Advent Proclaims: There Will Be a Fulfillment!
December 20, 2015: The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Micah 5: 2 - 5a/Psalm 80: 1 – 7/Hebrews 10: 5 – 10/Luke 1: 39 – 56
Bishop Ricardo Alcaraz
We are grateful that we have lit the fourth candle. It is a sign and signal to us, reminding us what St. Paul said, “Brethren, we are nearer now to our salvation than we first began.” Praise God, we see the circle that talks about eternity. We see the candles being lit telling us that there is a forward movement. Life is not just a vicious cycle. Some people think that we are born, we grow up, we eat, we live, we get married, we die and that is it. Is this all life is about? It is not. Yes, there are things that certainly repeat, but we are walking and we are moving forward. Time has a goal and that is the lighting of the center candle, which is Jesus Christ. When He comes, everything will come to its conclusion.
When we start the liturgical year, we start with the promise of God. The word Advent means coming. When we talk about the coming of the Lord, we get to celebrate the first coming on December 25. We are also remembering that He said that He will be coming back. We might not know the day or the hour. Maybe some people think it has been too long, but it doesn’t mean that He is not going to keep His word. He has kept His word before. If He fulfilled the promises of His first coming the first time, He certainly will fulfill the promises of His second coming the second time.
At the end of the liturgical year, we reenact the second coming of Jesus Christ. We celebrate that in the Feast of Christ the King. The readings before this Feast talks about the parables of how we should behave: we should be servants being faithful to the Lord. Then, we come to the conclusion of the year with Feast. Christ has come and then, we get to the first Sunday of the liturgical year and we begin with the promise.
God is telling us not to forget that He is coming back again. In the beginning is the promise; at the end is a reenactment of the fulfillment. We are living in the between period – the alpha and the omega; the first coming and the second coming. What does this do for us when we start the year? We are not thinking, “I will get into more gimmick this time. I will make it more exciting for myself this time. I will increase it for myself this time.” You have an idea that one day this Jesus who came the first time will come again. First, He came like a Lamb; the second time, He will be coming like a conquering King. It gives us perspective. God is calling us to have an eternal perspective while we are living on the earth. While we are living this at this time, we are to be aware that it is not about us, but about Jesus, the soon coming King. While we have our time here, we are to serve Him.
Before the Feast of Christ the King, we get these messages, “What I say to you, I say to you. “Watch.” This is also in Advent. How do you get prepared if you don’t know the time of His coming? Some people try to guess the date. We try to watch certain events and we try to measure events, filter them through the eyes of the prophet. Sometimes, we listen. Sometimes, we really miss it big, but at least we are trying to determine and to find out where we are right now.
I pray to God, “O God, give me the understanding concerning the times. Grant me wisdom what to do and what the Church should do at this particular time.” It is not just a random kind of a thing. Life is not random or haphazard. There is a goal: Christ is coming back. One day, you and I will get to see Him face to face. In the Altar, we are reminded of Him. He is the One who sacrificed His life. We are reminded of Him with the Christ candle. He is the One who is coming. We are reminded of Him when we celebrate the body and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see Him through signs and symbols. We see Him through the vision of the Word of God. Whenever two or three are gathered together in His Name, He is in our midst.
One day, we will see Him face to face. One day, all of us will probably be walking on a long aisle escorted by two angels. When you get your turn, big doors will open for you. When you enter, you will see a crowd on your right, a crowd on your left. In the distance, you will probably see a platform called the bema, the judgment seat of Christ, and when you make it there, you are safe. You will be marching slowly before Christ and you will see Him like what St. John the Beloved saw Him in the Book of Revelations.
You say that the Book of Revelations is a hard book to read, but it is a book that has a blessing not only for yourself but for the Churches. We need to see that it is a book that talks about the priest of Christ and His beginning to take over as the conquering King. Here, you begin to hear Christ, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God.” John sees Jesus first as a priest, with His linen garments and a golden girdle, and hair as white as snow. His eyes were like flames of fire and His skin was bronze. St. John, who was on exile on the island of Pathos, wasn’t a backslider and wasn’t someone who have become cold because of his exile. He wasn’t someone who has become tired but he was there because of his faith. He was there because he loves the Lord. Maybe all of the apostles in his batch have already died. He was the only one left, but he was there because of his love, his faith, his worship and his trust before God. He saw Christ in His glory. He saw Him in the Mount of Transfiguration, but during this time when he saw the Lord, He said, “I fell down like a dead man before Him. I couldn’t stand the rays of glory coming from Him.” He couldn’t stand up in the presence of God.
When the soldiers were looking for Jesus and they tried to capture Him, Jesus said, “I am He,” and they all fell down. There is that level of glory that when it begins to manifest, it is hard to stand in His presence. I really pray that this thing will happen in all the Churches when we are worshipping Him, but we need to be prepared. If not, some people might die and we don’t want die. Can you imagine that we are going to walk and to see Him on a high platform? We will give an account of our lives. St. Paul said it this way, “While we are in the body, we make it our aim to live a life that is pleasing to God,” because we will have to give an account of our lives before the judgment seat of Christ.
St. Paul was called the apostle of grace. When you hear of God’s grace, what are the things that come to you? Forgiveness, peace, joy, a sense of well-being, a sense of being assured, confidence, faith and hope. St. Paul, the apostle of grace, said, “Therefore, knowing the terror of the Lord…” He never took God for granted. He understood what it means to be forgiven, to be made into a new creation in Christ Jesus. He understood what it meant to be clothed in the robe of righteousness that he could say that we are now the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. He never lost the fear of the Lord.
Advent tells us that Christ is coming back and one day, we will walk that aisle. When we face the Lord, we cannot come up with the request, “Lord, can I call my lawyer?” “Lord, my wife is the one making the prayer for me. Can I call her and just talk to her?” “Lord, can I have a proxy?” “Lord, can I just get the guy who brought me to the Lord?” You’ve got to face God alone. Basically He will ask the question, “I gave you this time, this gift, what did you do with them?” Of course, God knows and we wish He wouldn’t ask the questions, but all of us would come to Him and answer to Him. It is based on what we have done, whether we have done things because we love God or we wanted recognition or we wanted power or we wanted money. We can do the right things with the right motive or we can do the right things with the wrong motive.
There was little kid in our Church who said to his father, “One day, I would like to be like the Bishop.” The father was glad the boy said that but the father asked, “Why?” The boy said, “I want people to carry my briefcase. I want the people to open the door for me.” This is not the reason why one wants to be a bishop. When you receive this, you get more responsibility. You get to make the hard and difficult painful decisions. Some people will love you; some people will not. It is not for the recognition; it is not for the thank offerings; it is not for the influence. It is because you’ve got so serve the Lord and this is the greatest blessing of all.
After the first Sunday of Advent, we get to celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew. St. Andrew is someone who brings people to the Lord. He was the one who brought his brother, Peter, to the Lord. Peter won three thousand souls in one day. In today’s terms, St. Andrew would be happy because he got St. Peter in his downline. St. Andrew brings people to the Lord. As we begin Advent, Proverbs 11:30 says, “He who win souls is wise.” Daniel said, “One day, those who brought people to the Lord will shine like the stars and share in the glory of God.” Forever, you will be an eternal display for all of creation to see that you were one of those people who loved what the Lord loved. It gives us an eternal perspective. It tells us not just to live for ourselves but to live in such a way that we can influence people back to the Lord.
When Jesus spoke to the fig tree that was withered, Peter said, “Wow, Lord, yesterday, the fig tree had no fruit but it is alive. Today, it is dead. You just said, ‘You are not going to bear fruit ever again.’” Probably Jesus said to him, “I am glad you are impressed with the fig tree. You remembered that it was alive yesterday. But now, it is dead because I spoke these words. Now, take your eyes off the fig tree, look at yonder mountain. What I have done to the fig tree not only will you do, but if you have faith and do not doubt and say to that mountain, that mountain will follow you the same way this fig tree followed Me.” Jesus is not calling you to arrange the landscape of the earth. Jesus is telling you that you are going to be in this world; you will be facing big things in the in-between period of the first coming and the second coming. You might be faced with trials. You might be faced with problems. Life might not seem fair. It doesn’t matter. God is with you and His power is with you.
On December 25, we are going to celebrate the Son of God becoming the Son of Man. Jesus Christ lived His life as a man. He could have chosen at any time to use His power as God, but He never did. The only thing that Jesus Christ did living on the earth was those things that were available to us. Jesus walked on the water. Yes, He is God, but He did not say, “Father, water, night, storm. What you gave to man just doesn’t cut it so let Me use a little bit of My omnipotence, like a one thousand of My omnipotence and I will walk on the water.” If Jesus used His godly powers to walk on water, if He used the power that He has a God, then that is something that we cannot do because we are not God. We are sons of God, but we are not God. He is divine; we are simply partakers of the divine nature. Anything that Jesus did as a man, He used only the resources that were available to us. Jesus Christ showed us that it is possible to walk in the impossible as a man not as a God. Jesus never stopped being God. He was, He is, and He will always be God. But He proved what man facing God can do with His life. This is why He was able to say, “If you believe in Me, the works I did you will do also.”
In Luke 1:39-45, “And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, on a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke with a loud voice, and said, ‘Blessed art you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. But why is this granted to be that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, indeed as the voice of our greeting sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed: for there shall be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
There are two unusual supernatural events. Elizabeth gave birth in her old age. It is not impossible, but highly unusual. Scriptures said that she was past the age of childbearing, but she had a child in John. She was married; she was old and she did not have children. If the natural force took place, they would have died childless, but God came into their world. Something happened and Elizabeth was with a child. We also have Mary who was betrothed. She was contracted to Joseph. They were going to be considered as husband and wife, and yet, they can’t live in one roof until they get married. All of a sudden, angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she was going to have a child. She said, “Let it be unto Thee, according to the Lord. I am your handmaiden.”
Mary was pregnant six months before Elizabeth and in those days, a younger pregnant woman would visit someone who is pregnant and yet older than her in order to hide the shame of her pregnancy. People don’t get pregnant by themselves. What happened to Mary was a miracle. You and I know that but the people during that time didn’t have the stories of the gospel. They did not know that. Can you imagine when Mary went to Joseph and said, “Guess what! We have a child.” Joseph would say, “How did that happen? I am in my house; you are in your house. Osmosis cannot take place.” Mary said, “Well, I was just there praying to God and an angel appeared to me. He said that I will bear the Son of God and the Holy Spirit will overshadow me. God did this to me.” Joseph was a practical man. He had faith but he had never experienced something like this. If you were in Joseph’s place, would you believe Mary?
I was reading an article of a millionaire in Saudi Arabia who was being sued for rape. His defence in court was, “The young lady was sleeping on the couch. I just wanted to put a cover over her, but I slipped and fell on top of her and something happened. It was accidental.” We laugh about this. We don’t believe this but can you imagine Mary saying to you, “God came to me and He told me I am pregnant.” Right now, we can believe this because we are used to this story. It is something that we celebrate and it is ingrained inside of us and cannot be shaken from us. But if you were living at that time, it would be hard to swallow and say, “Did God do that to you?”
When Jesus was having a discussion with some of the Pharisees and said, “You are of your father the devil,” and the Pharisees said, “We know who our fathers are, but do You know who Your father is?” They kind of thought that He was born out of wedlock in a simple way. In a situation like this, it looked like Elizabeth was doing Mary a favour for covering for her. But instead of being the one doing that, she felt gratitude toward the young Mary. “You came to me. You visited me. It is such an honor. It is such a privilege. You brought the presence of God to me. Blessed is she who believed for there will be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
We know who Mary is. She is considered an icon of the Church by many denominations. She is a bearer of the Lord, but during those times, who was she in the eyes of the high, the mighty and the powerful? They didn’t think about her. She was a person of no consequence as far as they were concerned. She was, in their eyes, a nobody living in a nowhere town. Even if she was present in the room, they wouldn’t see her. They wouldn’t give her the time of day because they didn’t think she was significant or she was important. Even though the leaders, the high and mighty didn’t see her, God did and used her in order to bring forth His plan of salvation for us.
I ask you: have you ever felt that there was something that God wanted to do through you? And what you felt God wanted to do through you seem so difficult and you looked at your qualifications? You look at the call of God in your life and you thought, “This could never be.” This is what happened to Mary. She even acknowledges it. This is what happens to you. There is a vision that God gives you during your devotion or someone prophesies it to you. And you say, “Who me? Maybe, if they called someone who is more qualified than I am; but not me. I don’t have the qualifications. I don’t have the genius genes. I don’t have the training and the education. I don’t have the money.” Never measure the call of God in your life by your circumstances.
When Mary asked the Lord, “How can this be?” she wasn’t asking in doubt. She was someone who was very willing. “I like to do this, Lord. How do I do this?” The Lord said, “It is not going to be by your ability, Mary. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and overshadow you. Something will happen to you and all that you have to do is receive that.” Mary said, “Let it be to me according to Thy word.” She was asking how not because she doubted, but because she wanted to do it. She didn’t know how to do it and God gave her the word. This was enough for Mary. If that would be some of us, maybe we would have some other questions. “Okay, Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit would come. How does that look like? When will it happen? What time will it take place? Will there be another angel or this same angel? How am I supposed to feel at that time? What kind of prayers am I supposed to do? What kind of preparations am I supposed to do? Should I fast? I just want to make sure, Lord, so that I don’t miss it.” We have a lot of questions before we say “Yes”.
Probably, our questions would also be, “How am I going to do it, Lord? I don’t have the money? I don’t know the people? How am I going to do it?” Do you think Mary understood everything that was implied by the statement of God? I don’t think so but Mary believed and said, “Be unto me, according to Thy word.”
This is basically what God is waiting from each and every one of us. You might think of someone who is more qualified but if God calls you, don’t doubt God. Never measure the call by your circumstances. Always measure the call of God by His ability to fulfill it in your life. It is the same thing with Abraham. When God said, “You are going to be the father of many nations,” when he was not even the father of a single child, Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. He said, “I am not potent anymore. I am old. My wife is barren. We are beyond childbearing. It is an impossibility, but God said I will be the father of many nations. I don’t understand how that is going to take place. I don’t know how that is going to happen, but if He said it, ‘Blessed be God, so be it. I am Abraham, the father of many nations.” Probably, the people were thinking that he was having a breakdown.
We have to believe. We have to have faith. It doesn’t matter what position you have in life. God is not just able to use the high and the mighty; God is able to use the lowly. If we think of building cathedrals, when we think of winning massive people unto the Lord, when we think of doing projects that will cause millions, we automatically think of someone who is more qualified than us. Don’t limit yourself and God. Say, “God, I would like to do my part. I don’t know how. I don’t know when, but I choose to believe that an impossibility like this can take place in and through my life. If you were able to use this lowly virgin, you are able to use me.”
Elizabeth showed another character. She said, “I am glad you visited me. I am glad to be in the presence of the Lord. You are blessed because you are called by God to do that.” It is not going to be a complication in the life of Mary because of what God called her to do. Elizabeth did not consider being old and bearing a child a burden. She had no complaints. She was happy to do it. Mary was happy to do it. She probably understood that she might be misunderstood, but it never fazed her. “Lord, if it is You, hallelujah!” Serve the Lord with joy and gladness. When the call of God comes in your life, don’t see it as a burden. See it as a joy, a privilege, and a blessing. “God, you want me to sing in the choir? You want me to give up my free time to practice? God, I am supposed to have a life. Where is my free time?”
The call of God has responsibilities. When my children were small and we moved into liturgy, during our Christian life days, we only had the candlelight service on December 24. On Christmas Day, it was a do-nothing day ministry wise. We celebrated it with families. There was no office and no work to be done and we stayed at home with the family. Now, we came into the liturgy and we learned about the Feasts of God. We learned about the events in Christ’s life. Now, we celebrate a liturgical Mass on December 25. And my children would say, “Dad, can we have a normal Christmas?” This is because we had to wake up so early, rush to activities and instead of being able to watch TV and just bonk out, we need to prepare because we had a Christmas service at one o’clock in the afternoon. I said to them, “This is the new normal and don’t complain. It is because of God that your Mom and I met. You are getting your blessings because we are serving God. Let us be happy serving God. Let us not think of the time that has been taken away from us. Let us think of what He has done for us this far. It is never a burden.”
Elizabeth and Mary showed that serving God is not a burden. Mary got to sing her song of praise even before Christ was born. Eventually, Zacharias will get to sing his song of praise but he gets to that only after John the Baptist was born. This is because when the angel said to Zacharias that he and his wife are going to have a child, he doubted because he was old. This should not be an excuse for him because he knows the story of Abraham and Sarah. The angel said to him, “This is going to take place. You will be able to speak.” When John the Baptist was born, he breaks out into a song of praise and he gets to do it after John was born. Mary gets able to do it before Jesus Christ was born because she believed God first without any physical evidence.
Jesus Christ said to Thomas, “You believe because you see. But let me tell you, ‘Blessed is he who believes even when he hasn’t seen yet.’” The basis for our believing is on the promises of God. The promises of God give us hope. He gives us joy in doing all of these things as seen in the Advent Wreath. Today, we have love. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will obey Me. You will do My commandments.” It shouldn’t be a burden to serve the Lord.
fMary goes to a praise, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” She wasn’t saying this in a proud way. Mary was someone who meditates and was probably thinking of what this generation would call the OMG moment. Probably, as a girl her father would tell her stories about Adam and Eve and Abraham and Sarah, Rebecca and Isaac, David and Moses. These were simply stories, but now, probably, after the angel has gone, she maybe pondering, and had this realization, “Oh my God, I will become part of their story. My name will be spoken alongside theirs and my Son, wherever His name is mentioned, my name will be mentioned. Wherever His stories are told, my story will be told. Who am I, Lord?” She is probably going to a moment where you are so overwhelmed by the greatness of God. She was awed; overwhelmed; amazed without words and yet, the Holy Spirit gave her the word. She said, “For He who is mighty has done great things for me.” How did she know this? She is talking in the past. How did she know she was pregnant? Ladies would take the pregnancy test sometimes not just once but twice just to prove it is true.
What was the evidence that she was pregnant? Was she having morning sickness? She didn’t have these feelings and yet she said, “For He who is mighty has done great things for me. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones.” At that time, the Romans were still ruling, but she was speaking of reversals as if they have happened. She was speaking in faith. She was talking about the substance of things we hope for; the evidence of things that are not yet seen. Just like Abraham who called himself the father of many nations before he was the father of a single child, Mary was talking of the deliverance as if it already happened even though the Roman rulers were still ruling.
This is the kind of faith that you will need, Church, when God calls you. When you begin to face your Goliaths. When God tells you, “Do this,” and you find no way to do it. The only way you have is to take your step of the naked Word of God, the promise of God. This is all you have and this is the kind of faith that you will need. Never doubting, “Will it happen? Will it take place? Will I be able to finish?”
A thirteen year old was given a chance to work something out by God. He was no engineer, not trained and all that he did was obey. The bishop asked him to do something that was impossible. The boy said, “Okay, God, I will do it.” He raised up a stone which can only be raised up by thirty man and the project which was to build a bridge was eventually finished simply because a thirteen year old boy wiho did not know any better said “yes” to God.
Advent is talking about Christ’s coming. We will be able to face Him with joy. Don't underestimate what God can do through you. Serve the Lord with gladness. Always serve Him with faith and when you do, you will do great things for God.