The Fourth Sunday of Advent 2014

Here in the monastery the Fourth Sunday of Advent is celebrated quietly and plainly: no decorations, no carols, nothing that anticipates Christmas save that Preface II of Advent clearly looks forward to the coming feast:

. . . all the oracles of the prophets foretold him,
the Virgin Mother longed for him with love beyond all telling,
John the Baptist sang of his coming
and proclaimed his presence when he came.

It is by his gift that already we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity,
so that he may find us watchful in prayer
and exultant in his praise.

I’m not sure that ‘John the Baptist sang of his coming’ really makes the same point as ‘John the Baptist was his herald’, but we’ll let that pass. I am more interested in the gospel, Luke 1. 26–38, the same as we had yesterday, but how differently it reads in this context. Yesterday it was all about signs, Ahaz testing God by his refusal to ask for a sign, our looking to the future. Today it is about the fulfilment of God’s promises and our response, what Paul calls the ‘mystery kept secret for endless ages, but now so clear that it must be broadcast to pagans everywhere to bring them to the obedience of faith’ (Romans 16. 26). At the heart of today’s liturgy is that moment of unequalled obedient faith, when Mary said ‘yes’ to what God asked, without qualification or reserve.

We can stop there, pondering Mary’s speaking the word that would enable the Word to take flesh among us, but for most of us it is more helpful to reflect on how the gospel ends. ‘And the angel left her.’ That rings true, doesn’t it? We come down from the mountain-top and find the world apparently unchanged; and what is more, we no longer have the ‘buzz’, the excitement or exhilaration that accompanied our unstinted gift of self. We find, as generations have before us, that the ‘yes’ said neat in prayer must be worked out amidst the ordinariness of everyday life. It was exactly the same for Mary. After her meeting with the angel she had to face all the difficulties of her situation seemingly alone. Even Joseph, whom we see now as her great support, hesitated to believe her.

Perhaps what we can take away from the liturgy today is the realisation that we become more, not less, human when we encounter God. Nothing changes, yet everything is transformed. We do not become supermen or superwomen, any more than Mary did; but we do become holier, in our case just a little more like God. But that little increase in likeness is all it takes to live the Good News, which is what we are called to do. Let us ask Our Lady to pray for us.

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5 thoughts on “The Fourth Sunday of Advent 2014”

  1. I often wonder how Mary felt. Having risked stoning to death, having made her vow of faith, having given birth to The Saviour and all that happened, Jesus in His public ministry asked “who is my Mother?” when told that she was waiting outside to speak with Him.
    As Mothering goes, it was no easy task.

  2. Alexander, I’m sure Our Lady never took those words to mean her Son did not honour and love her. How could He not, and be our Lord and Saviour?

  3. “Nothing changes, yet everything is transformed.” That neatly sums it up. Life goes on just as usual, but in the depths of our heart, we are aware of having been touched by the grace of God.

  4. I’m always excited by Easter and Advent. Advent has that special character of waiting, while Easter seems much more to be on of anticipation. Can’t explain the difference.

    At our Carol service with 9 readings, yesterday, the last reading was from John 1 which sums up for me and I suspect many others, what both Advent and Easter are all about.

    I have a first world war New Testament, issued to Jen’s grandfather during his WW1 service. The most thumbed and read is the Gospel of John, which I suspect held great meaning for him in his role as a Red Cross Ambulance Driver and Attendant. He carried casualties from the field hospitals to trains returning to the UK. He must have seen and experienced many sights that would have tried his faith sorely over the 4 years that he did this work. From what I know of him (I never met him) he lived a life afterwards as a Businessman, well known and respected, also serving with the Red Cross again in WW2.

    The lovely thing is the family connection with my new parish. The family lived nearby and worshiped there, and Jen’s parents were married there.

    A family connection by proxy, but somehow for me, being here since last Christmas Day has become home. I’m accepted, fully involved in the Parochial Church Council and in serving others in Lay Ministry, and currently training for licensing in due course. Last Advent was momentous in this respect and this one is no different. God is working among us and we welcomed 48 people into our Lunch club for the elderly, lone and vulnerable local residents last Friday. An initiative which started with 8 3 months ago.

    Advent is a time of promise. It’s a time for the visible mission of God’s Church to be visible and present in our lives, if only we’ll let it be. Salt and Light to the world – we’re called to be and I can say emphatically that our parish is exactly that, despite our imperfections.

    Thanks be to God.

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