The fourth week of Advent is something like what I just described. Joseph had to take his wife to Bethlehem rather suddenly in order to register for the census commanded by the regional Roman procurator, Quirinius. Joseph had no choice but to pack up Mary, who was 9 months pregnant with the Son of God, leave Nazareth in Galilee and negotiate the desert through Samaria (which is a land unfriendly to Jews) to go to Bethlehem in Judea. They had no idea what they would face, but they trusted God.
The journey of Joseph and Mary was the inspiration that kept me going during the transfer of my father from across the country to his new home. Given that we are so deep into Advent, it was not only reality, but also my meditation to realize that the trust they had in the Father was the same trust which we needed to draw upon. God has made many promises to His people throughout salvation history, and He has made those same promises to us: He will never leave us and He will be with us. Throughout our situation He continued to be present and active. He helped us to leave our “Nazareth," the town where my father lived with his family -(my childhood home)- and journey to our “Bethlehem” in a hurry, through adverse conditions. God never left our sides.
During that night of prayer, it became clearer to me that this is really what Advent is all about. It is about recognizing how our humanity and His divinity became one. We who are human need him; we are dependent upon Him, just like children. There is nothing we can do without God. Simultaneously, God wants to be one with us. He is Emmanuel, God with us. The reading for the Sunday of the Fourth week of Advent from Isaiah says this: "The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!' Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel." (Isaiah 7:10-14)
God wants us to ask for what we need. He wants us to ask for miracles when we need them because He wants to be present and active in our lives. He bent low and came down from Heaven to enter our humanity. He does not want us to think of Him as merely an observer. He wants us to involve Him in our lives. The Son of God came to be with us actively. And as Isaiah had to tell Ahaz who had a bout of false humility thinking he should not ask God for something He was freely offering, we need to hear the response with all our heart and soul: “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” That is, the Son of God is here. God has already become one of us.
The Incarnation was not a once-and-done incident. God has been part of our world since the beginning of time, but once He entered it as a little baby everything changed. He is now present in a new way such as in the miracle of getting a house sold, packed up, legal issues accomplished, phone calls made, a reservation made for assisted living in no time flat, and getting a very weak, elderly man moved, all in a two week period. Everything is gift and all is miraculous. God is present in the smiles and kindly faces of nurses and doctors, aides, kitchen workers, and employees who are in service professions. He is present in the planes that get off the ground on time in blizzards and friends who come to help unpack and put together furniture. He is present in the supportive friends and family who call to offer words of support. God is present in all those ways and countless more when we open our eyes and look. Then we learn, as did Ahaz, that we should never shy away from asking God for His presence and activity in our lives. He is ever faithful to His promises.
God came into our world, as the Father promises, in order to meet us face to face. The preface prayer at Mass during late Advent tells us that Mary bore Him in her womb with love beyond all telling. The One whom she bore, was and is, Love beyond all telling. This child-to-come (who in reality is already come) is peace and mercy incarnate. All the pieces came together in a choreography that could only be designed by the King of Love, God the Father. Would He have done this, gone to all that effort (so to speak), just for a one-time gesture? Would He have done all this just to give us a quaint Nativity scene for our churches and tabletops? If that is what we think, then we are truly missing the miracle of it all. He came so that we might realize that the desire of Divinity is to always and forever mingle with and be part of our humanity. Everywhere we are, He is. He wants to give us miracles such as the ones I have described; therefore we need to continually ask. And when we do not readily see these miracles, we need to remember that not everything we ask for is meant to be. When those times occur, we need to remember that there are still miracles occurring, but they are not visible, or maybe they are not the ones we asked for, but they are miracles nonetheless. He is ever with us. There is not a moment of our lives in which He is absent or unaware. He is Emmanuel.
May we have the grace to recognize the miraculous which abounds all around us this Advent and always! May we continually call upon His name, Jesus who is Emmanuel, for all that we need! May we trust in His grace and in His presence in our lives! May we enter into the darkest part of Advent which begins to be illuminated by the Star which heralds His coming with joyful expectation! And may we be filled with a deep felt-sense of His love and care for each of us personally, no matter what our circumstances! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord of Love! Marana tha! Peace!
The photo is mine, taken on Long Island many years ago at the Cenacle Retreat House.
The two icons are the work of Rev. William Hart McNichols.
The first is called Mother of God She Who Hears the Cries of the World which can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/220-mother-of-god-she-who-hears-the-cries-of-the-world?Itemid=103.
The second is called Mother of the Incarnate Word and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/226-mother-of-the-incarnate-word
©Michele L. Catanese