Advent 4, 19 Dec 21
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we are bidden to concentrate on the role of The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Scheme of Salvation. Many Protestant Christians give little importance to the role of Mary but those of us of the Catholic and Orthodox, and thus older and earlier, traditions recognise the statement, “No Mary – No Salvation”. In year A the Gospel reading from Matthew 1, 18-24 told us of how Joseph was all set to divorce Mary informally, having discovered she was pregnant – and not by him! However, he received an angelic visitation whereby he was assured that the conception was of God and that the child was to be named JESUS and this was to fulfil the words spoken through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means `God-is-with-us`.
In year B, last year, we find the Gospel reading from St. Luke 1, 26-38 telling of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary – a story with which we are all familiar, perhaps too familiar so that we don`t meditate enough on its importance with Mary`s positive, though not unquestioning, response to God`s invitation given through Gabriel.
Today, in year C in the cycle of readings, from St. Luke 1, 39-44, continuing the story precisely where we left off on Advent 4 last year, we have Mary, newly pregnant, going off to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth, the aged wife of Zechariah the priest of the Temple, who was herself six months pregnant with John the Baptist in her womb. What a joyous familial re-union it is. No sooner is Mary inside the door of Zechariah`s home in Ein Karem, and greeting the aged Elizabeth, we find the babe in Elizabeth`s womb leaping with joy and crying out, exultantly, `Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord ? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled. `
If we were to continue, from where today`s Gospel passage ends, we would find Mary`s response, namely the Magnificat, `My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour` - that wonderful hymn of praise of Mary which has been said or sung daily at Evening Prayer almost ever since. Holy Mother Church has seen the significance of the Meeting from the beginning. As soon as Mary has completed her hymn of praise St. Luke tells us that Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months and then returned home to Nazareth. Such is the warmth of love in Mary`s compassion for her aged kinswoman that she sees her through her final three months of pregnancy. The love is both deep, founded in God, and immensely practical. What was happening was both miraculous and beyond all human expectation.
The first reading we heard, from the prophecy of Micah, foretells, how the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the City of David, which most of us know from the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols and that prophecy also tells how this One, who is promised, ` will stand and feed his flock with the power of the Lord, with the majesty of the name of his God.` Micah goes on to record, `He himself will be Peace.` The humble little backwater of Bethlehem is to be the place where the Messiah is to be born.
As if all this were not enough, the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews set the seal on the purpose of what was prophesied by Micah that this Holy Child, whose birth we shall celebrate in its fulness next weekend, has come into the world to be not only our Eternal High Priest but also the perfect sacrifice offering Himself for all humanity upon the Cross – like a common criminal! The writer of the letter declares:
“This is what Christ said, on coming into the world:
You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation, prepared a body for me. You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin; then I said, just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book, `God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.`
Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man (through the loving acceptance by Mary of Gabriel`s invitation from God) offers Himself as the perfect Sacrifice to the Father which put an end to any need for bloody sacrifices of animals once and for all by his self-offering upon the Cross for the Redemption of All Creation that would accept that offering.
That sacrifice includes also the Life of Jesus on Earth most of which we know little, except the Exile of the Holy Family in Egypt, the humble working in the Carpenter`s Shop at Nazareth including caring for His Mother during her widowhood, His Baptism, by Cousin john, in the River Jordan followed by Forty Days and Nights in preparation in the Wilderness of Judea, discerning the Father`s Will and the remarkable three year ministry of teaching, healing and feeding – mostly in Galilee and the choosing of the Twelve before the betrayal, death and glorious Resurrection.
When we come to wish each other a HAPPY CHRISTMAS next weekend then we are also wishing each other a HAPPY EASTER for the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and Judge Eternal are inextricably linked and cannot be separated.
Let us give time to ponder these wonderful things as we prepare for the celebration of the Great Feast of the Lord`s Nativity.