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Tomorrow You Shall See the Glory of the Lord

Monday, December 24, 2012
Readings: II Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14,16; Psalm 88; Luke 1: 67-79

Christmas Eve is a day of anticipation. Even its name identifies it as ‘the day before’ Christmas, and today’s liturgy repeats many times the words ‘Today you shall know that the Lord is at hand, and tomorrow you shall see his glory.’ These words are drawn from the Book of Exodus (Ex 16: 6-7), and in their original context refer to the miraculous feeding of the people of Israel in the wilderness: it is in the miraculous gift of manna from heaven that the Israelites will, in the morning, see the glory of the Lord.

Now, though it’s the words themselves – ‘the glory of the Lord’ – that make this text an obvious choice for today’s liturgy, the parallel with the account of the gift of manna in particular can also help us think about our anticipation of the Nativity. Throughout the whole of Advent, the reading of the prophets at Mass has been drawing our attention to the fact that the prophecies of the Old Testament find their fulfilment in the amazing truth that God has taken to himself a human nature like ours, and was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem around two thousand years ago.

Today’s Old Testament reading, though, steps back beyond the period of the so-called prophetic books, which lament the current situation in Israel and Judah and speak of an impending restoration or of judgement. Rather, today we turn to the story of King David which we find in II Samuel (though interestingly – as an aside – the historical books are also counted among the prophets by Jews) a much earlier example of God’s intervention in history not just to put right what has gone wrong with Israel, but as the completion of his plan for all humanity in which the people of Israel, and the house of David, have a special part.

And if the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (‘the house of bread’ in Hebrew), the city of his ancestor David, is the fulfilment of God’s plan to which the whole of the Old Testament bears witness, then his gift of manna to the Israelites in the wilderness can also be understood as pointing in some way to his gift of his Son to the world to satisfy that most profound human hunger for a knowledge of God. And it turns out that that knowledge of God is not revealed to us in complex propositions or grand pomp, but in a helpless child lying in a manger – the same Jesus who, on the night before he suffered and died, took bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples as the best sign of what he was doing for them.

As we make our various preparations for tomorrow’s celebrations then (some of which may well be undertaken with a view to satisfying our physical hunger), we should remember also to prepare ourselves to receive ever more fully God’s gift of himself which he made by taking human form and being born two thousand years ago in Bethlehem.

Gregory Pearson OP


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