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Wednesday, third week of Advent

December 15, 2004

Blessed Wednesday!

Isaiah 45:6-8, 18, 21-25
Psalm 85:9-14 “Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a savior”
+ Luke 7:18-23

Every so often I’ll accidentally drop a tidbit of fish or something else I know our cats enjoy eating. Rather than throw the food away, I’ll call them over & try to point out the morsel. However, instead of going to the food, they become fascinated with my finger, giving it a good sniff-over & completely missing the fish to which I’m pointing. It’s really frustrating! Sometimes I think we do that to God. Have we gotten His message, or have we gotten hung up on His messenger? Have we mistaken the sign for the Reality?

Our first reading is addressed to the pagan Persian king, Cyrus, whom God had chosen to send His captive people back to their homeland and to help them rebuild the temple (you can read the story in the books of Ezra & Nehemiah). God declares over and over again that He is God and there is no other. He alone creates and saves, and He requires allegiance. He has chosen Cyrus to carry out His plan, but there must be no mistaking Cyrus for God! There must be no mistaking the tool for the Carpenter (or the finger for the fish!).

Today’s Gospel is Luke’s rendition of the story we heard from Matthew last Sunday. John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus to ask if He is the One who is to come. John the Baptist must’ve felt a bit the way I do when Mittens is sniffing my finger. “Quit sniffing me, silly! Your treat is over there!” Luke says that the Baptist’s disciples were the ones who brought him word of what Jesus was doing before he sent them to Jesus. We don’t know if these disciples had already seen Jesus for themselves or whether they were just reporting what other people had said. Either way, they were missing the point. John had to try yet again to send them away from himself and to Jesus. They were mistaking the messenger for the Word! Christopher West points out in his talks on marriage (when comparing earthly marriage to the heavenly marriage of the Lamb) that if you cling to the road sign that points you to Chicago, you’ll never get to Chicago!

That’s easier to do than it might at first appear. Everything God created and everything He allows is intended to point us toward Heaven, toward Himself, and to help us get there. But we’re very creative in turning created things (including people) and events into gods and orienting our lives toward them instead of toward Him. I love flowers, and my gardens are my pride and joy. From the time the seed catalogs arrive in January until the last stalks are covered with snow I’m dreaming, planning, planting & tending them. But God created flowers to remind us to trust Him to take care of us (Matthew 6:28-33) and to give us a hint of His own beauty (Isaiah 11:1). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace sang, “Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord; praise and exalt Him above all for ever.” (Daniel 3:76). If my love of flowers raises my heart to the praise and love of God and to a deeper trust in Him, then I’ve allowed them to act as signs. But if I cling to the flowers themselves I’ll completely miss out on the greater wonder God wants me to have! I’ll make them into gods; a function they were never designed to fulfill. It’s a very real temptation, a very real risk. The same could be said for any created thing (hobby, job, possession, skill, etc.) or person (spouse, child, friend, hero, and so on) that has a claim on our hearts. They’re all intended to point us to God, to heaven, not to themselves.

Things we dislike are intended to point us to God too, or at least to point us away from sin. Dryness in prayer can be God’s way of showing us whether our motivation was love of Him or love of the “perks” of prayer. Sickness can help us see that God’s in control, not us. I personally dislike the secularization of Christmas, but sometimes I remember to look at that with His eyes too. “Happy Holidays” really means “Happy Holy Days”. I can see Him there. The lights can remind me that we’re preparing to celebrate the Light of the World. The large amount of money spent around this time can remind me that the Gift God offers us is utterly priceless. The abundance of advertisements can draw my mind to the fact that God created everything to be an advertisement for heaven. I’m trying to develop a habit of reminding myself, “This is for my benefit”, and then looking for ways to find or bring about spiritual good (to aim toward Heaven) instead of complaining.

Today might be a good day to examine our likes and dislikes, to see if there are any ways in which we’re sniffing God’s finger instead of uniting ourselves to the Icthus. (Icthus is the Greek word for fish, which the early Christians used as a symbol of Jesus. It’s a Greek acronym for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”.)

May we make this prayer our own:
May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.
-St. Thomas Aquinas

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