Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26
Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5a, 6-8
This past week during the Thanksgiving holidays, I visited a Holocaust memorial. The physical size of this memorial was quite small, yet what most etched in my mind were the images of human figures. These figures consisted of perhaps a dozen men and women painted from head to toe in solid white color. They were lying on concrete, representative of a Nazi gas chamber. The figures to me appeared powerless, frail and innocent. The memorial certainly reflected how the victims were caught up in a reality much greater than that small space. Indeed, they were innocent and they were victims.
I’ve been thinking about this as we have entered this Advent season, because most of the Old Testament readings this week have been from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Today’s first reading is no different. Isaiah is speaking directly to the Jews who were left in Jerusalem during the Babylonian exile. Recall that the Babylonians took most of the elite, including the educated and wealthy members of Jewish society back to Babylon with them. However not all of the Jews were exiled to Babylon. How difficult it must have been for those remaining in Jerusalem. Their city was in shambles. Their Temple was destroyed. And they had lost everything the Lord had promised and given to their ancestors: the covenant, the Promised Land, the monarchy, the Temple and the law. How disheartening this must have been not only to have let down the Lord, but also to lose everything your forefathers had worked for. There must have been tremendous shame and humiliation among the people of Israel. Much like the Holocaust memorial, the victims left in Jerusalem were caught up in a reality much greater than they understood. And so it is to these people that Isaiah speaks.
Notice he does not speak any words of shame or ridicule. He speaks strongly about the persistent presence of the Lord God. He speaks of God’s generosity, God’s immense presence, God’s abundance, and God’s gentle voice. He speaks of God bringing better days ahead. One of the things I’ve noticed is when we are in dark days we need to know that there are going to be better days ahead. Knowing this, and believing it, literally help to carry us through. On the other hand when we are in those better days, we tend to be quite forgetful people, and we take so much for granted.
These are dark days. Specifically, Advent comes when the daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere are at their shortest. And somehow in the midst of this we are asked to hear good news. I think it’s one thing to be able to hear of God’s abundance, and God’s generosity. I think it’s far more challenging to believe it. And yet the Gospel asks us to take it even one step further. Jesus sends his disciples to go out and proclaim it. So perhaps our Advent question of the day is simply, what is the good news you need to proclaim today?
Lastly, back at the Holocaust memorial, the bodies were arranged so that some of the members were actually giving comfort to others even while taking their final breath. In the midst of Advent darkness, are you attentive to God’s good news?
David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.