13 December, 2012. Second Week of Advent. Thursday. (or: St. Lucy, virgin and martyr)

First Reading: Isaiah 41:13-20
(The Lord says to his dispirited people,”Do not fear, for I will help you.”)

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Do not fear, for I will help you.” Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel! I will help you, says the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. Now, I will make of you a threshing sledge, sharp, new, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff. You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them. Then you shall rejoice in the Lord; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, so that all may see and know, all may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Gospel: Matthew 11:11-15
(John the Baptist was great, but the least in the kingdom  is even greater.)

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!

Two sides of biblical religion
Two sides of biblical religion remain constant throughout the ages. God is to be both loved and feared! Jesus announced peace and yet brought the sword (Jn 14:27; Lk 12:51-53). This contradictory combination is paralleled in in everyday experience. In the entire animal kingdom, from the irrational to the human, parental love surrounds its offspring with tender concern and guards it fiercely!

Isaiah imagines God addressing Israel with nicknames, calling them “my little worm” and “my little maggot,” as a parent might affectionately do to a child squirming in its arms. Understood in this way, the words, “worm” and “maggot,” are not demeaning, but are surpriseing when attributed to God. We expect God to speak with more dignity! But Isaiah imagines God as not afraid of sacrificing his majesty, to be known as a loving and tender parent, for he will summon every ounce of his omnipotence to defend the poor and the powerless. He will thresh the mountains of evil so throughly that their dust will be carried away by a strong wind. A farmer tramples upon the harvested wheat, then throws the stalks into the air. The seed because it is heavier falls to the ground while the withered leaves and dried up stem are swept away by the wind. Threshing, we note, combines the heavy determination of stamping and beating with the easy rhythmic sweep of throwing the stalks into the air . . . just so, God blends tenderness with strength. If any of us has witnessed the mighty transformation that makes the desert bloom and even the mountain ridges flow with water, we would hardly know whether to dance with reckless joy or to cover our face out of fearful disbelief and our inability to cope with it all. Again God blends tenderness with strength.

Jesus’ words combine gentleness with power. He refers to newborn infants, the least in the kingdom of God, who are greater than the fierce prophets, Elijah and John the Baptist. Then he turns the coin over and changes the metaphor to the violent who take the kingdom by force. The weakest infant is stronger and better prepared to occupy the kingdom than Elijah and John whose preaching attracted yet astonished and frightened people. The Gospel ends with a serious warning: “Heed carefully what you hear!” Everyone of us occasionally comes up against violent opposition. How are we to cope with it? Today’s reading asks us to respond with the consciousness of Christmas and the presence of God as an infant.

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