Dear friends and brothers and sisters and all here present,
A very blessed and joyful Fourth Sunday of Advent. This year, the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also a bit unusual as it is also Christmas Eve. Having experienced this as a pastor, I remember what a marathon this can be for parish priests, staff, musicians and families in general! And yes, while this is two separate feast days, and it is two obligations, to be true, is this also not an opportunity for us to gather two times as family to give praise to God, thank God, and to generously return to God thanks and, in fact, to converse with the Lord twice formally, one right after another. After all, God will not be outdone in generosity to us.
This Fourth Sunday of Advent brings to us the beloved scene of the Annunciation, where we, through the timelessness of the Liturgy, gather in Nazareth and, truly, wait not as spectators, but a family for Mary to say yes.
This Sunday can be like, I believe, Ravel’s “Bolero,” whose music we hear first faintly in the distance, but now the music of the season and the mystery of God is right here with us, just like the faint music of Bolero, in it’s climax surrounds the listener. So, too, today do the events of the Incarnation surround us and our lives and invite us in!
Pope Benedict XVI, in his small book on these events, would comment that the Angel’s greeting is most precisely “Rejoice full of grace!” In this passage, we are reminded that Mary becomes the ark of the New Covenant, and that we rejoice because God is now in our midst, here and now (not “watching us from a distance!!).
In the daily challenges of life, and in the some times complex nature of these days, the Gospel – the living word of God – powerfully reminds us that God is in our midst now. As we carry out the many tasks of the 24 hours in front of us, facing the challenges of life, let us stop and remember that God is indeed in our midst. Let us pray, and take some time to see that. Chances are, in unsurprising and surprising ways, the Lord will show his face to us these days and moments: “God winks at us!” …for that we can rejoice!
In the house at Nazareth – the ruins of which say today “The Word became flesh here,” we can turn to a homily from St. Bernard of Clairveaux, entitled “In praise of the Virgin Mother!” He composes this as if we all were waiting anxiously for Mary to say yes:
“You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man, but by the Holy Spirit. The Angel waits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We, too, are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion..
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the Angel, or rather through the Angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God; speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. Why do you delay, why are you afraid. Believe, give praise and receive.
Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” she says, “be it done unto me according to your Word.”
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, and God’s providence and love that has brought us together today, let us bless God and say with the Responsorial Psalm: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”
The Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange