Sir 48:1-4,9-11; Ps 80:2-19; Mt 17:9-13
Saint John of the Cross is a doctor of the universal church. His teaching about prayer and the spiritual life is not reserved for Carmelites or other consecrated religious. He teaches the doctrine of the cross. This is the cross our Lord Jesus commands us to take up, each day. This teaching is for the good of any Christian, and it can lead anyone who is serious about prayer. As this mystic-reformer taught one of his spiritual disciples: “Seek in reading, knock in meditation, and find in contemplation.” This is a quick synopsis of lectio divina. Indeed, the Book of Psalms is an inspiration for anyone who reads, knocks, and finds. As today’s Psalm teaches, those who are humble enough to be taught, how to know the truth and the way to live that truth. So in all honestly they ask, “teach me oh God my Savior.” The Divine Teacher is kind and full of compassion, and his goodness is beyond measure. The LORD shows sinners the way. Indeed, the Divine Teacher guides the humble in the ways of prayer and holiness. Balaam, son of Beor, was slow to learn, yet his struggle with the truth of God’s favor for Jacob, is a lesson for all of us. Balaam’s donkey was able to see the Angel of the LORD, and he spoke in warning to his master. Sometimes we are slow to understand and quite startled to hear the truth from those who appear to be deaf and dumb. The Gospel also reminds us that those who should know the truth, like priests and elders, are often the last to listen and the first to hesitate with any kind of openness to the authority of those who speak the truth, that can alone set us free. Such liberation is one of the Advent gifts that help us prepare for the Lord’s Coming in the celebration of Christmas and into our heart of hearts.
The brightness of Our God outshines the cherubim by unspeakable magnitudes. Yet, this glorious Lord is praised in today’s psalm as the shepherd of Israel. The LORD is so far beyond our little world and myopic concerns, yet he shepherds us even as he led his people through the Red Sea and the desert, and he cared for them during and after the exile. It is both awesome and frightening that the LORD rouses his power and comes to save us. We taste the longing so many centuries old in the hearts of our ancestors in faith, and this reminder each Advent enables our deepest prayer: “Once again, O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven and see.” See us LORD in our misery and in our failure since last Advent things haven’t gotten much brighter here. We are still in such darkness and despair even after celebrating Christmas last year. Still the psalm forms our prayer. Usually, thought comes before a word, but in prayer the word of the Lord comes before our thought. We are taught by the psalms how to pray the way the Lord wants us to pray with his concerns and plans. He wants us, a precious vine, to ask for his protection; we are so fragile. The LORD wants us to ask for life, new life, and abundant life so that we no longer withdraw from him and we constantly call upon his name. Indeed, the LORD makes us strong. Indeed through prayer, the LORD makes us strong. Such was the great strength of Elijah whose prayer shut up the heavens and brought down fire from heaven. In the bold spirit of Elijah we pray that all things be restored this Advent so that the Lord will come in his glory, this Christmas.
What kind of blessing is the friendship of this prophet Elijah? Who wants to hang around someone whose words are hot and hostile? Who wants to starve because of the zeal of some prophet? Who wants to risk the danger of being near to the one who makes everyone suffer drought or firestorms? Those who read the book of Sirach are taught that the name of Elijah means, “Whose glory is equal to yours.” The tradition remembers that this ancient prophet was taken up in a whirlwind of fire in a chariot of fiery horses. Also, we remember the good news about the coming of Elijah. He will come again to put an end to wrath before the final day. It is the task of this powerful prophet to turn back hearts to one another and to set up the twelve tribes again. Someone who makes this kind of a difference in our world is truly welcome, even when his preaching is severe and fiery. This is the kind of friend the human race needs to prepare us for the Friend of Sinners, Christ the Lord. In him alone do we find our rest. In Christ, alone, are the Sabbath rest of God and his people completely fulfilled.
Is this Baptist Week? The Second Sunday of Advent makes reference to John the Baptist, and the rest of the week continues to offer the gospel’s further reflection upon the personality and ministry of Saint John the Baptist. Today we hear about the time just after the Transfiguration. As they were coming down the Mount of Transfiguration, they asked the Lord Jesus to teach them about the mysterious Elijah. The disciples want to know: will he come to restore all things, and what about this fiery John the Baptist could he be the New Elijah? Even though he dresses like the ancient prophets, eats the same food, and preaches repentance; “they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.” The Lord Jesus had one more insight about the suffering of Saint John: he was to suffer in just the same way. Indeed, the powers-that-be will do to the Lord Jesus whatever they please. They will ignore the light of his face and the wonders he worked all for the glory of the Father. They will only see and hear him as dangerous and threatening. They will necessarily try to eliminate his power and influence among his followers and in the crowds. Even in this generation the powers-that-be find fiery prophets and their disciples to be a great problem, to say the least. Not everyone will be celebrating the Advent preparation, nor will everyone rejoice in the birth of the Messiah, the fulfillment of all the prophets and the prophecies. These sober reflections on Advent and Christmas keep our focus on the real Lord Jesus and his real suffering in his Body, the Church.