A question my friends for each of us to ask today on this 4th and last weekend of Advent might be: “Just what was God up to in the Incarnation? I invite you to think about the anticipation of a long-awaited event—Kelly has been awaiting this night for a long time— when she could officially become a Catholic, others of us might have been waiting for the new Star Wars movie to come to Winona and now it is here, we might think of a long-awaited baby to come, or the coming of special guests—family or friends at this wonderful season of the year. We have all been in one or more such times of waiting, and have experienced the almost palpable excitement for things to start. That is where we find ourselves tonight on this 4th Weekend of Advent—on the threshold of something great!
The readings we just heard bring together the major themes we have looked at during the season of Advent: promise, repentance, transformation and joy—and now we are on the threshold of entering into that joy. A purely human manifestation for me that we are almost there comes each year when we put up our Christmas tree and decorate our house. We always do that about a week before Christmas and then, for me at least, we are at the point of having the preparations move into a special place. The quiet waiting is over –the joy is becoming palpable. Family begins to gather and gifts start to show up under the tree—a manifestation of the felt love of family and friends. This year, because our Christmas family gathering won’t happen until late in January, our tree won’t go up until next week, with the hope that it will last until the long-awaited guests arrive, so our anticipation is on hold a bit.
So what is all this joy really about? What was God up to in the Incarnation? Today’s readings show us clearly that Jesus, the Christ was born into ordinariness, if not abject poverty. He appeared incarnate the first time in a backwater town, Bethlehem, who’s only other notable inhabitant up until that time had been David and no one of any import is known to have followed Jesus. That should tell us a great deal about the man we Christians say we follow—not in greatness did he come, but in lowliness—a great sign of what his concern throughout his short life will be and what ours must be as well.
In today’s Gospel, we see Mary, a young maid, going to help her matronly aunt, who like Mary is with child. Nothing unusual here, except for Elizabeth being pregnant in her later years. Young girls would often go and help older family members. But certainly there was more to God’s plan than this. The two growing babies recognize each other from the sanctuaries of their mothers’ wombs. We catch the excitement through the Gospel words, “When I heard your greeting, my baby leapt in my womb for joy!”
Our loving God probably knew that in an unbelieving world where others would doubt the truth of what each woman proclaimed; they would need the affirmation and support of each other to confirm what each knew had happened within her as a response to her faith and trust in a loving God. This is what Mary’s “blessedness” proclaimed by Elizabeth is really all about—Mary’s faith and trust in a loving God—and that this same God would be faithful to her—her Magnificat shows her to be a woman of strength . In addition, we are presented with Elizabeth, both truly women to emulate in our own lives.
Another question that we might ask: why does God choose the ordinary to show us the divine? It might be to direct us back to God wherein all is possible; thus in simplicity; we can see greatness. If this is a problem for us, seeing greatness in the simple, the ordinary, maybe the problem is with us in insisting that the divine come in loud and flashy ways, rather than through the ordinariness of life: through babies at their mothers’ breasts, through children playing, through moms and dads, and grandparents, through young and old, through all the professions represented here as we go about our daily tasks to make our world better. The readings today insist that the Incarnation comes to the most ordinary among us and all that is required from us is an openness to do God’s will—a willingness to answer God’s call. The reading from the author to the Hebrews states that this willingness to answer God’s call and do God’s will was the motivating force in Jesus’ life.
Jesus is proof that God doesn’t want our sacrifices, holocausts, or sin offerings. What God wants is our open and willing hearts. Such was Mary’s heart in her “yes” to God as was Elizabeth’s in welcoming Mary into her home. In the actions of both of these women, they welcomed into their hearts and into our world, the long-awaited Messiah.
And when did we ever need a messiah more than now as our country grieves the loss of so many this past year to gun violence. Three years ago when we last shared these readings; we were newly grieving the loss of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT—hoping that the deaths of 6 year-olds would finally cause our country to do something to take guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. But it was not to be.
The examples of Jesus, Mary and Elizabeth in our Scriptures today should give us a great deal of hope even in the face of the violence which we can’t as yet get our arms around, because if we follow their examples, then each loving action we personally do in faith says that the Incarnation has taken place—that Jesus lives within us and by extension then—in all of God’s people. We have seen growing support across our country with such slogans as, “Enough!” and continued calls for more background checks. Groups such as Everytown have sprung up trying to get people to see that while the violence may have been at Sandy Hook, three years ago, or San Bernardino presently, every town is susceptible due to the gargantuan proliferation of guns in our country—we have more guns than people in our country—350, 000,000 roughly!
I believe that what God was really all about in that original Incarnation was to come among us, be one of us, to show us how to be our best selves. I say “original” because you see friends, the Incarnation continues today if we allow it to. It has been said, we need to give birth to Jesus in each time and place because each time and place needs God to come into our existence in ways that we can understand.
In the Incarnation, Jesus lifts us all up. We are told that in the face of weapons such as are being used in these mass shootings, those immediately affected, could do little. But in our daily lives there is much that we can do—advocate for stricter gun laws and allocate funding to adequately assist those with mental illness.
When we contemplate the Incarnation and all that it means; we must as a Church realize the travesty it is for us to ever, in any of our Catholic churches, deny people access to the Eucharist. We then effectively stop the Incarnation from happening in those lives. We, each of us, are the conduits for God’s presence to be felt in our world—we have an awesome responsibility to welcome all and work for the good of all, especially the most innocent in our midst, as evidenced in our Scriptures today.
Tonight we will be welcoming Kelly into the Catholic church as a full member. All the years of her life she has lived the Christian way and in fact when we originally discussed her becoming a Catholic and talked about what was needed for her to make this step; I acknowledged that she was baptized a Christian within the Methodist church, confirmed, and that each of these sacraments we do only once so they didn’t need to be repeated. But from the beginning, she was welcomed at the table here because at All Are One, everyone is welcomed if they want to join us in this way. But tonight, Kelly’s reception of communion will be, for the first time, as a Catholic—talk about waiting and anticipation!
A final point that I think it is important for us to meditate on today, given our Scriptures, is the case of Mary and what it was like for her to be found with child in the society in which she lived. Elizabeth addresses her as “blessed among women.” Probably many in her neighborhood, if truth be told, gossiped about her and some even shunned her for what they felt was only too obvious. It couldn’t have been easy for her—Scripture doesn’t tell us—but her family may not have believed her story—
Joseph didn’t at first. After all, it was quite a fantastic story when one thinks about it—pregnant by the Spirit of God—carrying the long-awaited Messiah! At the least, was no doubt, ridicule and shunning. At the worst, a woman could be stoned in the streets for carrying an illegitimate pregnancy.
Mary wasn’t a remote, supernatural being, but a flesh and blood human that came to be called “blessed” through her willing response to God’s call. Feast days like the Immaculate Conception remembered on December 8th serve only to remove Mary from the flesh and blood human that she was who struggled just like all of us. As someone wise once said and I paraphrase, if Mary was without sin, perfect, in other words, she wasn’t human, and if she wasn’t human, then what does that say about Jesus? Our God never had any problem with our imperfection—she/he, made us that way. You know friends, we too are “blessed” when, like Mary, we believe in God’s promises, through all the ups and downs of our lives.
We stand now on the threshold of something great as we remember at Christmas time once again that divine love became more fully present in our world through Jesus, the Christ. We assure that divine love will continue in our world if we give birth again and again to Jesus through our lives. Every time we try to be more understanding, more merciful, more gentle, more kind, more just; when we strive to see the divine in each other, even the most seemingly wretched among us—then and only then, do we incarnate Jesus once again into our lives.
I believe my friends, this is what God was all about in sending Jesus to begin life in poor and humble surroundings, to live a life that wasn’t about glitz and power, in order that we would know that each of us can be instruments of God’s love, peace and justice in our world. This is what we celebrate each year at Christmas time—the promise and the possibility of love born again into our world. Kelly, in a few moments, this is what you will be saying “yes” to. Amen? Amen!