In Advent, Shine like the Son

By Chris Sparks

What does strength look like to you?

Does it look like fierce competition, swift athletes and strong players fighting for the prize?

Does it look like large guns, powerful ammunition, and an arms race between nations?

Does it look like boasting, like gold that glitters and an active public relations offensive announcing to the world that I and my team, my family, my nation, mine are the biggest, the best, the greatest the world has ever seen?

Does it look like fire and storm, like earthquakes and devastation, like the aftermath of a nuclear blast?

All of those things look like strength, sound like strength, but Scripture shows us a different picture. When the prophet Elijah had fled the wicked persecution of Jezebel, the queen of Israel, he found refuge in a cave:

Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD — but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake — but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire — but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave (1 Kgs 19:11-13).

God was not in the loud, the violent, the proud; God was in the “light silent sound”; in other translations, the “still small voice.”

God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of all things. God is the ultimate power, the greatest of all beings — and God was not in the earthquake. God was not in the violent wind. God was not in the fire.

Strength doesn’t look like our earthly, worldly, fleshly expectations of it.

That was behind the devil’s fall, tradition tells us. When God created the angels, He announced to them the plan of the Incarnation — that the Son would become flesh and dwell among human beings as one of them, and that He would have a human mother, who would become the Queen of Angels. She, a human being, a creature of matter and spirit, would rule over the angels, spiritual beings.

Tradition has it that the devil said he would not serve the Incarnate Son or the Blessed Mother; that such was contrary to the dignity of spirits, contrary to what was natural and right for God and for the angels. This could not be. The divine humility and love was too much for the greatest created intellect to comprehend; the devil and his angels fell.

Strength is manifested in gentleness. Only true strength, extraordinary strength, can afford to be gentle. Only the Incarnate God could stand to be scorned, rejected, and crucified by creatures as far beneath Him as our shadows are to us; only God Himself could at the same time have had the power to annihilate His persecutors and foreborn for love and sorrow.

The gentleness of the Sorrowful Savior is shocking when you dwell upon it. On that Cross hung the Word that had created all things and through Him all things are — all those hours on the Cross — sustained. Talk about sawing off the branch on which you are standing! We were killing the pillars of the earth, the foundation of the heavens, the Creator of the cosmos. Who could be surprised if the angels had not had a few anxious moments, watching humanity kill Being itself? What would happen when the Lord of Life died? And indeed, creation groaned. The skies were dark over Golgotha that Good Friday; when Jesus surrendered His Spirit to the Father, the earth quaked; the Temple veil tore; the cosmos cried out — and lived.

God forebore to smite the creatures that smote God. God sustained a creation that sought to kill Him.

Just so a father will be gentle with a child that wrestles him; a mother, gentle with a child that causes her pain and sorrow. Just so will a Christian live the Beatitudes of Jesus.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mt 5:3-11).

Saint Faustina modeled this sort of gentle strength for us in her many sufferings and services to her sisters in her religious community, even as she was sick unto death. Throughout her life, she persisted in all three forms of works of mercy: prayer, word, and deed. She could do this because of her dependence on God, on the Holy Spirit in prayer and on Jesus in the Eucharist. She knew how to live because of her relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary is my Instructress, who is ever teaching me how to live for God. My spirit brightens up in Your gentleness and Your humility, O Mary (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 620).

O my Jesus, You have tested me so many times in this short life of mine! I have come to understand so many things, and even such that now amaze me. Oh, how good it is to abandon oneself totally to God and to give Him full freedom to act in one’s soul! (Diary, 134).

To be strong witnesses to Jesus, we don’t need to be loud, or aggressive. We don’t need to seek to shock or offend. We need to be strong in gentility, patient and enduring even beneath mockery or persecution. We need to be like Jesus, like God who is Love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:4-13).

Strength looks like love.

Strength looks like forbearance, patience, and peace.

Strength looks like mercy and gentleness.

Strength looks like steadfastness, like perseverance, like suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, uniting those sufferings to the sufferings of Christ on the Cross through the Eucharist, and so transforming them, transfiguring the world by the grace allowed in through the suffering of the members of the Body of Christ.

Strength looks like Jesus on the Cross, loving the world into life, refusing vengeance, choosing forgiveness.

Strength looks like Our Lady of Sorrows at the foot of the Cross, steadfastly loving her Son, and loving all her wayward children who were crucifying her Son.

Strength looks like silent St. Joseph, a rock and a protector for the Holy Family, a man whose greatness and strength is manifest in the quiet the Gospels wrap around the early years of Jesus, the way in which there is little to say, save that Jesus grew up in the love of God and neighbor.

Strength looks like St. Faustina’s quiet suffering, service, and a mystical life that’s now known throughout the whole world because of her docility to her superiors, her love of God and neighbor, and her outstanding witness to the Divine Mercy.

Strength looks like Mother Teresa, picking up one dying person after another, loving one poor person, tending one sick person, serving one faithless person after another, till all the world echoed with the consequences of her love.

Strength looks like Fred Rogers, doing the same good and right things day after day, loving each person he encountered as best he could, teaching generations that it was good they existed, good that they were neighbors of Fred Rogers, good that they were them. Strength looks like the personalism of the merciful gaze, a gaze that he practiced so consistently and in such an extraordinary way that he can still bring audiences to tears.

Strength looks like Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, whose steadfast refusal to fight meant the world, for he was a conscientious objector in Nazi Germany, a time and place wherein refusing to fight meant suffering and death.

Strength looks like so many Christian saints and heroes past, and quiet, solid Christians living today. Strength looks like ordinary life well lived, like mercy practiced, like love given freely to all.

A truly gentle and humble soul

Already here on earth the air of paradise breathes,

And in the fragrance of her humble heart

The Creator Himself delights (Diary, 1222).

So this Advent, let’s commit ourselves to imitate the strength of the Creator, of Love Himself, of the Divine Mercy. Let’s commit to silent service, to hidden acts of devotion, to secret works of mercy, to unknown and unnoticed deeds of generosity and love. Let us illuminate Advent with the light of the Gospel, bringing light to a world gone very dark indeed, the light of patient, gentle love expressed in prayer, words, and deeds.

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash



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