Sunday, December 20, 2009

Behold, I Come To Do Your Will.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Reading 1              Micah 5:1-4a
Thus says the LORD: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to the children of Israel. He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be peace.


Responsorial           Psalm 80
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power,
And come to save us.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
Look down from heaven and see;
Take care of this vine,
And protect what your right hand has planted
The son of man whom you yourself made strong.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
May your help be with the man of your right hand,
With the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
Give us new life and we will call upon your name.
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

Reading 2          Hebrews 10:5-10
Brothers and sisters: When Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said: “As it is written about me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.”

First, he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”, although these are offered according to the law. Then he says, “Here I am, I come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. By this will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once and for all.

Gospel                Luke 1:39-45
Mary set out and traveled to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice, she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who have believed that what was spoken to you by the LORD would be fulfilled!”

+++ +++ +++ +++

THE BIRTH OF JESUS is now imminent. In a few days, we will be celebrating the memory of that great event. 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.

Promise of things to come

The First Reading, from the prophet Micah, sets out the promise of great things to come. The starting point will be the unexpectedly obscure town of Bethlehem, and not some greater center of Israel. Yet the one who will come from there will be “the one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.” The one who is to come “will stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord”, and his people “will live securely, for then his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth.” And, most significantly, “He will be peace.” Shalom Israel!

A remote corner of Israel

This promise is magnificent. But how is it to come into fulfillment? In today’s Gospel, we land with a bump in the real world. We leave the grand prophetic language of Micah, and are brought to a village in a remote corner of Israel. Two ordinary women take center stage: Mary and Elizabeth. No mention is made of Zachary, the husband of Elizabeth, although he must have been around. But, he had doubted the word of the angel and had been struck dumb, so he will not speak until after his son is born.

And yet, the principal characters in this drama have yet to take the stage: John, son of Elizabeth, and Jesus, son of Mary. It is through – and within -- their mothers that they are first brought to the scene. Though both women are with child, it is Mary who takes the initiative to visit Elizabeth. On one hand, that is right and proper, since Mary is the younger of the two. On the other, it is Mary who has the higher status, since she bears within her womb the Son of God.

When Mary arrives, the child in Elizabeth’s womb responds immediately. Even before his birth, John is touched with the Spirit. This, we might say with hindsight, is the Baptist’s baptism. Although he will not appear on the public stage until years later, he is already fulfilling his vocation as the Precursor, the one sent to prepare the world for the coming of the Savior: “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy!”

Elisabeth is herself affected by the presence of Jesus, and she bursts into praise for the child and his mother, saying prophetically, “Why am I so highly favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And, of course, it is not only Mary who has visited her kinswoman, since at this time the Son of God goes wherever his mother brings Him.

Spirit of service

We can already see a major theme of Luke’s gospel being unfolded in this first appearance of Jesus, even before his birth in Bethlehem; for we are presented with the humility of both mother and Son. They are not the ones who are visited, but they who go visiting. Even before he is born, Jesus comes to serve, not to be served. It is through service that we will recognize him as Lord. Later, near the end of the story, he will tell his disciples, "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13:13-15).

This is the beginning of God’s great plan to bring salvation and wholeness to the world. God’s own son is about to come and live among us as a human being. He will be like us in everything, but his freedom from sinfulness and its sources, fear and anxiety. As we party our way through the season, let us not forget what it is really all about: not the transition from one calendar year to the next, but the coming of God among us to show us the greatest love that can be given – “Greater love than this no one has, but to lay down one’s life for a friend.”

Total submission

Everything that happened from the moment Jesus appeared among us in human form can be understood fully only in the light of the passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews which is the Second Reading for today.

It is by the total submission of God the Son to the will of the Father that the fulfillment of the promise becomes possible. According to the epistle, the Father is not interested in the sacrifice and offering of lambs and sparrows, and takes no pleasure in holocausts or sin offerings. Instead, the Father has “prepared a body” for his Son. United with that body as a true human being, God the Son offers himself unconditionally to the Father.

“Behold, I come to do your will”, he says, and his obedience is made effective by the total offering of his human self, which far transcends any other offering that could be made. No one can offer more than one’s entire self.

An invitation to follow

Jesus does not just offer himself totally for us while we sit back and wait to be “saved”; he invites us to join him in saying to our Father: “Here I am! I come to do your will.”

Mary has already followed her Son, even though he has not yet been born. As a young woman, she had offered her virginity to God; asked by the angel if she is willing to become the mother of Jesus, and assured that “with God all things are possible”, she has already answered, “Let it be done to me as you have said.” At this point, she has no notion what is in store for her, but she has said her Yes, and she will be faithful to her commitment.

Soon, we are going to celebrate Christmas. Either your preparations have already been made, or we are up to your earlobes in finishing them. But, have you made the most important preparation of all? Yes, to the Father. Yes, to Jesus. Yes, to all that you will experience in the coming year. Yes, to every call that God makes to you during the next twelve months.

A significant part of the meaning of Christmas is that by contemplating the experiences of Jesus and Mary, we learn from their example how to make an unqualified and unconditional Yes to God’s will. This is where the real joy of Christmas lies. All the rest is nothing but tinsel.

Living Space
A part of Sacred Space
The prayer site of the Irish Jesuits

No comments: