In the Gospel reading for this third day of Advent, Jesus tells his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” As I reflected on these words early this morning, I thought about those prophets and kings and how their desires sprang from the promises God made over all the years beginning with His promises to Adam and Eve after their great sin.
The Old Testament is replete with these promises, and they follow a pattern. God creates and preserves His people; they sin against Him and turn away from Him; and God responds with covenant promises to bless, save, and redeem His people; they sin and turn away, and He responds again with a renewed sacred covenant.
Those prophets and kings of the Old Testament, those leaders and judges and rulers of the people of Israel, took God’s covenant promises seriously. They knew, in faith, that one day the promised Messiah would come, and with the light that the Holy Spirit put in their hearts they longed with all their being to see that day and to hear the words of that long-promised savior. One by one, they lived their lives in the hope of that fulfillment; one by one, they died without seeing and hearing that day and those words. And so it continued until that last prophet, John the Baptist, who was privileged to see and hear Jesus and to know Who He was.
In these words of Jesus, we learn how very privileged we are. As I follow the daily Scripture readings at Mass and the Psalms and brief Scripture readings of my daily morning and evening prayers, I am struck with a sense of wonder at the realization that people have been reading these same scriptures and praying these same Psalms, in one language or another, for thousands of years.
The same words I read this morning have been read by others every single day of the past thousands of years since they were first written under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.
Each morning, my prayers take me to the Canticle of (Luke 1:68-79), which reminds me, “He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant.” And I consider two wondrous concepts: first, that these words have comforted the people of God for thousands of years, and second, that these words emphatically underscore the truth of God’s intentional salvation and redemption of His people.
We have, it occurs to me, the benefit of several thousand years of history – those thousands of years from creation to original sin, to God’s covenant with Abraham and His renewed covenants over the centuries, to the culmination of His plan in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, to the more than two thousand years since Jesus walked among us as the Son of Man. We have the grace of knowing that God’s Word has stood firm throughout all this history; we have the grace of learning from others who have studied it and spread it and lived it, and from whom we can further learn it; and we have the grace of the Holy Spirit working directly in us to own it and live it.
We have, by God’s mercy, the grace to see and hear what those long-ago prophets and kings longed for: The truth of God’s Word.
For each of us, the question is whether we ignore it, take it for granted, or embrace it with all the gratitude it merits.
Against this backdrop of grace, my own sinfulness is both magnified and made insignificant: magnified, because I am reminded that in spite of all that history, despite the completeness of God’s Word and Covenant and redemption, I am so small and so imperfect that I turn my back on Him time and time again; made insignificant, because I am reminded, by these same daily readings and by prayer and by participation in the Eucharist that God’s forgiveness and mercy and compassion are complete and deep and abiding.
The story of God’s plan of salvation and redemption, laid out in these daily Scripture readings, allows me to understand that to Him, all of those years I spent (by my own sinful choice) outside the light of His grace are now as nothing in His sight. When He forgave me, through the words and actions of the priest who heard my first confession after my 45-year absence, He forgave me so completely that – as the priest told me that day – even the sins I didn’t remember having committed were wiped out.
Forty-five years became a drop in the bucket, but by the grace of God it also became a learning ground. From that experience, and through the great blessing of Reconciliation, I gained a depth of appreciation for God’s Word, for the redemptive act of His Son, and for the sanctification of His Holy Spirit, that far exceeds what I think I might have gained otherwise. I learned more about His grace by needing it so desperately than I might have learned otherwise. I feel a much stronger and deeper call to share His Word and His love in all the aspects and corners of my life than I might have felt if I had been content to stay put rather than take that first step away from Him when I was 20 years old.
I think that this is so; who knows, though, what I might have become had I not gone so far astray before my return? I can only believe that the story my life tells is one that affirms the depth and breadth and width and height of God’s love and mercy and that proves that He can, and will, and does, create good out of even the worst things we bring to Him.
Abba, Father, those long years I spent turned away from you are but a drop in the boundless bucket of Your grace, and I am filled with gratitude that with the benefit of Your timeless Word, with Your boundless mercy and forgiveness, and with the combined grace of all those millions of people over thousands of years hearing and reading and reflecting and sharing Your word in Scripture, I can live my life surrounded by Your love. You have brought good from my worst actions, Lord, and in the humble knowledge that by myself, I am capable of nothing, I ask to be filled with Your grace so that as one of those countless millions, I may reflect and share Your goodness and love with others.
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