Advent 04, Year C

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord (Is. 2:5)

As proclaimed by St. Vincent’s reply to the community treasurer who broke to him the bad news that the resources were all but gone and there was no money left, the bad news is not altogether bad. The Lord turns darkness into light right in front of us (Is. 42:16). The night of Judas’ betrayal was also the night of the Son of Man’s glorification and of God’s in his son. (Jn. 13:30-31). Likewise, the Lord makes genuine happiness to take root in poverty and the greatness of the ruler whose origin is from of old, from times immemorial, to come forth from smallness—like the smallness of Bethlehem of Ephrathah—so that the abandoned may be comforted and the forsaken may rejoice.

This proclamation, however, sounds to many to be a hard saying that they cannot listen to nor accept. Many believe that what guarantees happiness is to be well-off, to be great, not to experience either hardships, doubts, illnesses or weaknesses. I do not share their views, of course. Yet there is another way, I am afraid, that I can put such proclamation in doubt.

I find Is. 22:8-11 rather striking, which says (cf. also Is. 31:1):

On that day you looked to the weapons in the House of the
Forest; you saw that the breaches in the City of David were
many; you collected the water of the lower pool. You
numbered the houses of Jerusalem, tearing some down to
strengthen the wall; you made a reservoir between the two
walls for the water of the old pool. But you did not look
to the city’s Maker, nor did you consider him who built it
long ago.

I prepare for Christmas, of course, and take measures I deemed necessary. And I look to these, but don’t I perhaps fail to look to him whom one should look to and consider above all else? Even those as devoted as Martha of Bethany can very well be carried away by society’s expectations and end up taking the most important for granted. Worried and upset about so many things, and worn out by consuming holiday tasks, I may hardly have energy left to look to the Lord and seek him. A colleague at work, a practicing Catholic and committed to lay ministries in her parish, asked me yesterday, “Have you been keeping Christ in Christmas?” I had hardly answered her when she added, “It has been struggle for me and my husband.” And right away I wondered, “If it is so much a struggle for the green tree, how much more for the dry.” And my own struggle has nothing to do with the so-called “war on Christmas” with which the far right, in my opinion, likes to bait the unsuspecting into adopting a warring stance. Rather, it has everything to do with honoring God by more than just going through the usual holiday motions.

To lose sight of the one thing necessary is, ironically, to take the meaning out of Christmas preoccupations and preparations in the same way, I think, that Judas took all sense out of the kiss. This then is to remain in the dark and not allow God’s glory to enlighten the night. The glitter and glitz of Christmas trees, Christmas lights or Christmas gift wraps, these are no match to the darkness. Unless one pays attention to God and obeys him, all these things—including sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings—are of little value and are neither desirable nor delectable. The darkness will turn into light and there will indeed be leaping in joy when one does not lose sight of the Lord’s presence and lives up, of course, to this Vincentian rule (CR II, 2):

Christ said: Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice,
and all these things which you need will be given to you as
well. That is the basis for each of us having the following
set of priorities: matters involving our relationship with
God are more important than temporal affairs; spiritual health
is more important than physical; God’s glory is more important
than human approval. Each one should, moreover, be determined
to prefer, like St. Paul, to do without necessities, to be
slandered or tortured, or even killed, rather than lose
Christ’s love. In practice, then, we should not worry too
much about temporal affairs. We ought to have confidence in
God that he will look after us since we know for certain that
as long as we are grounded in that sort of love and trust we
will be always under the protection of God in heaven, we will
remain unaffected by evil and never lack what we need even
when everything we possess seems headed for disaster.