Faithful to a great promise

By: By Sr. Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-5,8-9,10,14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12 — 4:2; Luke 21:25-28,34-36

WHO AMONG us has not been overwhelmed with the fragility of a child? When we hold one, we are so careful to do all the right things to insure the safety of the baby.

Who among us has not been disappointed with the words of a promise unfilled? It is shattering, especially when the promise tears at the very fabric of our lives.

Today’s readings speak about both of these. How do they fit together?

In the reading from Jeremiah, we are reassured that Yahweh’s promise of life, which came at the beginning of Israelite history, continued throughout the centuries of difficulties and tragedies experienced by the people of God. Throughout that time, God intermittently reassured the Israelites that the promise stood.

IT WAS, at times, hard to believe that God could bring life to a people so shattered by their enemies, so unfaithful to their end of the covenantal promise. The prophets finally concluded that perhaps God would have to take the “tree” — the image of the people of God — down to its very stump in order to breathe new life into it.

But, promise God did, and faithful to the promise God was: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom. (Isaiah 11:1).

Who would have thought that the promise could possibly be fulfilled in such fragility? That promise was full of surprises. The fulfillment of the promise came into our world as the most fragile of beings, a child. We are cut to the very root of our being when we encounter life in such a form. It takes away the hardness and the callousness of our souls to accept the life of God in our midst in such form.

THE GOSPEL, a seemingly strange one for the beginning of a season focusing on the birth of a child, talks of fear and terrifying signs that will accompany Christ’s appearance. Yet, is not fear what we have when we care for the most fragile? Fear moves us to more attentiveness to our responsibilities toward others.

It is our legacy to keep alive the hope of God’s promise to this very day. How are we to proclaim this promise of God to our generation? How do we not fall into the trap of the Israelites who, at times, gave up on the promise and created a world to fit their image of God rather than believe in God’s ways?

The great promise of this Advent season is for us to remember the way God comes into our lives and be attentive to the surprises of God. Rather than make God in our image as the Israelites often did, we have to listen carefully during this season to know the ways of God.

GOD COMES in the promise of the new life of a child who demands of us a letting go of our self-centered world. God comes to us in the tragedies that cloud our vision of God in our midst. God comes to us in the work of peace in each of our lives.

Peace is a fragile gift and one which will never happen without the daily peacemaking between us and among us. Peace, as we wish for in the world, is only as good as the peace that we bring to our everyday lives. Only with a heart of peace, promised in the Messiah, can we think of hoping for peace in the world today.

The gift of Advent is the promise of our loving God to be with us always. It is a fragile promise in that God counts on us to help bring about peace. It will assuredly be in unexpected ways. (God seems to be that way.)

Perhaps the unexpected way is that we will have our own change of heart to be open to the gift of peace as God offers it.

A member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB, is the pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

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