A consoling sentence from the First Reading for Sunday (Malachi 3, 19-20a): “You who fear my name, for you there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
Healing rays…. Justice... All of us hopefully wished such things for a long time, we would really welcome them. But what about the fear part: “You who fear my name”. We are supposed to take in God’s majesty in its awesome and fear-invoking greatness. The scripture is not talking about the fear we get in horror films: not that strange noise when you are alone in the house. Instead it is “fear of God”, a reasonable, settled concern, an awe before what is very much bigger than you, a reverential wonder toward the creator.
Only when we have this “awe” are we starting to relate to God, to begin maturing in our relation with the Most High. And only then do we start suspecting what it really means to say that “God is Love”. Healthy as this last sentence may be - “God is love” - understanding it requires a continuing spiritual revolution in our lives.
It is like the revolution brought about long ago by Copernicus (1473 – 1543) – the decades when America was “discovered”. The Poles say he was Polish, the Germans say that he was German. Copernicus showed that the sun does not revolve around the earth but rather that the earth circles the sun. Most of us, spiritually, are “pre-Copernican“: we think that God’s job is to circle around us, just as if we were the center of the universe; we think like tiny planets in this universe: the immense sun should answer our prayers, the immense sun should make us peaceful, should make our side win the ball game, help us find a parking place and so on…
Nothing is really wrong with any of these – but these thoughts are a bit too childlike. As adults in faith, we are in desperate need of a Copernican revolution. In fact, God does not exist to serve us, it is just the opposite: the center of the universe is God, not us; just like after Copernicus we know that the center of our solar system is the immense sun, not the tiny earth. God quietly maintains in existence everything that is: stars, galaxies, lands, oceans, cities, human hearts, butterfly wings. We owe reverence to such a Being. It takes a spiritual transformation to think this way. What would happen if you or I tried it?
First, we would be living in truth instead of in pretense, in fiction, in a fake reality. The truth of our lives is that we are at home only when we open to this real God - the source and goal of who we are as human beings - instead of opening our lives to the latest fashion or style. As believers, we often say “God is greatest.” If God is greatest, why would we make something else the center of our life?
Second, the “sun of justice with its healing rays” would shine upon us - as the prophet Malachi says. God’s love would appear to us as truth instead of just a way to find a parking place if we pray for it. We would begin to see God as the gentle source of life and the affectionate mother of the entire universe!
Advent is coming very soon. The Church will be preparing to see tender love shown forth in an infant. In this pre-Advent time, we are supposed to take in God’s majesty in its awesome and fear-invoking greatness, so that we might be humble enough to prepare for the baby. And that is why the First Reading from Malachi and the Gospel from Luke thunder on about the day of reckoning and judgement: when “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” (Luke 21) and so on. These are meant to bring forth awe and fear, to show us who is at the center of the universe … and who is waiting for us to climb down from our thrones.
Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ