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Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
— Isaiah 35:7
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act — act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
—“What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist”-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Advent is a time to wait, and to watch. Advent is also a time to act, forcefully, with grand good will and a loving heart. It is night, but unending day is just ahead.
I am of that “certain age” where I remember there were so many activities labeled “Christmas” taking place in the main part of the downtown, such as it was. There was much more of a religious bent to the anticipation of Christmas at the public library. I distinctly remember a nativity set on the lawn in front of the building, surrounded by lights. I attended Catholic grade school down the block, so the mixture of religious and secular was seamless. Or, so I thought as a 12-year old.
As I advanced through the teenage years, into adulthood, I did what I could to maintain that “Christmas Spirit” though what the expectations in having that “spirit” involved, I seemed to have greater difficulty in discerning such things. There was work to be done, bills to pay, responsibilities of the world to address. But, no Baby Jesus.
And, I accepted that premise.
There was Christmas music on the radio, in the stores, and on record players and tape decks. There was the “mystical” part, the “parallel path” but little clear direction, as the spiritual side stayed behind church doors until Sunday.
My journey shrank, and I accepted that, too.
The “world’s broad field of battle” as Longfellow described his own loss and pain became mine. Oh, I went to church and listened intently, but what was happening “outside” kept intruding.
I review now what Longfellow stated, to “Act —act in the living Present, Heart within and God o’erhead!” — as his 19th century understanding of the promise God gave his people, foretold by Isaiah. The message, the promise, the goal is there, it is ahead, not as in a vast army, but a little child, words from Isaiah in the first reading from the Second Sunday of Advent.
Realizing, finally, that I must be like a child to see what Our Lord is giving us.
The secular world will do what it does, and it certainly seems to be hostile to faith life as we “progress”.
I have learned that however I am destined to do so, I must be the “hero in the strife!” I am not to lead an army against the non-believers. I am to support and encourage those who follow to “fear not”, to bring their love and their loyalty to one another to be those beacons of light on this Gaudete Sunday.
Rejoice! That’s it. Rejoice! The Lord is near!