December 11, 2022 Essay: Join the Throng

Dec 2, 2022

The Advent liturgies have been building a theme, strong on Isaiah. The prophet carries the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people, who have been languishing in captivity in Babylon. He single-handedly takes on their despair with idyllic images of infirmities healed and, always, always, throngs of people singing their way to Zion. For Isaiah, these icons prefigure the kingdom that God will establish once the captives are free. They are the SIGNS of the Kingdom.

Fast forward to the time of John the Baptizer. He is a formidable figure, living in the desert, subsisting on wild food, and proclaiming, to anyone who will listen, the message of “repentance.” He invites the people to act out their conversion by being baptized in the River Jordan. Multitudes respond—including Jesus.

But in today’s Gospel, we learn that John has been imprisoned by Herod. Reports of Jesus’ activities have been reaching John, and he sends some of his disciples to question Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus responds, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

We recognize this list. They are the SIGNS of the Kingdom. Here is proof that Jesus is “the One,” not because he says so, but because he is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. In this exchange, I always get the sense of “the baton” being handed over. John, who has been so central to preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah, now steps back to allow Jesus to take center stage.

Jesus’ further commentary cements this image. He praises John, extols him as greater than all the prophets (in today’s lingo, G.O.A.T.), but then announces that the focus must now be on himself and his followers. The Kingdom is not just “on the way;” it is HERE in the person of Jesus.

What to do with this revelation? Us? Today? Looking back to Isaiah’s images, I delight in conjuring up throngs of people singing their way to Zion.

To Isaiah, this vision comes naturally, an obvious expression of joy. And so, it is our time to join the throng and sing praise to our God.

Our Christian traditions are rich in Advent music. When we approach the celebration of the Incarnation, it comes naturally for us to join in song. The people to whom Isaiah prophesied were filled with longing for the coming of the Messiah. That longing is captured in Comfort, O Comfort My People.

We recall John’s role as a precursor of the Savior On Jordan’s Bank. The traditional hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, dates back to the monastic life of twelve hundred years ago. Part of our heritage. The full version incorporates the “O Antiphons” that sing the many titles of Jesus. A personal favorite is O Come, Divine Messiah. I love the melody and the meter. If it weren’t a sacred hymn, I might describe it as “rollicking.” The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns again moves us from the darkness of anticipation to the jubilation of the coming of Christ. The haunting melody of Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming is a meditation.

Anticipation takes hold the closer we get to Christmas. Here at St. Ignatius, we enjoy an embarrassment of riches in seasonal music. Beyond the liturgical Advent hymns, we can preview and pre-experience the glorious music of Christmas in the concerts today and December 18. The concerts feature the Choirs and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola. And you can join our own “throng” singing carols.

As we move through the remaining days of Advent, let’s attend to the thrum of song that is a heartbeat. Let us join our voices in celebration of the coming of our Savior, Jesus the Christ.

— Adele Gallo, Chair, Parish Women’s Faith Group