Awaiting our Only Hope: the 4th Sunday of Advent

After an initial lament, the Psalmist, in Psalm 80, recalls what God has done in days past: You brought a vine out of Egypt; to plant it you drove out the nations; before it you cleared the ground; it took root and spread through the land. In the words of Ps147:20, He has not done thus for any other nation. This great thing the Lord has done for His people, a sort of recreation, paralleling that first creation of Genesis, is recalled, for it shows the utterly gratuitous gift of God.

Yet, in spite of this initial goodness, God now seems to have withdrawn His love: Why have you broken down its walls? It is plucked by all who pass by. It is ravaged by the boar of the forest, devoured by the beasts of the field… It seems the psalmist has made a logical jump here; 4096God is responsible for the destruction of the vineyard He planted: Why? Well, if God is the one true God, besides Whom there is no other God, then He must be unconquerable. Thus, if Israel has been destroyed, it’s because God withdrew His protecting love. He has ‘broken down the wall of the vineyard’. There’s only reason why God’s love would be withdrawn and it’s not because of God; rather, it’s only the punishment for Israel’s infidelity, which God forewarned thru His servant, Moses. Israel had forsaken God (Ps80:19), seeking a life apart from God, seeking to replace God’s law with their own whims, effectively replacing God with themselves and it led to their ruin.

All the Psalmist can do at this point is to implore God’s mercy: Once again, O Lord of Hosts, look down from heaven, and see…rouse your power and come to save us. Realizing the foolishness of their error, they turn to the only One Who can save them from the pit which they’ve dug for themselves. Interestingly, it’s not immediately clear to which particular event in the history of Israel the Psalmist is referring.

In short, it’s the whole sad story of mankind in the days before the coming of Christ.  How often, from the beginning of time, God generously bestowed gifts in abundance; yet, with our hands and bellies full of God’s goodness, we were satisfied by these goods. Forgetting the Hand from which they had come; in the words of St. Augustine: Saint_Augustine_PortraitYou were within me, but I was outside. There I sought You, as I rushed about among the beautiful things you had made. Finding ourselves ruined because we had severed ourselves from the only Source of Life, we tried repeatedly to save ourselves and failed, leading into ruin. Unfortunately, our day-to-day experience of daily activity can make us think we’re independent, and yes, in the plan of salvation, we must be doing something, but we typically get carried away. Humanity was brought to its knees so often that, with the aid of the prophets, Israel finally realized it would take a direct intervention by God to save us.

This is the point at which the Church picks up in the final days of holy season of Advent. We have ruined the beautiful gifts which God, in His generous love, has given us. Our repeated attempts to fix it ourselves, has only led to further disaster and aided us in accepting the message of the prophets: that God alone can and must come in order to heal the wounds of our sins. We are empty-handed, undeserving of God’s care, yet we beg Him to look upon our misery with His tender, fatherly love, as He had done in times past. We hope in His love, for it is the only thing in which we can and should hope.

The Liturgy is full of this sense of waiting in hopeful expectation of His coming. As we pray in the Collect (Opening Prayer) at Mass today: Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord… We’re asking Him to give what only He can give. In the 1st Reading, there’s a prediction of one whose origin is from of old, from ancient times…He shall…shepherd…by the strength of the Lord…His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; He shall be peace. This mysterious One who seems to come from us is really from God Himself. In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, we recall that… It is by his gift that already we rejoice at the mystery of His Nativity, so that he may find us watchful in prayer… There’s a beautiful image called Our Lady of the Millennium,large_352_11459perhaps commissioned by Pope St. John Paul II.  Don’t dismiss it for its modern-sounding name; it has the young Virgin, in the still of night, wrapped in contemplation of a Light emitting from her womb and the Presence of God who dwells within.

It is precisely Mary who could be described as the image or icon of this season. She first teaches us how to be utterly dependent, waiting with an open heart upon the generous love of God. As a child depends on its parent not only for the lesser needs such as food, clothing, shelter, but more importantly, for direction, instruction, order, and LIFE, so Mary’s tender heart responds promptly to the direction of Her Divine Spouse.

“…at the Annunciation,” wrote Pope St. JPII, “her pure heart, already given entirely to God from her childhood, dilated in the generous and unconditional Fiat with which she agreed to become the Mother of the Messiah and Son of God. From that moment, taking her place more and more deeply in God’s plan, she will let herself be led by the hand by mysterious Providence and for her whole life, rooted in faith, she will follow her Son spiritually…and carry out in everyday life the requirements involved in following Jesus…” (from a homily, 31 May 1979).

Here she is, welcoming Him when, where, & how He comes. In this, she shows us, her spiritual sons and daughters, the meaning of a heart: opening and trusting of the unfolding of our lives in the protection of Divine Providence.

Secondly, as the handmaid of the Lord, visitation15she is conduit of God’s generous love; it is she who goes before Him, preparing the way for her Son, and who brings Him to us.
As St. Elizabeth first acknowledged it: that the Mother of the Lord came to her and more importantly, that she brought the Lord to them. It’s not the first time nor was it the last that Mary would prepare us for Her Son. Mary, Immaculate Conception, the most pure Virgin, was to bring forth a Son. Her apparition at Guadalupe would be followed by the conversion of some 9 million natives in less than a decade! God chose her as the way by which He would come into the lives of men, not just once, but repeatedly, and it’s no different for us!

As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the only One who can save us, we ask our Mother to take us by the hand…obtaining for us the grace from Her Son to have hearts utterly dependent and responsive to His promptings, hearts which accept the daily offerings of His Divine Providence, …hearts which will follow her Son spiritually and carry out in everyday life the requirements involved in following Jesus.

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