December 20, 2015 Fourth Sunday in Advent Fr Jim Miller

Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 20, 2015

Reading 1 Mi 5:1-4a

Responsorial Psalm Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19

R. (4) Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

Reading 2 Heb 10:5-10

Alleluia Lk 1:38

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Lk 1:39-45


Homily— December 19 & 20, 2015  

   For the first reading the church has chosen this selection from the book of Micah because of Micah’s prophecy about a child-ruler to be born in Bethlehem.   Micah’s most obvious allusions to Jesus’ Nativity are that Bethlehem, the town of Jesus’ birth, was David’s hometown, the place where that boy-shepherd lived before being anointed by Samuel.   Like David, the youngest in the family, Bethlehem was small.   The village had little to recommend it except its fame for being the place where Ruth and Naomi settled as widows and the town David left behind when he began his adventures.   I always like to imagine what that town would be like around here and immediately thought of St. Donatus and maybe you think of another small town.

   In the second reading we hear that God did not want sacrifice and offering but one who would do God’s will.   Sometimes we make sacrifices as a way to bolster our self-righteousness and then it becomes an obstacle to our union with God.  In other words, the more people attempt to earn God’s love through sacrifice, the more they impair their capacity to receive it as the free gift that it is.

   In the Gospel of Luke we find Mary traveling to be with Elizabeth.  A commentary that I consulted said it was a four day journey for Mary so I can only assume someone went with her and I would assume it would have been Joseph.

   We are invited to treasure fond memories of these two women, Mary and Elizabeth, who are our ancestors in faith, these two whose faith freed them enough to believe in what reason told them could never happen.   These two knew they were only women in a male dominated society.   Not only that, but Elizabeth was too old and Mary too inexperienced; there could be no rational expectation that God’s promises would be fulfilled through them.  But that impossibility, their utter incapacity, was precisely their advantage.  Because they knew they could not accomplish it by themselves, they did not limit God to their own abilities or expectations.  They were empty enough to become full of grace.

   Luke tells us that at the very moment Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, “the infant leapt in her womb.”  Luke’s vocabulary here was carefully chosen.  He was not describing the normal movement of a child in the womb; the word he used could as well be translated as “danced.”  Note well that, John, even before he was born, was prophetic in drawing attention to the good news of Christ’s coming.

   “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  That
exclamation was Elizabeth’s reading of the signs of the times proclaiming that God’s Spirit was active in their lives.   Elizabeth, whose priest-husband had been  struck dumb, spoke as a prophet and pronounced the first beatitudes of the gospel.  With that declaration, Elizabeth proclaimed that what was most holy had become present right there in her very own home.  God was visiting the people through Mary’s simple obedience, the utter self-giving of a young woman who opened herself to mystery.  Indeed, she would be called blessed, and blessed too the fruit of her obedience.

   Elizabeth’s third beatitude summarized the life of Israel, of Christ and the vocation of Christians:  “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”  From the days of Sarah’s laughter and the grumbling pilgrims in the desert, faith in God’s presence among them had been Israel’s great religious challenge.  Facing what seemed to be physical impossibility or overwhelming military power, the people had fallen time and again to the temptation to put their trust in the puny gods of human imagination rather than the ever creative, mind-boggling power of God’s love.  Elizabeth recognized that Mary overcame that temptation when she accepted Gabriel’s assurance that nothing is impossible for God.

   As we prepare for the story of the Incarnation of Christ, these readings remind us first of all that God’s ways are not the ways of the world.  If we want to discover God’s workplace, we need to leave the center of Jerusalem, where the pomp and glitz can blind us, and look to little Nazareth and Bethlehem.  In those and other apparently insignificant places, we will meet the people of faith who understand their powerlessness well enough to be open to God’s surprises. 

   Do you have any idea what God can do in your life when you say yes to God’s Will?   I am still learning but Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary and Joseph found out what God could do—the impossible happened.