The Fourth Gospel 1:1-18
Stories Seldom Heard
209th Edition, December 2016
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. I would like especially to welcome the seminarians from Holy Trinity Seminary, Dallas, Texas. There are two parts to this issue of “Stories Seldom Heard.” Part II is an Advent poem by John of the Cross. I thought you might like to use it as part of your Advent/Christmas meditations.
Over the last couple of months we have been focusing on the Fourth Gospel.
It is this Gospel that we will proclaim at Eucharist on Christmas Day. We know the Gospel well. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We remember, too, that the fourth Gospel says nothing about crèches or shepherds. Rather, this Gospel carries with it the mystery of creation and celebrates the joy and wonder to which the Advent readings have been leading us.
During Advent the first readings of our Sunday liturgies have been from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. These readings capture the spirit of Advent well. Filled with hope, joy and wonder Isaiah’s poetic style lifts our spirits and raises our eye to “God’s holy mountain” where God instructs us. They “shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; our nations shall not raise the sword against another” (Is. 2:5). These words deepen our trust in the One who guides us. “The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (Is. 11:2). We are encouraged to keep on keeping on. God will “strengthen the hands of the feeble, make firm the knees of the weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not.” The fourth Sunday continues to fill us with a sense of the immediacy of the fulfillment of God’s promises. “I will give you this sign…” (Is 7:14).
The Isaiah readings prepare us to receive the mystery of the Word who was with God from the beginning — a light to all people, a light that darkness can never overpower. The prologue to the Fourth Gospel helps us imagine the breadth and depth of God’s wisdom and care for us. The creation story in Genesis is not filled with hopes, wishes and dreams, but with the creative Word of God. Creation is an expression of God’s love for the world. As we listen to the prologue we are drawn more deeply into the unfolding mysteries of creation that continue to astonish us. We need to hear and ponder the words of hope and wonderment that scripture offers us especially these days because we know the destructive power of evil in our world. Many of us know it close up. Its face has appeared at different periods of our lives. We hear of evil’s insidious ways taking over hearts, minds and cultures.
Our Advent/Christmas readings are not blind to the negative aspects of the world. Rather they encourage us to hold hope and promise as well as indifference and sin in perspective. We believe and trust in the deepest parts of our being that a light has come – a light that darkness can never extinguish.
“The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us” so that we would grow in our understanding of the One who is beyond all understanding and trust the One who loves us more than we love ourselves. Perhaps that’s why Advent and our Christmas Day Gospel are filled with images of wonder, attentiveness and longing. These are the qualities of the children of God of whom the Christmas Gospel speaks. As adults we often experience the necessity of compromise. Perhaps that’s the price we pay for growing up. We become more serious, less amazed with the mysteries of life. It is easy to lose our sharpness and allow our childlike amazement to become dulled.
Our Advent readings invite us to be attentive to the wonders that are already present in our lives and to give thanks. These are the present gifts of the more complex and fuller promise to come. Many of these gifts are in plain sight: the surprise we experience when we see sweet alyssums pushing through the cold sidewalk cracks; the peace we feel as we listen to the quiet lapping of the waves against the sand on Christmas Day; the joy of a group of retired men initiating a parish food pantry; the sunrise over snowcapped mountains; the wisdom that comes in conversation with young people who have suffered much; the pleasure we feel as a three year old grandson gently caresses a newborn kitten.
Paying “attention to this and ignoring that – is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer” (1). We are lucky to have many choices. We need wise people to lean on and a community of faith to guide us. The Christmas Day Gospel reminds us that we, like John the Baptist, are to be trustworthy witnesses. Our testimony will ring true as we express God-like qualities in our lives, the qualities of mercy and justice. It is through our lives that others will come to know the God in whom we believe. It reminds us that we who believe in Christ have become adult children of God, people who have a child-like sense of wonder, a mature trust in God’s providence and a desire to tell others the Good News we have experienced.
- H. Auden
Part II If You Want
If you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”
Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.
Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,
as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
God’s beloved servant
If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing …
- John of the Cross, “If You Want” in Daniel Ladinsky
Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, New York: Penguin Group, 2002, 306-307.
How might you become a midwife for God?
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article.