I Look From Afar
Here in Ohio the land is mostly flat. Fields
of corn stretch to the horizon and the roads are straight. We aren’t
very familiar with that natural phenomenon known as the “Echo.” Part
of my training for the priesthood, however, took place in the
mountains of Switzerland, a landscape that could not be more
different from that around us here. And echoes were very much a part
of life. I don’t just mean the acoustic effect you get from singing
in the bathroom. I’m talking about shouting out a “Hello!” and
hearing the word reflected back a few seconds later.
In Holy Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, we find echoes of a different nature. Instead of reflecting back a sound that has already been emitted, we see and hear in the pages of Scripture the echoes of things that are yet to come.
In some cases, these take the form of direct prophecies, pronounced by holy men, called prophets, chosen by God to instill in the people of the time a mind prepared to accept the greater thing that was to come. “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive…” and so on, is one such prophecy. At other times, it is not a direct prediction of events to come, but rather a foreshadowing, an echo in reverse, of a greater reality yet to be fulfilled. So we see, for example, the image of Abraham’s son Isaac, carrying the wood up the mountain where Abraham had been commanded to sacrifice his only-begotten son, a reflection of course of Christ carrying his cross up to the summit of Calvary. Just one example amongst thousands that are contained in the Old Testament and which point to the coming of a Messiah.
In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, there are many such direct prophecies and indirect foreshadowings of this promised Saviour. For this reason the Church has chosen this book to be read at Matins throughout the season of Advent.
Today’s readings come from the opening declaration by the prophet to the people of Israel: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, but they have rebelled against me.” We have here a warning from the most High God to his chosen people, a reminder of all the great favors he has piled upon them, and a reprimand that in spite of these favors, they have chosen to rebel against him. How so? By their contempt of God’s truths, their disregard for God’s laws, and their forsaking of their duties to him.
It is not to disparage the Jews that we mention this, for we today are no better. Apply God’s warning to his modern-day children, who have abandoned and despised his most sacred gifts, the Holy Mass, a valid succession of priests and bishops, marriages based on the sacred principles of Christ and his Church, the Ten Commandments, and so on. And especially we must apply the warning to ourselves here today, who have been favored so highly by being inspired by him to keep his faith, observe his laws, and preserve all things Catholic. How are we doing in the sight of God? What is the degree of our own fervor in responding to God’s gifts?
As the Prophet Isaiah continues, we realize the abyss that exists between what should be and what is: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” The ox and the ass…. Here is one of those echoes we spoke about. A prophesy of Christ’s Nativity, where the ox and the ass, mere animals, beasts of the field, acknowledge their Lord and Savior and kneel before him in the cold midnight air of that stable in Bethlehem, while the world outside, in blissful ignorance of what has transpired in their midst, shows nothing but contempt, refusing to provide even a room at the inn for the Blessed Mother and her Child.
Let it be our warning today that when that Christmas night arrives, it will not find us sleeping. At least not spiritually sleeping. Our four weeks of Advent must be spent preparing ourselves for that blessed moment when Christ is born. We must listen for the echoes of that night to resound now, in our lives, our words and actions, even our very thoughts and inspirations, so that when the Christ Child comes, we may be like the shepherds in the field, already vigilant and keeping watch for him. As they kept watch over their flocks by night, we must keep vigil over our thoughts, words, and deeds, that, like sheep, so often go astray. Only then shall we perhaps hear through the cold, crisp air of Christmas, the glorious announcement of the Saviour’s birth, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo that will beckon us to the stable, to come and adore him who is Christ the Lord.