Advent, the Fourth Sunday

Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior. (cf Isaiah 45:8).

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
Your Grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by His Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of His Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord. (Psalm 89:2a).

“Now to him who can strengthen (στηρίζω) you, according to my gospel (εὐαγγέλιόν) and the proclamation (κήρυγμα) of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery (κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν μυστηρίου) kept secret (σεσιγημένου) for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known (γνωρισθέντος) to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith (ὑπακοὴν πίστεως), to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Romans 16:25-27).”

“I have a secret, do you want to know what it is?” How quickly did your attention pique when you heard that question? Let’s face it, as human beings were are instinctively inquisitive and often throw caution to the wind when it comes to transforming the unknown of secrecy to knowledge that I can grasp and more importantly, use. There is something unsettling at times about a secret. When another announces “I have a secret” implicitly he or she is also saying ‘I have knowledge that you don't.’ Whatever that knowledge might be, when someone ‘has it’ (no matter what the ‘it’ is) one also has a certain power over another that may or may not be manipulated for personal gain. On occasion, as the 'secret holder,' I might choose to let another know. But consider how one tells a secret: generally it is done with a whispery voice accompanied by clandestine gestures and postures to prevent others from knowing whatever it is that I call “secret.”

There certainly is a good dimension and proper use of secrecy. This ‘good side’ of secrecy is better expressed by the word confidential, a word grounded in the experience of trust. When we talk, for example, of professional confidentiality it is not so much about having secrets about another in a negative sense. A person is not an ‘it’ whose data or information can be capriciously and whimsically spread about for entertainment or self-aggrandisement. Rather it is about keeping silent when it comes to aspects of another’s life, a silence that is meant to help heal life’s injuries and wounds by respecting the dignity of the human person. It is in this context that Saint Paul speaks of a “secret" (σεσιγημένου, sesigemenou) kept for "long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings.” The Greek verb σιγάω (sigao) can be translated appropriately as “to keep a secret.” But as is often the case with the ancient biblical languages, there are additional meanings that are quite valid. The difficulty is that many of these other meanings require multiple words if not sentences or a paragraph or two to translate the ancient word more precisely. If all of these words, sentences and paragraphs were employed in the oral proclamation of Sacred Scripture, we might loose the sense of the message because of the verbage. Hence, translators have opted for a paucity of words in proclamation with the intention of keeping our attention on the big-picture of the biblical message. It falls then to ongoing mystagogical catechesis (ongoing unfolding of the Sacred Mystery) to break open deeper layers of meaning that the biblical text conveys in both the literal and spiritual senses. For this reason, the sacred study of our Faith is a necessity! Secondly, it is also the reason why translations must be revised from time to time. As we come to learn more precisely the ancient languages through good scientific and archeological discoveries, translations must then reflect that deeper precision.

At any rate, what then do we make about “the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages?” What happens when the translation is rendered “the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages?” For Saint Paul, this silence is the expression of God the Father’s preparation for the offer of salvation that will be spoken (thus breaking the silence) by God-in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. The beauty and power of breaking the silence (telling the secret) is that what is heard is not an it, but a Person. Telling the secret is not about getting knowledge in sense of data or trivia but experiencing and encountering a Person; the Person Jesus Christ. This is the difference in Greek between οἶδα (oida) and γινώσκω (ginosko). Yes, a number of biblical scholars consider οἶδα and γινώσκω to be synonyms. Yet there are scholars who contend that there is a difference between the two. For these scholars, οἶδα (oida) indicates a type of knowledge that one can acquire or learn. A student at the end of a semester (how timely at this time of year) can say “I know that I know the course material” and the professor is able to appropriately assess (quantify) that knowledge based on a grading rubric and matrix it into a course grade. γινώσκω (ginosko) on the other hand is a ‘penetrating experience to the core of one’s being that establishes identity.’ Thus that same student at the end of a Christology course can say “I know the material and because of that knowledge I willingly change this or that in my life and know Jesus Christ as Lord.” This is knowledge in a different realm. This reflects the disciples’ encounter with the Risen Jesus at Emmaus. When Saint Luke records that “He [Jesus] became known (ἐγνώσθη, egnosthe) to them in the Breaking of the Bread (Luke 24:35,” the disciples’ knowledge of Jesus was not the same as the knowledge of their surroundings, the day, the time or the weather. This was a ‘knowledge’ that was an experience of a Person that resulted in a change of heart (μετάνοια metánoia) and change of action (the disciples willingly and joyfully return to Jerusalem to proclaim Jesus is risen and alive). Thus the Pauline Word of God to us this Sunday is a challenge to allow ourselves to be drawn into Divine Silence this week that we may be prepared to receive and encounter the Word Who shatters silence for the sake of our salvation.

O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel, Who showed Yourself to Moses in the burning bush, Who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch our Your mighty hand to set us free.

And a post script: Some have written and asked about the underlined English words with the Greek and Hebrew in parentheses that I have not addressed in the particular Sunday blog. Fret not, these are words, topics and subjects for a later entry. A sapiential guide told me recently, “don't try to do everything at once because you can’t.” His wisdom has proved true.

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