A strong city have we;
he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.
Open up the gates
to let in a nation that is just,
one that keeps faith.
A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace;
in peace, for its trust in you.”
Jerusalem is one of the most important symbols of the Advent season, one which is often overlooked. The Holy City will appear frequently in our readings and our songs. It might be recognized as the temple, Bethlehem or the Virgin Daughter.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jerusalem appears ominously as the kingdom of Herod, his advisers, soldiers and restive population. In Saint Luke, she appears more gracious; she welcomes the Infant in the persons of Simeon and Anna. The same city, in an Advent mood, will welcome the Messiah who comes riding on a donkey.
Catholics readily recognize Mary as the New Jerusalem. Especially, in Saint Matthew's account, the magi will honor her as the Mother of the Messiah; the starlight reveals her as brilliantly as it was dark over Jerusalem. Mary is the New Jerusalem who abides wherever Christians worship Jesus, especially because, by the time of Matthew's writing, Jerusalem had been destroyed by Roman armies. The city was no more, and would not reappear in history for a long time to come.
A strong city have we...Many American Christians have hoped the United States might be that "city on a hill." The one nation under God might even replace the Church as the City of God on earth; it's sacred icon might be the American flag rather than a crucifix; it's pledge of allegiance should replace Sunday worship; the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and God Bless America should stand in for Christian hymns. It was supposed to be the strong, just nation that keeps faith, a nation of firm purpose kept in peace for its trust in God.
Abortion, endemic racism, and genetic violence have laid those illusions to rest. Mortally afflicted with divorce, drug abuse and suicide the United States is only another short-lived empire. Its Christmas ceremonies make a mockery of faith. It must eventually take its place among other historic empires as another world order ascends.
And so we turn back to our faith and hear the reassuring word of God: a strong city have we.... That nation is our faith, represented not by armies and government officials but by the Holy Season which comes to visit us again.
Advent greets us with songs, prayers and sacred readings, with candles that are lit one by one. It tells us a dark, mysterious story of an old woman and a virgin girl, both mysteriously pregnant. It tells us of poor shepherds who see what emperors and kings never saw, and of magi coming from afar to worship what the locals ignore. It tells us of a couple who keep a deep secret, protecting it from hostile eyes.
Advent bids us to be silent, to watch, pray and ponder.