4th Sunday of Advent (Year C)
First Reading: Micah 5:1-4a Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10 Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-45
“HERE I AM, I COME TO OBEY YOUR WILL, O GOD!”
"Will you please tell me in a word," said a Christian woman to a Minister, "what your idea of 'consecration' is?"
Holding out a blank sheet of paper, the Pastor replied, “It is to sign your name at the bottom of this blank sheet, and let God fill it in as He wills.”
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent - the final Sunday before Christmas. Christmas is only a few days away and the season of Christmas carols has begun. The birth of Jesus is now imminent. In a few days’ time we will be celebrating the memory of that great event. Throughout Advent, we have heard of God’s promise to send a liberator - a savior into the world; today, we catch a glimpse of how that is to be accomplished. Today’s Mass prepares us for the Christmas celebration. Each of the three readings takes up a different aspect of this great mystery to help us in our understanding and in our personal preparation. And they tell us that the mystery of 'incarnation' is contained in – 'Doing God's will' - “Here I am, I come to obey your will, O God!”
In the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Micah, God through the Prophet Micah promises a unique Savior, born in David’s town of Bethlehem: a Savior, who will stand and feed his flock and establish peace. Here there is an explicit reference to the forthcoming birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem - the least of the clans of Judah. The prophet speaks of God bestowing on Bethlehem the distinction of being the birthplace of an ideal ruler of Israel. The one who will come from this town will be “the one who is to be ruler in Israel” and “whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”
When Micah proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, the Israelites in Jerusalem were under attack. Their enemies, the Assyrians, were ready to "wipe them out." So the good news that God would send them a strong and just ruler was music to their ears and it filled them with joy and hope.
However, it also seems that God is going to abandon the people, and until such time as the Messiah arrives to deliver Israel from its oppressors, the Jewish people will continue to be subject to other nations.
When he does come, he will be the true shepherd of Israel and the servant of God. He will guide people by the standards of heaven rather than by the misguided notions of the bad shepherds before him. Very significantly, “He shall be peace” and deliver God’s people. His peace shall bring about total harmony among the nations and the ends of the earth will hear of his wisdom. We therefore anticipate the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jesus Christ, who comes among us as it were secretly and unnoticed, in the womb of Mary.
As we have said before, today is the Fourth and final Sunday before Christmas. And on this last Sunday, we change our focus. The past two Sundays have centered on the ascetic, somewhat fierce figure of John the Baptist. In the Gospel Reading of today, the Church gives us the figure of Our Lady to imitate: she was the one who first welcomed Christ at the first Christmas and she can help us welcome Him now.
In the Gospel we come down with a bump into the real world. From the grand prophetic language of Micah we are brought to a small remote corner of Israel. St. Luke's account of Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, underlines the mystery of Christ in our midst. In the Gospel passage, Luke very skilfully sets the stage for the coming of the Messiah. The meeting of the two expectant mothers is also the meeting of their sons. John leaps with joy in the womb of Elizabeth, and thus acknowledges the presence of the one prophesied. As soon as Mary enters into the presence of Elizabeth, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and praises Mary for her faith and trust in God: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth recognized the presence of God, the Messiah, in Mary, the living Ark of God and burst into praise and said prophetically: “Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Both Mary and Elizabeth already anticipate the joy of God's presence and salvation unfolding before them. This beautiful meeting leads us into the very center of Advent, namely the prayerful anticipation of the mystery already among us.
“Here I am, I come to obey your will, O God!”
Mary’s “Yes” gave us the Savior - “And the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Mary is our model of discipleship. Somehow or other, the power of God broke into the life of Mary of Nazareth. And that power of God asked Mary to believe that she would bear within herself a special child. And because Mary, in her absolute humility was so attuned to the presence of God and because she was a woman of extraordinary faith, she said simply - “Be it done to me as you say.” These words are very easy to say when everything is going our way; but they are not so easy to say when things are not going our way, when in fact what is happening to us is the opposite of what we want to happen. During this time of Advent, let us follow Mary in her absolute humility and extraordinary faith.
Now, God can only work through the consent of his people - and ultimately, could only work to save his people with the willing consent of the Christ. In the Second Reading of today from the letter to the Hebrews, the author compares the Jerusalem Temple sacrifices to the bodily death of Jesus on the cross. The author says the perfect sacrifice of Jesus essentially differs from the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Those sacrifices were often offerings of animals. Jesus' sacrifice was the offering of himself. Jesus’ sacrifice is far superior to the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem. Yes, Jesus, through his fidelity to his heavenly Father and his own self giving, opens up to humankind a transformed life beyond this earthly life.
The old Law had strict rules governing sacrifice and holocaust dating back centuries - the animals to be used and the ritual carefully prescribed and followed. However, in the incarnation of the Christ in Jesus a new era dawned. God was to be revealed as a god who did not want the sacrifice of animals but, as the psalmist said, a humble, contrite heart. Jesus had no need for contrition being wholly without sin - but he was humble and, on coming into the world, simply said to the Father: “Here I am, I come to obey your will, O God!”
In this final week of Advent season, the Word of God invites us to discover anew the true meaning of Christmas - 'Emmanuel' i.e. 'God is with us.' Micah challenges us to hope in God especially in the face of disappointments; the author of Hebrews, to do the will of God as best we can discern that will; and the Gospel, to trust always in God as Mary did, so that we can bring forth the Word made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, and be a sign of God’s presence to one another.
To conclude - During the American Civil War a lady exclaimed effusively to President Lincoln: “Oh Mr. President, I feel so sure that God is on our side, don't you?” “Ma'am,” replied the President, “I am more concerned that we should be on God's side.” Yes, oftentimes we pray to God and ask him to do what we want, rather than we doing what He wants us to do, and surrendering to His will. So, trusting in God's faithfulness and love, and full of hope let us come to him today and humbly say - “HERE I AM, I COME TO OBEY YOUR WILL, O GOD!” and this is the Good News of today.