Try to imagine what it was like to be a pagan back in the days after that first Pentecost when you first heard the preaching of the apostles of Jesus.
You had grown up being told that God — or “the gods” — were angry, vindictive, capricious heavenly beings who were always ready to punish, to visit disasters upon the people of earth, to judge and to condemn. And now, here comes Peter or Paul or Andrew or any of the others, quoting the passage from the gospel of Matthew: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” And the speaker of these beautiful, encouraging, friendly words was God! What a revolution in religious thought! What a contrast between the pagan deities and this wonderfully friendly, appealing man who got down on the floor to wash his apostles’ feet before the last supper and then died for them and all the world on the following day.
Our Divine Lord knows only too well how life can be burdensome and how the cross can weigh heavily upon our shoulders. He carried a cross literally; we usually do so figuratively. Our crosses are usually financial or emotional or social or moral, or in terms of losing those we love or having to endure sickness and disability. Whatever they are, Christ our Lord invites us to bring them to him and promises relief, support, assistance. And he asks us to learn of him, for he is meek and humble of heart. No pagan had ever heard of a meek and humble God. Their concepts of the deities did not include meekness or humility, but rather tremendous power, grandeur, dominative force. By all the lightning and thunder and smoke and earthquakes on Mount Sinai in the Old Testament, our God had shown that he, too, could summon those things if he wanted to use them. But then he sends this Son of his who speaks of his meekness and humility. And asks us to come to him.
Let this be our Advent prayer. Come, Lord Jesus. Come to us, and teach us always to learn of you and go to you at all the junctures of our lives, in sorrow and in joy, in difficulties and in gladness.
Today is December 17—the beginning of the novena in preparation for our celebration of Our Lord’s birth. Those of us who attend Mass or say the Liturgy of the Hours regularly will notice a change in the complection of the holy season. Different Advent antiphons in our prayers; a different preface at Mass; and then the seven beautiful “O” antiphons by which we address the Lord and beg him to come to us. They are used in the Alleluia verse just before the gospel at Mass, and then as the Magnificat antiphon at Evening Prayer each weekday until Christmas.
So, we shift gears in our prayer life as the great festival of Christmas draws near and the day of the winter solstice draws even nearer. It is the shortest day of the year, after which the sun seems to reassert itself as the light of the world. Thus the connection between the solstice and Christmas, which is the birth of our Redeemer who says of himself: I am the Light of the world. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.