BEFORE THE CROSS | God’s plan for salvation unfolds one step at a time

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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Many children — and some adults! — are saying, "I can't wait for Christmas."

But if we look at the readings for the final week of Advent, we see God's plan unfolding in salvation history, one step at a time. It encourages us not to rush the season, but to let things ripen according to God's timing.

For example, on Monday, we hear about the conception and birth of Samson more than 1,000 years before Christ. In a perfect prefigurement of the Annunciation, Samson's mother is told, "you will conceive and bear a son." In a further prefigurement of the conception of John the Baptist, she's told, "This boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb." The Gospel reading for same day is the conception of John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ. It's all woven together.

On Tuesday, we hear the story of Ahaz from the book of Isaiah. About 700 years before Christ, God tells Ahaz that He will give him this sign: "the virgin will conceive and bear a son." The Gospel reading for that day is the Annunciation. It's all woven together.

On Wednesday, we hear from the Song of Songs, a beautiful love poem attributed to Solomon and finally written down about 500 years before Christ. It speaks of the author's beloved springing across the mountains and leaping across the hills to be with his bride. The other option for the day, from the prophet Zephaniah — about 600 years before Christ, announces to Israel that "the Lord is in your midst." The Gospel reading is Mary's visitation to Elizabeth. God has leapt across the divide to be with His bride, personified in Mary; Mary brings the Lord to Israel, personified in Elizabeth.

The entire week is full of such parallels. Again and again, the readings show us that God has a plan, that the plan unfolds one step at a time, and that God patiently brings it all to fulfillment in Christ.

The "O Antiphons" are great examples of this in the week leading up to Christmas These are recited in the Evening Prayer Dec. 17-23. Each antiphon highlights a title for the Messiah based on a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), Clavis David (Key of David), Oriens (Rising Sun), Rex Gentium (King of the Nations), and Emmanuel (God with us). Most people are familiar with these as the verses of the Advent hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

The order of the antiphons is deliberate. The first letter of each one — Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia — spell the Latin words ero cras. The words emerge step by step throughout the week but isn't complete until the last piece fits into place.

Ero cras is a message from Jesus. Throughout Advent, we've been preparing for His coming, and throughout salvation history, God prepared his people for His coming. As the last week of Advent unfolds, He gives us a final message, one letter at a time. On the last day before Christmas Eve, the message is revealed: "Ero cras — Tomorrow, I will come."

Throughout salvation history, God's plan has been unfolding, one step at a time. Our Advent preparations are an echo of that gradual method, and require patience on our part. Everything about the Church's liturgy during these final week of Advent is a reminder: good things come to those who wait. 

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