Advent IV-C Sunday Homily – (One-page Summary)
Central theme: Today’s readings remind us that Jesus is reborn every day in ordinary people living ordinary lives, who have the willingness to respond to God’s call and the openness to do God’s will. They suggest that Christmas should inspire us to carry out God’s word as Mary and Jesus did, in perfect obedience to His will, in cheerful kindness and unselfish generosity.
Scripture lessons summarized: In the first reading, the prophet Micah gives assurance to the Jews that God is faithful to His promises and that from the unimportant village of Bethlehem He will send them the long-expected ruler. The third stanza of today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 80), is a prayer for God’s blessing on the Davidic king. The second reading, taken from Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, reminds us to be thankful to Jesus Christ who offered the perfect sacrifice of obedience that liberated us from sin. By his willingness and eagerness to do God’s will, (“Behold, I come to do your will”), Christ gave Himself in the place of all the other ritual sacrifices offered as the means of sanctification. In the Gospel, Luke tells us how two seemingly insignificant women met to celebrate the kindness and fidelity of God. It shows us how sensitive Mary was to the needs of Elizabeth, her older cousin who had miraculously become pregnant in her old age. For Luke, discipleship consists in listening to God’s word and then carrying it out, and Mary does both, to become the most perfect disciple.
Life messages: 1) We need to carry Jesus to others as Mary did. Christmas is the ideal time for us to be filled with the spirit of Christ, allowing his rebirth within us. Once Christ is reborn in us, He enables us to share his love with all whom we encounter by offering them humble and committed service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate, caring love. Let us take the time to visit others this during Christmas season, especially the sick and shut-ins, to bring some inspiration into their lives, and hopefully to bring them closer to God.
2) We need to bless and encourage the younger generation. Elizabeth demonstrates the responsibility of the older generation to inspire the younger generation. Grandparents, parents, teachers, and leaders have the responsibility of encouraging those around them. By complimenting and encouraging one’s spouse, children and friends, let us make them know how valuable they are to us and to God.
3) We need to recognize the Real Presence of the Emmanuel (God is with us) in the Holy Eucharist, in the Bible, in the Sacraments, and in the praying community. The hill country of Judea is right here in our surroundings. Let us convey Jesus to people around us by our acts of love, kindness and forgiveness. (L/18)
Advent IV [C] Mi 5:1-4a; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-45
Homily starter anecdotes #1: “At least I made a difference to that one!” A little girl was walking along a beach covered with thousands of starfish left dying by the receding tide. Seeking to help, she started picking up the dying starfish and tossing them back into the ocean. A man who watched her with amusement, said, “Little girl, there are hundreds of starfish on the beach. You cannot make a difference by putting a few of them back into the sea.” Discouraged, she began to walk away. Suddenly, she turned around, picked up another starfish, and tossed it into the sea. Turning to the man, she smiled and said, “At least I made a difference to that one!” Today’s Gospel tells us how Mary, a village girl carrying Jesus in her womb, made a difference in the lives of her cousin Elizabeth and of the child, John. in her womb. John, as he grew up, helped Mary’s Son to transform the history of mankind by preparing the way for the Messiah. The starfish story suggests that each person, no matter how unimportant, may truly benefit from our work, and that any service, however small, is valuable. The story also shows how seemingly hopeless problems can be solved by taking the first step.
#2: Elijah heard a tiny, whispering sound and Mary a baby’s cry: There’s a marvelous scene in the Old Testament that sort of illustrates in a very stark fashion something of what is occurring in today’s Scriptures. It is the scene where the famous prophet Elijah, being pursued by his enemies, takes refuge in a cave and waits for the Lord to tell him what to do. He is prompted to go to the mouth of the cave. A great wind sweeps through the valley, breaking the trees, it is so powerful. But the Scriptures say, the Lord was not in the wind. Then there is a terrible earthquake and the mountains tumble. But the Lord, we are again informed, was not in the earthquake. Then comes a huge fire; but there again, Scripture declares, the Lord was absent. Finally, Elijah hears a tiny, whispering sound, and he promptly covers his face with his mantle out of reverent fear of God’s holy presence. A tiny, whispering sound! Not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the tiny whispering sound, God speaks. And in much the same way He speaks again, and for a final and complete time, when He speaks His ultimate Word to the human race for all ages. For this time, He speaks in the soft cries of a little baby boy in Bethlehem.
# 3: “Thanks for the money, but what I really needed was a handshake.” Composer and performer Bradley James has set Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s teachings and prayers to music in the internationally acclaimed recording, Gift of Love: Music to the Words and Prayers of Mother Teresa. Bradley remembers her teaching: “Mother said we don’t have to go to Calcutta to help the poor; rather, we must help them right in front of us.” He applied this lesson when he encountered a homeless beggar on the streets of San Francisco. Bradley placed some money in his metal cup, then reached out and shook the man’s hand. The recipient gave him a big smile, and the two exchanged names and small talk. Bradley recalls: “Then he pulled me a little closer and said, ‘Thanks for the money, but what I really needed was a handshake’” [Cf. Susan Conroy, Our Sunday Visitor (Oct. 19, 2003), p. 17.] Indeed, what was remarkable in this incident was not the coin, but the gift of human dignity and the love of Christ that Bradley James brought to the beggar through the handshake and his fraternal presence. In effect, Bradley replicated in his life and experience the joyful mystery of the Lord’s Visitation (cf. Lk 1:39-45) described in today’s Gospel.
22 additional anecdotes are uploaded in my website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/
Scripture lessons summarized: In the first reading, the prophet Micah insists that God chooses what is humanly insignificant and unpromising to bring about His own loving purposes. Micah gives assurance to the Jews that God is faithful to His promises, and that from the unimportant village of Bethlehem He will send them the long-expected ruler. He will restore order and harmony in the world by teaching and practicing submission to the will of God. “God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.” The third stanza of today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 80), is a prayer for God’s blessing on the Davidic king. In the light of the first reading, this may be said to refer appropriately to Jesus Christ. Thus, we put ourselves in the position of ancient Israel waiting for the coming of the Messiah as we wait for the celebration of His coming at Christmas. The second reading, taken from Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, reminds us that it is the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ, who has offered the perfect sacrifice of obedience that liberates mankind from sin. The reading portrays the Son of God as accepting a human body, the true Christmas theme. It also gives the profound reason Jesus came into the world: “Behold, I come to do your will.” By willingness, eagerness to do God’s will, Christ offered Himself, in the place of all the other ritual sacrifices offered, as the means of mankind’s sanctification. This reading reminds us that God, like any loving parent, wants us to do His will – for our good, not His. In the Gospel, Luke tells us how two seemingly insignificant women met to celebrate the kindness and fidelity of God. It shows us how sensitive Mary was to the needs of Elizabeth, her older cousin, who had miraculously become pregnant in her old age. For Luke, discipleship consists in listening to God’s word and then carrying it out, and Mary does both, to become the most perfect disciple.
First reading, Micah 5:1-4, explained: Micah prophesies the doom of the corrupt leaders of Judah in chapters 1, 2 and 3. Like his three immediate prophetic predecessors — Amos, Hosea and Isaiah — Micah’ receives oracles from the Lord God rooted in the Jewish concept of social justice: the relationships people are expected by God to develop with one another and with Him. The pain His people are experiencing from Assyrian invasions is Yahweh’s punishment for their lack of concern for the unfortunate individuals around them. Then in Chapter 4, Micah is given the Lord God’s Good News to foretell: the restoration of the people living in Judah to a godly state. In Chapter 5 Micah prophesies that Israel will be led by a new king, who will come from the town of the great historic King David (“Bethlehem-Ephrathah”), and from David’s family. The situation when Micah wrote seems to be that which prevailed at the end of the Exile, when hopes ran high for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy. With a background of kings who heard and spoke Yahweh’s word, but never did anything different because of it, the Lord God speaks through Micah about a future, God-rooted king, who “shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord.” The future, kingly descendant of David of Whom the Lord God speaks here will lead the Israelites to victory over their enemies, and “He shall be peace” (Micah 5:4). Micah expresses a rare hope: if his people recognize and follow the religious insights of this one special Davidic King, they’ll achieve the peace they’re seeking.
The second reading: Hebrews 10:5-10, explained: The letter to the Hebrews was written for the benefit of Jewish converts to Christianity. When their old friends turned them out of synagogue and Temple, they missed the institutions of Judaism, especially the law, the priesthood and the Temple rituals and sacrifices. Hence, Paul gives them the assurance that it is Christ and their relationship with Him in the Church which replaces and improves upon everything they’ve been asked to give up. In today’s passage, Jesus is said to have quoted Psalm 40 which explains his mission: “to do his Father’s will” in the world. Paul explains that the meaning of the Incarnation is summarized in the words, “Behold, I come to do your will.” More than anything else, it’s Jesus’ determination to discover God’s will and carry it out that actually saves us. True Faith is doing God’s will, carrying out God’s commands in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, however, it is often not God’s will that we seek. Instead, we make idols of our jobs, our spouses, our children, our wealth and our bodies. Hence, Paul reminds us that Christ took a body so as to have an instrument with which to offer this perfect obedience to the will of God. “You have prepared a body for me… Behold I said, I come to do your will.” This means that our bodies are the meeting place of God and human beings. That is why, as a believing community, we take our bodies seriously. We wash them in the waters of Baptism; anoint them with holy oil to seal them in the Holy Spirit; and feed them with Bread from Heaven. In addition, when we are ill, we ask the priest to anoint our bodies with holy oil. When we die, we honor our bodies with Christian burial. (http://netministries.org).
Gospel exegesis: Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. There is a saying, “He (she) who is on fire cannot sit on a chair.” Mary, filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit and carrying the newly- conceived Jesus, hurried to the mountain country where Elizabeth lived, thereby conveying the Holy Spirit to her cousin and Elizabeth’s unborn child. Like all good Jews, whatever Mary did was prompted by her commitment to God’s word in her life. “How exactly did Our Lady make the tiring journey from Nazareth to the place traditionally associated with the birth of John the Baptist, Ain Karim, nearly 100 miles away? The trip would take a week to ten days. (Later Christian tradition identified Ain Karim, about 5 miles west of Jerusalem, as the place; Jerusalem Bible note on Luke 1: 39). Since traveling alone was not safe, Mary must have gone with a caravan. Mary’s journey, over Judea’s rugged terrain would have been by donkey, although most people preferred camels.
The greetings of the cousins: The two cousins greeted one another, one running to assist the other, both pregnant with life and Faith. Mary’s formal salutation served both as a prophetic gesture and as a prophetic oracle. Elizabeth’s unborn child, touched by the Holy Spirit, leaped with joy in recognition that salvation was near. John’s “leap” revealed the sheer joy of being filled with God’s Spirit. Elizabeth was the first to hear the words, but John was the first to experience the grace. Elizabeth perceived Mary’s coming; John perceived the coming of the Lord. Many scholars also see a possible parallel with the “leaping” of the brothers Esau and Jacob in their mother’s womb (Gn 25:22). No wonder, John would be the first to recognize the presence of Jesus as He began His public ministry! “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb”: to many Catholics, these lines are most familiar because they form part of the core of the Hail Mary. Elizabeth does not simply speak these words; on the contrary, the text says that she “shouts them out with a loud voice”. Elizabeth then prophetically interprets this event, pointing away from her own motherhood to reveal the hidden identity of her visitor and the baby she carries. We too can “leap for joy,” because Jesus has come to us to forgive our sins. Elizabeth’s concluding words (“Blessed is she who believed… “) express a deeply Biblical—and profoundly Jewish—conviction: to trust in the Lord and in the Lord’s promises (no matter how seemingly impossible) the epitome of that authentic Faith is, of which both Mary and Elizabeth are key exemplars for Luke. Elizabeth, in turn, gives Mary assurance and confirmation to strengthen the young woman’s Faith in the early stages of her pilgrimage. She pronounces a blessing over Mary. Having been both blessed and favored, Mary was now in a blessed and happy condition. Mary was blessed both because of her Faith and because of her bearing of the Christ-child. Thus, Mary becomes the true believer, model of Faith and first among her Son’s disciple-followers. Mary helps Elizabeth in her time of need and serves her till John is born — her perfect, loving, and sacrificial gift to Elizabeth. This story teaches us the importance of mutual ministry. Each of us has a unique call, leaving us no reason for envy. Mary brought the Savior; John recognized and identified Him; and Elizabeth gave prophecy, mediating God’s word by interpreting this event. These two women rejoice, and we are called to rejoice with them, for one reason and one reason only: because God loves us enough to act. God wants each of us, like Mary, to bear within us, and to carry to those around us, no one other than the Lord of life.
The new Ark of the Covenant. Mary’s journey to visit Elizabeth had enormous significance for Luke’s Jewish and Gentile readers. It showed them that Mary’s womb was truly the locale of God’s presence. This story suggests a mysterious parallel between Mary’s journey into the hill country and the movement of the Ark of the Covenant to the same locale on its way to Jerusalem (II Samuel, Chapter 6). Both the Ark and Mary are greeted with “shouts of joy;” both are sources of joy for the households into which they enter; both the Ark and Mary remain in the hill country for three months. The sacred leaping and dancing before the Ark (2 Samuel 6:12) could be compared to John’s stirring, or, more literally, leaping (eskirtesin) for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. In the same way that King David had leapt and danced with joy in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, so John is leaping and dancing within the confines of Elizabeth’s womb. As a temporary vessel housing the immanent presence of God, Mary appears to fulfill the same purpose as the Ark of the Covenant. What the Ark of the Covenant could only signify (and only in a local way), Mary makes a reality, in a personal and universal way: Mary with her Child is an effective sign of God’s presence with his people. The Jewish Christians believed that God dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem, but now, the evangelist tells them, God is present in Mary. Like the Ark of the Covenant, God is journeying throughout His land, visiting His chosen people, and blessing them with His presence. As Ark of the New Covenant, Mary is the model par excellence of what every believer is called to be, the dwelling place of the Divine presence on earth.
The paradox of blessedness. In his commentary on this episode of visitation, William Barclay remarks that blessedness confers on a person both the greatest joy and the greatest task in the world. Nowhere can we see the paradox better than in Mary’s life. Mary was granted the blessedness and privilege of being the mother of the Son of God. Yet that very blessedness was to be a sword to pierce her heart: one day she would see her Son hanging on a cross. So, to be chosen by God is often both a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow. God does not choose us for a life of ease and comfort, but in order to use us for His purposes. When Joan of Arc knew that her time was short, she prayed, “I shall only last a year; use me as You can.” When we realize God’s purposes in our lives, the sorrows and hardships of life disappear.
Life messages: 1) We need to carry Jesus to others as Mary did. We can make a real difference in the lives of others by carrying Jesus to them. However, we cannot give what we do not possess. Christmas is the ideal time for us to be filled with the spirit of Christ, allowing his rebirth within us. Thus, he enables us to share his love with all whom we encounter by offering them humble and committed service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate caring. Sharing Jesus with others is the best Christmas gift we can give. God wants each of us, like Mary, to carry to those around us the Lord of Life. It is easy to send flowers, Christmas cards or gifts. To give the gift of oneself, however, is the greatest gift of all. Let us take the time to visit others this Christmas, to bring some inspiration into their lives, and hopefully to bring them closer to God. Let us share with them the Spirit of God, the Spirit of consolation, of courage, of peace and joy, just as Mary did. During the Christmas Season, God calls us into action as He did Mary. Is there anyone we know who is lonely, in a nursing home, ill or bedridden? Can we help him or her with a brief visit? Is there extra food in our pantry that a poor family could use? Such organizations as the Ladies of Charity or St. Vincent de Paul Society can find such a family for us.
2) We need to bless and encourage the younger generation. Elizabeth demonstrates the responsibility of the older generation to inspire the younger generation. We need others to recognize our gifts, to honor our true being, and to pronounce “the goodness of God upon us.” Grandparents, parents, teachers, and leaders have the responsibility of encouraging those around them by saying, “You are an important person, valuable to God and to me.” During this Christmas week, parents and older people might convey a blessing to others, especially the young. Complimenting and encouraging one’s spouse, children and friends, let us make them know how valuable they are to us and to God.
3) We need to recognize the real presence of the Emmanuel (God Is with Us) and say “yes” to Him: The Visitation of Mary reminds us that, through his holy ministry, Christ continues to be present among his people. The same Christ “dwells among us” in the Bible, in the Sacraments, and in the praying community. The hill country of Judea is right here in our sanctuary. The same Jesus who dwelt in Mary’s womb and who caused John to leap in Elizabeth’s womb now dwells among us in our liturgy and in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus has come — he lives with us and in us through the Holy Spirit. What is expected of us during this Christmas week is the readiness to say “Yes!” to the Father, “Yes!” to Jesus, “Yes!” to all that we will experience in the coming year and “Yes!” to every call that God makes and will make on us.
4) Mary’s pilgrimage should be our model: As we journey with Mary to the hill country, let us continue to contemplate our own life’s journey — its joys and sorrows, its triumphs and its tragedies. Our Christian journey began in Christ at the Baptismal font where He joined Himself to us forever. Our journey continues with Christ as he nourishes us along the way with the food of his Word and the food of his Flesh. It will end with Christ as we await our blessed end and join him and all his Saints in Heavenly splendor. It is up to us to prepare for that great day by spending our lives glorifying God in serving others with love and commitment.
Jokes of the week: 1) Christmas telegram: The preacher and his pregnant wife had left for a conference in France, forgetting to give instructions for the banner which was to decorate the hall at the Christmas Carol Concert, the following weekend. The parish secretary was astonished to receive a telegram from France which read simply: UNTO US A SON IS BORN. NINE FEET LONG AND TWO FEET WIDE. REV. AND MRS. JOHNSON.
2) Christmas Stamps: A woman went to the Post Office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards. “What denomination?” asked the clerk? “Oh, good Heavens! Have we come to this?” said the woman. “Well, give me 20 Catholic stamps for me and 20 Baptist stamps for my husband.”
3) On whose side? During the American Civil War, a lady exclaimed effusively to President Lincoln: “Oh Mr. President, I feel so sure that God is on our side, don’t you?” “Ma’am,” replied the President, “I am more concerned that we should be on God’s side.”