December 23, 2018 4th Sunday in Advent Deacon Steve Whiteman

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Reading 1 MI 5:1-4A
Responsorial Psalm PS 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19.
Reading 2 HEB 10:5-10

Alleluia LK 1:38

Gospel LK 1:39-45

22/23 Dec 2018        Finding Christmas Joy by bringing Jesus to others                                                

Fourth Sunday of Advent
As a boy growing up in central Illinois, I was fortunate to have a family that made Christmas a very special holiday. When I was in grade school, we had a Christmas Eve program at our Lutheran Church every year. The expectations of the Sunday School teachers were pretty high: all the songs had to be memorized and anyone with a speaking part had to know their lines by heart. As Christmas got closer I remember a combination of anxiety about the Christmas Eve performance and excitement about Santa Claus visiting our house. Santa Claus had great timing…he always came to our house while we were at church on Christmas Eve. After the Christmas program was over at church, the anxiety was replaced with pure childhood joy as we drove home to find presents under the tree.

After getting married and having children of our own, it was easier to appreciate all the hard work that can go into Christmas. As you may know, it can be a challenge to organize a joyful celebration for a family while keeping Christ 1st at Christmas.

At each phase in our lives we may find Christmas joy in different ways and different places. Unfortunately some people look for joy in the wrong places. The Lego blocks I found under my parent’s Christmas tree brought me joy as a child but looking for true joy from a wrapped package as an adult would be misguided.

Some people have found great Christmas joy in the past but struggle now due to the loss of a family member. Many people have never found joy at Christmas due to a difficult childhood or family situation beyond their control. The Good News is that true Christmas Joy was brought to us with the birth of our Savior in Bethlehem 2000 years ago and remains with us to this day. Regardless of our situation in life, we all have the opportunity to find that Christmas joy if we are willing to bring Jesus to others.

Our Gospel today gives us the perfect example of bringing Jesus to others. The story of the Visitation of Mary and Jesus to Elizabeth and John is significant for many reasons but today we will reflect on 2. The 1st reason is geographical. Mary was pregnant with Jesus but lived in Nazareth, about 100 miles away. Elizabeth, who was 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist, lived in the hill country west of Jerusalem. Mary would have traveled several days on foot to make the journey to help her elderly cousin during her pregnancy.

The 2nd reason the Visitation is significant is because of its historical context. Elizabeth seems to recognize that Mary’s baby is the long awaited Messiah when she calls Mary, “blessed” and the “mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth is 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist who also reacts to this first encounter with his cousin Jesus by “leaping in her womb”. Some scholars who study the original languages of the Bible compare Elizabeth’s words and John’s leap in the womb with a scene in the Old Testament book of 2ndSamuel. In 2nd Samuel, the people greet the Ark of the Covenant with a shout and King David dances with joy. You may remember the Ark of the Covenant was the gold-covered wooden chest containing the 2 stone tablets of the 10 commandments that God gave Moses in the book of Exodus.

Our Gospel today helps us to understand that Mary is the New Testament version of the Ark of the Covenant. Instead of holding 2 stone tablets, she carried Jesus in her womb…”the Word became Flesh.” With her ultimate act of Christian service, she brought Jesus and Christmas joy to all of us.

·        So how can we model Mary’s example in our own life and bring Jesus to others?

·        How do we find true Christmas joy in our Christian service?

A very literal way to bring Jesus to others is in the Eucharist. Consider inviting someone to Mass who you haven’t seen here in a while. It’s hard to say no to an invitation to church on Christmas. Some people may no longer drive and may hesitate to ask someone for a ride.

Another way we can bring Jesus to others is by helping people who may not find Christmas joy on their own. Is there a person we know who is struggling with a loss in their life? Someone trying to put their life back together after losing a job or close family member? Like Mary who traveled “in haste” to help Elizabeth, let us be open to opportunities to bring the face of Christ to others. We can do this with an encouraging word, with our presence, with our friendship and with our hospitality.

So let us wrap up with a thought on finding our own joy in helping others. Helping others only out of a sense of duty or obligation may not bring us any sense of joy. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that St. Paul told us about in the 5th chapter of his letter to the Galatians. If we are open to the Holy Spirit in our daily lives He will inspire us to find new ways to help others and bring Christ to the people around us. When our lives are led by the Holy Spirit we are sure to find gifts like joy, love, peace, patience and kindness under the Christmas tree this year.

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