Advent Devotional — Sunday, December 16

December 16, 2007, 8:30 am; posted by
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Sunday, December 16, 2007
Third Sunday in Advent
Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed — and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.” (Luke 2:34-35, from the Morning Reading in The Divine Hours)

Last year, I had the privilege of pronouncing a blessing on our first daughter, Grace. “May He make you brave and beautiful,” I said. “May God use you to speak beauty to a cold and dead world.” A blessing I found lovely, and one I was proud to give our daughter.

In contrast, I’m not sure I’d want to pronounce on Gracie the blessing Simeon here pronounces on Jesus. It reveals that from the very start God had a purpose in Jesus’ life: to cause the rise of some, and the fall of others. In a sense, Jesus was to be a flashpoint: the central question of how one viewed God would be answered by how one viewed Jesus. Those that rejected Jesus, despite their piety and religious standing, were found to be rejecting God. And those that accepted Jesus, despite their sin and notoriety, were found to be accepting God. Indeed, Jesus’ life and person caused the secret thoughts of all these people to be laid bare; how a person looked at Jesus was a far more reliable indicator of their spiritual state than their actions.

To be a flashpoint, to cause some to rise and others to fall, to cause great social upheaval, is to live a life that rarely ends peacefully. Laying bare the thoughts of those that have a vested interest in keeping those thoughts secret is not a rewarding task. Setting up a Kingdom which is opposed to the kingdoms of this world inevitably will bring the wrath of those worldly kingdoms against you. In a sense, Simeon’s blessing on Jesus was not completely a blessing.

I am beginning to understand why Simeon told Mary that Jesus’ life would cause a sword to pierce her soul as well. When I prayed that God would use this baby girl to speak beauty to a cold and dead world, I was giving her a double-edged blessing. A pornographic and death-dealing world does not understand beauty. A world where art is a consumer product, or just another instrument to titillate and shock, is a world that does not know beauty. A world which misunderstands beauty will not understand someone who speaks beauty to it; such a world may even dislike the one who speaks beauty to it.

I, of course, do not want Gracie to be disliked by the world. Like Mary, I wish more than anything for my child to have a peaceful, ordinary life, with prosperity, peace and many loved ones. And yet for her life to be meaningful, for her to speak beauty to a world which does not understand it, or do whatever worthwhile task God calls her to, her life cannot always be easy. I pray that both Gracie and her parents have the strength to endure whatever faint echoes of the cross and the sword we have to face.


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