DECEMBER 24, 2006- MICHAH 5:1-4

FROM YOU SHALL COME FORTH FOR ME ONE WHO IS TO BE RULER IN ISRAEL WHOSE ORIGIN IS OF OLD, FROM ANCIENT TIMES. This prophecy is addressed to the town of Bethlehem, designated as being too small to be numbered among the clans of Judah, and at te same time declared the chosen place for the appearance of the longed for Ruler. Centuries later it was revealed just Who this Ruler is when Jesus was born of Mary in Bethlehem. That God chose this small, insignificant town as the place of choice for the mysterious birth of the one who would deliver and guide his people was already accepted by the learned scribes of Israel, as we learn from the Gospel of Matthew who tells the story of the Magisí visit to King Herod, asking for the whereabouts of the King of the Jews. Herod consulted the chief priests and scribes who cited this text as showing the place of his birth.

However, the original prophecy adds words that these scholars seem to have omitted: whose origin is of old, from ancient times." The prophet Michah had in mind, it seems, Davidís line of descent in using this expression; however, as regularly is the case in poetic language, the words are ambiguous. That the looked for Ruler has "origin of old, from ancient time" was truer than the prophet himself realized when he uttered them. For they refer to the Word who existed before the world began, in the beginning, as St. John tells us in the opening lines of his Gospel. This, however, was revealed only later, after our Lordís death and resurrection so that the full sense of the prophecy remained obscure until it had been fulfilled. And even then it was revealed only to faith in the person of the risen Lord of glory.

The fact that God reveals his plan in a manner that remains obscure until it is accepted with faith in the person of his risen Son, the Word made flesh and taken up in glory, poses a great challenge to everyone. Jesus himself adopted this same ambiguous mode of speech in much of his public preaching. Like the prophets he spoke in figurative language regularly; he taught them in parables, we are told in the Gospel, and it was not easy to get his point often. This way of proceeding posed a problem already for his closest followers so that, after hearing the Lordís preaching one day, his disciples asked "Why do you talk to them in parables? Because, he replied, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them." He then goes on to cite Isaiah who told the people to whom he prophesied: "You will listen and listen again but not understand, see and see again but not perceive. For the heart of this nation has grown coarse."

As we experience the world around us this year and observe the confusion that is such a striking feature in the lives of so many we too feel deeply the same question: Lord, why are you and your Father so hidden from those who walk in darkness and the shadow of death? Mark the Evangelist also comments on this fact, saying of Jesus "using many parables like these he spoke the word to them so far as they were capable of understanding it." (4:33) Later in his ministry our Lord himself commented further: "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and clever and revealing them to children." (Mt 11: 25)

It appears then that God intends that those who approach him do so with trusting faith, seeking from him all we need to be pleasing to him, including the light of understanding. Life is not truly human save when it is lived meaningfully. Only to the extent that our choices are directed to a goal worthy of our specifically human qualities of understanding, of love of what is true and spiritually beautiful, of fidelity and commitment to God and those we live with do we live in a manner worthy of our nature as made in the image and likeness of God. We remain in the darkness of confusion of values until we are enlightened by the One who is "from of old" from before the world began, unable to grasp the truth and loving it put it into practice is evident from our own experience and from so much of what we see in our present-day world in every side. Awareness of this need leads us to seek the coming to us of the One promised already by the prophets of Israel, promised to the Fathers as well. Those promises were fulfilled through Mary who gave birth to our Savior in the flesh and for whose coming we await with hope and prayer today. For Jesus was born for us and given to us through Mary. Now, having fulfilled his mission by dying for our reconciliation with the Father, may he come to prepare us for the fulfillment of his mission by purifying us through his word and by his Eucharist. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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