31 JULY 2011 SAHARA KINGSMEAD CRICKET STADIUM Cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM will be celebrating four milestone anniversaries this year (40 years as Priest; 30 years as Bishop; 10 years as...
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The clean of hands and pure of heart,
whose soul is not set on vain things.
These words comprise the second stanza of THIS SUNDAY’S PSALM [24 or 23]. It follows for us that there is still a little climbing to be done if we genuinely want to stand in the holy place of Christmas Day. The Psalm also indicates an individual wolf that remains to be tamed, and a little chaff that must be winnowed …. we have to be clean and not preoccupied with vain things.
Our hearts must be set on reality. Clean hands and freedom from vain things means that we must turn away from unrealistic expectations. However, we must ignite a passion for the possible … an eagerness to understand and accept the facts of Christmas Day which are all wrapped up in the message of the CRIB!
The Lord God had a passion for the possible and gave signs / messages of the Crib. Both our OLD TESTAMENT READING [ISAIAH 7: 10 – 14] and THE GOSPEL EXTRACT [MATTHEW 1: 18 – 24] emphasise the divine passion when they repeat identical words. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” In our Gospel reading Matthew adds Emmanuel is a name “which means, God with us.”
The addition made by Matthew must remind us of a regular emphasis in these last weeks – that God has joined hands with us. However, Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah also expresses an eagerness for us to understand the essential link between the past and present. If we look at the Isaiah reading we see that there is, in Ahaz, no passion for the possible. This lack seems to ignite the passion of the Lord who complains that not only is Ahaz’s approach wearisome to men, it is also frustrating to God himself ….. “you weary my God also.” The result of God’s passion for the possible is expressed in the words: “therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.” God’s determination to provide the sign resulted, in very simple terms, in the fact of Bethlehem which is, as we said earlier, manifested to us in THE CRIB.
Therein is no shadow of unclean hands or vain thoughts. The facts are so simple that I run the risk of not seeing, remaining blind.
Am I really eager to recognise what is being offered? Have I passion for the facts of the sign? Perhaps like Joseph in our Gospel reading, I am tempted to “send (it) away quietly?” Is this hesitation linked to an element of fear that I might recognise as possible what I had determined was impossible? If so, then hear the words addressed to Joseph by the angel (the divine messenger!): “do not fear to take …”
There are only two more days available for me to make a determined choice and join hands with God in order to reach the summit of the mountain with joy and thanksgiving. I should avoid wearing God all over again! Here I recall some words of Saint Augustine who had earlier in his life spent a good deal of time and effort in wearing his God. Augustine wrote: “you will carry us from when we are very little until our hairs grow grey. When our strength is from you, we are strong. When our strength is our own, we are weak.” JOIN HANDS WITH HIM FOR THE LAST FEW DAYS!
There is another hidden challenge in Matthew’s ‘addition about God with us. The challenge is simple – am I able to call him Emmanuel?
ARE YOU? Are we absolutely sure that he IS with us? I believe it is extremely important for us to give him a name which we believe is
valid and meaningful for us – and to do this before we visit the Crib. In OUR NEW TESTAMENT READING [ROMANS 1: 1 – 7] Saint Paul makes an appeal “for the sake of his name.”
There is no doubt in my mind that the Crib calls us, as we re reminded by Paul, “to belong to Jesus Christ.” We cannot belong to a nameless person. We need to ‘name’ him WITH A NAME.
Finally, our New Testament extract speaks about “the Gospel of God … the Gospel concerning his Son.” Here I discern a link with Isaiah’s account of the Lord determining to give us a sign. The sign he gave, his Good news, the Gospel, was the sign concerning his Son – and that Good News, that Gospel, began in Bethlehem.
In these last days of Advent ask the Lord for a sign – in fact, put him to the test! However, you should only do this if you are prepared to see and recognise the sign that the Crib will give you.
If you do this then, as our Psalm tells us “blessings from the Lord (you) shall receive, and right reward from the God who saves (you).“