Straw For The Crib

Straw For The Crib

2nd Sunday of Advent

In the context of our Advent preparation for the coming of our Blessed Lord at Christmas, today’s Gospel presents us with a scene in which Our Lord Himself is questioned by the disciples of St John Baptist as to whether or not He (Jesus) is the Messiah. John of course did not need to ask the question, for he knew its answer. He wanted the disciples to hear it from the very mouth of the Saviour. It cannot fail to inspire us that the texts of the Old Testament referring to Himself which He puts forward as proof of His Messianic identity, almost all refer to the working of wonders, the miracles that had been foretold by the prophets: Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 

The miracles Our Lord performed were indeed the signs announced beforehand by God which prove His messianic mission. They are indeed the sign that God is present, when a man performs wonders that are beyond the capacity of human effort or invention. And we know also that the miracles of our Lord were not sporadic events. They were daily occurrences, multiple times a day, throughout, so it seems, most of His public life. This is why Our Lord was such a pain for the Jews. Had it been only His teaching, perhaps they could have found a way of getting around that. But the miracles that they could not take. They made Him look too good and above all they made it clear that He was indeed the prophesied one. Hence their efforts to prevent the people from going to Him. Hence their decision, following immediately upon His greatest miracle – the resurrection of Lazarus – to do away with Him. The vices of envy and avarice prevented the leaders of the Jewish people from seeing the obvious: the blind see, but the Jews are in the dark; the lepers are cleansed, but the Jews remain in their sin; the deaf hear, but the Jews refuse to listen.

In the passage immediately following, Our Lord adds: Blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in Me. The Jews were scandalised in Christ, or rather, they took scandal because Christ was not what they expected Him to be. They took scandal at His lowly extraction, the humble trade He practiced, His lack of resources and diplomas. He had not been to the schools, He had no money or gold, He did not even own a bed to sleep in.

 Blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in Me. When Our Blessed Lord was arrested by the Chief Priests and condemned by the Roman authorities, everyone except our Blessed Lady was scandalised and fell off from the faith. But even she would have prevented His suffering if she could have. In spite of her perfect harmony with and acceptance of, the Divine will, she would readily have given her own life to save that of her Son; she would have done anything to reduce His sufferings. We can just imagine her saying with King David as she saw the terrible flogging of Her Son: Cesset iam manus tua! – Let Thy hand desist, it is enough! But the Divine Hand did not desist; they blows continued to fall. And when the Divine Victim was nailed to the cross, and cries went up to Heaven, Heaven remained shut, darkness reigned, no answer came. Our Lady prayed, and there was no response.

Blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in Me. Today, the Church is living her passion. The blows fall from without; darkness reigns within; a few voices rise to Heaven and no answer can be heard. For us, however, as for the first generation of Christians to whom St Paul was writing in the epistle we heard today, we have hope, the hope that comes from the Scriptures and which assures us that, in the end, good will triumph over evil, justice over wrongs, truth over error, life over death.

That is why there is such a tremendous wave of exuberance that emanates from today’s chants, in both Mass and office. We know, we are certain that God’s promises will not fail, that He will turn away from our sins and give us life once again. May this hope and this joy accompany us as we make our way towards Christmas.

In former times, the Church encouraged her children to prepare for Christmas by means of extra prayers and penances, by attendance at Holy Mass even during the week when possible. In a pagan world which has turned Advent into Christmas, bypassing the fast to go straight into the feast, let us make sure that in our communities and families we maintain the spirit of the time, practicing self-denial. In some families it is the custom to place the empty manger out at the beginning of Advent with a box of straw next to it. Every time one of the children shows charity to their siblings, or gives up something they like, they can put a straw in the crib. When Christmas comes, it is only if the family has been fervent in its prayers and sacrifices that the Baby Jesus will have some straw to lie on. Otherwise He will have lie on the bare wood. Let’s take care that in our community and families, the Infant God finds as comfortable a crib as possible when He comes to us in three weeks time.

The best way to do this is to celebrate Advent in company with the one who first awaited the Saviour, namely our Blessed Lady. Her attitude of prayerful recollectedness should inspire us. If our Advent is one of greater silence and devotion, then our Christmas will truly be a blessed one. One very significant way of involving Our Lady in our preparation for Christmas is to celebrate with as much devotion as we can muster the great feast of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception this Thursday, for the privilege granted her in her conception was in view of the greater privilege still of being chosen to be the Mother of God. Go to Mary, place yourself under her immaculate mantle, and she will make sure you have a warm space in your heart to welcome the Infant God when He appears among us.