The Mass readings for today truly paint a beautiful picture of the world renewed by the Holy Spirit, infused forever with the love of God and free from sin. Through all the readings there is a common thread: the extolling of smallness. That is a very fitting reflection in this first week of Advent. Soon we will be celebrating Christmas, the glorious occasion when the God the Son became a little baby and was born in a humble manger from poor parents led there by a powerful mandate of Augustus Caesar, the Roman ruler of their world. The contrast could not be more marked: one mortal man who declared to be a god, calling every living soul in his realm to be counted. Among them one poor Jewish baby who was God making a secret visit to His realm.
The stump of Jesse starts a list of small things that are the beginning of something great, the Kingdom of God. The mountain with its top in the very Heavens. The very eye of God watching and making sure that no one is harmed. And that small thing, the breath of God’s mouth, such a small thing and yet powerful enough to slay the wicked forever. (Compare with 2 Thessalonians 2:8)
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-10)
Many centuries ago God talked to a man of Chaldea, a descendant of Noah through the line of Shem. The complete fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham is what we read in Isaiah 11:1-10. That mysterious promise was the most precious inheritance of all the descendants of Abraham. It went through Isaac, and Jacob, Judah, Jesse, David, and through the kings of Israel until the dynastic tree was felled. Then the true inheritor was known only to God until an angel from Heaven revealed to a maiden of Nazareth that she was going to be the Mother of the Messiah, the blessed Gebirah, the Mother of the Messiah, the Queen of Israel.
The Name of God begins with the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the yod. In the same manner, all the great works of God begin with small things. We must ask God to make us small, like the Kingdom that starts as small as a mustard seed but grows to be a great tree. (See Matthew 13:31-32) To bring about the Kingdom, God whispers a promise in Abraham’s ear. At the end times, that whisper destroys the Antichrist and breathes the Spirit to build the world anew.
The Gospel reading tells the story of another small beginning when the 72 come back to Jesus with great news of the conversion of Israel:
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Luke 10:21-24)
Jesus assures them that mission would be ongoing until the end times. These words you are reading share its impulse with those 72 disciples sent by Jesus to awaken the world to the truth. Small, unknown men, despised men, would lead the way to the promised land. Those make themselves like babies to receive the blessing of the Father’s wisdom and to imitate the Son, who being God, became a baby to save the world, to save the small, the poor, the unknown, the worthless.
Today we celebrate St Francis Xavier, a brilliant intelligence, a man of noble ancestry, good looks, a man who could have been one of the greats of his generation but decided to follow a weak, small man, not very bright, with a bad leg: St Ignatius Loyola. Francis Xavier was given the grace to evangelize India, Japan, and China. He is the Patron of Catholic Missions along with St Thérèse of Lisieux who never left her Carmelite convent in France. It was her who left us the spirituality of the “Little Way” and defined the art of becoming small before God in her short life of only 24 years, like the 24 hours of a single day. She was the one who said:
The good God does not need years to accomplish His work of love in a soul; one ray from His Heart can, in an instant, make His flower bloom for eternity…
Yes, the renewal of the world has started in every soul. It has been triggered by the breath of Jesus, by his gentle words. A small beginning but not much different from that other beginning in a humble manger of Bethlehem.
May he be like rain that falls on the mowed grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may men blossom forth from the cities like the grass of the field! (Psalms 72:1, 7-8, 12-13, 17)
See the history of man and the world with the eyes of God. See how small we are before his power and how foolish are those who seek power, glory and grandeur and only manage to become food for worms.
God sees everything no matter how small. Those who don’t want to miss His greatness have to become small themselves. This first week of Advent he shows us how.