Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 19, 2021
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish
Keller, Texas

Micah 5: 1-4a
Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Hebrews 10: 5-10
Luke 1:39-45

We began the season of Advent by listening to the words of Jesus that speak of the last things that are imminent signs before His second coming at the end of the world. “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

In Advent, the second coming is considered first, and the first coming is considered second. All time and all created things, especially human beings created in God’s image and likeness, meet in Christ. We begin with the end and end with the beginning in entering the mystery of our redemption won by Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Today, we conclude with the final Sunday of Advent, in which we reflect upon the first coming of Christ as we listen to the words of the Gospel that proclaim that immediately after receiving the message of the Holy Spirit through the Archangel Gabriel and having offered her free and obedient consent to accept God’s will to become the Mother of His Son, the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Son of God alive in her womb, urgently travels to visit her older cousin Saint Elizabeth.

Zachariah, the husband of Elizabeth, has received his own message from an angel concerning Elizabeth. The message is that Elizabeth has conceived his son who is to be called John. Elizabeth, despite her age and previous inability to conceive children, is expecting the birth of her own child. Nothing is impossible with God. Mary anticipates the need of Elizabeth and goes to offer her assistance and comfort. Mary goes to serve not to be served. Mary, with her Son and God’s Son, Jesus, alive in her womb, arrives at the home of Elizabeth, the unborn John the Baptist leaps with joy in the womb of Elizabeth. The baby John leaps with joy in the presence of Jesus within Mary because salvation and redemption have arrived in the flesh, not just in the spirit. Nothing is impossible with God.

John the Baptist represents all future generations who will receive joy because of the redemption offered them by the arrival of Jesus brought through the “yes” of His Mother Mary. John the Baptist, who will prepare the way of the Lord by proclaiming Jesus to be the Lamb of God, is himself first prepared in the womb of Elizabeth by Jesus who is present in the womb of Mary. The Word, the Incarnate Word, first comes to John that John might precede the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, who comes after him in time. Through the perfectly free and obedient “yes” of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God who is outside time, enters time and human history to forgive, to heal, and to redeem. Christ saves those who have preceded Him in history and those who have come after Him in history.

The Blessed Virgin Mary’s willingness also places her at the heart of God’s Kingdom because immediately after her acceptance of God’s will she leaves to assist Elizabeth in her own challenging pregnancy. Service to those in need follows acceptance of God’s will and of our place in God’s plans instead of us finding a place for God in our plans. The story of the Nativity of Christ teaches us that when we try to make God fit into our plans, we soon find that we cannot offer Him even a spare room in our lives and we ungratefully relegate Him to a stable.

God really does ask us something in giving of ourselves and in changing our expectations we have for our own lives. One can never follow the call of the Lord with half measures as a bystander or spectator, especially when the Lord reveals Himself fully as Emmanuel — God is with us.

We began Advent with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus.” God has answered our prayer with the command “Go to Bethlehem.” Bethlehem is the town of David, about which we hear the Prophet Micah profess, “You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.” Christ, the Incarnate Word who has first come to us, has made Himself small that we might more easily go to Him. So, we go to little Bethlehem, the place of the ruins of David’s glorious palace.

Our response to His loving call to go to Bethlehem is that we might be freed from sin that we might truly love God — impossible for us to do without His coming — for He has loved us first, even before we were conceived and born. Our response is our own “yes” made in audacious love to approach the unapproachable God who has made Himself little to be embraced and swaddled in our weakness. Our response made in love is to enter where He has made room for us, the place where we had made no room for Him. Our response made in love is to enter willingly into His plans that begin with Mary’s unconditional and obedient “yes,” a “yes” that begins to blossom with her hastening to Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist who need help. Through Advent, God prepares us for His Son’s coming just as He prepared John the Baptist, Elizabeth, and even the Blessed Mother for His coming — the Incarnate Word — through actions of love and compassion.

The actions of the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, include making Himself small enough to be placed in a manger by His Mother in Bethlehem and one day to be lovingly obedient to save us from our sins and to accept death on a cross at which His Mother will stand in sorrow. Benedict XVI offered this clarifying insight, “Man, in order to live, needs bread, the fruit of the earth and of his labor. But he does not live by bread alone. He needs nourishment for his soul: he needs meaning that can fill his life. Thus, for the Fathers of the early Church, the manger of the animals became the symbol of the altar, on which lies the Bread which is Christ himself: the true food for our hearts. Once again, we see how He became small: in the humble appearance of the host, in a small piece of bread, He gives us himself.”

In the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass the heavens are opened, and God comes down. In Holy Communion the heavens are opened, and God comes down. The Lord Jesus, whose body and Blood we receive today is the Son of God and the Son of Mary, the Incarnate Word. With His grace delivered to us and with our hearts purified in the penitential season of Advent, we approach the Infant placed in the manger of Bethlehem and we approach the consecrated bread and wine placed on the altar today and we pray with all humanity, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

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