Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 23, 2018 Cycle C
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine,
 Washington, D.C.

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In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, we meditate upon the mystery of the incarnation: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). On the last Sunday before Christmas, we contemplate Mary’s role in bringing the eternal Word of God into time and space. Like Our Lady, we learn that God uses small and humble instruments to fulfill the greatness of his design.

Today’s first reading declares: “You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel” (Mi 5:2). God’s choice of Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah shows us that greatness comes from smallness. In this small and unknown town, the greatest of all kings was born. God accomplishes his plans with discretion, concealing his greatness in the simple, the poor and the humble. God uses what seems insignificant in the world’s eyes to manifest his glory.

In today’s Gospel, we contemplate the mystery of the visitation: the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth. They were apparently common and unknown women, like so many other daughters of Israel. Nonetheless, one of them was bearing the greatest of the prophets in her womb and the other, the Savior of mankind. Elizabeth and Mary’s greatness was not owing to themselves but to the fruits of their wombs.  When the mother of Jesus enters the house of Zechariah, the mother of John the Baptist says: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). Elizabeth recognizes that Mary’s greatness is owing to the infant that she carries in her womb. However, Mary’s cooperation was essential. That is why Elizabeth also says: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45). Mary’s faith and acceptance of God’s will were the necessary prerequisites for the incarnation of the Word. In the encyclical Redemptoris Mater, Saint John Paul II wrote: “The fullness of grace announced by the angel means the gift of God himself. Mary’s faith, proclaimed by Elizabeth at the Visitation, indicates how the Virgin of Nazareth responded to this gift.”

Today’s second reading tells us that the incarnation was the fruit of God the Son’s obedience: “When Christ came into the world, he said: […] a body you prepared for me […] behold, I come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:5‒7). Jesus’ obedience to the Father corresponds to Mary’s: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk1:38).

We do not need to do anything extraordinary. We just need to do God’s will. We become great when we place our smallness into God’s greatness as we accept our given circumstances. If we do God’s will, like Mary, we shall carry Jesus within us. Through our wretched humanity, we can bear witness to the greatness of God. The presence of God within us makes us great. A Christian need not speak about himself but his life, transformed by faith, should bear witness to Christ, even when nothing is said explicitly.

Today’s psalm says: “[…] give us new life, and we will call upon your name” (Ps 80:18). This new life is generated in us by faith. This new life is when the greatness of God lives in our poor hearts. The Gospel says: “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” (Lk 1:39). The grace received through the annunciation impelled Mary to proclaim the greatness of the Lord to everyone. As she visited Elizabeth, Our Lady tirelessly visits all those who desire to partake in her proclamation of God’s greatness. As she says in the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness” (Lk 1:46‒48).

Let us pray that Our Lord may also look upon our lowliness and do great things in our lives as we strive to do his will, inspired by Mary’s example. Since we are so close to Christmas, let us pray the refrain of today’s psalm: “Lord, make us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved.”  Amen.

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[1] JOHN PAUL II, Mary: God’s Yes to Man—John Paul II’s Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1988, p. 66.