because the text quoted by Jesus, Mal. 3:1, refers to preparing God’s rather than the Messiah’s way [1]. In other words, the identification of Jesus’ precursor with the messenger who prepares God’s way—Elijah in Mal.3:23—is a manner of affirming the divinity of the Messiah, whose way John the Baptist prepares. But as the same commentary indicates, this is not to say that those for whom such an affirmation is intended easily comprehend it or readily assume the meaning of the citation from Malachi.

And the truth, indeed, is that disciples or would-be disciples are sometimes obtuse. It does not come easy for me, for instance, to understand Jesus’ unambiguous and repeated prediction of his passion and death, or his unconventional definition of authority and greatness as meaning service and lowliness. It should come less as a surprise, then, if I miss altogether the intended meaning of the quote from Malachi, or see nothing significant in the sudden change to passive voice in Mt. 1:16b (“… of whom was born …”) from active voice in Mt. 1:2 thru Mt. 1:16a (so-and-so “begot” so-and-so), or fail to see the teaching in the inclusion of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba in the genealogy of Jesus (cf. Father Robert P. Maloney’s “The Genealogy of Jesus” in the December 17, 2007 issue of America).

I am not good at reading signs either, which explains in part, most likely, my reluctance to ask for them. Who would like a sign, anyway, that is meant to dissuade one from going ahead with a decision one’s mind is already made up on? And I hardly believe in dreams, considering especially that all they do in most instances, it seems, is reflect one’s own noble sentiments or unsettling anxieties. Moreover, that a child is “God with us,” conceived as well by, and born of, a virgin, strikes me to be too good to be true. And even more unbelievable is the notion that the king is the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick or the imprisoned that I either show or not show effective concern for.

Yet, as I come to think of it, isn’t precisely because of my obtuseness, insensitivity and inability to dream and be sacramental that I keep missing the divine despite my many years of Advent waiting? Has not Christmas remained all these years merely a secular celebration for me because I fail to recognize the sacred in the worldly and profane in which the divine became human to the utmost? Is not my failure to recognize the Son of God in power the result of my rejection, in the manner of the Gnostics, of his being descended from David according to the flesh?

The flesh, personal experience teaches me, is definitely corruptible and lowly in every sense. But I must let faith convince me now that the Word made flesh is indeed “God with us,” revealing to us the Lord God who governs history and makes imperfect human beings living in an imperfect world serve perfectly and providentially his plan of salvation. I must allow again Pope Paul VI’s November 29, 1970 homily at Manila, the Philippines, to remind me effectively that part of the divine plan of salvation is for Emmanuel to personify himself in the privileged inheritors of his kingdom in order to make every good person, every generous heart, every man who wishes to save himself to turn to them and find in them Christ the Savior.

Christ in the poor asks those looking for him, “Whom are you looking for?” When he later identifies himself and says, “I am he,” I wonder if I will turn away and fall to the ground, as did his enemies (Jn. 18:5-6), or go down on my knees and proclaim, as did St. Vincent de Paul and Bl. Frederic Ozanam, “My Lord and my God!” In eating the bread and drinking the cup to proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes, will I end up eating and drinking judgment, or eating and drinking toward spiritual health that comes with the embracing of the divine?