The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

candle4I don’t know about how it’s been for you, but this has been kind of a strange Advent for me. I suppose some of that is because, being newly ordained, I am taking a new role in all the celebrations of the season. But that’s not it entirely, I don’t think. Advent began kind of late – as late as it could possibly get – and here we are on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. But that doesn’t mean we have a full week of celebration. No, in just a few hours, we’ll be packing this place with Poinsettias and calling it Christmas!

On Tuesday, we’ll likely see the Christmas decorations that we have been enjoying since mid-October coming down in most stores, and perhaps in some homes as well. Christmas trees, many still green, will be out at the curb, waiting to be taken away and ground up for mulch. The music on WLIT will return to secular light rock, and even the Christian stations like WMBI and WBGL will be back to plain old Christian contemporary. Our society will be done with Christmas.

But we won’t. For us, Christmas includes the feast of the Holy Family, which we will celebrate next Sunday, and also the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, celebrated on January 7th. We will officially end our Christmas season on the 8th of January, with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. But even then, we have some remnants of Christmas that will permeate our prayer all the way through the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd.

But even all of that isn’t the end for us Catholics. For us, the birth of Christ is merely the beginning. The real mystery of the Incarnation of Christ that causes us to celebrate on Christmas leads us all the way through the Church year, encompassing Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit will enliven us to continue to make Christ present in the world, and that same Spirit will let Christ be born again into hearts that are opened to him throughout the year. We celebrate Christmas all the time.

The real message of Christmas is also the message of this Fourth Sunday of Advent. God, who loves his people, visits his people and promises to do great things among us, his holy people. The prophet Micah tells us that God promised it in ancient days, shepherding and guarding his flock, calling them to concrete peace in days of great evil. And today’s Gospel reminds us of the wonderful, incredible, holy things he did in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth bore God’s prophet to pave the way for the Son of Mary who would be our Savior. Elizabeth was too old to bear a child, and Mary never had relations with a man, but none of that matters to God, through whom all things are possible. God promises to do holy things in and through his faithful people.

And this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are those holy people. If we open our hearts and lives to God our Savior, he will do great things among us too. We just can’t be among those who throw out the Christmas decorations first thing on December 26th. We have to remember that Christ longs to be born in us every day. When we realize that and live it, Elizabeth can also say of us, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Come, Lord Jesus!

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