4th Sunday of Advent - The Promise of Advent

We are close to Christmas and the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent clearly tells us how close we are.  This part of Advent shifts our attention from last week's announcement by John the Baptist that "one among you.. is coming...."   to today's message about shedding fear and rejoicing at the birth of the "Son of the Most High."  Our preparation for Christmas focuses on being ready for Christ to come again.  But we must remember that his coming in Bethlehem and his coming at the end of time are not isolated events, because he comes into our lives again and again every day.

The AnnunciationAdvent and Christmas invite us to dwell not so much on the Infant in the Crib, but the adult Jesus, baptized by John, anointed by the Spirit, living in a world of turmoil and then identifying Himself fully with humanity's sinful, guilt-ridden condition. He stands with all human beings who yearn for a radical change of heart and life, who crave liberation from the power of evil, who seek release from all forms of oppression - religious, political, social and economic. He stands as the only One who can take away our fear and make clear our vision.

The infant Jesus silently proclaimed this message by the circumstances of His birth - poverty, powerlessness, and simplicity. But it is the adult Jesus who lives the message, challenging political and religious systems, embracing a radical poverty of spirit, and reaching out with compassion and liberation for all the oppressed.

Mary's presence in the Advent experience makes our fears and anguish comprehensible; the uncertainty of life is overcome by the sure hope of God's coming to those who are waiting. The angel makes the announcement, Mary accepts, and then, we are told, "the angel left her." No guidance is given; questions are left unanswered and we can assume that Mary is more confused than ever. And yet Mary comes to symbolize God's coming into our hearts with his transforming presence. Longing for the light eventually brings the light. Faith opens into trust, and trust is not disappointed because the love of God is poured forth in the hearts of the brokenhearted.

The work of Advent is for us to discover the Christ who is truly among us. If, in fact, we walk in sadness and not in joy...if we continue to be captivated by material things, and are imprisoned by our own selfishness and narrowness of vision...if we are still surrounded by the poor and the homeless...if every day the tabloids scream of violence and crime....then perhaps we have not yet discovered the Christ in our midst.

Advent is a season of waiting. And this has been an awful season of waiting. The Coronavirus has taken almost 300,000 lives and there are still unanswered questions. How long will this continue? When will we get the vaccine? How long will it take for all of us to be vaccinated? And what about the poor countries of the world - how will their populations also be vaccinated? People are still sick, hungry, homeless and unemployed. When will relief come? Aren't you tired of this waiting and worrying?

Yet, throughout all of this, it is He who stirs the profound longings in all of our hearts for true freedom, justice and peace - for ourselves, and for all of our brothers and sisters across the world. It is He who puts an end to our waiting. He invites us to commit ourselves more fully to these Gospel values. He begs us not to trivialize our resolve by being satisfied with token and occasional gestures of Christianity, and He invites us to rededicate ourselves to follow His example more faithfully, and to strive even more forcefully to eliminate the hoarding, climbing and controlling in our own lives and in the world at large.

The human family needs, as never before, to hear the message of Advent, to free us from the confusion of our fears and to give us direction. But more than that, we need to recognize and respond to the constant invitation of Jesus, God-with-us, to join Him in a new world community of shared love, peace and justice.

Like Mary, we are to be the bearers of the Christ - for our bodies are the only places where he may live on this earth. We are the body of Christt - when we let Christ dwell within us, and when we share Christ with others, He will be with us always. By opening our lives to Christ, we, like Mary, are blessed among all men and women. By sharing Christ, we, like Mary, take part in the greatest, most wonderful thing the world has ever known.

But if we don't take hold of our time and attitude, if we don't watch while we wait, even the holy can pass us by.  We can miss the true message of what we confront in the stable at Bethlehem: a human become divine, spirit become flesh, time become eternity, salvation become nigh.

The spirit of Advent and Christmas is a mirror in which we see reflected the very best that life can become. Through our faith and courage, we can help each other to put away our fears, to move from darkness to light, to begin to hear again the words of life. We can reach out to support - by the strength of our love and concern - those whose hands are feeble, whose knees are weak. Through our witness to God's love, so many who are crippled by doubt and despair might be able to walk again with courage and energy and new life.

Let us continue this mission each day of our lives; let us be God's holy people, and faithful disciples of Jesus; let us be light in darkness, peacemakers and life-givers, in every aspect of our lives. Only then can the promise of Advent echo through our voices: "Do not be afraid,  - for you have found favor with God."