Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Waiting to see the promise fulfilled

By Cardinal Roger Mahony

"Advent" speaks of coming, of fulfilling a promise, a time of renewal and joy.

As I write, I have just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Seeing the land, and walking on the earth where Jesus walked, preached, healed, suffered and died, has stirred up in me a deeper appreciation of the gift of sight, the power of image, the riches of the imagination. As we enter the season of anticipation of a promise fulfilled, of renewal and joy, I invite you to ponder the beauty of the images of the coming of Love Incarnate found in the scripture readings of the Advent season.

Imagine the first Sunday of Advent as an occasion to look at a large blank canvas which has not yet received any paint or image. The canvas is a blank, open space on which we will see in vivid colors and quiet tones the unfolding of God's promise to send to the human family a messiah, a savior — to redeem us from our sinfulness and to reestablish our life in and with God. Each day of Advent we add a little more to our canvas. By Christmas Day, we have before us a shimmering canvas on which we behold the fulfillment of those promises in the person of Jesus Christ.

Let's begin with the Old Testament scripture for the first Sunday of Advent: The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: "The LORD our justice" (Jeremiah 33:14-16).

This scripture becomes the first application of paint to our blank canvas — the promise of God to his people — and sets us on course to continue adding more paint and clearer images of the fulfillment of God's promises. Each day something new will be added to the painting: the name of the Messiah, his being born of a virgin mother, the name of his town of birth, his many titles such as prince of peace, and his ministry of reestablishing those bonds of life and friendship with his Father. Some Scriptures will portray the light of God's love and mercy beginning to emerge through the darkness and hopelessness of sin and alienation. On Christmas Day, we behold the dazzling image of the fulfillment of all our hopes — in a manger.

During this Advent season I invite each of you to give a little time each day to reading and reflecting on the first scripture of the day, the one from the Old Testament. During Advent 2009 the daily readings will include selections from the prophet Isaiah — 10 times! — as well as from the prophet Zephaniah, the Book of Genesis, the prophet Jeremiah, the prophet Baruch, the prophet Zechariah, the Book of Numbers, the Book of Judges, the prophet Micah, 1 Samuel, and Malachi.

Fortunately, there are many excellent daily Scripture aides available to us. One can find the Advent Scriptures for each day on-line at these sites: www.usccb.org, www.la-archdiocese.org or www.olacathedral.org. Each of these sites provides the scriptures for the day, with links to a live podcast to listen to the scriptures being read.

The scriptures are also available on most iPhones, Blackberrys, and similar phones. In addition, publications such as Magnificat and other small convenient booklets are handy for pocket or purse during Advent. They provide the scriptures, a reflection, and a prayer for each day.

As we begin to fill in our salvation history canvas throughout Advent, we gain a deeper appreciation of the ups and downs of the Jewish people — how they move back and forth from fidelity to God and then to infidelity. But God remains faithful.

Their daily journeys surely reflect our own ups and downs. Some days we are keenly aware of God's presence and nearness, while on other days we tend to wander. The entire Advent Season can be a mini-retreat, an occasion to focus, and to deepen our anticipation of the coming of Jesus the Christ, who is God's promise fulfilled in human flesh.

Cardinal Roger Mahony is archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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