December 23, 2018 Fourth Sunday in Advent Homily

During the 1st weekend of Advent, I shared with you as to how Advent is a time of waiting.  The  experience of waiting is not merely in preparation for something or someone.  Waiting has a fullness, a significance, a meaning of its own.  Witness the joy and desire in waiting.  It is not always a joyful time, it can be challenging, but it is always a rich experience.

We wait for Christmas morning after weeks of eagerness and excitement.  In these last few days of Advent, of waiting, as preparation and anticipation begin to mount, we need to stop and reflect on what God is offering us?  What is it within our unique intimate relationship with the Lord that God wants us to receive, to enjoy, to savor?  What have been the gifts, the graces, the blessings of our time of waiting?

Today’s Gospel is a love story of lived experiences of joy, longing and desire – the lived experience of waiting.  It is the experience that Mary and Elizabeth share, the wait of expectant parents, the wait of Mary and Joseph.  The wait shared between the expectant mother and the infant she carries.

During this season of Advent we have heard the stories of John the Baptist and the laying of the groundwork for the “coming of the Messiah.”  On the 2nd Sunday “John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  On the 3rd Sunday John was repeatedly questioned as to whether he was the Messiah.  John’s response was, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Today’s readings fulfill prophecies that have been thousands of years in the making.  Israel has been waiting for the coming of a Messiah.  The Book of Genesis tells us that the Messiah would “be born of the tribe of Judah and of the house in of David.”(Genesis 49:10)  The book of the prophet Isaiah tells us that “he would be born of a Virgin Mother.” (Isaiah 7:14). And our first reading today from the book of Micah tells us, “He would be born in Bethlehem.” (Micah 5:1)

It is often said that good things come in small packages.  The Scriptures bring a twist to this theme.  Gabriel’s announcement to Mary about the birth of Jesus shows that wonderful things often come in surprising packages.  We only have to look at the story of how Mary fits into God’s plan when she meets the angel Gabriel. “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1: 26-28)

The sixth month mentioned here regards another miraculous pregnancy.  Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, who had been barren and was well advanced in age was about to have a baby—John the Baptist.  So God begins to save the world with the help of an older woman who had been barren all of her life and with a young woman who was a virgin.  There is divine wisdom in all of this.

God does not always do things the way we would do them.  Suppose you had to pick a woman to help you save the world, who would you choose?  At first, we might think about someone famous or important like a celebrity, a politician, a teacher or a doctor or scientist.  But, God chose an unknown teenage girl from an obscure village about which nothing good was ever said.   John was born to a woman who was married to a common priest and she had been barren all of her life.

God, who rules all things according to the good pleasure of His will, could have ordained that John and Jesus be born in Rome or Jerusalem, in a palace, to the daughter of some current emperor or king.  This reveals a powerful truth: God meets us and can change things at the level of everyday experience with everyday people like you and me.  God can enter our lives anywhere at any time, in the most unlikely places and change life for the better, even if it seems impossible.

Just imagine, if you will, this young girl Mary walking, running, skipping through the hill country of Judah on her way to be with Elizabeth whose baby is due.  Elizabeth’s time of expectancy nears draws near.  Elizabeth has waited many long years for her promised child.  Mary, young and newly pregnant is full of Love and joyful expectation.  Imagine their greeting – tears of joy running down their cheeks.

“And how is it that the mother of the Lord should come to me?”  This is the question that Elizabeth asks Mary upon her arrival.  This is the first time we have heard the name — Mary — in any of our readings during these four Sundays of Advent. One could say that it is this Sunday that Mary arrives in our season of Advent.  The question that Elizabeth asks is simply a way of conveying her utter surprise.  This question can take on a very different tone in our lives today.

What if we consider this question – “And how is it that the mother of the Lord should come to me?” — in a more literal sense.  That is, in what way, in what manner does the mother of our Lord come to me?  What role does Mary play in our life?  Where does she reside in our life?  What significance does she have in our life?  What is my relationship with her?  In short, how is it that the mother of our Lord comes to us?

Why is this question important?  It is important because it was by no coincidence that Mary was singled out by God to bring out savior into the world.  To say she was special is an understatement. To say she was blessed even seems inadequate.  And, we know from our daily living that we can be best influenced, best motivated, best challenged, and best inspired by people with whom we are in relationship.

Further the answer to the above question is a personal one. It varies from person to person. Therefore one asks — How is it that the mother of the Lord comes to ME?

The Church gives us lots of possibilities. Mary comes as Chosen Daughter of Israel, Mother of our Savior, Disciple of the Lord, Mother of Reconciliation, Fountain of Light and Life, Lady of the Cenacle, Queen of Apostles, Temple of the Lord, Seat of Wisdom, Image and Mother of the Church, Queen of All Creation, Fountain of Salvation, Mother and Teacher of the Spirit, Mother of Good Counsel, Cause of our Joy, Pillar of Faith, Mother of Fairest Love, Mother of Divine Hope, Mother of Unity, Queen and Mother of Mercy, Mother of Divine Providence, Mother of Consolation, Help of Christians, Health of the Sick and Gate of Heaven to name a few.

For some Mary is the mother they never had.  For some Mary is a mother modeled after their own mother.  For mothers who have lost children to death Mary is a sympathetic confidant.  For those who long to be made humble instruments of God, Mary is a model.  For those who long to be protected, nurtured, held, and comforted, Mary is a loving mother.

For millions of people each day, Mary is Our Lady of the Rosary.

In our spiritual journeys we know that our image and relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit should evolve and mature over our lifetimes.  The image we had of God has changed since our First Communion.  So too has our image of Mary evolved.

Nevertheless, we know that our spiritual journeys can also hit dry spells, lose fire, and wander waywardly.  Images can become blurred if not lost altogether. Relationships break down.  There are moments that present ideal times to consider a new start — a reawakening.  Perhaps this last Sunday of Advent is that ideal time to start anew; for we start at the beginning.

How is it that the mother of our Lord should come to me?

She comes lovingly carrying our Savior.  Her YES to God has changed the world.  We, too, should leap with joy with John the Baptist.