(Homily for Sunday December 21, 2014)
My brothers and sisters, our Advent journey is nearly complete. We have celebrated these past weeks hearing the ancient prophets speak boldly within our consciences to wake us from our slumber. We repent and make straight paths for God’s life. We do not know the day or the hour of the Lord’s coming. Our lives reveal God’s love and hope for the world.
The bold voices of the prophets echoed down through the centuries and into our lives in these past weeks. John the Baptist still points into the direction of the coming of Jesus, so that we will be ready, so that we will open our hearts to the incredible mercy of God, to the reality that Jesus’ presence sets us all free.
We come now to the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The strong and bold voices of Isaiah and John the Baptist have quieted. However, another great prophetic voice has emerged. Another bold proclamation of God tries to get our attention. This time it is Mary. Mary’s life and her solid and unyielding, “yes” to God are stronger than any words we might speak. Her sacred action models for us a rich faith, a prophetic life in which she carried the Messiah in her body, giving birth to the Savior from her womb.
This week’s gospel takes a loving turn. The gospel and prayer texts become quieter and our focus is on Jesus’ first birth, not his second coming as we have been hearing in these past weeks. This gospel is catching us in the heart, for it bears the mystery of God’s desire to be with God’s people.
This gospel is ancient in its words but alive today in its meaning. God still desires to be intimate with his people even though we hear about the past. God’s love in our midst captivates our imaginations, heals our divisions and forgives our sins.
The shift to Jesus’ first coming offers us a profound reflection on Mary’s life as we enter into Christmas this week. Mary was confused and bewildered at the angel’s appearance. She wondered what sort of greeting this might be. Imagine Mary as a fourteen-year-old girl receiving such a message. The angel told her not to be afraid. I am sure she was more than afraid, getting the news that she would be pregnant outside of marriage as a teenager.
Mary risked everything to hear and receive this message. She risked her reputation, her place among her family and her community. She risked everything to listen to the angel’s whisper telling her of the Holy Spirit. Mary risked everything of her past to receive the pregnancy from God, to be part of God’s plan for love in our world.
As we enter into the mystery of the Incarnation this week, we also recognize our fear. The focus of these days is to cultivate a true and lasting desire for God, no matter what God is asking of us. We are to live fearlessly in our world. We are also called to risk, simply moving beyond our fear.
However, human fear can leave us selfish and cold. Fear can make our hands tremble and our hearts pound. Fear can cause us not to forgive our child who has turned away from God and the Church. Fear can point us into infidelity. Fear creates anger in our families when we do not get our way or when we do not get what we want.
Fear can cause us to judge our neighbor for being something that unsettles us, like being an alcoholic or being mentally ill or being queer or being a member of the opposite political party or bearing a different skin color or speaking with an un-identified accent or speech pattern or being physically disabled. Fear keeps us from trusting God. Fear keeps us from living the life of a mature adult. Fear washes love away and exposes revenge and hatred. Fear causes us to become materialistic, to feed upon hopelessness and rage. Fear keeps countries apart and wars alive.
My sisters and brothers, this week’s gospel from Luke invites us to prepare for God’s intimacy with all of humanity. This promise to Mary sets the stage for us to remember the dignity of all people. Love is made flesh. We wait with Mary that a new miracle of life will be revealed in our own situations.
We wait for Mary’s water to break. We wait for our Savior to be born. We connect these waters to the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side as he hung upon the cross. We wait for his second birth, his Resurrection from the dead, our real redemption. We wait for our connection to the Risen Christ in our own baptismal waters, that we may be washed clean, capturing the promises of God that all humanity is saved, loved and forgiven. Mary models for us a patient and provocative waiting for God’s mercy among all people, in all times and places, in every generation
This tender passage from scripture in Luke’s first chapter speaks of God’s desire to remain intimate with us. The angel reminds us that nothing is impossible with God. I know that so many people will come to Christmas alone, afraid, and uncertain about health, worrying about their lost children or aging parents or their financial and spiritual future. I am very aware that so many people will never feel connected to God or welcomed in our parishes. So many people will remain in the shadows of grief, in the darkness of depression or cornered by anger.
This gospel prepares for the silent night of Christmas where hope will be born again even in our tired bodies, our thin wallets and in our exhaustion from trying to make ends meet or trying to reconcile with our family members by purchasing the many gifts for under the Christmas tree.
My friends, on this darkest weekend of the year, we wait with Mary for hope to be born. We wait for the saving Light of Christ Jesus. We wait for people to be welcomed and our fears to ebb. We wait for the marginalized to find home among us and for us to use our rich talents and human energy for the good of all people. We wait for an angel to come close to our bodies, to hold our faces, to look us in the eyes and tell us one more time that everything is going to be all right, that nothing is impossible with God.