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4th Sunday of Advent

December 23, 2018

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

All three readings for this 4th and final Sunday of Advent speak about how God works in unexpected ways. These Scriptures reveal a God who can and does work in surprising ways never dreamed of before.

There had been a long tradition of animal sacrifice in Israel’s covenant with God, sacrifices repeated over and over again for the forgiveness of sin. But the 2nd reading from Hebrews reveals that God will be doing something new through the gift of His Son’s body, a single sacrifice. Who would have thought that God would tire of sacrifices in the temple or make the human body his temple?

Then we discover that Jerusalem will not be the birthplace of the savior, that he will be born in a little, out-of-the way place called Bethlehem. What a surprise this must have been to the people of Israel, who considered Jerusalem, the location of the temple and the capital city, to be the logical place for such an important birth.

Then there is this encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, where it is revealed that God is going to make a new covenant with His people, but not with men as he has done in the past, but through a young woman. No one in that world, which was a “man’s world”, could ever have expected this.

In all these ways we discover a God who approaches us in unexpected and surprising ways.

So, this encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is much more than two women sharing the joy of new life blossoming in their wombs. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is much more than two unexpectedly expectant mothers rejoicing in the gift of new life. This is a grace-filled story of God visiting his people. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit because the bringer of the Spirit blooms within Mary’s womb. Elizabeth blesses Mary and praises God for what God is doing in Mary’s life because the Son of God dwells within Mary—God is visiting Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. Even the child growing within Elizabeth’s barren womb recognizes the presence of God and leaps for joy within her womb, pointing out the Savior as he comes, as John will do later in his adult life.

This Gospel passage of the Visitation is about God who visits His People. It is about God who embraces the lifeless and brings them new life. the God who comes to the hopeless and fills them with hope. It is about a God of surprises, who surprises those who have given up. It is about a God who does what we cannot imagine, choosing to leave heaven and divine privileges behind, the God of the universe confined to the tiny space of a woman’s womb, dependent upon His creation for life itself.

No wonder there is so much joy in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. God is visiting their home, the God who is the reason for joy and laughter and song. Immediately after this encounter with Elizabeth, Mary will break forth into song, s inging her praises of the God who has visited her & done great things for her.

Elizabeth is the patron saint of Advent because she teaches us to be watchful and alert for the visit of God. Elizabeth shows us that when we wait in faith, joyful in hope, that God will visit us in unexpected ways.

Who would have thought that Mary would make the difficult trip to Elizabeth’s home? This newly pregnant teenager takes an arduous journey from Nazareth into the hill country of Judah, a 78-mile trek by donkey and on foot.

So God comes to us, like a lover climbing up into the hills to find his beloved. Like a lover who will go to the farthest ends of the earth to be with his beloved, so our God is towards us. The God who is the source of all love will not be denied, for He will “make us” turn to Him so we might see His Face gazing upon us with tenderness and delight.

God visits humanity by becoming human in Jesus so that now all human encounters have the potential of communicating something of the Divine Presence and Love. The world changed with Mary’s “YES” as God was conceived in her womb, God came to dwell with the human race, so that God could continue to visit His people through the events of ordinary, everyday life.

Elizabeth challenges us to be alert and ready and watchful for these divine visitations. She teaches us that others can bring us into contact with the Son of God and his desire for us.

As we receive the visits of family and friends during Christmas and the joy-filled days of the Christmas Season, we welcome Him coming to us through others. In the gift that other people are to us, the one who is the Greatest Gift of all visits us. In the warmth of their love for us, we experience the warmth of his love for us. In the joy we share during this time, we taste something of the infinite joy awaiting us.

He is also knocking at our door, longing to visit us, in those with whom he most closely identifies: the poor and the outcast, the suffering, the stranger and the imprisoned.

We are surprised when we find God visiting us in the least of our brothers and sisters, a group the Old Testament calls the “anawim.” But that is what God does, coming to us in seemingly insignificant events and seemingly insignificant people.

All of life is Advent, for all of life is about the coming of God into our lives, the never-ending, always-surprising visits of God. This Advent Season prepares us for more than celebrating the birth of the Son of God. These holy days are meant to prepare us for him coming in so many unexpected ways each day.

We celebrate Christmas each year because we too often forget that God wants to be with us, that God desires us, that God longs for us with a never-ending passion. God becomes human like us to be with us wherever we are, to experience experience of heartbreak and joy of being human, to taste sorrow and delight, so that we will know his loving presence with us always and in ALL WAYS!