From the Toronto Sun
The most significant preparations for Christmas that I experienced were my four years (1990-1994) of graduate studies in sacred scripture in Jerusalem. Living in a Christian minority taught me what expectation and longing for the Messiah was all about.
For the first time in my life Christmas itself did not distract me from the meaning of Advent! There were no decorations, no tinsel; only some poor-quality lights strung up along the final few kilometres to Bethlehem for the benefit of journalists and tourists. I was able to focus on the deep questions that helped me to prepare in my mind and heart for Jesus' birth.
Today I share with you two questions for reflection in these days before Christmas. What does Advent do? And what is the relationship between the Old and New Testament?
During Advent we Christians proclaim the coming of Christ -- not just a first coming as a helpless baby in Bethlehem, but the second coming that will be far more glorious than the first.
Advent summons us to the beginning of the great love story that began between God and human beings. We pray that God will yield to our greedy need to see and feel the promise of salvation here and now. Advent deepens our longing and anticipation that God will do what prophets have promised.
We must ask ourselves how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies, and how the sayings of the prophets are an outgrowth of a long Israelite tradition of hope for justice, peace and communion with God.
Here is one way to look at this complex process of fulfillment. After the prophets died, their sayings were handed on and became the vehicle through which the community of Israel expressed its hopes, dreams and aspirations to future generations.
When we speak of hopes and dreams, the question of their fulfillment cannot be verified by neutral, objective observers or scientific means, but rather from an experience that involves all of the human faculties of those who share the dreams.
The analogy of being in love can illustrate the meaning of fulfillment of prophecy. We may write down on paper how a particular person has "fulfilled our dreams," and communicate those thoughts to the beloved. Only one who has had a dream and who is in love can say whether or not the beloved really fulfills those dreams. Although the written words express the initial dream, the dream may have been realized or fulfilled in very different and surprising ways. Here the words of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browing are so appropriate: "God's gifts put our best dreams to shame."
At a given point in history, a group of Jews who identified with the long, rich prophetic tradition of Israel encountered in the flesh a man named Jesus of Nazareth. Their experience of this remarkable man transformed their lives in deeply significant ways.
What did that early group of followers and believers say of Jesus? "He is the man of our dreams. In him, all the hopes and aspirations of our people have found fulfillment."
In this way we can say that the prophetic texts of ancient Israel were all speaking about Jesus. This kind of assertion cannot be verified by neutral historical study. Only those who have shared the dreams and visions of Israel, and have experienced Jesus in their lives, just as the first Christians did, can proclaim that Jesus is truly the fulfillment of our deepest hopes. He is the reason for this season.