Fourth Sunday of Advent – 20 December 2020 – Bible Readings for Mass: I: II Samuel7:1-5, 8b-12,14a, 16; Responsorial: Psalm 89; II: Romans 16:25-27; Gospel: 1:26-38
For the Catholic Christian(and all Christians) Christmas is a very special time of celebration. As the last week of Advent draws to a close the anticipation of the Christmas Vigil Mass and the Mass of Christmas Day brings a great peace and joy. With the dawn of the Christmas season we focus our hearts on the Incarnation, the coming of Jesus into our world. This holy season (again the Catholic Liturgical year) will culminate with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, as a part of Epiphany in January. From the expectations and hopes of Advent we enter into the celebration of Emmanuel ~ God with us! This joyous dawn of Jesus with us leads to the renewal of Epiphany ~ The Manifestation of God’s Presence and Grace!
But why, this 4th week of Advent, are we looking so far ahead? Again, Advent is a season of preparation and anticipation…of and for Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. And this year of 2020 we need God’s grace and Presence in ways we would never have expected. The uncertainties and challenges of this passing year are still part of our journey. For many the opportunity to gather and worship for Masses, throughout the world are uncertain at best. As the pandemic surges we hear of Italy and much of Europe being locked down. So whether we gather for outside Mass, perhaps inside in some places or in the spirit in our homes we gather in solidarity with those unable to go to Mass. And we gather to prepare, anticipate and celebrate perhaps in ways and more deeply than we ever have before.
The beloved decorations and music of our churches may be left unused this year. But the preparation and decorating of our hearts and homes can be more powerful and beautiful than ever. Even as, we in respect and love for the health and well-being of others, curtail our gatherings of faith and families we still can pray and prepare for Emmanuel, God with us.
This last Sunday of Advent brings to us Scripture steeped with the eternal hopes and joys of the promise of the Messiah, the Christ…Jesus our Savior. It is especially in the Gospel as we read the familiar account of the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary we enter into the heart of both the hope and promise of Advent and the joy and power of Christmas. We also realize that this holy encounter was fraught with deep fear and uncertainty. Mary, our Blessed Mother is not simply a model of greatest holiness and faith. She was, and is a profoundly humble woman but grace-filled lesson of the eternal experience of Emmanuel, as she said her yes to the angel.
Mary, in her Advent journey, shows us the Emmanuel path that has not changed through the ages. Mary, her betrothed Joseph, all who would love God are called to meet those sent from God. Mary undoubtedly was busy about her day as a young maiden when Gabriel appeared. And her life was changed. Eternally. We often would think, well if God would send and angel and tell me what He wants it would be much simpler. God does send His messengers to us all. Scripture is very clear that we each have our Guardian Angels. We perhaps, in retrospect, think of people that had a powerful impact on our lives, for God. But God also sends us His messengers through circumstances, perhaps controlled by angels unseen. Great blessings, unexpected encouragements among struggles, disappointments and even illness, pandemics are messengers of grace. The story of Job, the life of David, the Apostle Paul all show us how both blessing and trial can be the Sent of God. Pope Francis in his book [Let Us Dream A Path to a Better Future] affirms this grace as we see the crises as an opportunity to grow with God: “To come out of this crises better , we have to see clearly, choose well, and act right. Let’s talk about how. Let us dare to dream.” I believe this especially applies to our experiencing Emmanuel, God with.
Mary’s encounter with Gabriel was a crises of extraordinary power. She was (very logically) afraid. But she shows us that by seeing and growing in the Truth, in hearing and humbly listening she would experience more than she could ever imagine, of God being with her. Mary did NOT understand all that Gabriel told her would be. Even at the Passion of her Son her grief was so intense she could not understand all that God was doing. But Mary believes. Even to this day as she prays for us and seeks to lead us closer to her Son, she believes.
The opportunity for us this profound year of 2020 is the same. God has not changed. The angels and saints would call each and all of us to listen to the Living Word, Jesus, Emmanuel. Through the people and events sent us we can hear God’s call to trust and give our Yes, with Mary and other faithful, to God. What do the worries and frustrations of the pandemic bring to us? They bring us a daily place to listen to the will of God, perhaps grow in our worship and love of Jesus in ways very different than what we may like. But we rest assured, God is with us as we, with Mary say :“be it done to me according to your Word.” [Luke 1:38]
This Yes to God is deeply rooted as a response to a statement shared by Gabriel. The angel said “Nothing will be impossible for God.” NAB version. The words are strong but they have lost much of their power. The older versions are worded as : “For WITH God nothing shall be impossible.” RSV version, (emphasis mine). This holy promise is sent from the very heart of God to all who will trust and say yes to His Son. It is an holy invitation of eternal, infinite love to join with Emmanuel in an adventure of grace for all eternity. What is God calling us to share? Our Advent YES will lead us to the joys of Christmas in ways we have never known.