4th Sunday of Advent–Cycle C–2018

FIRST READING Micah 5:1-4a

Thus says the Lord:  You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.  Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, and the rest of his kindred shall return to the children of Israel. He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; and they shall remain, for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.

SECOND READING  Hebrews 10:5-10

Brothers and sisters:  When Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.”  Then I said, “As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.”  First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.”  These are offered according to the law.  Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.”  He takes away the first to establish the second.  By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

GOSPEL Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Today’s readings afford us the opportunity to focus on our individual wills in relation to the Advent of Our Lord and Savior.  John Cassian, an early Church father, wrote in his First Conference that the purpose of a monk’s profession (indeed, all Christians’ professions) is to seek the kingdom of God.  In order to reach the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, we Christians must achieve purity of heart.  What is purity of heart?  In the simplest of terms, purity of heart is the alignment of our individual wills with the Will of God.

Advent gives us models to bring into line our wills with God’s Will.  Soon to be born Jesus enters the world to do God’s Will.  Before His birth, our ancestors in the faith had Sacred Scriptures with prophecies about the future and about a Savior — and often did not believe that anything would happen.  In addition to this disbelief, the human desires of our ancestors often contradicted God’s will and created pain and suffering.  However, we modern Christians can rejoice in this Advent season with the knowledge that The Lord does marvelous things through us when our will is aligned with His Will.

The Prophet Micah gives us the prophecy that the Savior will be born in Bethlehem.  We who live now know that the birth of Jesus is placed in Bethlehem to fulfill the prophecy — pointing out that Jesus, the Son of Mary, is the Savior for us.  And this Savior will give himself fully to God’s Will: “He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God…”

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus comes to do the will of the Father.  What is the will of the Father?  His will is to extend salvation to all.  Salvation is the union with God for all eternity. During this Advent we can ponder on how we express God’s Will to others.  Can others see us doing God’s Will?  Do we share the good news of God’s Will through the celebration of Christ’s imminent birth?  Are our desires for the frills of the season, personal comfort, and inordinate pleasures aligned with God’s Will for our personal salvation and the salvation of the whole world?

The Gospel of Luke today recounts the story of the Visitation.  Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. Mary is barely on the other side of childhood and Elizabeth is a seasoned woman beyond childbearing age.  Both share the glorious joy of holy and unexpected pregnancies. The young woman and the old woman commit themselves to their children in the womb; St. John Chrysostom said a parent is not one who brings children into the world, but one who expends the energy to raise them. In that visit we are given the words that we Christians need to hear:  Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.  Mary’s affirmed her belief with her ‘yes.’  She models for us purity of heart, the alignment of will with God’s will.

As we anticipate the magnificent celebration of Christmas, the birth of our Savior, we can prepare ourselves in these final days by listening to the Word and asking for purity of heart, alignment of our will with the Will of God.  May Christ be born in us and in our world so that divine transformation will be our experience now and always.