Four Flames

For a week, the fourth candle on the Advent wreath will trace heightened anticipation on the hearts of those who wait. There is a magic to the waiting, even a wanting. For its roots stretch bravely beyond each human heart into the worlds of earlier generations, decades and millenia past. It is the candle, this fourth week, that captures the connections among us all and opens up the possibility of oneness in awe, unity in diversity and freedom in faith. Beyond all the realties of 2020, there is a world waiting for hope and promise. This final week is all about that: discovering what is really there and beginning to believe in what could be more than what should be.

Interpreting Scripture in its most literal sense empowers some sense of clarity and historicity. There is another way: take a step back. Imagine the words leaping into heart and mind. Hear them as part of your own story. Allow yourself to enter the passage, to be David, to be his offspring, to experience the goodness of the Lord, to see Gabriel confiding her future to Mary, to feel the awe and wonder of being connected to something far greater than self. Linger for a moment there. This is far more than virtual reality. It is the openness that characterizes risk, daring, and vision.

In the first reading, David notices the splendor of his own lifestyle versus the treatment of the Ark of the Covenant. The prophet Nathan (2 Sm 7:14a, 16) conveys the real message:

“The LORD also reveals to you
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.”

This is not about buildings, monuments; it is about human beings, people connected to one another and to God, conscious of the Divine in the muddle of the mundane. It transcends culture, color, ethnicity and nationality. It is about birth, beginnings and endings, change and continuity…..if we allow it to be. The fourth candle invites us to allow it to be.

There are the tantalizing words form Romans 16:

Brothers and sisters:
To him who can strengthen you,
according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ,
according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages
but now manifested through the prophetic writings and,
according to the command of the eternal God,
made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith,
to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ
be glory forever and ever.

“To him who can strengthen you” exudes the element of choice, of possibilities. But there is also “the obedience of faith”, words that yeild a wealth of interpretation. Suppose there that unity can be found in the acknowledgement of faith, a sense of the divine. Suppose this is not about rules or laws or rituals, but the ideal of seeing human beings as linked to the divine, the spiritual, a rich and intangible dimension of human existence? That shared understanding enlivens mutial respect, collaboration, purpose and possibilities.

And there, of course, is the Gospel story. Scholars can dance with each phrase and expression; skeptics can slice through with the scientific. Listeners can imagine the scene, the quiet, the flood of emotions, the clash of rational thoughts and an impossible situation. Every one of us has been there; we all cope with the impossible. But here, here are words that impart confidence, strength, without a promised outcome. Luke 1:21-36 invites trust.

“Nothing will be impossible for God…”

Darkness bows before the flames now. The final days before Christmas 2020 unfold in the cold chill of winter air. And here, awash in the light yet resting in the darkness, here we have the chance to see who we are, to choose who we can be, and to become who we are each meant to be. The Mystery continues to unfold in each of us…

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