FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Fourth Sunday of Advent ( C )
Micah 5:1-4a | Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19 | Hebrews 10:5-10 | Luke 1:39-45
We are now on the fourth Sunday of Advent, and as the song goes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! We anticipate with the ancient Scriptures the birth of One who promises hope and peace to our weary world.
“Ripley’s Believe It or Not” says that Craig Dawson has an unusual habit. He keeps an eye on the ground as he jogs. This is not for balance, safety or even shyness. He is looking for spare change. Most people ignore the pennies on the street because they think they are worthless but Craig Dawson picks them up because he feels they will eventually add up to something. During the past 25 years, he has found $8,100 dollars in lost coins. There is a lesson for all of us in this. Little things can become big things.
Did you ever feel small or insignificant? Today’s First reading suggests that we should be looking for the signs of God’s presence and power in out-of-the way places and among insignificant, marginalized people. On this fourth sunday of Advent, we hear a famous Messianic prophecy announcing the place for the birth of the awaited Messiah. Prophet Micah brings the good news to the people of Judah that from Bethlehem-Ephrathah, though too small and seemingly insignificant to make any difference for anything, will come the One who will save God’s people. Bethlehem means "house of bread". Jesus was not born in the house of royalty, nor the house of riches, nor the house of celebrity. He did not possess 'Yamashita treasure' or 'the Tallano gold'. He did not lead commissioned preferential surveys. Bread is one of life’s most common things. His cradle was a manger, a feeding trough because He is the Bread of Life, our ultimate spiritual food. Unlike the rulers who had strayed from genuine concern and care for the people, this new ruler “shall stand and feed his flock”. He will bring about a new order not based on violence and lies; instead, “he shall be the One of peace”. God continues to confound our expectations by speaking and acting in unexpected ways — revealing the divine presence in obscure places and through unlikely spokespersons. God loves to use small things, nothings and nobodies to pour out grace into the world.
There is a story about a farmer who wanted to sell his donkey so he put the ad on Facebook Marketplace. One day a man who saw the posting came to the farm. The two farmers got to talking and eventually they got around to talking about the donkey. The farmer who wanted to buy the donkey asked if it was a good worker. The reply was that it did a day's work. The next question that was asked is did the donkey obey every command. The owner said yes. The farmer asked if they could hitch it up to see how he worked. The owner said no problem. They got the donkey into his harness and the farmer took the reigns and told the donkey giddy-up. The donkey just stood there. The farmer tried a couple of more times and still it didn’t move. He looked at the owner and said, "I thought you told me this donkey obeys." "He does," says the owner, who then picked up a whip and walked to the front where he was facing the donkey. He then whip the donkey's ass as hard as he could. He then walked back and said to the farmer, "Try again." The farmer did and the donkey obeyed. The owner said, "This donkey always obeys, but you have got to get his attention first."
By a willing act of obedience, we are saved. In the Second reading, we hear that when Christ came into the world he spoke to His Father. “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.’“ I love how naturally the author of the Letter to the Hebrews applies Psalm 40:6-8 directly to Jesus, almost as if we should read the whole Old Testament through the lens of Christ. Jesus is different from the burnt offerings and sacrifices that came before Him. There was no involvement of the mind, will, heart, and desire on the part of the animals that were sacrificed in the Old Testament. They were nothing but unthinking, unwilling beasts. In contrast to them, Jesus obeyed the Father’s will by being born of a virgin mother and choosing to be our brother. What we see is full, free, glad acceptance of what the Father sent Him to do. Not only did He come in obedience to the Father's plan, but there was a willingness to come. The Incarnation is Jesus hearing and doing God’s will, God’s delight, God’s good pleasure. The Incarnation is “for us and for our salvation.” The Incarnation is Jesus being obedient in order to save those who have not delighted in God’s will or walked in God’s ways.
His Eminence Paul-Émile Cardinal Léger served as the Archbishop of Montreal, Canada's largest Catholic diocese, for 17 years. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1953 by Pope Pius XII. At the conclave that elected a successor to Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Leger's name was frequently mentioned as one of the possible candidates for the papacy. While he was considered one of the more influential prelates of the 20th century, he was also a man of deep conviction and humility. He was always preoccupied with what happened to others and finding ways to alleviate the misery of people. On November 9, 1967 he gave up the trappings afforded a prince of the Roman Catholic Church. He resigned his office and leaving his red vestments, crosier, miter, and pallium in the archbishop's palace, disappeared. Years later, he was found living among lepers, handicapped and outcasts in a small African village. When a Canadian journalist asked him, "Why?" Here is what Cardinal Léger had to say, "It will be the great scandal of the history of our century that 500 million people are eating well and living luxuriously and every year millions of children are dying of hunger. I am too old to change all that. The only thing I can do which makes sense is to be present. I must simply be in the midst of them. So, just tell people in Canada that you met an old priest. I am a priest who is happy to be old and still a priest and among those who suffer. I am happy to be here and to take them into my heart."
In the Gospel, Mary journeys some 130 kilometers to the town of Judah to visit Elizabeth. The two women embrace and, in their loving embrace, the Spirit-filled life gestating within Mary encounters and physically affects the life that is coming to birth in Elizabeth. Advent is not a time of passive waiting. It is a time to embrace, to “be there” for one another and to nurture the life that is coming to birth. When Mary shared the good news with Elizabeth, she created a communion of joy between herself and her cousin. Her visit was a gift to Elizabeth and also, to this day, a gift to us. By assuming the presence of Christ within herself, Mary affected more than just her, but the millions of people who have been born since then. As we journey towards Christmas let us find strength in the example of Mary. We too have been chosen by God to embrace others and be there for them. By sharing Christ with others just as Mary did with Elizabeth, there is an opportunity to allow new life to flourish. We never know what goodness may come from the smallest of our actions, whether it be a nod of acknowledgment, a sincere smile, or a short conversation. As Meister Eckhart said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born...” <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum