The readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent would have us look at small, insignificant things– a little town in Judea, Bethlehem, and a visit of two women, Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.
Faith sees meaning here. A mystery, a great mystery, hidden in this place and in these people.
Bethlehem, some say, means “House of Bread,” and with eyes of faith, we believe that the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, was born in that humble town. The women, visiting together, were holy women who brought Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into the world and were among the first to recognize him.
With eyes of faith we look back and see.
But eyes of faith are not just for looking back; they help us see life today and discover God’s presence and call now.
Along with our scriptures, the signs and prayers of the Mass help us see. Like our readings they point to great meaning in small things.
Look at the bread and the wine. Jesus took these small signs into his hands the night before he died and made them bearers of important mysteries. As we bring them to the altar after our Creed and take them into our hands and ourselves, we ask: What do they mean?
They’re food and drink, we say, and so they are. Real food and real drink, Jesus said, giving life beyond what we hope for and joys we cannot imagine. God feeds us, as a mother feeds a child, as a father giving daily bread to his children. The bread and wine reveal God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
They point, though, to other realities too. They tell us of our relationship to God, but they also point to our relationship to the universe made by God our Creator.
“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. it will become for us the bread of life.”
“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, through your goodness we have this wine we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands, let it become our spiritual drink.” (Offertory prayers)
Bread and wine are symbols of creation, our prayers say. We don’t live apart from the created world. We receive God’s gifts through it. God comes to us through it. Creation’s story is our story too.
Both the bible and science tell that story, but in different ways, the Book of Genesis in poetic language; scientists in the language of science.
As scientists tell it, after probing into space with instruments like the Hubble telescope and sifting through the earth’s crust, our universe began 15 billion years ago. Then, about 3.5 billion years ago primitive life began on our planet. 200,000 years ago human life emerged. We humans come lately into the story of creation.
However, we late-comers have an important role in the well being and development of our universe. The Book of Genesis describes Adam and Eve, the first of our human family, as cultivators and leaders of the earth community. God made them stewards of the earth and its gifts.
Today the human role as stewards of the universe has become critical. The recent meeting on climate control in Copenhagen, Denmark, called the human family from all parts of the earth, to come together and decide what changes must be made in the way we humans live, so that the environment of our world does not deteriorate further.
Sadly, the meeting ended with its goals unmet.
Pope Benedict XVI was one of those who sent a message to the leaders of the conference:
“Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?”
“It is becoming more and more evident that the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view,” the pope said.
“Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all,”
“If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”
As we take the bread and wine at Mass, let’s remember God who blesses us in Jesus Christ, but let’s also remember the earth they represent. These small signs point to a universe we are called by God to protect.