Wednesday, December 15, 2010

With Great Tenderness

December 16, 2010
Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

For he who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the LORD of hosts; Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth. The LORD calls you back, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, A wife married in youth and then cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. Isaiah 54:5-7

When the messengers of John had left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. “What did you go out to the desert to see--a reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine garments? Those who dress luxuriously and live sumptuously are found in royal palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” Luke 7:24-26

Father, we welcome your tenderness and will return that love by passing it on to others in our world. Watch over us so that we may watch over those around us whose needs exceed their means. Strengthen us so we may strengthen the lonely, the elderly, the orphaned, unemployed, the homeless and all the vulnerable sisters and brothers around us. Amen.

People always look for ways to understand the incomprehensible, to explain the mysterious. One way we do that is with the familiar and known.

So how do we explain God’s love for us? Isaiah turns to the images of the love of a wife and mother, something everyone in his audience and throughout all of time can identify. What can possibly have greater tenderness than the love of a mother for her child or a young wife for her husband? Isaiah implies that the answer is the love of God for all creation. However, just like families endure unhappiness and hardship, our actions caused the Lord to turn his back on us just like in a family squabble.

God wants to repair our relationship and he sends an ambassador to us to heal those open wounds. That ambassador is not some distant person but it is his only Son.

People, whether in ancient time or in the modern world, have common archetypes and images which help us interpret the world. To make sense of the skies, our ancestors came up with the names of the constellations. Even though history was not written down, the oral tradition in its day spread the news through stories common to different cultures and different people.

Isaiah plants in our mind images of familiar stories to come. What popular story comes to mind as you read today’s text? “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back.” Does it call to mind an entire western literary tradition of travel narratives from the Odyssey to Huck Finn, from Don Quixote to Natty Bumpo. …heroes who abandon their homeland but return later? But these wandering heroes also recall our Biblical Prodigal family torn apart by selfishness in the brothers but knit together by the love of the forgiving father.

All of scripture presents us with this look backward, look forward dualism. And through it all, we face a choice of embracing the “AND.” The past AND the future. But we can only do that in the PRESENT. We can not look backward where we have been without also looking forward to where we are heading. We can look forward but we also need to glance in the rear-view mirror to make sure there are no dangers creping upon us.

Advent, too, is such a “between” time. Our readings in these first three weeks take us back into the richest part of the Hebrew Bible and ahead into stories of the adult life and ministry of Christ. We listen to the promise of the prophet and then we realize that John the Baptist also is in our midst announcing the one who is to come. Yet the one who is to come is here and present. Right behind John steps his loving and challenging cousin to fulfill the potential and possibilities that we have hoped for since before the days of the prophet Isaiah.

How can you fulfill the promise of love in the Gospel during the remaining days of the Advent season? How about looking to see what more you can share with the world of the poor?

The temperature outside tonight is going to be down to 18F. Our neighbors are freezing. Winter is the most difficult season of the year for so many of our homeless neighbors. You can help by donating coats, blankets, hats, scarves and gloves to a local charity in your home town.
In addition, we can help make room at the crowded inn of affordable housing by supporting Catholic for Housing. You know the obstacles: rising costs, a housing shortage, cuts in funding, and a growing number of homeless adults and children. Finding affordable housing is not easy and the problem is not going away.

Catholics for Housing gives the elderly and disabled, as well as lower income workers, a fighting chance – with rental assistance for seniors in Fairfax County, security deposit assistance for eligible households, affordable rentals in Arlington, Fairfax, and Fredericksburg, and homeownership initiatives. Can you reach out to them with great tenderness with your time, talent or treasure during this season?