4th Sunday of Advent
Preached December 23, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Today, on this 4th Sunday of Advent, we are presented with the Gospel of the Visitation. We witness one of the simplest, most common, yet most beautiful events of ordinary human life, two pregnant women congratulating each other. There is no envy here, but each rejoicing in the good of the other.
As with everything related to the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ, this particular event both reveals and conceals the greatness of the divine mystery.
Something divine is revealed when the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy, recognizing the presence of the Savior. Something divine is revealed when Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaims Mary to be the mother of the Lord, blessed in the blessed fruit of her womb, blessed because of her faith.
All of this points to the secret yet hidden in Mary’s womb; the secret that already begins its sanctifying work by using the voice of his own Mother to sanctify John in the womb of his mother.
The secret has been made known, in part, but like the pregnant mother, we are still waiting for its full revelation. Who is this child to be born, who is already proclaimed as “The Lord”?
We could turn to today’s 1st reading and learn that his origin is from old, from ancient times.
The prophet Micah speaks already some 700 years before the birth of Christ and already then his origin is from old, indeed his origin is from the beginning of humanity. His origin is of old because his coming was already prophesied in the beginning when, in the hearing of Adam and Eve, the Lord God pronounced his judgment on the evil serpent: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel. (Gen 3:15)
When Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, proclaims Mary blessed among women and proclaims also that the fruit of her womb is blessed, she recognizes Mary as the woman of the ancient prophecy, the woman at enmity with the serpent, the woman conceived without sin. She also recognizes the child hidden in her womb as the one destined to crush the head of the serpent. The ‘heel’ at which the serpent strikes speaks of the sacred humanity of the Son of God, whereby he walks on the earth, the sacred humanity which was ‘struck’ when he was nailed to the Cross.
Next, we can turn to today’s 2nd reading, which gives us a sort of spiritual ‘ultrasound’ on the child in the Virgin’s womb.
Like the Virgin herself the words of sacred Scripture are often pregnant with a divine meaning that we can readily miss. The 2nd reading begins with these simple words, when Christ came into the world.
Now, each one of us came into the light of the day when we were born, but none of us properly speaking, ever came into the world, because we did not exist before our conception in our mother’s womb. Jesus Christ came into the world because he already was the Son of God, in eternity, above and beyond the world of time, before he came into the world of time, being conceived as man, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the Virgin. His origin is from old, from ancient times because he was born of the Father before all ages.
The words about Christ coming into the world also tell us something about the meaning of what follows; the Letter to the Hebrews speaks to us about the reality of Jesus, even when he was hidden in the womb of his Mother.
We know that it is some years after an ordinary child leaves the womb of his mother before he is really capable of choosing anything, much less committing himself to a course of action. We know that ordinarily it is some years after a child is born before he can know the difference between right and wrong and thereby becomes responsible for his actions.
Nevertheless, the Scripture tells us that upon entering the world, that is from the first moment of his conception in the womb of the Virgin, the man Jesus knew who he was, why he came and was capable of making an act of self-offering to his heavenly Father.
He was already capable of saying, as it were, not with the lips of a body not yet fully formed, but with the intention of his mind in the presence of his Father: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, ‘As it is written of me in the scroll, behold I come to do your will.’
How it can be that a man, even before the first division of cells takes place after conception, possesses such knowledge and will we do not know; we do know that for God all things are possible. (Lk 1:37) From the very beginning the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ was filled with the divine light of his godhead, enabling him fully to know the Father, know the purpose of his humanity, give thanks for the body he had received from the Virgin, and offer his whole human life back to God as a living and holy sacrifice of loving obedience, obedience that would continue unbroken until his dying breath on the Cross. (cf. Rm 12:1, Ph 2:8)
Already hidden in the womb of his Mother, the interior life of Jesus was complete. Already he acted through his Mother to communicate his holiness to John. Later, as he acquired in human fashion the knowledge that he already possessed by the divine light, he would also invite us to his friendship, sharing with us his knowledge of the Father and his plan of salvation. (cf. Jn 15:15)
The same salvation that, through the Virgin Mary, came to John and caused him to leap for joy comes to us as well. Jesus comes to us hidden in the sacraments as he was hidden in the womb of the Virgin Mary; Jesus comes to us hidden in the ordinary events of our life as he was hidden in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He comes to us to change our lives so that we can give ourselves to God, without fear, without holding back, in gladness and joy, as he gave himself to his Father from the first moment in his Mother’s womb.