As we rush toward Christmas we are given a moment to pause by our readings today. Our first reading comes near the end of the Book of Consolation (Chapters 40-55), a work of an unknown prophet who was active near the end of the Babylonian Captivity. The prophet’s ministry was to a new generation of Jews born in Babylon. Jerusalem and the glories of the past were not active memories for them. Hope of returning to Jerusalem was hanging by a thread! God sent this new prophet to raise up hope.
The first image he uses is that of the sterile wife. Think of Sarah, Rachel, and Anna. All bore children through God’s special power. Barren Jerusalem will be repopulated again! Her tent (recall the hopes of wandering Abraham) will be enlarged even to include the nations. Israel will forget the shame of her youth and the reproach of her apostasy. God is named a "husband" and redeemer who calls back the forsaken wife. Only for a moment has God abandoned or hid his face from them. With great tenderness and enduring love he will take them back. The prophet concludes with the assurance that God’s love will never leave them nor his covenant of peace be shaken. God’s mercy is on them.
This is a message we need to hear. It’s been two thousand years since the Word was made flesh and revealed the fullness of God’s love and fidelity to his people. The wonder of that comes back to us forcefully as we annually celebrate Christmas.
Fr. Michael Hoolahan, C.P. is on the staff of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.