From the beginning, the Virgin’s message was of maternal affection and protection. “I am your mother,” she told the indigenous peasant, Juan Diego. Her mission was to relieve the suffering of the people by imparting the Christian faith that proclaims God’s mercy. As part of that relief, she called the European colonists from the city to the surrounding area. There they might address the needs of the people. In today’s gospel we see Mary on a similar mission of mercy. Hearing from God that her relative Elizabeth was with child, Mary rushes to assist her. So close to her son Jesus, who is also the Son of God, Mary will help us through the pandemic. Praying to her, we can be assured of receiving God’s mercy.
The passage from Isaiah reassures us that God teaches us “what is for our good and leads us on our way.” We can be assured that if we listen to that teaching, if we follow, we will be vindicated – not necessarily in the eyes of those who judge, but in the eyes of our God. We need faith to understand and courage to hold to that truth.
Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God? Jesus praised John the Baptist as the greatest person born. Who can top that as a compliment? But in the same breath, Jesus says that the least in the kingdom of God is even greater than John!
With the beginning of the COVID sheltering in place, I began to study the Lament Psalms. It seemed an appropriate time, an appropriate theme for what we were facing. I knew little but learned the basic structure of Lamenting is: an address to God, a protest or complaint, an expression of trust in God’s unfailing love, a petition, a belief that God hears our plea, and an offering of praise. They wail and scream at God and, at the same time, have faith in God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. People of the Old Testament trusted God to hear their complaint, their wailing, their deep crying out. And, yet, expressing their anger, frustration, deep sadness, they also trusted God. They had hope. They conclude their lament prayer with praise.
The Apostle Paul famously referred to the risen Christ as the “last Adam,” contrasting him with the “first Adam” who bore our fragile humanity, the moral and spiritual vulnerability that renders us broken and in desperate need of God and one another. Barely a century later, Justin Martyr contrasted Jesus’ mother with Eve, the mother of all the living. Only a few decades after Justin Martyr, the Church Father Irenaeus went even further, calling Mary of Nazareth the “Second Eve.”
Many of us have heard the expression, "It takes a village to..." The example of a faithful group can indeed bring someone paralyzed in their own faith and introduce them to Jesus. In doing this, we bring the kingdom to others and not just be the spectators in the room who witness the healing. How can we do this in our own parish or faith community? Advent may be the season of liturgical preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but that does not mean we suspend "putting skin on" the kingdom. To the extent that we as a community bear witness, and not just as individuals, we give witness to the kingdom just as those stretcher bearers did, and we enable Jesus to do what he does in healing.
2020 has been a year unlike any other as we have faced together a worldwide pandemic that has changed our lives in ways we would never have imagined. Along with fear and uncertainty about the future came reports of police brutality, peaceful protests, and civil unrest-looting and violence-followed by a contentious election with accusations of fraud only adding to the sense of societal instability. If ever Isaiah’s words of consolation were needed, they are today.
In the midst of this Pandemic, it is important that we be clear: We are not the lost sheep of Israel that Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel, the ones who call forth his pity because they are like sheep without a shepherd. No. We are the ones who have received freely.
Isaiah tells of a time when nature will blossom, a time when the deaf will hear, and the blind will see. The lowly will find joy in God. Life will have a positive slant. The tyrants and arrogant will have had their time and that time is over. It is now the time for the poor, the lowly, the blind, the deaf, the lame. We begin the Advent season each year with these same readings. We yearn for the time Isaiah foretells. As we begin each Advent season, we see ways that the poor are still with us. People are blind and deaf to hearing the word of God. We look around at the world today. We see disease, we see people out of jobs, we see so much that could be different. We lament. When God? When will your time come? When God? When will your reign be manifest in our broken world?
Jesus talks to us today about a faith that is manifested in action. The Word of God expressed in the law of God is a source of salvation when it is put into practice. In the Semitic world, one of the pillars of authentic wisdom were not the statements proclaimed but the living practice of those statements. The practice of the will of God is therefore the coherence between the letter that is read and the practice that is lived.
When I read this scripture, I am usually focused on the healing miracles and the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes. So, I was a little surprised when the words that caught my attention were Jesus’ gentle, loving words, “…I do not want to send them away hungry.” After the miraculous healing of all those who were brought to him – the blind, the lame, the mute and others, Jesus noticed that the people had run out of food and he wanted to be sure their very basic human need for something to eat before a long journey was met.
I love how so many of our scripture readings start during the season of Advent. We get phrases like the one we have today, “On that day.” It shows us that we’re pointing towards something. Isaiah gives us this beautiful prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, about the Root and the Stump of Jesse — about how he will judge with justice, how he will be a friend to the poor and the down-trodden. We also get the incredible vision of peace — the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the goat, the calf, the young lion and the child. Enemies in a sense will become friends. It’s a great vision for what is hoped for.