The poor will find joy in the Lord.

December 3, 1999 Isaiah 29, 17-24 + Matthew 9, 27-31

December 4, 1999 Isaiah 30, 19-21, 23-25 + Matthew 9, 35 - 10, 1, 6-8

2nd Sunday of Advent December 5, 1999 Isaiah 40, 1-5, 9-11 + 2 Peter 3, 8-14 + Mark 1, 1-8

December 6, 1999 Isaiah 35, 1-10 + Luke 5, 17-25 St. Nicholas, Bishop

December 7, 1999 Isaiah 40, 1-11 + Matthew 18, 12-14, St. Ambrose, Bishop

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The candle of the second week of Advent we dedicate to Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He did not start out as a defender of the poor, but as his eyes, heart, mind, and spirit were opened to the situation in his country, he became a mighty defender of the poor. He was so dangerous that the authorities murdered him, while he was saying Mass. But he lives today, one of the Holy Helpers of the Poor. And his spirit lives on in the people of El Salvador.

What powerful words of freedom and liberation are given here in the readings for these days of waiting, preparation, reconciliation, and anticipation that we dedicate in this way.

"The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel, for the tyrant will be no more and the arrogant will have gone, all who are alert to do evil will be cut off, who ensnare the defender at the gate, and leave the just man with an empty claim." (Isaiah 29)

Isaiah gives us strong words about tyrants -- and seemingly absurd promises about the poor rejoicing. He condemn injustice. In ancient Israel, the place of justice was at the gates of the city. To ensnare "the defender" is to keep a just man from demonstrating his innocence. Such denials of justice have ever been the practice of the wicked.

The next day we hear a promise of an end to weeping, as well as bread for the hungry, the revelation of a Teacher who is God, and abundant harvests and streams of water in the desert.

On the second Sunday of Advent, we look forward to the coming of John the Baptist, reading texts of promise (these verses were set to tremendous music by George Frederick Handel in the Messiah) -- "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together." He speaks of power to the powerless, hope to the hopeless, guidance to those who stray.

On the feast of St. Nicholas, patron of children, pilgrims, and those who are unjustly condemned, we hear. . . "Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. Say to those whose hearts are frightened, Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication, with divine recompense he comes to save you." The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the crippled will walk -- and those who cannot speak will find their voices. "Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water. . . those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee."

It just takes my breath away to contemplate it. Justice, Beauty, Wisdom, and Love incarnate and reigning.

We see this in the gospels for these days. Jesus is healing many people -- 2 blind men, a paralyzed man on a stretcher, he calls 12 apostles and gives them power over diseases and demons and sends them forth to preach that the reign of God was at hand. He forgives sin -- which scandalizes his enemies. He also gives us the parable of the lost sheep, and the shepherd who goes in search of those who have strayed.

We may be on diverse journeys, but the path of being indicated in these readings is clear. The reign of God that we are called to live involves all of these themes -- heal the sick, welcome the unwanted, rejoice in the bounty of the earth and the goodness of Creation, strengthen those who are weak, protect those who are unjustly condemned, give voice to those who cannot speak. The way of the wicked leads to destruction -- "all who are alert to do evil" will be cut off. (This phrase is one of the most apt observations in Holy Scripture, and the English translation captures succinctly the existential situation of living in the midst of a culture of death where there are very many people who like the culture of death just fine and they are making money on the deal.) The reign of God is not a place of tyranny, and to make the world more like the reign of God -- to fulfill the Maranatha! cry -- we work to redeem the structures of tyranny as structures of beauty and goodness.

Oscar Romero of El Salvador, defend the poor, strengthen the weak, rebuke the arrogant, comfort the afflicted.

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