Thank you, thank you. Our Advent together--there will never be another quite like it. What a gift for me, and I hope for you.
May the Christmas story that follows bless you as it has blessed me.
With love at Christmas and beyond....
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known. (John 1: 13-18)
Once upon a time, long ago and far away, there was a famous monastery which had fallen on very hard times. Formerly, its many buildings were filled with young monks and its big church resounded with the singing of chant, but now it was deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. A handful of old monks shuffled through the cloisters and praised their God with heavy hearts.
On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a little hut. He would come there from time to time to fast and pray. Rarely did anyone ever have conversation with him, but whenever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk: “The rabbi walks in the woods.” And, for as long as he was there, the monks would feel sustained by his prayerful presence.
One day the abbot of the monastery decided to visit the rabbi and to open his heart to him. And so, after the morning Eucharist, he set out through the woods. As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome. It was as though he had been waiting there for some time. The two embraced like long-lost brothers. Then they stepped back and just stood there, smiling at one another.
After a while the rabbi motioned the abbot to enter. In the middle of the room was a wooden table with the Scriptures open upon it. They sat there together for a moment, in the presence of the Book….Then the rabbi spoke. “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts,” he said. “You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you a teaching, but you may only repeat it once. After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.” Then the rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said, “The Messiah is among you.”
For a while, all was silent. Then the rabbi said, “It is time.” The abbot left without a word and without ever looking back.
The next morning, the abbot called his monks together. He told them he had received a teaching from “the rabbi who walks in the woods” and that this teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of his brothers and said, “the rabbi said that the Messiah is among us.”
The monks were astonished by this saying. “How are we to understand this?” they asked themselves. “Is Brother John the Messiah? Or Father Matthew? Or Brother Thomas? Am I the Messiah? What can this teaching mean?” They were all deeply puzzled. But no one ever mentioned it again.
As time went by, the monks began to treat one another with a very special reverence, for they knew that the Messiah was among them. There was a gentle, wholehearted, peaceful quality about them now which was hard to describe but easily noticed. Occasional visitors found themselves deeply moved by the life of these monks. And before long, people were coming to be nourished by the prayer life of the monks and young men were asking, once again, to become part of the community.
In those days, the rabbi no longer walked in the woods, nor among the living. His hut had fallen into ruins. But somehow or other, the old monks who had taken his teaching to heart still felt sustained by his prayerful presence.
And they all lived peacefully ever after.
(Story adapted from New Catholic World #222, 1979, P. 53)
Watching and waiting: the themes of Advent. But with the coming of Christmas our long wait is ended, and we celebrate the arrival of the Messiah among us, once again.
The gospel lesson above is the nativity story of John, though there are no angels, no shepherds, no stars or kings. Simply “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”
But Jesus’ physical birth is not the end of the story; it is the beginning. It’s what happens after Jesus arrives that matters the most. In the same way, in the monks’ story, it is not the information which the rabbi shares which matters the most; it is the way the monks react to the information.
The Messiah comes among us in so many ways: in the bread and the wine, through the Holy Spirit, in the lives and presence of others—and deep within each of us. The Kingdom of God is within and all around.
The Christ light shines within and all around. We are the light-bearers, and we determine whether it will burn dimly and fitfully, or clear and strong. For through this light, as John tells us, the world is enlightened.
“The Messiah is among you,” taught the wise old rabbi. And the Messiah is among us still.