Monday in the Fourth Week of Advent at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Lk 1:57-66
Today we remember the birth of John the Baptist just a few months before the birth of Jesus Christ. Zechariah’s is the first annunciation story and is followed by those to Mary and to Joseph. Like Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah is told that he and Elizabeth will have a son in spite of being well beyond child-bearing age. Like Abraham he reacts with “How am I to know?” For all three of these couples, the old story of “where babies come from” is being shattered by a new story.
This new story can be thought of as a biography of Jesus Christ. It recounts events that happened to Him, His reaction to the events, and how they shaped Him. Much more important than that, though, is the common thread that runs through the story of His life. That thread is His identity; it tells us who He is as He understood Himself. It tells us the power by which He lived. That thread is the faithfulness of God, His Father. And the story has an intertwining thread of Jesus’ reciprocal faithfulness. That mutual faithfulness shaped Him more than life-events. It gave Him a unity of purpose. That’s important to know.
Before a story can be told, it must be lived. The Old Testament thus shows us the story of God’s lived faithfulness in spite of the fickleness of the Israelites. From the Exodus to the story being introduced today we see that God is trustworthy, reliable, merciful, and abounding in love. In short, He is faithful. Yet, what is important to note is that He is free not to be! The two poles of loyalty are commitment and freedom. So (also importantly), His loyalty shows that He is faithful to Himself.
To Jesus and to us God is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper. It is the mission of Jesus to tell us about that and to live by it. He will do this by His reciprocal faithfulness. Because of this unity of purpose Jesus is able to be faithful “even unto death on a cross.” Throughout the coming year we will hear about Jesus’ reciprocal faithfulness. It is not about His intellectual assent, but about his trusting loyalty; his steadfast allegiance. This is seen not in His intensity of feeling, but in His conduct. In freely rendering this, Jesus is being faithful to Himself.
Our faithfulness is derived from our faith in Him. When that faith is the common thread running through our life, then our faithfulness also becomes faithfulness to self. It is our unity of purpose. And being in the image and likeness of God that is our freely chosen good. It is all we need.
On Christmas Eve we will hear two stories of God’s faithfulness. To be faithful to Himself He must teach us how to participate in divine love. To love an infant is easy. As we and the infant go through life, it will become a labor of love. It will test our use of freedom. The only way we will be able to undertake that labor is by relying on the God Who is faithful to Himself.