Thursday of the fourth week in Advent

Malachi 3:1-4,23-24; Psalm 24:4-5,8-9,10,14 (LXX); Luke 1:57-66

And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, ‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1.64-66)

. . .

‘What then will this child be?’ We know, because we have heard the rest of the story: this is John, who will baptize in the river Jordan, and will proclaim the coming of the Messiah. At the time of his birth, though, the signs only point to some divine purpose. The miracle of his conception and the wonder at his naming are marks of a promise whose fulfillment cannot even be imagined yet.

Promise. Advent is about that promise, fulfilled and being fulfilled, in the fullness of God’s own time. I wonder whether I do not have something to learn from my children’s anticipation this Advent. Of course, for them Christmas is still tied to the presents, the imminent arrival not of the child Jesus, but of Father Christmas. Nevertheless, I have something to learn from their hope, their joyful and eager expectation that the promise of Advent will be fulfilled on Christmas morning. Would it even occur to them to doubt that their stockings will be full, that something special will be waiting for them under the tree? I think not.

Yet I doubt a promise more certain than that. Our children depend on us, imperfect as we are, to give them what they need, and to keep our promises. Hard as we try, we may not always keep every promise. But God always keeps God’s promises, and this is the season we remember that, and celebrate it: ‘All the promises of God find their Yes in Him’ (2 Cor 1.20), that is, in Jesus. Still, it seems that Love is delayed, Hope frustrated, and Faith faltering. When will the promise of healing be fulfilled? When will the glory of God be revealed?

The people around John had to wait years to see how God’s promise would come to fruition in him. And so they ‘laid [these things] up in their hearts’. Some translations say that Elizabeth and Zechariah’s neighbors (like Mary, later in Luke’s gospel) ‘treasured…in their hearts’ what they heard about John’s birth. The treasure is not the fulfillment; the treasure is the promise. Because God is perfectly faithful, God’s promise is our treasure. I pray that on Christmas morning, in the noise of tearing paper and the sound of hymns being sung, I will hear God’s ‘Yes’, and remember again, deeply enough to carry me through the storm, that ‘faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it’.

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