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Tuesday, Third Week of Advent

December 19, 2006

Blessed Tuesday!

O Root of Jesse
Who stands as a sign for the people,
Before Whom kings silence their mouths,
With Whom all nations shall plead
Come to set us free without delay

Isaiah 11:10:
In that day the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.

Jesse was the father of King David (see Ruth 4:17, among others), the “root”, of David’s dynasty, which God promised would last forever (I Chronicles 17:11-14). Since the world will come to an end, only Jesus could fulfill this promise; Jesus, the Son of David who is King forever. (see also Isaiah 11:1, Micah 5:1, Romans 15:12, Revelation 5:5 & 22:16)

Judges 13:2-7, 24-25 (announcement of the conception of Sampson)
Psalm 71:3-6, 16-17 “Fill me with Your praise and I will sing Your glory!”
Luke 1: 5-25 (announcement of the conception of St. John the Baptist)

We will be looking at foreshadowings (types) and their fulfillments for the rest of Advent. Today we read of an angel appearing to a barren woman to announce to her that she will bear a son who will be consecrated to God, a son who must be kept pure from wine and strong drink (a sign of the Nazarite vow of consecration to God, see Numbers 6) even from the womb; a son who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. This son was Sampson, and we read that when he grew up the spirit of the Lord began to be with him. He did indeed begin Israel’s deliverance from the Philistines (see Judges 14-16).

But there are worse enemies than Philistines, as Sampson learned the hard way. Despite his consecration to God, despite his holy upbringing and the Presence of the Holy Spirit, Sampson was his own worst enemy. His lust enslaved him, not only spiritually, but ultimately physically as well. God allowed him to use his brute strength to get himself out of the first couple of scrapes, but when he let Delilah deprive him of the principle sign of his consecration to God (his long hair), his strength left him and he was helpless before the Philistines. He had been blinded by lust, but that hadn’t bothered him. The Philistines put his eyes out, so that he experienced physical blindness too. He had been enslaved by his passions, but he thought he enjoyed that. They enslaved his body and put him to work grinding in the prison. He finally had to face what he had done to himself. His sin ultimately led to his death (see Judges 16).

Sampson’s life fits the description of those “in the world”:
How pitiable they are, the poor people out in the world. They wear, over their shoulders, a mantle lined with thorns; they cannot make a move without being pierced. But true Christians have a mantle lined with soft fur. –the Cure of Ars

In our Gospel we read of another childless couple who experienced a visit from an angel. The Archangel Gabriel came to the priest Zachariah, to announce that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son who must also be kept pure from wine and strong drink (that is, who must be consecrated to God), even from the womb. This son would also be filled with the Holy Spirit and would begin the deliverance of Israel from her enemies. This time the deliverance would be from enemies who can do eternal damage, namely sin and death. This son was St. John the Baptist, the herald sent to prepare the way for our Savior by calling people to repentance.

From the outside, the fate of the Baptist resembles that of Sampson. He too was imprisoned by his enemies and died a violent death (Matthew 14:3-12). But the reason for his imprisonment was quite different. He wasn’t imprisoned because of his own lusts, but rather because he had the inner strength to stand up to a lustful king and call him to repentance. St. John the Baptist didn’t need to learn about lust the hard way. His life of self-sacrifice in the desert reinforced his holiness. He was clear-sighted, fully alive and free, even in Herod’s dungeon. He who had come to begin God’s deliverance from sin did not hesitate to combat sin wherever he found it, even under pain of death.

St. John the Baptist exemplifies the life of the true Christian. It may look harsh from the outside, but inside it’s “lined with soft fur”. We marvel at the strength of Sampson, who tore up the city gates of Gaza and carried them off, but the strength of St. John the Baptist–strength to deny himself for the eternal welfare of others, even unto death–was far greater, and ultimately far more important.

Like these two men, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (in Baptism and Confirmation). Will we presume upon God the way Sampson did, and fall prey to the one Jesus told us to fear (“fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna”, Matthew 10:28)? Or will we imitate St. John the Baptist, who humbled himself before the Lord, “He must increase, while I must decrease” (John 3:30), and who didn’t let even the threat of death compromise his holiness?

May we heed “the voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepare the way of the Lord” (Matthew 3:3), so that when our Savior comes to us, nothing will keep us from following Him to eternal freedom.

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