Let justice descend like dew from the heavens!
Gaudete! December 12, 1999, 3rd Sunday of Advent -- Isaiah 61, 1-2a, 10-11 + 1 Thessalonians 5, 16-24 + John 1, 6-8, 19-28
December 13, 1999, St. Lucy, Numbers 24, 2-7, 15-17a + Matthew 21, 23-27
December 14, 1999, St. John of the Cross, Zephaniah 3, 1-2, 9-13 + Matthew 21, 28-32
December 15, 1999, Isaiah 45, 6b-8, 18, 21b-25 + Luke 7, 19-23
December 16, 1999, Isaiah 54, 1-10 + Luke 7, 24-30, first day of the Advent Novena
December 17, 1999, Genesis 49, 2, 5-10 + Matthew 1, 1-17, O Wisdom, Holy Word of God!
December 18, 1999 Jeremiah 23, 5-8 + Matthew 1, 18-24, O Adonai, sacred LORD of ancient Israel!
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The candle of this Third Sunday of Advent we dedicate to Franz Jagerstatter, martyr, who was
beheaded by the Nazi government for his refusal to serve in the German military. You can read
some of his words at http://www.justpeace.org/advent98-3.htm. May his unswerving to justice
and to the Gospel of peace be a sign for us in our own day. St. Franz Jaegerstatter, pray for us,
that we will be true to the Word of God!
The third Sunday of Advent this year falls on December 12th, which is also the feast of Our Lady
of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. We ask for her intercession on behalf of this troulbled
hemisphere. Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, pray for us in this hour of our great need!
The first readings of this week take us through a thousand years of Hebrew prophecies relating to
the coming of Christ in history and at the end of this age. On Gaudete Sunday, we began with
the words from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth. His announcement that he
was the fulfillment of those words was received as "all eyes looked intently upon Him."
What is this Messianic mission? Announcing glad tidings -- good news! -- to the lowly and the
brokenhearted. Liberty is proclaimed to captives and prisoners are released. This is a year of
favor and vindication from the Lord. The mantle of justice that is laid upon the people is like a
garment bedecked with jewels. Justice will spring up even as the earth gives forth a bounteous
On Monday, we read of the oracles of Balaam, who was kind of a free-lance prophet (the book of
Joshua refers to him as a "soothsayer"). During the time that the Hebrew tribes came from the
desert into the lands around Palestine, a local king sent for Balaam to put a curse upon the tribes
so they would leave. ("There goes the neighborhood" has a long and ancient lineage.) Balaam
refused, but eventually goes, has several adventures along the way (including a bout with an
angel and a talking donkey), but the relevant point here is that he prophesies that a "star will
come out of Jacob," one of the traditional Advent promises.
Our lectionary's "Way Back Machine" next hurtles us forward a thousand years in the future, to
the period 640 - 609 BC and the reign of King Josiah, the readers notes of the Oxford study bible
describe it as a "time of religious degradation, when the old idolatries reappeared and men
worshiped sun, moon, and stars." Zephaniah prophesies woe to the rebellious and tyrannical city,
filled with pride, which does not listen to the LORD. Israel will pass through this time of
rebellion, and come to a place where its deeds are no longer embarrassing. The people will
humble themselves before the Lord, who will be their refuge. No lies, no deceitful tongues. The
"proud braggarts" will be removed.
Isaiah gives us beautiful poetry -- "Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like
gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth, let justice also
spring up! I, the Lord, have created this." Justice -- the Just One -- descends from the heaven,
justice springs forth -- like buds on plants -- from the earth. In the Lord are just deeds and
On the fifth day of this third Advent week, Isaiah reaches out to the marginalized, using
metaphors describing Jerusalem as a woman who has been deserted, but who suddenly finds
herself with a complete family. The LORD has called back the people. . . "with enduring love I
take pity on you. . . My love shall never leave you."
The sixth day we go back to the patriarchal era, and read from Jacob's last testament and blessing
where Judah is promised an everlasting throne, which continues through the line of David to the
Messiah. And on the seventh, Jeremiah tells us of a king who will do "what is just and right in
the land." This will be when a "righteous shoot" will come out of Jacob. The name the people
will give him is "The LORD our Justice!" The name of the LORD is synonymous with justice.
This is a point that should be remembered. Perhaps like ancient Israel, we should take these
words and write them over our doors during this soon-approaching Jubilee Holy Year 2000.
Seven prophecies, and a constant and consistent connection between the coming of the Messiah
Hmmm. . . can this be a clue?
The gospel readings this week speak to us of John the Baptist, who came before Christ, preparing
the way with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. Who listened to John? Not the
rich and powerful, the respected and the learned, but rather the marginalized and rejected, the
poor and unpretentious. We read blunt words, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the
Kingdom of God before you who are rich and powerful and think you are clever.
Jesus shows us that he can turn the "questioning tables" on those who sought to persecute them.
He asks them about John the Baptist, but they cannot answer. They refused his baptism, but they
were also afraid of "the crowds" so they would not denounce him.
John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus, and they ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or
should we look for another?" Jesus tells them to go and report to John what they have seen --
the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those with diseases are healed, lepers are cleansed -- the
poor have the good news preached to the -- "those who were far off have been brought near by
the Blood of Christ" -- living in and among them, in the "very-now real time mode."
On the sixth and seventh days of this week, we hear the genealogy of Jesus and Matthew's
account of Jesus' birth. Mary, betrothed to Joseph, is found to be pregnant before the wedding.
Joseph decides to leave her "quietly", but an angel appears to him in a dream and announces that
the child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. "She will bear a son and you are to name him
Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Emmanuel -- God with us -- the LORD
The second reading for Sunday gives us the traditional title for this observance -- Gaudete --
Latin for "rejoice", the first word of the reading from 1st Thessalonians, written about 51 AD by
Paul, the first of his series of letters we preserve in the New Testament. Rejoice always! He says,
pray without ceasing, in all circumstances give thanks (even when you are washing dishes,
cleaning the toilet, baking bread, going to work), refrain from every kind of evil. This is part of a
traditional and formal farewell, the listing of ideal virtues as models for Christian behavior. The
reading concludes with Paul's blessing, his prayer that the Thessalonians would be preserved
blameless and holy for the coming of Jesus. "The one who calls you is faithful and he will also
accomplish it." The LORD our Justice!
So we approach the Great Jubilee Holy Year 2000, reminding ourselves of ancient prophecies of
justice, mercy, hope, and reconciliation, even as the velocity of world events seems to be ramping
up every day. Suddenly, from every corner, persons of wealth, position, power, and authority are
assuring us, "All is well, all is well. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself! People doing
irrational things are the greatest threat!" Well duh to that last thought, but somehow I am more
worried about people with power and authority doing irrational things than I am ordinary Joe Six
Pack and Jane Soccer Mom.
People are arrested for plotting to blow up a huge propane tank farm, another is arrested crossing
the border from Canada with bomb parts and chemicals; hundreds of pounds of ammonium
nitrate, dynamite, and blasting cord are stolen from a quarry in Arizona. The State Department
issues stern warnings about terrorist attacks on Americans, claiming their information is based on
"credible threats, not hearsay."
Our embassy in Ecuador is closed down. In Seattle, there continues to be political fallout from
the recent riots, and the spinmeisters are working overtime to gloss over the event, marginalizing
the protestors as "loony leftists and environmentalists," and ignoring the facts of the matter
which is that the WTO protestors spanned the ideological spectrum from left to right and most
points between. (Those who study revolutions know that this is a sign of the times to be watched
for -- alliances that unite marginalized groups across ideological divisions, another sign of this is
Patrick Buchanan inviting radical African American leftist Lenora Fulani to chair his campaign
for the presidency under the Reform party banner, usually those people wouldn't even talk to
each other, much less sit down apparently amicably at the political plotting table.)
The Pope calls -- again! -- for an end to capital punishment and clemency for those to be
executed during the Year 2000. Here in Oklahoma City, the editorial page of the Daily
Oklahoman gleefully reports that executions in Oklahoma prisons will be at an all-time high in
the Jubilee Holy Year 2000. Our Catholic governor says the Pope is wrong on capital
Gang members are over-heard referring to Y2k as "T2L", for Time to Lott. (Note, this last is not
internet hearsay, I heard this myself, a year ago, in Kansas City, Missouri.) Meanwhile back in
the old USSR, the Russian federal army is pounding away at Grozny, threatening to detonate
huge conventional bombs over the city, and deploying new nuclear missiles, apparently in
violation of an understanding that there would be a freeze . There are reports that their entire
missile system has been placed on alert status. This happens, just two weeks before the Century
Date Change introduces new complexities and problems into the realm of computerized systems,
such as are used by ballistic missiles and the systems and radars which detect such launches.
Two years ago, the Justpeace website made its appearance on the internet on December 22, 1997,
the "world wide web", with five or six pages. Now there are more than 500 pages, and the last
report I ran (about 2 weeks ago) showed 803 average daily user sessions, viewing over 2000
pages a day. During this time of learning about this new media, I have gradually built an
"internet news collection system" which is currently receiving between 300-400 emails a day,
routed automatically by the "inbox assistant" into one of 122 different directories. I don't read
them all every day of course, some of them I haven't look at even once. Some I check every day,
others once a week, or a month, or whenever. It's interesting to compare this news feed with
what I read in the Daily Oklahoman and watch on a daily news broadcast. Are these media on
the same planet? Sometimes I wonder.
At the same time that this torrent of information has come rushing into my high tech computer,
we have also been exploring relationships with the poor, particular the residents of a forgotten
and neglected corner of Oklahoma City known as Walnut Grove. Time is very slow there, the
people we are coming to know there have no computers, some don't have running water, or
natural gas service. Today was the 81st birthday of Mrs. Audrey Jones, born in 1908 in Boley,
Oklahoma, one of the towns of this state founded in the last century by African American
refugees from pogroms further South, whom I have taken to calling Mother Jones. (I told her the
story of Mother Jones today, and she liked it a lot.) We took a birthday cake and card and her
neighbors gathered at her gate to sing her happy birthday. I had brought presents of food for her
and for her dogs (she has several). She spoke to us of the wisdom of her 81 years of poverty. She
said, "You know times are always going to be hard, bad things are always going to be happening
to you, so you might as well just trust in the good Lord and have a positive attitude about
Tonight, in re-reading the texts for last Sunday, I remembered her words when I read Paul's
advice to the Thessalonians -- "Rejoice always!" And then she smiled her big happy smile, and
said, "Now, isn't that right?" This is a woman who has no running water and no natural gas
service, and no prospects of getting either and what is her advice to me? Rejoice always!
(We've explored getting her gas lines fixed, but it's not happening, and I just found out today
that she doesn't have running water. There was a leak in the water pipe, so benevolent
Oklahoma City cut off her water when she didn't have $700 to pay for the extra water that had
leaked. Now I am reminded of the words of Zephaniah -- "Woe to the tyrannical city, rebellious
This week the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux were in Oklahoma City, and about 1 in the
morning last Tuesday I went to Little Flower Church for part of the all-night vigil. This church
and monastery was established by Discalced Carmelite monks fleeing persecutions in Mexico
during the 1920s, and it is the heart and soul of the Latino community in Oklahoma City. Its
neighborhood, Riverside, is being threatened by the State, as the Dept. of Transportation wants to
drive a 10 lane quarter of a billion dollar freeway right through it, the monastery would be about
100 feet from the edge of the road.
As I knelt beside the reliquary and placed my hand upon it, and as I sat in the pews before and
after praying and contemplating, I held in my intentions and thoughts the Catholic Worker
movement, both in the world at large and here in Oklahoma City, as well as the intentions of our
benefactors and all who are at risk of injustice and oppression. I was there about an hour, but it
was a busy hour, a time to drink deep from the well. I thought about Dorothy Day's devotion to
this great saint, who showed us that holiness is found in the most mundane of our daily tasks.
We so want in this age to separate religion from the 'rest of our life.' We say there is no place
for religion in the public square, that business is business and faith has nothing to contribute. St
Therese of Lisieux reminds us that all of life is holy, from the moment we rise, through all the
actions of our days, we are called to "practice the presence of God," as the medieval monk
Brother Lawrence said. Yes, even when we buy and sell stocks and properties and vote for
political candidates. (I learned a great quote attributed to Dorothy Day this week: "If God had
meant for us to vote, he would have given us candidates.")
So the world seems filled with trouble, we approach the Year 2000 with joy and hope -- and yet
there is also concern and worry. We are a proud and arrogant race whose way of life is made
possible by a web of inter-connected computers that may not work correctly after the upcoming
"Century Date Change." From the beginning of my awareness of this issue, it has seemed
obvious to me that the problem is not only that "the code is broken," but also that our
"communities are broken." Y2k came to Mother Audrey Jones of the Walnut Grove
neighborhood when her water was cut off by what can only be described as a cruel and
indifferent city. I wonder, what did the city employee who came to her house that day think as he
was cutting off her supply of running water? Since then, has he or she ever wondered what
happened with that old woman in a dilapidated house?
We hear prophecies of a time when justice will reign. We live in a temporal reality where justice
is too often denied, where oppression reigns supreme, and when troubled times approach. The
signs of the times come before us as an on-rushing torrent -- and also as a placid flowing brook,
meandering through the meadows. Whatever the details may be, however, the meta-story is as
old as the texts we read today, and echo all of the themes we have often visited in this series of
reflections and meditations. There are structures of arrogance, violence, oppression, and
injustice that afflict all of human culture and even as we are in the midst of them, we are called to
cultivate new redeeming and reconciling structures of beauty, wisdom, justice, mercy, peace, and
In Advent we look forward to the Nativity for many reasons -- culture, family, custom, religion,
spirituality. We know that these events happened historically many years ago, but the annual
recurrence of this festival is a reminder that Christ must be regularly reborn in our lives, as we
incarnate his love and presence by our actions in the world and our relationships with all other
human beings and the natural world. The baby who was born in a manger in Bethlehem is the
baby who is born in our hearts tonight, as we reach out in love to one another.
We also look forward to the coming of Christ's reign on earth, and we know that this waiting
involves our active participation in building that Reign in our own hearts and in our families and
communities. We got into the situation we are in one sin at a time, and we will get out of it one
blessing and one good deed at a time, as we respond in love to the grace-love that is so freely
given to us from that overflowing abundant Cup which is never empty. We have been called to
be watchful and prudent.
May the upcoming Jubilee holy year 2000 be a time when justice indeed shall come down like the dew from the heavens, and spring forth like the plants of the ground. Even as we in the northern hemisphere watch earth and nature go to sleep and dormancy during the winter, we anticipate the coming days of spring with its warmth and bounteous growth. This will happen because we who are called will answer, "Here am I, Lord, send me." Then the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lepers will be cleansed, and those who are far off -- rejected and marginalized -- will be brought close by the Blood of Jesus Christ. The LORD our Justice!
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