4th Sunday of Advent: "Newness of Love"
We are in the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Three candles were lit previously – hope, faith, joy- and today, we light the candle called love. It is very easy to dismiss and to say, “I know what love is.” It is one of the most abused and talked about word in society, but do we really understand when Jesus said, “For God so loved the world?” Do we understand this with respect to our lives? Are we able to pause in the midst of the busyness of our lives and understand what love really is?
Advent calls for vigilance, alertness, being awake as we expectantly await for something very significant in our lives – GOD’S LOVE. Advent begins the 1st cycle in the Church’s liturgical year called the cycle of LIGHT that includes Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Following this is the cycle of LIFE – Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time. The cycles of Light and Life talk about the life of Christ in the believer.
We light the Advent Wreath candles so that in the end, we become like Christ. God so loved the world He gave His Son not so that we can have Mass every Sunday only and come and live our lives the way we want to. God so loved the world because the world was in trouble and was perishing; but even during the time of Christ, many have rejected the gift of God. They did not appreciate God’s gift and love. They have ignored it, and so have we today.
Many today don’t even know what Advent is. To many, Advent is unknown. What they know is that before Christmas, there is shopping that is entailed. They understand that there is the gift-giving, and there is truth to this. Before we even look at the gifts that we will give and receive, we must recognize the gift that the Lord gave us. The question is: are our hearts open to receive this gift?
In 1 Corinthians 1:4, 7 New Living Translation (NLT), it says, “I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus…” “Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What are the gracious gifts that God has provided NOW? It is not later, tomorrow, but NOW!
God has provided gifts to us, but yet, are we even aware of them? Are we like the people in Bethlehem who did not have any room for Mary and Joseph? Scriptures says, “There is no room for them in the inn.” Nobody welcomed the gift of God, that is, the salvation of the world! We have no time for the Lord because we are too busy. We do not like to exert any effort thus Advent’s cry is, “O come, O come, Emmanuel! Ransom captive Israel.” It is a cry not so much of the people because they are conscious that they need salvation, but it is a cry that stemmed from the heart of God to say, “Lord, save us!”
As we come to the Fourth Sunday, I would like to ask a diagnostic question to all of us, “What have I done to prepare myself for Christ, as He comes daily into my life and for the gifts that He has given?”
This is the reason that we are looking into another character from the gospel - the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was like an ordinary person like us. She, like John the Baptist, did not fully comprehend what was taking place. We all know that she was a virgin engaged to be married. She was living in a town called Nazareth, which was an obscure town. Jesus was referred to as Jesus of Nazareth, and it was asked, “Can something good come out of Nazareth?’ The scene was that the angel Gabriel came upon Mary that kind of disturbed the quietness of her life. However, in that quietness, the angel gave an announcement and said, “Hail, (blessed) Mary, you are favored. You are full of grace because the Lord is with you!”
In this 21st Century, when we are told, “The Lord be with you,” it seems like a trite statement and we really don’t appreciate the meaning. At that time of Mary, the phrase was something so powerful. The Lord, the God of the Universe, the Creator of all things, was with Mary, and this is an awesome thing! The angel continued, “The Spirit of God will come upon you, and you will bear God Himself in your womb!” Mary was so astonished! Could we just imagine what was going through her mind and what was taking place? It is something so awesome to think of!
Today, that is not exactly what it is because we grew up in a society that simply says, “The Lord is with us!” Remind ourselves, God is in us! We were baptized and we receive Christ in the Eucharist! For the Jews, it was impossible for God to be man. Jesus was crucified because He was accused of pretending to be the Son of God, and the Jews couldn’t accept this. Their orientation was that God was in the heavens, and man was on earth and that God couldn’t be man.
For Mary, not only was God with her, but God was in her in the form of an embryo and a fetus. How did Mary respond to this? In our gospel, it says in Luke 1:39 New Living Translation (NLT), “Now, at this time, Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to the city of Judah.” Mary was in Nazareth, and the hill country of Judah was in southern Israel and between them was a big distance of 150 kilometers. Why would Mary take the effort to travel this distance? By faith, she accepted what the angel told her and was awed with excitement to become the mother of God. Mary rose with haste and went to the hill country, Hebron, to meet Elizabeth.
God continues to bestow His gift to us. It says in Ephesians 1:3 New Living Translation (NLT) says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” Luke 1:28, “Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, “Greetings favored woman. The Lord is with you!” In verse 42, Mary says, “Mary, you are blessed among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
How did Mary respond to this favor and grace of God? There were two responses from her: one, she had faith and submission. She believed what God has spoken. In Luke 1:45 New Living Translation (NLT), Elizabeth told Mary, “You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what He said.” In our lives, do we believe what the Lord says to us? When we hear the Scriptures read to us every Sunday or when we read our Scriptures daily, do we believe the message that we have from God? Do we believe that it is God who is speaking to us?
Another response of Mary was her humility as the handmaid of the Lord. Mary replied to the angel, “I am the bondservant of the Lord. Be it done to me according to Your Word.” There was no pregnancy test then that could prove that she was pregnant. She only believed the Lord. Was it impossible for her? Yes, because there was never an account of a virgin getting pregnant and she conceived God who created the universe. It was impossible, but Mary believed.
What is an impossible situation that we have in our lives today? Believe in the impossible! The challenge of this fourth candle – the love of God – is telling us: believe in what God has promised to us because He is going to bring us to greater heights! God is with us! When Mary believed, the Bible said, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Mary became a vessel for that belief.
Be aware of God’s visitation in our lives. It is all about the blessing of God in our lives. Many times, we are insulated, unsure of or even unaware of God’s visitation in our lives. We look at blessings as material blessings, but are they real blessings in the light of Christ? We must begin to see what God is doing in our midst because He is willing and He is working in our lives.
To end, I would like to pose two questions for you to meditate upon:
1. Have you taken time to hear what God has said to you?
Do we spend time with Him? Scriptures says, “Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Every day, God speaks to us. Every day, we need to give birth for God's gift to us, but are we opening the door for His love to enter our hearts or are we too busy?
2. If you have heard from Him, are you willing to act with haste, even if it means sacrifice and inconvenience on your part?
Like Mary, do we willingly obey? Are we willing to say, “Yes, Lord?” Only we can answer these questions. Our shepherd can bring us to green pastures and lead us to quiet waters, but we need to eat and drink from them. We have to make the choice. Open the doors of our hearts for Christ’s love to dwell in us and let Him speak and move when we respond to His calling!