The summer before my ordination was spent as a contract chaplain at Ft. Hood in Killen, Texas. At the time, Ft. Hood was the largest army post in the free world. The first two or three weeks had occasional thunderstorms, with some of them pretty bad. The rest of the summer was sunny and hot, without a drop of rain. In mid-August I returned to Washington, D.C. to finish my degree work and prepare for ordination. It rained the first night I got back. It was the first time in two months I heard the sound of falling rain. Not only was the sound peaceful, but the air soon had an earthy scent. After such a dry summer, that night of rain was a true gift!
When Elijah began his prophetic ministry, he prayed and Israel experienced a three-year drought. Gradually the ground became hard leaving farmers unable to work. The hard land reflected the hard hearts of the people who no longer wanted to live much less hear the living word of God. After the great victory on Mt. Carmel, where Elijah’s sacrifice was consumed by fire and the pagan priests put to death, he prayed seven times for the drought to end. After the seventh time, Elijah’s servant sees “a cloud small as a man’s hand rising from the sea” (1Kgs. 18: 44). Soon, heavy rain began to fall. Just as the people were brought to life through the miracle on Mt. Carmel, so is the land brought to life through life giving rain sent by God. Can you imagine the reaction of the people, especially the farmers? Their livelihood had returned. Famine came to an end. People had a steady water source once again to drink and live. Maybe they stood outside letting it fall upon them while thanking and praising God for the rain. Would that thanksgiving and joy lead them to allow His words to fall upon them just as they let the rains fall upon them?
St. Ambrose, one of the great fathers of the Church, wrote that the cloud was the Blessed Virgin Mary rising from the sea of sinful humanity. She gives to the world rain – her Son, the Savior who washes away sin and death. Not only is it a beautiful image of our Mother that speaks of her role in our salvation; yet, even before Mary gives rain to a world that has become hard and lifeless from sin and death, she needed to allow Him to rain on her life His words.
Mary heard the stories of the God who turns deserts into forests that are filled with fruit trees and overflowing with life-giving water. She heard how He takes dry bones and recreates life. He liberates a people from slavery and journeys with them to the Promised Land. Even when they sin and break His covenant, God goes with His people into Exile and finally brings them home. The brokenness, emptiness and darkness of the world and the people are met by the unrestrained, out of control, and overflowing love of God. Those actions of God, His mighty deeds and words, fell upon and within Mary again and again. She is the woman of faith who can say “let it be”, not only to the Father’s request of becoming the dwelling place of His Son, but let it be to His will and words in her life.
Advent is the coming of Christ into the world, not only at His glorious return or a remembering of His birth, but His coming to each of us now, like life-giving rain. However, the question is not if Christ is coming, but are we ready to receive Him. Only the poor, the broken and empty, all those who know emptiness in their lives can cry out, Come, Lord Jesus. They, and many others, know how much they need the Savior, not only on December 25, but every day of the year. They allow Him to rain His words, life, forgiveness, and salvation upon them. What they receive, they in turn share in their corners of the world. Their lives speak of Emmanuel, the God who is always with them.
The gift of humility would place each of us with them, standing in the rain, standing with the words of Christ falling upon and within us.