Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Hand of the Lord Was With Him

And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye.  Malachi 3:1B-2

All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:66

Father, help us to live in the spirit of Zechariah and the Catholic Workers to create a new society within the shell of the old with the philosophy of the new, which is not a new philosophy but a very old philosophy, a philosophy so old that it looks like new. (See more at:

One of my all-time favorite movies is “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Those who have seen it know that the story is set in a Jewish settlement in Imperial Russia of 1905.  The story is set forth with an early quote in the Prologue from the leading man, Tevye:

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask 'Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?' Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word:“Tradition.”

How can Tevye maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon the family's lives?  Tevye must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters.  Each daughter wishes to marry for love – each one's choice of a husband moves her further away from the customs of his faith.  At the same time as this upheaval, the people also must deal with the edict of the Tsar to evict the Jews from their village.  One the one hand people are trying to honor and continue their traditions and keep their society running.  On the other hand, the world around them is changing rapidly.

As John the Baptist goes from leaping in his mother’s womb to bouncing in his father’s hands, the traditions of the Hebrew Bible are about to be challenged in ways big and small, too.  The naming of the baby (John, not Zechariah after his father) is just one small sign to us but a major sign to the villagers that the ways of the past are changing.  Everyone in the village knows who he or she is and what God expects him or her to do.  They know that Zechariah and Elizabeth should name their son Zechariah.  But those sands are now shifting. 

But Zechariah was cut off in silence from his community while John grew in the womb.  With his son’s birth, Zechariah finds his voice and the first words of this doubting old man are: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.”  John, too, will find his voice.  Yet before he does so, he will cut himself off from the community by living in the wilderness, physically cut off from the people but crying out for change.

The naming of John symbolizes that the ways of the past are past.  Personal change (repentance) will be at the heart of the message that John the Baptist preaches when he gets his voice crying in the wilderness and he and his misfit cousin start overthrowing traditions and refining (redefining) our piety, study and action in ways no one could have guessed if they only relied upon human traditions.

What then will become of all these traditions?  They will be updated with new ones that are based on the Good News as proclaimed by Jesus – a message to serve and worship the Lord without fear, because of the tender mercy of our God.

Holy Days are a time for family traditions.  What are some of yours and why do you do what you do?  Have those traditions changed as children have come into your life or as they have grown and moved away?  What other ways are your traditions changing?

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