Even though the Advent liturgy won't shift gears until tomorrow (the Octave before Christmas), today tradition invites us to begin the Christmas novena. My community's traditional novena is based on one from a Benedictine community in northern Italy, where the congregation was founded, and has some liturgical elements (such as the O antiphons) and traditional Scriptural prophecies that we don't hear that much any more.
Actually, today's first reading for Mass has one of those unusual prophecies in it. It is from the Book of Numbers, and tells a story from the days when the Israelite people had not yet taken possession of the Holy Land. For all practical purposes, they were an invading horde. The locals knew they had to take action if they were not to be dispossessed, so they called in the big guns: the flamboyant prophet Balaam. Balaam (whom we might call more a shaman than a prophet on the order of Isaiah or Jeremiah) commanded a stiff fee, but it would be worth it: he would curse the Israelites, and the matter would be settled.
The surprise in the reading is not only that Balaam ("whose eye is true...who hears what God says and knows what the Most High knows, ... sees what the Almighty sees...") does not curse the people, but that he really is a prophet of God Most High, and foretells the coming of the Messiah! ""I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near..."
In Advent, we too see him, "though not now" but we can't say he is not "near." Even though we do not yet "see what God sees," we know his promise: "I am with you always!"
This is the seventh Christmas I am posting this simple video novena. Every year I make the resolution to do something a bit nicer... Next year, maybe?