Post by Admin on Dec 5, 2018 13:00:37 GMT
Divine Preparations: Time of Advent
From Christ in His Mysteries
by Dom Columba Marmion, O.S.B. Part 1.
Why God willed to prolong the preparation for the Incarnation during so many centuries.
I. How Divine Wisdom, in recalling and specifying, by the voice of the prophets, the first promise of a Redeemer, prepared the souls of the just of the Old Covenant for the coming of the God-Man on earth.
II. St. John Baptist, the Forerunner of the Incarnate Word, sums up and surpasses all the prophets.
III. Although we live in " the fulness of time, "the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, each year recalls the memory of these divine preparations. Threefold reason for this supernatural economy.
IV. Dispositions that we ought to have in order that Christ's coming may produce within our souls the plenitude of its fruits: purity of heart, humility, confidence and holy desires. To unite our aspirations to those of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus.
All God's blessings that come down upon us have their source in the election that He made of our souls, throughout eternity, to make them "holy and unspotted in His sight" (Eph 1:4). In this divine decree so full of love is contained our adoptive predestination as children of God and all the favours thereto attached.
St. Paul says that it was through the grace of Jesus Christ, sent by God in the fulness of time, that this adoption was granted to us: "At ubi venit plenitudo temporis, misit Deus Filium suum factum ex muliere... ut adoptionem filiorum reciperemus" (Gal 4:4-5).
God's eternal design of sending His own Son into the world to redeem the human race, broken and bruised by sin, and of restoring to it the children's inheritance and heavenly beatitude, this is the masterpiece of His wisdom and love.
The views of God are not our views; all His thoughts are higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth; but it is especially in the work of the Incarnation and Redemption that the sublimity and greatness of the Divine ways shine forth. This work is so high, so closely united to the very life of the Most Holy Trinity, that it remained throughout long ages hidden in the depths of the divine secrets: "Sacramentum absconditum a saeculis in Deo" (Eph 3:9).
As you know, God willed to prepare the human race for the revelation of this mystery during some thousands of years. Why did God chose to delay the coming of His Son amongst us for so many centuries? Why such a long period? We cannot, mere creatures as we are, fathom the depths of the reasons why God accomplishes His works under such or such conditions. He is the Infinitely Sovereign Being Who has no need of a counsellor (Cf. Rom 11:34). But as He is likewise Wisdom itself that reacheth "from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly" (Sir 8:1). Cf. Great antiphon O Sapientia, 17th Dec.) we may yet humbly seek to learn something of the appropriateness of the conditions of His mysteries.
It was fitting that men, having sinned by pride, "Eritis sicut dii" (Gen 3:5) should be obliged, by the prolonged experience of their weakness and the extent of their misery, to confess the absolute need they had of a Redeemer and to aspire after His coming with all the fibres of their nature (Cf. S. Thom. III, q.I, a.5).
The idea of this future Redeemer fills all the Ancient Law; all the symbols, all the rites and sacrifices prefigure Him: "Haec omnia in figura contigebant illis" (1 Cor 10:2); all desires converge towards Him. According to the beautiful expression of an author of the first centuries, the Old Testament bore Christ in its loins: "Lex Christo gravida erat" (Appendix to the works of S. Augustine, Sermon 196). The religion of Israel was the expectation of the Messias.
Moreover, the greatness of the mystery of the Incarnation and the majesty of the Redeemer demanded that the revelation of Him to the human race should only be made by degrees. Man, on the morrow of his fall, was neither worthy of receiving nor capable of welcoming the full manifestation of the God-Man. It was by a dispensation at once full of wisdom and mercy, that God disclosed this ineffable mystery only little by little, by the mouth of the prophets; when the human race should be sufficiently prepared, the Word, so many times announced, so often promised, would Himself appear here below to instruct us: "Multifariam multisque modis olim loquens patribus in prophetis... novissime locutus est nobis in Filio" (Heb 1:1).
I will therefore point out some traits of these divine preparations for the Incarnation. We shall herein see with what wisdom God disposed the human race to receive salvation; it will be for us an occasion of returning fervent thanksgiving to "the Father of mercies" (2 Cor 1:3) for having caused us to live in "the fulness of time" which still endures and wherein He grants to men the inestimable gift of His Son.
You know that it was just after the sin of our first parents in the very cradle of the already rebellious human race that God began to reveal the mystery of the Incarnation. Adam and Eve, prostrate before the Creator, in the shame and despair of their fall, dare not raise their eyes to heaven. And behold, even before pronouncing the sentence of their banishment from the terrestrial paradise, God speaks to them the first words of forgiveness and hope.
Instead of being cursed and driven out for ever from the presence of their God, as were the rebel angels, they were to have a Redeemer; He it was Who should break the power won over them by the devil. And as their fall began by the prevarication of the woman, it was to be by the son of a woman that this redemption should be wrought: "Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius: ipsa conteret caput tuum" (Gen 3:15).
This is what is called the "Protogospel," the first word of salvation. It is the first promise of redemption, the dawn of divine mercy to the sinful earth, the first ray of that light which was one day to vivify the world, the first manifestation of the mystery hidden in God from all eternity.
After this promise, all the religion of the human race, and, later, all the religion of the chosen people is concentrated around this "seed of the woman," this "semen mulieris" which is to deliver mankind.
Throughout the years as they pass by, and as the centuries advance, God makes His promise more precise; He repeats it with more solemnity. He assures the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that it is from their race that the blessed seed shall come forth: "Et benedicentur in semine tuo omnes gentes terrae" (Gen 22:18; cf. Gal 3:16); to the dying Jacob, He shows that it is in the tribe of Juda that shall arise the One Who is to come, the desire of all peoples: "Donec veniat qui nittendus est, et ipse erit exspectatio gentium" (Ibid. 49:10).
And now behold how the nations, forgetful of the primeval revelations, sink insensibly into error. God then chooses for Himself a people that shall be the guardian of His promises. To this people, throughout the centuries, God will recall His promises, renew them, render them clearer and more abundant: this will be the era of the prophets.
If you listen to the sacred oracles of the prophets of Israel, you will remark that the traits whereby God depicts the Person of the future Messias and specifies the character of His mission, are at times so opposed that it seems as if they could not be encountered in the same person. Sometimes the prophets attribute to the Redeemer prerogatives such as could only befit a God, sometimes, they predict for this Messias a sum of humiliations, contradictions, infirmities and sufferings with which the last of men could scarcely deserve to be overwhelmed.
You will constantly be coming across this striking contrast.
For example, there is David, the king dear to God's Hears; the Lord swore to confirm his race for ever: the Messias was to be of the royal family of David. God reveals Him to David as "his son and his Lord" (Ps 59:1; cf. Mt 22:41-45): his son by reason of the humanity that He was one day to take from a Virgin of his family, his Lord, by reason of His divinity. David contemplates Him "in the brightness of the saints," begotten eternally before the rising of the day star; a supreme High Priest "according to the order of Melchisedech" (Ps 59:3-4), anointed to reign over us because of His " truth and meekness and justice" (Ps. 44:5); in a word, the Son of God Himself to Whom all nations are to be given as an inheritance: "Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te: postula a me et dabo tibi gentes haereditatem tuam" (Ps. 2:7-8). St. Paul says to the Hebrews that these are prerogatives wherein a God alone can glory (Heb 1:13).
But David contemplates too the pierced Hands and Feet, the garments divided among the soldiers who cast lots upon His coat (Ps 22:17-19); He beholds Him given gall and vinegar to drink (Ps 68:22). Then again see the Divine attributes: He will not be touched by the corruption of the tomb, but, victorious over death, He will sit down at the right hand of God (Ps 15:10).
This contrast is not less striking in Isaias, the great Seer; so precise and full of detail is he that he might be called the fifth Evangelist. One would say that he was relating accomplished facts rather than foretelling future events.
The prophet, transported up to heaven, says of the Messias: "Who shall declare His generation": "Generationem ejus quis enarrabit" (Is 53:8)? He gives Him names such as no man has ever borne: "His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace" (Is 9:6). Born of a Virgin, "His name shall be called Emmanuel" (7:14), God with us. Isaias describes Him "come forth as brightness," and "lighted as a lamp" (62:1); he sees Him opening the eyes of the blind and unstopping the ears of the deaf, loosing the tongue of the dumb and making the lame to walk (35:5-6); he shows Him as "a Leader and a Master to the Gentiles" (55:4); he sees the idols utterly destroyed before Him (2:14-18); and he hears God promise by oath that before this Saviour "every knee shall be bowed" and every tongue shall confess His power (Is 45:23).
And yet this Redeemer, Whose glory the prophet thus exalts, is to be overwhelmed with such sufferings, and such humiliations are to crush Him that He will be looked upon as "the most abject of men... as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted;... led as a sheep to the slaughter... reputed with the wicked... because the Lord was pleased to bruise Him in infinity" (Is 53, 3 seq.).
In most of the prophets you can see this opposition of traits with which they describe the greatness and the abasements, the power and the weakness, the sufferings and the glory of the Messias. You will see with what condescending wisdom God prepared the minds of His people to receive the revelation of the ineffable mystery of a God-Man, at once the supreme Lord Whom all nations adore, and the Victim for the sins of the world.
The economy of the Divine mercy is, as you know, wholly based upon faith; faith is the foundation and the root of all justification. Without this faith, even the bodily presence of Christ Jesus would be unable to produce the fulness of its effect in souls.
Now faith is communicated to us by the Holy Spirit's inward action which accompanies the statement of the divine truths made by prophets and preachers: Fides ex auditu (Rom 10:7).
In so often recalling the ancient promises, in revealing, little by little through the mouths of the prophets, the traits of the Redeemer Who was to come, God willed to produce in the hearts of the just of the Old Covenant the requisite conditions whereby the coming of the Messias should be salutary for them. Besides the more the just of the Old Covenant were filled with faith and confidence in the promises announced by their prophets, the more they would burn with the desire to see them realized, and the more they would be ready to receive the abundance of graces that the Saviour was to bring to the world. It was thus that the Virgin Mary, Zachary and Elisabeth, Simeon, Anna, and the other faithful souls who lived at the time of Christ's coming, at once recognised Him and were inundated with His favours.
You see how God was pleased to prepare mankind for the coming of His Son upon earth. St. Peter could truly say to the Jews that they were "the children of the prophets" (Acts 3:25). St. Paul could write to the Hebrews that before God spoke to them in person, He "at sundry times, and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets": "Multifariam multisque modis" (Heb 1:1).
The faithful Jews were, moreover, constantly in expectation of the Messias. Their faith discerned in the person of this Redeemer one sent by God, a King, a God Who was to put an end to their miseries, and deliver them from the burden of their sins. They have but one longing: "Send, O Lord, Him Who is to come." They have but one desire: to behold with their eyes the countenance of the Saviour of Israel. The promised Messias was the object towards which converged all the hopes, all the worship, all the religion of the Old Covenant. All the Old Testament is a prolonged Advent the prayers of which are summed up in this prayer of Isaias: "Emitte Agnum, Domine, Dominatorem terrae" (Is 16:1). "Send forth, O Lord, the Lamb, the Ruler of the earth." "Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just": "Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant justum"; "Let the earth be opened, and bud forth a Saviour": "A periatur terra et germinet Salvatorem" (Is 45:8).
We have marvelled at the profound ways of Divine Wisdom in the preparations for the mystery of the coming of the God-Man. And yet this is not all.
While by a succession of marvels, Eternal Wisdom keeps intact, among the chosen people, the ancient promises, unceasingly confirmed and developed by prophecy, while even the successive captivities of the Jewish people, who at times became unfaithful, are made to serve to spread abroad the knowledge of these promises even among the nations of the Gentiles, Wisdom likewise directs the destinies of these nations.
You know how, during this long period of several centuries God, Who holds the hearts of kings in His hand (Cf. Prov 21:2), and Whose power equals His wisdom, establishes and destroys the most vast empires one after the other. To the empire of Ninive, reaching as far as Egypt, follows that of Babylon; then, as Isaias had foretold, God "calls His servant Cyrus" (Isa 45:1), king of the Persians, and places the sceptre of Nabuchodonosor within his hands; after Cyrus, He makes Alexander the master of the nations, until He gives the world's empire to Rome, an empire of which the unity and peace will serve the mysterious designs of the spread of the Gospel.
Now the "fulness of time" (Gal 4:4) has come: the world is flooded with sin and error; man at length realizes the weakness in which pride kept him; all peoples stretch out their arms towards this Liberator so often promised, so long awaited: "Et veniet desideratus cunctis gentibus" (Hag 2:8).
When this fulness of time comes, God crowns all his preparations by the sending of St. John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, one whom He will render greater than Abraham, greater than Moses, greater than all, as He Himself declares: "Non surrexit inter natos mulierum major Joanne Baptista" (Mt 11:2; cf. Lk 7:28). It is Jesus Christ Who says this. Why is it?
Because God wills to make St. John the Baptist His herald above all others, the very Precursor of His beloved Son: "Propheta altissimi vocaberis" (Lk 1:76).. so as to enhance still further the glory of this Son Whom He is about to introduce into the world, after having so many times promised Him, God is pleased to reveal the dignity of the Precursor who is to bear witness that the Light and the Truth have at length appeared upon earth: "Ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine" (Jn 1:8).
God wills him to be great because his mission is great, because he has been chosen to precede so closely the One Who is to come. In God's sight, the greatness of the saints is measured according to their nearness to His Son Jesus.
See how He exalts the Precursor in order to show yet once more, by the excellence of this last Prophet, what is the dignity of His Word. He chooses him from an especially saintly race; an angel announces his birth, gives the name that he is to bear and indicates the extent and greatness of his mission. God sanctifies him in his mother's womb; He works such miracles around his cradle that the fortunate witnesses of these marvels wonderingly ask each other: "What an one, think ye, shall this child be?" (Lk 1:66)
Later on, John's holiness appears so great that the Jews come to ask him if he is the looked-for Christ. But he, forestalled as he is with divine favours, protests that he is but " the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord" (Jn 1:23).
The other prophets only saw the Messias afar off; he points Him out in person and in terms so clear that all sincere hearts understand them: " Behold the Lamb of God " behold the One Who is the object of all the desires of the human race, because He "taketh away the sins of the world": "Ecce Agnus Dei" (Jn 1:29). You do not yet know Him, although He is in the midst of you: "Medius vestrum stetit quem vos nescitis"; He is greater than I, for He was before me; He is so great that I am not even worthy to loose the latchet of His shoe; so great, that "I saw the Spirit coming down, as a dove from heaven, and He remained upon Him... and I saw, and I gave testimony that this is the Son of God" (Jn 1:26-27, 3-34). What more has he yet to say? "He that cometh from above, is above all. And what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth ;... He Whom God hath sent, speaketh the words of God; for God cloth not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loveth the Son; and He hath given all things into His hand. He that believed in the Son, hath life everlasting; but He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on Him" (Jn 3:31f.).
These are the last words of the Precursor. By them he achieves his work of preparing souls to receive the Messias. Indeed, when the Incarnate Word, Who alone can speak the words from on high because He is ever in sinu Patris (Jn 1:18), begins His public mission as the Saviour, John will disappear; he will no longer bear testimony to the Truth save with the shedding of his blood.
The Christ, Whom he announced, has come at last; He is that Light unto which John bore testimony, and all those who believe in that Light have life everlasting. It is to Him alone to Whom it must be said: "Lord, to Whom shall we go ? Thou hast the words of eternal Life " (Jn 6:69).