Numbers 24.2-7, 15-17; Psalm 24.4-6, 7-9 (LXX); Matthew 21.23-27
I see him, but not now,
I behold him, but not nigh;
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab,
and break down all the sons of Sheth. (Numbers 24.17)
Remember, O Lord, Thy compassion and Thy lovingkindness,
For they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
or my transgressions;
According to Thy lovingkindness remember Thou me,
For Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord. (Psalm 24.6-7)
. . .
The contrast between the prophecy of Balaam and the prayer of the psalmist is striking: on the one hand, destruction; on the other, forgiveness. My first instinct is to look for the theme that ties them together (for example, Christ’s triumph over sin and death as the triumph over enemies foretold by Balaam); yet I hesitate to do so.
I hesitate, because I find that following Jesus and living in the world is a study in contradictions. I, myself, am a study in contradictions. The unity of the Scripture is a mystery, even as the Trinity is a mystery, the Incarnation is a mystery, and we ourselves are shrouded in mystery. To say that all these things are mystery is not, however, to throw up my hands in despair. Rather, it is a way of embracing the paradox that Advent points toward: the paradox of the Word made flesh, the light shining in the darkness. Advent is a time of hope; ideally it is a time of joyful expectation. (I say ideally because it is so easy to be distracted by the trimmings that we forget the feast we’re keeping.) But expectation is not fulfillment, and so Advent must also be a time of longing, longing for the Word to become flesh in us, and longing for God to deliver us from the power of sin.
The paradox of Christian life is captured beautifully by St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein):
‘To suffer and be happy although suffering, to have one’s feet on the earth, to walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly to sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels, this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth’.