Fourth Sunday in Advent – December 20, 2009 – St. John’s Goshen
With this fourth Sunday in Advent, we draw very close to the mystery we will celebrate this coming Tuesday. Our first reading presents the passage from the Book of the prophet Micah that predicts that the Messiah would come from the tiny village of Bethlehem, the one who would restore Israel and lead them like a shepherd and would himself be known as “peace.” Our Gospel passage recounts the Visitation, when Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth and hears from her the greeting that we use in one of our favorite hymns: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” All is in expectation: it is if the whole Church, we ourselves, are like a woman nearing the time of childbirth, the moment at which she will forget the pains of delivery because of her joy that a child has been brought into the world.
Between these two readings, we have heard a third one, more sober and more serious, tragic even. For this reading speaks of sacrifices and offerings, and contrasted with the ones offered under the old law, of a body that would be offered for all. The passage is speaking of Christ and of the price he would pay for our redemption: the offering, not of animals or other sacrifices, but the offering of his whole life, dedicated to his Father’s will, even to the point of becoming himself the sacrifice he offered as our great high priest. We are reminded by this reading that at Christmas we are not celebrating simply the birth of another little baby, with all the joy and sentiment that can inspire; we are celebrating rather the birth of the one who grew to become the man whose teaching and work, whose death and resurrection would save us and introduce us into a new life in God. We are reminded to see already in his human beginnings the final drama of his fidelity and obedience and perseverance.
St. Augustine preached several sermons on Christmas that have come down to us. In one of them he reminds us of all this. “The maker of man was made man so that the one who rules the stars might suck at breasts, so that bread might hunger, so that the fountain might thirst, so that light might sleep, so that the path might grow weary from the journey, so that truth might be accused by false witnesses, so that the judge of the living and the dead might be judged by a mortal judge, so that justice might be condemned by the unjust, so that discipline might be beaten by whips, so that grapes might be crowned with thorns, so that the foundation might be hung from a tree, so that strength might be weakened, so that health might be wounded, so that life might die.” Beautiful paradoxes, become expressions of deep mystery, the truth of what we will be celebrating at the end of the week.
Let us not forget, then, in the last days of our Advent preparation, what it is that we will be celebrating on Christmas. If we keep this awareness in our minds and hearts, then we can enter with full joy and comprehension into the good news that the traditional carols celebrate so beautifully and so meaningfully. After all the other songs that are played so incessantly and often have so little to do with real Christmas, we can sing those carols with renewed understanding and with ever deeper faith.