Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent
The readings for the day can be found here.
Those of you who have read the local newspaper (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) for any period of time know that, in December of each year, they promote a program called “The 100 Neediest”, wherein the paper publishes stories of local individuals and families whose circumstances are particularly dire, and who have significant material needs. The hope is that those who read these stories are moved to make donations to help those individuals survive the ravages of winter and make it through another difficult Christmas season.
The stories of these individuals are often moving, heart rending, and just plain sad. As someone who has been blessed with material abundance all my life, I admit to an internal struggle of what my response should be to these seemingly never-ending stories of woe. On the one hand, simple human decency demands that I take action and offer some financial support to these brothers and sisters who have so little. But there is a part of me, I am ashamed to say, that looks with some disdain on those whose circumstances are not safe or healthy or warm or comforting, and wonders why “those people” don’t do more to lift themselves out of these terrible conditions.
When I reflect on this hardness of heart, especially in this Advent season, I wonder if I would have been equally dismissive of a similar story of years ago whose headline might have read “Unwed Mother from Nazareth Gives Birth to Baby in Barn”. What benefit is there in shutting my heart to those who may be different from me in race, creed, economic status, education, power, possessions or prestige? And, more to the point, what prevents me from embracing the goodness, the holiness, and the spirit and beauty of God’s creative power in all of his children? The story of the longed for King that comes to our world as a tiny infant is a vivid reminder of my need — our need — to see past the externals, and to build bridges instead of walls. Our hearts yearn for connectedness—Jesus calls us to connectedness—and this beautiful season invites us to hope in a world where connectedness and love are valued as cornerstones of our existence.
In today’s short Gospel, Jesus reminds us that a man with one hundred sheep will surely go in search of even one of those sheep that goes astray, and when he finds it, “rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” Perhaps today I am that lost sheep—the one of the one hundred who has gone astray. I pray during this Advent season a short prayer of intercession (“Come, Lord Jesus, come!”) to open my heart to include all of God’s children.