Friday of the third week of Advent

Genesis 49:2,8-10; Psalm 71:1-4,7-8,17 (LXX); Matthew 1:1-17

Give the king thy justice, O God,
and thy righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge thy people with righteousness,
and thy poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
may he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor! (Ps 71. 1-4)

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.*

. . .

What is the salvation that the Lord has promised to Israel? We look for it in Advent, but I wonder sometimes whether I, at least, understand rightly what it is. In the first place, I think that it is not just about us, the human beings who struggle to be in right relationship with God and one another; it is about the whole of creation, with which we likewise struggle to be in right relationship. Not only does the Messiah come to judge and to govern in righteousness and justice; the mountains and the hills participate in the coming of the kingdom. Righteousness and prosperity spring forth for God’s people from the earth itself; under the government of God’s anointed, ‘all things’ are brought into harmony with God. So it is that the sweetness of the divine life comes to flavor creation. The delight of the harmony within God extends, according to God’s own desire, ‘from one end to the other’. In this way, the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.

In the second place, though, this salvation does not always come in the form we anticipate. (A baby? Born in a stable? Surely not!) Somewhat mischievously, I commented yesterday evening that God is not to be trusted. Not surprisingly, I got a look which communicated something between puzzlement and disapproval. I meant it in all seriousness, though: if what we expect from the God who saves us is deliverance from suffering and protection from tragedy, we are bound for disappointment. We continue to inhabit a fallen world, and live in it as sinful creatures, sojourners in the valley of the shadow of death. We are saved in the valley of the shadow, not from it. In that valley, God’s presence with us is our salvation: even in the darkness, we need fear no evil.

Often, very often indeed, I wish that salvation meant deliverance from the valley, that the light would dispel the darkness and not just shine in the darkness. But that isn’t what salvation means this side of heaven. Advent reminds us that we look forward to walking in the light, in fervent hope and joyful expectation. In the meantime, we rejoice that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

* About the O antiphons, see the Catholic Encylopedia & Wikipedia articles.

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