4th Sunday of Advent:
(Advent?? This post is late.)
By Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas December 24, 2017
Good! Now try to imagine yourself describing the scene in which the Angel Gabriel seeks and speaks to Mary as one that could be played out spectacularly on film or a TV program, it would begin with the panoramic vision or an overall view of the world that solemnly zooms in and spotlights in one tiny little place. We could imagine the overview from the film score to the mission behind Google Earth which imagines a slowly moving in from the vastness of space, to this planet and then the middle where it looks like a couple of lakes are connected by a river. Eventually the focus comes down to a particular part of the Earth and the sea and the River disappears. All we see is a dusty, little town and finally one young girl, presumably going about her daily business.
That’s how Luke introduces the story of the Angel’s encounter with Mary. It begins in heaven, the Angels’ abode with God. Then, reminding us of the history of the land of Israel, Luke focuses not only on Jerusalem, the great city of the Temple, but on the backwater town of Nazareth in Galilee. Passing by any and everybody considered to be important, Luke then highlights one young girl.
As Emily Dickinson would say, she’s a nobody. Barely more than a child, she’s nobody’s wife and nobody’s mother. But God’s Angel lands in front of her. There, in the middle of nowhere, the Angel addresses the young girl, a social nobody. The Angel asked her to agree to God’s plan to change everything. This is the mystery we are invited to contemplate as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas.
As we hear the closing words of his letter to the Romans today, Paul explains that the mystery of Christ has been revealed to bring the entire world to the obedience of faith. In order to understand that, we need to know what obedience meant in Paul’s vocabulary. Obedience is a word for listening. It implies listening so carefully, so attentively and so openly, that the listeners are prepared to be changed by what they hear. Getting people to listen is ultimately the only way to bring about change. The rule of Law may be imposed on people. But if they don’t internalize the law, if you don’t choose it as a good way to act, it is only as effective as the penalties for infractions that are painful and unavoidable. Paul believed that the mystery of Christ was so mysterious , so exciting and so life-giving that it would bring people to obedience — if only they would listen to it with their hearts.
Mary listened to the Angel. She allowed her heart to be vulnerable to God’s grace, which is another way of saying she was obedient. She wasn’t passive, but she clearly explained why the plan seemed impossible — she was a nobody, only betrothed, not yet even a real wife. But she was simple enough, open enough, to hear that God’s plan was bigger than her expectations or even her imagination. When the Holy Spirit is allowed on the scene, nothing is impossible.
This year we have the shortest Advent season possible. Our last week of Advent can begin no earlier than the first anticipated mass on Saturday afternoon, and it will end with the first mass of Christmas eve on Sunday afternoon. This “week” of 24 hours or less seems to be a trick of liturgical time. Perhaps it is also a reminder that God doesn’t wear a watch or carry a day-planner. God’s time is different from ours as God’s thoughts are bigger than our imaginations. Only God would dream up a plan to save the world by starting with a young Mary of Nazareth. Only God would keep turning to us, hoping for obedience.
The Angel said to Mary, “The Lord is with you.” The Angel also said, “don’t be afraid.” The message that God is with us can be very troubling. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to God’s presence, everything can change and that’s not always comforting.
The message we are invited to ponder today during this 24 hour final week of Advent, is that the creator of the universe wants to be with us. When we are invited to ponder all that could be, the Angel reminds us “nothing will be impossible for God.” The mystery of Christmas that we celebrate with lights and crib scenes, gifts and shared food, is not just a historical commemoration. Luke wants us to listen for Gabriel’s wings approaching our town. The Angels will tell us “do not be afraid.” Heaven is hoping we will respond with the obedience of faith.
Listen! Can you begin to hear the angels sing, peace on earth and good will to all people.
I love you all as brothers and sisters of Christ, Merry Christmas!
So! You all be Good, by Holy, preach the Gospel always and if necessary use Words!
(‘Thank you’ to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here — Brian H. Gill.)
This is two weeks late. I talked about my more-than-usually-interesting Christmas season earlier today.
Posts that aren’t completely unrelated to this one, and one that probably is: