Sunday, December 12, 2021


Shout for joy, daughter Zion! sing joyfully, Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem!

It is important that we heed this command of the prophet with the utmost seriousness, so to speak, that is, that we hand our hearts over completely to the joy that is genuinely ours because, on the one hand, we know that in the crucified and risen Lord the mystery that he proclaims has already been accomplished. The Lord has already removed the judgment against us, sin and death no longer reign over our world, the Lord has not only done the astonishing, unheard-of thing of assuming our flesh, but on the Cross, he has borne the burden of our sins cross and blotted them out, freed us from death, and granted us a share in his own eternal life. In baptism we have already died to ourselves, awaiting our Savior in faith and love we already have our citizenship in heaven. This is the starting point in which our Advent expectation plays out.

Yet, even more, we rejoice on account of our hope, for at the same time we recognize that all this is only a beginning of what the Lord has in mind for those who love him; not only in the next world but in the here and now, for our God is a God who comes with gifts that enlighten and transform, who, in his utterly gratuitous mercy, forgives, comforts, heals, restores and renews. Moreover, he comes with the fulfillment of what we truly desire, which is he himself; for in him, and him alone, do we find our true joy.

Therefore, we are to let go of all sadness, fear, and discouragement, for they have no place in our hearts, as if God’s work could somehow be undercut or thwarted by any worldly thing, or as if he would not follow through on what he has promised. As St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” The consequence of such a surrender of self is the reign of the peace of God that surpasses all understanding over our hearts and minds.

Today’s Gospel tells us that “the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.” The experience of Israel has much to teach us about our own preparation for the Lord’s coming. With the appearance of John, the long period of waiting is over, the fullness of time long promised by the prophets has come. The anointed one is now in their midst. Yet they do not recognize him, for he has not yet shown himself. He is here, but where is he and who is he? How will we know him when he comes? Could John be the one?

Israel has long been living in this uncertainty, in this tension of knowing and not knowing. Since the return from exile, they find the age of the prophets behind them, as are the great historical works of God’s salvation. Throughout the centuries-long period from the time of the return from the exile, until the appearance of John the Baptist, Israel must bear the barrenness of prophetic silence, of no mighty deeds from God, such as it had experienced in its origins. God has sent a true famine on the land, “not a famine of bread, nor of thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11-12) The promises of the prophets have failed to be fulfilled, the small remnant that returned from exile could hardly feel itself representative of the twelve tribes. All is uncertainty. Israel waits for the divine glory to manifest itself once again in her midst. The divine it once knew continually withdraws, never becoming present reality. Israel cannot go back to what it once knew, and what it is moving toward it cannot yet reach. This is a period of deep trial. Israel is being disciplined in a very difficult experience: God’s freedom to speak or not to speak, to act or not to act. The remnant must remain firm within this middle pause, meditating on and interiorizing the immense riches of all that it has received, but in waiting, not anticipating the Lord’s next act.

For Israel cannot force the divine glory into the open. On its own, it is incapable of drawing the various lines of its tradition together so that they converge on a particular figure. Only God can provide the synthesis, and Israel must not anticipate a solution but endure in patient expectation and hope. Otherwise, it will place an obstruction before God’s solution and become its opponents. Thus Israel’s task is to remain firm, in patience, in this unresolved longing.

Israel was prohibited from forming images of God, God himself was to provide this image. Man himself has been revealed by God to be made in his image, but because he is not God, he cannot know what it means to be in the image of God unless God shows him. Von Balthasar says that man’s fundamental creaturely state as image is to be at a twofold remove – from God and from nothing. He is not God, and he is not nothing, but, as image, he is a schwebende Mitte, an oscillating, floating, or suspended middle. Rooted in the cosmos, the tensions in which he finds himself between essence and existence, spirit and body, man and woman, individual and community cannot be resolved on his own. All attempts to do so end in aporia, confusion. As such, man is undefinable. On his own, he can find no place on which to stand. Man finds his measure only in the measure that God has given him, in God’s true image, his only-begotten Son. Only God can establish for man the proper measure of likeness and unlikeness, of distance and nearness to God, in which he may live to the full his condition as creature. Only in his Son do the various tensions of human existence find their meaning and flourish.

For Guerric of Igny, the condition of the righteous man is one of suspensa expectatio, suspended expectation. As such, it is a state of joy and of hope, for everyone who hopes in the Lord will not be disappointed, for the Lord has said that he will come, and he is true to his promise. Man’s call is to live in the between, to be in suspense between heaven and earth. Living on earth, he is already a citizen of heaven, awaiting the coming of his savior. Already our being is with the Lord, for our nature, which the Lord took upon himself and offered on our behalf, is already glorified with him. By that power that was his of lying down his own life, the Lord freely chose to hang from the cross, so that being raised up over the earth he might draw us to himself and hang us also above earthly concerns. We participate even now in the life of the glorified Lord, insofar as we live from the cross, insofar as we hang on the Lord suspended between heaven and earth in the already and not yet.

“A man can wait for the Lord more trustfully if his conscience is so at rest as to let him say: ‘Every smallest possession of mine, Lord, is entirely yours, for I have treasured up in heaven all my powers, either by giving them to you or by renouncing them for you. At your feet I have laid down all that is mine, knowing that you will be able not just to keep it safe, but to restore it to me multiplied a hundred-fold and add to it eternal life.’”

The way to dwell most fruitfully in this suspended middle is to “hang” on the Lord, to lay up all our powers, our intellect, our will, and our senses, in the glorified Lord, God’s divine image, in whom our glorified humanity already dwells. In him, these powers of ours, are not only kept safe but restored to us multiplied a hundred-fold, already in this life. And where our treasure is our heart is also. “Let your hearts go then, let them go after their treasures; let your attention be fixed on high and your expectancy hang upon the Lord so that you can justly say with the apostle: ‘Our abiding place (our conversatio, in the Vulgate), is in heaven, from where we are expecting the Savior to come.’”

When we make this humble self-gift of handing over our powers wholly to the Lord, our hearts will follow. We will come to love this new abiding place, in which we exercise these powers, received back from the Lord functioning in a new way, more in conformity with his own powers. To hang on the Lord in this way is to live as he did, who laid up his divinity and his humanity in the Father, placing them wholly at his disposal to do with them as he willed. In this way, more conformed to the divine image, we will serve him and our neighbor, and those most dear to us, in greater freedom, our souls will rest in greater peace, and when he comes, in whatever way he comes, we will be ready for him and, by his grace, we will see him and will receive him with joy. 

This Sunday's homily by Father Timothy.