Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent Daily Dose - 3rd Saturday

+In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Daily Readings

Reflection by Jim Dryden, a parishioner

Maybe three days before Christmas isn’t the best time for this story. On the other hand, I think today’s readings tell us that this season isn’t exclusively about warm feelings.

Hannah is today’s example. As the Book of Samuel begins, she is praying for a son. God answers her prayers in the affirmative, but once the young Samuel has been weaned, she takes him, that son for whom she longed, and she leaves him at the temple to be raised by the priests, giving the boy back to God.

Just after the close of that story in today’s First Reading, she praises God in the song we use as today’s Responsorial Psalm. Remarkably like Mary’s Magnificat, which makes up today’s gospel, Hannah’s song heaps praise upon the God who both gave her a son and then accepted that son back from her.

Although Hannah’s song is full of praise, considering the fact that she sings it immediately after giving away her only child, I can’t help but think her prayer was somehow bittersweet. In addition to the praise, it must have included emptiness, as the notion that she wouldn’t be seeing her little boy anymore began to sink in.

I have similar empty feelings today. What we did — like Hannah bringing Samuel to the temple — was what we were supposed to do, but it didn’t bring us a warm, holiday glow.

This week, after almost 16 years of companionship and willingness to be at our sides no matter what, we had to have our dog put down. She had grown old and weak and blind, and even her laid-back and stoic nature couldn’t hide the fact that more and more, she was in a great deal of pain. So we did what we thought we had to do, just as Hannah did. And I think it was the right decision, just as Hannah did. And, just as Hannah did, I also now thank God for using a mixed-breed mutt to reveal some important things to me about what unconditional love can look like.

But I’m not exactly rejoicing. Frankly, even though she was “just a dog,” watching her die made my soul ache. But at that same, deep soul level, it also made me remember something about the nature of the Incarnation.

God became one of us. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, God ceased to be a concept for us and instead became a particular human person who lived and existed in a particular time and place. Jesus’s birth sanctified the particular.

Our Incarnational God, the very same God who had created the mountains and the oceans, became fully present in that manger in Bethlehem: sleeping, nursing, crying, smiling, even pooping in his diaper (or whatever its first century equivalent may have been).

And I believe God still is revealed most clearly in the particular. They say the “devil is the in the details,” and perhaps they’re right…whoever THEY are. But it’s equally true that when I pay attention, God is right in front of me at all times, and in many of those very same details. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged of the grandeur of God!”

Sunsets, trees, mountains, even old dogs can reveal something about the Creator. And it’s not so much that those sunsets or mountains somehow point to or represent a greater reality. The mystery of the Incarnation is that the greater reality is already right there in front of me all the time…everywhere. Our dog helped teach that to me.

And I’ll miss knowing that no matter what happened on a given day, there was a creature at my house ready to rejoice when I got home. I’ll miss encountering a being who never would think of judging me but simply wanted to be with me, who didn’t hold grudges or harbor expectations, a creature whose entire life was lived completely in the present moment — eating, sleeping or scratching when she was hungry, tired or itchy — and teaching me about God’s love simply by being who and what she was.

In its own way, hers was an incarnational love. And I’ll miss it. A lot.

My heart exults in the LORD,
my horn is exalted in my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in my victory.

The bows of the mighty are broken,
while the tottering gird on strength.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,
while the hungry batten on spoil.
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.

The LORD puts to death and gives life;
he casts down to the nether world;
he raises up again.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich,
he humbles, he also exalts.

He raises the needy from the dust;
from the dung heap he lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and he has set the world upon them.
He guards the footsteps of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall perish in the darkness;
for not by strength does one prevail.

The Lord’s foes shall be shattered;
the Most High in heaven thunders;
the Lord judges the ends of the earth.

May he give strength to his king,
and exalt the horn of his anointed!

+In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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