Reflection for Saturday, December 6, 2008: 1st week in Advent.

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Burke-Sullivan, Eileen
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As we bring the first week of Advent to closure there is a conjoining of the season of Advent with the traditional feast of St. Nicholas -- from whom the tradition of Santa Claus is at least partly derived. The figure of Nicholas as gift giver and generous servant of the poor is the background to the medieval tradition of giving treats to children and gifts of food to those who are especially hungry in the early days of December -- finally settling on December 6. Various accounts about Nicholas indicate that he was a passionate, even hotheaded, defender of the faith when he knocked Arius to the ground with a physical blow during a session the Council of Nicaea, defender of the poor and powerless when he prevented an imperial servant from carrying out a sentence of capital punishment on three poor aliens, and intervened on behalf of poor families with the Emperor Constantine, whose taxes were crippling the city of Myra.||Nicholas has come through the tradition as a gentle and generous gift giver, but the true story makes him much more of an Advent figure in the tradition of Isaiah. Today's first reading, taken from the "second Isaiah" or the Isaiah of the early Babylonian Exile, presents the Reign of God as the reason for our hope. In this time of the onset of winter (in the northern hemisphere where the liturgical year was formed) as the darkness lengthens and the cold intensifies, we are invited to pray with those who feel a sense of despair about their lives or their futures, and to recognize where all of our hope comes from. The prophet reminded those exiled far from home and without the security of needs being met, that God alone will bring them relief. If they will count on God, their physical and spiritual needs will be attended to. Water , the sign of human flourishment, will flow, bread, staff that upholds human life, will be abundant, the guiding hand of God will remain ever vigilant for God's people. The prophet does not promise that it will ever be as it was -- but rather that it will be better. If we but claim God as our Lord, and live justly as God has instructed, we will not only be provided for, we will flourish in a rich and delightful way.|The promise of God's reign is, for us Christians at least, assumed to be fulfilled in the coming of Christ. But the liturgy challenges us to ask why God's reign remains unavailable to many - perhaps even ourselves today? Are we terrified by this economic crisis? Are we brought low by the specter of not enough food to eat? Are we afraid about tomorrow's wounds or the economic blows that we will suffer? Then let the prophet's voice ring out in genuine hope and consolation: "No more will you weep; He will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as he hears he will answer you." Further -- let us hear Jesus tell us in the Gospel for today that God will accomplish this by the cooperation of those who believe in Him. God will respond to the suffering of those brought low by the various blows of human life, through the agency of the disciples of Jesus. We are challenged today to pray for laborers in the field of the harvest of God's reign. For many years, this passage has been quoted as reason to pray for vocations to the priesthood and/or vowed religious life, but what if we hear it this Advent as an invitation to pray for bankers who believe in Jesus and practice just banking practices, or automakers who believe in God's reign and are committed to the service of humankind rather than taking people for all they are worth. What if we prayed for employers and employees, for legislators and governors, for teachers and scientists, for doctors and lawyers and farmers all committed to proclaiming God's reign in their own "fields" of endeavor -- establishing a rich harvest of promise at least partially fulfilled within the human community on earth, "as it is in heaven." That would be a gift to the world worthy of Christ -- and of his servant St. Nicholas!
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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