The Divine Bridegroom

The Third Sunday of Advent. Is 40:1-5,9-11; Ps 85:9-14; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

Today's readings give us a brief glimpse, like a ray of sunlight from behind a cloud, of the ultimate purpose of what we celebrate at Christmas. In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks of God sending his anointed one, his Christ, to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners.

Some of these actions are often thought of, in our own times, as the kind of work done by impersonal and materialistic social justice programs. Yet God is not speaking about about saving abstract classes of people, such as 'the poor' in the abstract sense. God saves particular persons, such as you and me. Furthermore, the goal for which God proposes to save us is far greater than making the poor, for example, a little better off. The real purpose for which God comes to save us is implied with these mysterious words, “Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride adorned with her jewels.” Who, then, is the 'bridegroom adorned with a diadem' and the 'bride adorned with her jewels'? The writer of this text is, in fact, using these images to refer to himself, to his soul, in relationship to God, like a bridegroom or a bride prepared for marriage. Indeed, St. Paul hints at the same idea in today's reading, “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The idea being expressed here is that of the human soul being prepared, made perfectly holy as it were, for marriage when the Jesus Christ comes in glory. Indeed, John the Baptist even refers to Jesus as the bridegroom.

Such images are important to help counter a popular but gravely erroneous conception of holiness. Many people seem to think that Christian holiness consists simply in avoiding sin and doing a certain number of good deeds, as if God is a kind of divine quality assurance controller. According to this mistaken understanding, if we make the grade, as it were, God will allow us to enter heaven. This error can create a subtle temptation in the Christian life, to try to live as if Christian success consists in finding the right formula for perfection. Unfortunately, such an approach to holiness is like trying to manufacture a flower; however beautifully and meticulously engineered it is, an artificial flower is a dead thing, in reality utterly unlike a living flower. Similarly, the true perfection of the Christian life is not to be found in a formula of perfection but in a living union of the soul with God, a union described in Scripture by the image of a marriage. The true horror of sin does not consist in contravening some rational conception of justice, even though sin does contravene rational justice. The real horror of sin consists in its quenching the Spirit, in cutting off the light of the Son, so that we are no longer able to perceive, in a personal sense, the divine bridegroom of our souls.

Such personal images are a helpful reminder that our spiritual lives have to be personal and intimate. To fulfill our moral obligations but to refuse to pray is like a husband refusing to speak to his wife, or a wife refusing to speak to her husband. No matter how well they live in other ways, such a relationship cannot be considered to be in a healthy state. So perhaps we could re-commit ourselves to personal, daily prayer this Advent, prayer to the God whose entire purpose in sending us His Son is to unite us with Him forever, prayer to the God whose incarnate heart is pierced and aflame with love.

Father Andrew Pinsent, St Ambrose Church, St Louis, 14th December 2008

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