The Abbreviated Word Series
Contributed by W Pat Cunningham on Nov 26, 2011 (message contributor)
Summary: It is to our benefit that God condescended to become human. In the words of the Church Fathers, he "abbreviated" Himself.
Monday of the First Week of Advent 2011
What a providential, or shrewd, juxtaposition we have this year on this first Monday of Advent. The word of God today brings together the expectation of Advent, our reflections on Verbum Domini, and the reintroduction of truly Scriptural translations of our liturgical words yesterday. For the first time in over four decades, yesterday for the first time we repeated at Communion the words of the centurion: Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.
Isaiah foresaw the day when the word of the Lord would go forth in its purity from Jerusalem, and a kingdom of justice and peace would rule over the earth. Jewish religion never lived up to that promise: again and again they broke the covenant with God, and ultimately the people of Jerusalem drove the Word of God from the city and conspired with the pagan Romans to murder Him. But from the pierced heart of Jesus was born the New Israel, the Church, as the Mother of the Church, wounded herself at the death of her Son, joined in the ultimate sacrifice. The new law, the Law of Christ, is now operating in the heart of the Church–we must love one another as Christ has loved us. We are empowered to do that by Word and Sacrament.
‘It is very beautiful to see how the entire Old Testament already appears to us as a history in which God communicates his word: indeed, “by his covenant with Abraham (cf. Gen 15:18) and, through Moses, with the race of Israel (cf. Ex 24:8), he gained a people for himself, and to them he revealed himself in words and deeds as the one, living and true God. It was his plan that Israel might learn by experience God’s ways with humanity and, by listening to the voice of God speaking to them through the prophets, might gradually understand his ways more fully and more clearly, and make them more widely known among the nations.’ That the Jewish nation refused to follow this plan did not frustrate it, as long as we the Church truly embrace our mission.
God “condescended” to become human, so that humans might rise above their nature to become divine. ‘This “condescension” of God is accomplished surpassingly in the incarnation of the Word. The eternal Word, expressed in creation and communicated in salvation history, in Christ became a man, “born of woman” (Gal 4:4). Here the word finds expression not primarily in discourse, concepts or rules. Here we are set before the very person of Jesus. His unique and singular history is the definitive word which God speaks to humanity. We can see, then, why “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction”. The constant renewal of this encounter and this awareness fills the hearts of believers with amazement at God’s initiative, which human beings, with our own reason and imagination, could never have dreamt of. We are speaking of an unprecedented and humanly inconceivable novelty: “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14a). These words are no figure of speech; they point to a lived experience!’
The Holy Father’s words need to resonate in our hearts. The primary way that this experience is lived is in hearing the word of God and, by the grace of this sacrament, becoming more like Jesus Christ and His Mother every day. That means, of course, acting out in our lives the words of the prayer of Jesus. We must work daily for the kingdom of the Father to come, by doing His will, by acting in love. In this way the Word of God can become flesh in me and in you.
As we prepare for Christmas we should learn a phrase that is new to most of us: ‘The patristic and medieval tradition, in contemplating this “Christology of the word”, employed an evocative expression: the word was “abbreviated” “The Fathers of the Church found in their Greek translation of the Old Testament a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Saint Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: 'The Lord made his word short, he abbreviated it' (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28) … The Son himself is the Word, the Logos: the eternal word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the word could be grasped by us”. Now the word is not simply audible; not only does it have a voice, now the word has a face, one which we can see: that of Jesus of Nazareth.’