Sunday, December 18, 2016

4th Sunday of Advent: A Still, Small Voice & The Lord of Creation


     Today, Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent, we anticipate the Nativity of Our Lord in a few short days.  The (seemingly) unexpected appearance of the Lord of Creation in the form of a human infant in a stable reminds me of the following passage from the Old Testament, in which God comes to the prophet Elijah as he hides in a cave:

And he [the Lord] said, "Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice; And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  (1 Kings: 11-13)

This, in its way, is as clear a foretaste of the Messiah as the "messianic" passages we read in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel throughout advent.  We may have heard that, before the coming of Christ, people lived in fear of divine power.  Encountering God was something to be avoided: the point of praying and offering sacrifice, even sacrificing one’s own flesh and blood, was so that God (more often understood as “the gods”) would leave you alone.  
     We can detect echoes of this ancient attitude in the account of Abraham as he brings  his beloved son Isaac up Mount Moriah, prepared to offer him up (Genesis 22).  At the last moment God sends an angel to stay Abraham's hand, and provides a lamb for the sacrifice. The unexpected reversal in the story of Abraham and Isaac shows us the end of Christ’s earthly ministry; the story of Elijah in the cave shows us its surprising beginning. God doesn’t show himself in any of the terrifying guises one would expect (wind, earthquake, fire), but as a “still, small, voice” (in some translations a “whisper”).  In just the same way, the second person of the Trinity comes among us in the least threatening way imaginable: a helpless little baby, cradled in a feeding trough.  No wonder, when the Angel announces Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, he first tells them not to be afraid; and then he says:

For behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people: for to you is born this day in the city of Davis a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12).

Good News , indeed.  It is, in fact, a Great Joy, and not at all a bad thing when God is in our midst, for “God is Love”(1 John 4:8); and the Infinite Creator of the Universe makes himself finite, small and vulnerable . . . for us.


For more Catholic Commentary from the past week, please see the following from the blog Nisi Dominus:


God's Truth is better than anything we can imagine: “Awaiting The Arrival of the God Who is Man



The Mass and what makes the Church ‘Catholic’ - “A Tale of Two Sundays: God’s Love is Universal



Our worth comes from God: “What We Have vs. What We Are


Christmas is coming . . . but not quite yet: “The Reasons for the Season of Advent