4th Sunday of Advent: Season B
Peace be with you and welcome to our celebration of the Mass for the 4th Sunday of Advent and look at this – all four candles on our Advent Wreath are now burning brightly!!! And we all know what that means. Christmas is almost here. And for those of you with young children at home, I’m sure the excitement is really building. And speaking of kids, I’d like to take a minute and tell a little Christmas story about children. For those of you who have attended my Bible Study classes in the past you may remember it because I’ve often used it as a lesson about reading the Bible and sometimes misinterpreting the meaning because we often read it too literally.
Ms. Jones is a 3rd Grade teacher in a public school and several years ago just before Christmas break, she had her students drawing pictures with Christmas themes. As she walked around the classroom, she saw some were drawing Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and snow men, while others were drawing religious scenes with angels, mangers, Mary, Joseph, and a baby Jesus. Then she came up behind little Johnny and looked over his shoulder at his artwork. From one side of the paper to the other was an outline of what appeared to be a big jet airplane with four people inside. Now remember, I’m talking about third graders here, so the people were kind-a like stick figures. There were three in the middle of the plane and there seemed to be two adults and one small child, with the fourth figure up front apparently flying the plane. So, she asked; “Gosh Johnny, is that you and your parents going on a trip for Christmas?” “Oh no Ms. Jones.” He exclaimed, “That’s Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on their flight to Egypt.” “Wow,” she said encouragingly, “that’s very creative. And is that person up front flying the airplane?” “He sure is,,, that’s Pontius the Pilot.” So, there’s your Christmas Bible reading lesson for the day. Beware getting too literal.
- Cute stories aside, I better talk about today’s readings for a few minutes. My friends, there are a number of reasons why this particular reading today from Luke’s Gospel, is one of my very favorites. One of those reasons specifically is why every single Christian, who embraces the Bible as the Word of God given to us for our salvation, should have this reading highlighted, underlined, or in some way marked in their own personal Bibles. Not only do we hear it read on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we also hear it read on the Feast of the Annunciation. OK, that may be generating a few mumbled “so what’s” out there right now. Well, you see my friends, even though we’ll joyously celebrate the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ this coming Friday, our ancient Christian Tradition teaches the actual Incarnation, the enfleshment of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, began at the Annunciation. As far back as the Second Century, Saint Irenaeus and many, many other early Church Fathers wrote that Mary as a second Eve repaired the disobedience of the first, when she humbly said; “May it be done to me according to your word.” Because at that very instant, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Savior of the World was conceived in her womb! That’s why our Church gives us a wonderful Liturgical Calendar celebrating the Annunciation on March 25th, exactly nine months before Christmas.
Now you know, I don’t normally read long quotes during my homilies, but I cannot possibly express this miraculous event with the same eloquence the great Saint Irenaeus did almost 1800 years ago when he wrote this; “Never was there a more entire or humiliating defeat than that which this day befell Satan. The frail creature, over whom he had so easily triumphed at the beginning of the world, now rises and crushes his proud head. Eve conquers in Mary. God would not choose man for the instrument of His vengeance; the humiliation of Satan would not have been great enough; and therefore, she – who was the first prey of hell, the first victim of the tempter, is selected to give battle to the enemy. The result of so glorious a triumph is that Mary is to be superior not only to the rebel angels, but to the whole human race, yea, to all the angels of heaven. Seated on her exalted throne, she, the Mother of God, is to be the Queen of all creation. Satan, in the depths of the abyss, will eternally bewail his having dared to direct his first attack against the woman, for God has now so gloriously avenged her; and in heaven, the very Cherubim and Seraphim reverently look up to Mary, and deem themselves honored when she smiles upon them, or employs them in the execution of any of her wishes, for she is the Mother of their God.” Wow. Now if that doesn’t make you want to run home and mark this Annunciation sequence in your Bibles, I’m not sure I can say anything else that would.
You might ask why one of our earliest Church Fathers, from the Second Century, would write with such obvious emotion about the physical Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his very human mother Mary? You see, Irenaeus was one of the most vehement opponents of the very powerful Gnostic Heresy that was threatening the early Church for several hundred years. The Gnostics held that everything physical in the world was inherently evil and that Jesus Christ himself only “appeared” to be physically human during his short time on earth. Consequently, there was no way a physical human woman could possibly be called the “Theotokos”, the God bearer.
So, whether you come to one of the vigil Masses on Thursday, the Christmas Mass on Friday morning, or watch the Mass streamed through your computer from home, remember the real miracle we’re celebrating started nine months before Jesus’ actual birth. Now, let me make a little suggestion, as one of your final reflections, as Advent draws to a close, you might consider rereading this Gospel sequence we just heard today and reflect on the miracle taking place because of Mary’s freely given words of surrender to God’s will; “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”