Monday, Advent, Week Three

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17

Today’s first reading is a rather unfamiliar text from the Book of Numbers. We hear one of the oracles of the prophet Balaam.

How fair are your tents, O Jacob!
How fair your dwelling, Israel!
Like valleys that stretch afar,
like gardens by the banks of a river,
like aloes planted by the Lord,
like cedars beside the waters.

The poetic language has resonances with the Psalms. It’s likely that the Book of Numbers was edited during the period of exile in Babylon. Balaam’s oracle reassures Israel that deliverance is at hand:

‘A hero rises from their stock, he reigns over countless peoples.’

This text finds a place in our Advent liturgy as Christian writers interpret this as a reference to Christ. This idea is further reinforced a few verses later:

I see him-but not in the present,
I behold him- but not close at hand:
a star from Jacob takes the leadership,
a sceptre arises from Israel.

What’s special about Balaam is that he is a Gentile. He is held up for us here as an example of one who interprets the signs and acknowledges the coming of the Messiah.

You might be starting to feel a sense of urgency with your Christmas preparations. I always imagine that I have slightly more time than I actually do. The challenge each year is to be open to those glimpses of the Messiah in the ordinariness of our lives.

Where can you see God’s love made incarnate? Where can you see the Word that became flesh?