By Fr. Vincent Rochford
GOD'S readiness to give
Himself presupposes man's readiness to receive, and indeed is proportioned to it. The long preparation, almost 2,000 years of it, which God made amongst men to get them ready for the Coming of Jesus Christ, makes up sacred history, it is the theme of the Old Testament.
During that time God was disclosing Himself more and more, not in the sense of showing men new truths but leading them to an ever-deepening understanding of one and the same great truth. and was stimulating a response of faith. Faith is what He asks first from man, the faith which is a surrender to God.
You see that from the start: it was the one and only call He made on Abraham. the first individual He called out from the idolatrous mass of humanity to friendship with Himself: a typical little Near East sheikh. no different from thousands of his fellows.
He answered God's approach to him with faith, and then he had to be separated from clan and country, God needed him "on his own". to educate him and purify his ideas.
This twin process of rousing faith and drawing him from the most earthy dreams to a more spiritual understanding reached its apex in his willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac, and so to throw away all that he had been promised.
And when. six centuries later. a great mob of his descendents were set free from their slavery in Egypt. there at the foot of Sinai. God entered into a covenant with them. and another great step forward was taken towards the Incarnation.
There again God had to separate them from old associations and temptations. and keep them in the desert for a whole lifetime, detaching them from the wealth and power and luxury of Egypt. leading them into real faith in their God, who was their own as they were his own people, homeless and austere as their lives might he.
Settlement in the Promised land and the prosperity of the early
monarchy, brought infidelity, forgetfulness of the Covenant, running after strange gods.
Instead of abandoning them to their own devices. God sent a long sucession of prophets to rekindle their faith, to persuade them to stop putting all their hopes in political alliances and to return to the covenant he had made with their forefathers.
They were purified by a succession of wars. by defeat. and at last by deportation into captivity. There, in Babylon. they came to understand that their religion need
not depend on the Temple, now in ruins, even on the Ark of the Covenant, now destroyed.
After this experience they returned to their country more genuinely religious than Israel had ever been before. Foreign occupation took its toll, yet when Our Lord was horn there was a nucleus and faithful remnant ready to
accept him. God's patient pedagogy had not failed.
Israel's faith burned bright in the priest Zachary, in the old man Simeon, in aged Anna. But it reached its apogee in one Hebrew soul, and that was the soul of a girl. In Mary of Nazareth God's work of preparing for the sending out of his Son was startling.
The preparation of Israel was perfect in one soul. in one of Israel's daughters. For she was purified from the first instant of her existence, purified not front faults of her own, but from the
A meditationfor Christmas Eve
very sin of our nature itself: she was conceived immaculate.
All God's effort to promote a surrender of utter faith found fulfilotent in that one girl. her peopre's intermittent aspiration, its acceptance of God in detachment from itself found their summit in her. All God's love and generosity and patience, all the graces he had given Israel end in lowliness and in the total obscurity of Nazareth.
Second Eve who repairs the failure of the first. Eve had lost God by her unbelief and revolt: in Mary, God began to take complete repossession of humanity.
For God to give himself to her and to us, she had first to give herself to him, and this she did in magnificent surrender by her Fiat, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me as you have spoken."
Mary, then, is the very personification of Advent. On the Fourth Sunday the Church still prepares us for the Second Coming of Christ in glory, "until the Lord come . . ." (Epistle).
But since Christmas, when we celebrate Christ's first Coming in Bethlehem, is near now, it is no wonder that Mary should figure prominently in the day's Mass.
So the opening Mass-hymn takes up the word of Isaiah, "You heavens. send dew from above. you skies pour upon us the rain we long for, him. the Just One: may he, the Saviour, spring from the closed womb of earth."
For five hundred years God's
People had heard the words read from the synagogue scrolls: now at last the Just One had been sent down from above and had fallen in Nazareth; soon he, the Saviour. Jesus, would spring from a closed womb. (Introit).
He had been conceived by a virgin and would be horn Emmanuel. so that God would be with us. (Communion Song).
"1 he months passed and often the girl's thoughts turned back to the visitor's unexpected greeting, "Hail. thou who are full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women." (Offertory Song).
She had told no one, not even Joseph; only Elizabeth knew . . Awaiting the birth of one's child is a privileged time in any mother's life, when a quite special intimacy is coming into being with her child.
Rut her Child would be the
Messiah. the Anointed One of God, the mysterious long-promised Saviour promised by God to her own people. in whose day Jerusalem would become the centre of a salvation that would be universal, so that even the Gentiles would profit—these hard. efficient men of the Roman legions now occupying her country and others out beyond the Western seas.
Even if she felt dark uncertainties lying ahead. her faith was growing daily more intense and the Holy Spirit filling her more and more. She was all calm. all patience. but often repeated the prayer of her people. "Come. 0 Lord. and wait not." (Gradual Song).
So the infidelities of the Chosen People, their follies and strayings were being compensated in the person of the girl who was their summit and crown: the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, honour of her people.
Whilst we reflect on Our Lord's first Coming and prepare for His Second. we have to he ready to recognise his multiple Comings to us through his Spirit who lives in ,115 and to the stirrings he prompts in us.
We meet him in our neighbours. in the calls that the occupations and contacts of daily life bring to us. Like the Chosen People, we have to surrender to him in faith; "The Lord is near to all those that call upon Him". (Gradual.)
And as we get ready to welcome him in the Christmas Eucharist, our model of faith and generosity is none other than Mary. His Mother.