Pastor’s Pen – December 16, 2022
With this last eNews of 2022 I send my wishes for a Merry Christmas to everyone reading this article, and my prayers for blessings of joy and love for all our parishioners as we enter into this season of precious gatherings with family and friends. I think of the many young children now in our midst and the delight and joy this season’s gift-giving brings to them, and how they in turn bring delight and joy to us adults. May the spiritual gifts God gives us through the Christ-Child bring us as much joy and more! I pray especially for a renewal of HOPE for each and every one as we have made our Advent journey this year through the Sunday readings from the great prophet of hope, Isaiah.
At our parish Advent reflection last Wednesday, Rebecca, our Director of Parish Life, pointed out that we can too easily pass over these readings from the Hebrew scriptures because they have for so long been called the “Old Testament” – but they aren’t “old” at all! They are the living Word that can still speak to us today, if only we will give ear. We suffer from a popular notion that the role of the prophets was to predict the future. But scripture study shows that the prophets saw themselves more as spokespersons for God, speaking God’s word to their current moment. They weren’t all that interested in the distant future. If anything, their interest was the immediate future – the evil consequences that would be suffered if the people didn’t reform their evil ways of injustice and neglect of the poor, or the wonderful consequences that would result if they would only entrust their lives to God and follow God’s ways. The prophets were great practitioners of Ignatian discernment (although 2,000 years before Ignatius existed!) – the discernment that seeks to understand how God is leading us right now, in this present moment. Enough said… but to see how to apply the Advent readings to us today, read on!
The Isaiah passages that we’ve heard during Advent were extremely important to the first Christians even though they were 800 years old at that time. A popular oversimplification is that they saw these as “prophecies” or predictions of the coming of Jesus. But that isn’t exactly what was going on. It’s more like the first Jewish Christians were trying to prove to their fellow Jews that they weren’t heretics! They wanted to show that their Rabbi Jesus was very much in line with their Jewish faith, not a threat to it. They searched the scriptures for passages that could justify, as it were, their following of Jesus – passages that could shed light on the person of Jesus, who he was, his ministry, and what God was doing through him – in scriptural terms that were familiar to their contemporaries. It was in that sense that Jesus was seen to fulfill the ultimate hopes and visions of the prophets of earlier centuries. Remember, those first Christians were living through a time when the Temple had just been destroyed – the very core of Jewish faith and practice had been demolished by the Roman Empire; the people were devastated, and the future direction of their faith and their nation was up for grabs. How was God leading them in this darkness NOW?
Why am I saying all this? Because we’re in the same position. It is up to every generation to search the scriptures anew to see how they speak to our current moment, our current darkness, to our own lives and circumstances. To take the risk of letting the ancient written words be a medium for the Living Word to speak to our hearts. Whether it’s in the words of Isaiah or the narratives about the birth of Jesus, we search for the Spirit of the Living One, seeking how God is leading us, here and now.
So enjoy the Christmas liturgy, when Isaiah once again provides the First Reading, the first proclamation of Christmas hope: “Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” Isaiah knows a day will come when all the implements of oppression, slavery, and bloody warfare will be done away with, “For a child is born to us… his dominion is vast and forever peaceful.” What child is this?!
May you draw new hope from all we celebrate these days. The Readings from Isaiah will continue through the Epiphany even to the Fifth Sunday of 2023… so have a Hope-filled Happy New Year too!