Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Dewfall

   Fourth Sunday of Advent   B 

When the new English translation of the prayers of the Mass
began to be used back in Advent 2011,
it took some getting used to.
I still slip up during the Creed sometimes…and I know I’m not alone.
One of the expressions
which continues to stand out as a bit odd for many folks
is, “like the dewfall.”
We hear it in the second Eucharistic Prayer:
            Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray,
            by sending down your Holy Spirit upon them like the dewfall…
(I was told of a priest who,
during that first Christmas with the new Missal,
prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend “like the snowfall”:
not exactly very reverent…but clever!)

What in the world 
does this unusual expression mean?

Think about how the dew falls:
gradually, all silent and unseen.
When rain or snow fall,
their arrival is rather obvious—
sometimes, even violent.
But not the dew, 
which is always quiet and gentle.

That’s how the Holy Spirit often comes:
he does much of his best work in secret.

That’s certainly what we encounter
in our gospel reading this Sunday,
where we find the Holy Spirit very much at work—
as powerful as ever,
but also all hidden and hushed.
Mary wonders at the angel’s incredible message,
and how this might come to pass:
“The Holy Spirit…will overshadow you,” she’s told.
God’s dew was settling in a most definitive way
to bring new life to the parched earth:
the Eternal Word taking on human flesh;
the Son of God becoming man—
secretly, in the womb of a virgin.

Our worldly sensibilities, of course,
prefer things that are more concrete.
When King David wants to show his devotion,
and make clear that God dwells among his people,
he proposes to replace the flimsy, portable tent
which has long been the focal point of Israel’s worship
with a fixed temple of cedar and stone.
Even when it comes to spiritual matters,
we favor things we can see and touch,
things stable and sturdy—
not fleeting, like the dew.
But God is mystery,
and his working, regularly in secret.
Despite our desire to have it otherwise,
the Lord is notoriously hard to pin down.

Christmas is, of course, very near,
and our celebration of the Lord’s Nativity
has become increasingly tangible:
filled with trees and lights and mangers
and presents and music and cookies—and more!
It’s a veritable feast for the senses!
But we mustn’t get so taken by the good stuff of the holiday
that we miss the very essence of the holy day…
…which is and will always remain a mystery.
How can it be that the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages,
…for our salvation…came down from heaven,
and by the power of the Holy Spirit
was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man?

Just the thought of it should stop us in our tracks—
as it, no doubt, did Mary—and have us saying, “Wow!”

In the Old Testament,
when the Israelites were wandering hungry in the desert,
God fed his people with manna from above.
“In the morning,” we read in Exodus,
“there was a layer of dew all about the camp,
and when the layer of dew evaporated,
fine flakes were…on the ground.
…[T]he Israelites asked one another, “What is this?” 
…Moses told them, “It is the bread 
which the Lord has given you to eat.”  (16:13-15)

At every Mass, in a way even more wondrous,
God continues to feed his people.
The Lord who was made manifest in our human flesh
still dwells among us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.

All silent and quite unseen,
the heavenly dew continues to fall.

Let us never fail to stand in wonder
before the mystery.

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