A Softening of Heart
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone. (Isaiah 9:1-2)
How many times throughout these haunting Advent liturgies we have sung, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” As the Feast of Christmas dawns upon us this year, we may still be pleading, “…ransom captive Israel,” for the disparity of wealth grows deeper, reports of terrorism and violence saturate the evening news, and political turmoil dominates our imaginations.
But I always find the language of Advent nurturing; maybe it is the anticipation, the longing, the patient waiting… and the promise that our time of fulfillment is at hand. “How long, O Lord?” Throughout these four violet weeks we have pondered the paradox of wolf as guest of the lamb, baby at play near the cobra’s den, the desert blooming with abundant flowers — and crooked ways made straight. But my favorite image is Zechariah struck speechless! Maybe no words can possibly communicate the mystery, the profundity of what God can do!
Insignificant Bethlehem, in a violent world dominated by Rome, is this image over and over. A young, refugee couple, frightened and alone, give birth in a stable. And our world is transformed. A threatened monarch orders the murder of countless infants. How many times, in our two thousand year history, have we tried to celebrate the nativity in a context of such fear and insecurity? World wars and plagues that decimated populations and hopes, and the root of Jesse continues to call us, a beacon of hope for all.
In a wonderful commentary on the Christmas readings, (Boston College) scripture professor and Jesuit, Michael Simone alludes to the power of words in several contemporary movies. In “As Good as It Gets,” Melvin’s rambling apology for insulting Carol’s dress ends with the emphatic, “You make me want to be a better man.” The words strike Carol like lightning, and her heart softens toward him.
This Christmas I am praying for a softening of heart… that, as Mahatma Ghandi said, “I can be the change I want to see in the world.”
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is a member of Christ the King Passionist Community in Citrus Heights, California.