A “MAGNIFICAT” CHRISTMAS
One night, during the six o’clock news on TV, the financial reporter said among other things, “The stock market gained today, and the value of the dollar is up.” Hearing this, a seven-year-old asked her father what it meant when the value of the dollar went up. The father tried to give his young daughter the simplest possible explanation. He said, “Since the value is going up, you can buy more with a dollar now than you could before.” The daughter thought about this for a while, then she asked, “Do the stores know this?” In just a few days, we will be celebrating “The Event” that raised the value of our human hopes and aspirations infinitely. But as we look back over the weeks of preparation for this Event, we might as well ask if not only “Do the stores know this?” but also “Do we know this?”
The world around us is filled with Christmas sounds. If you listen with your outer ear, you will hear carols and bells and laughter, and now and then, perhaps, a sob. If you listen with your inner ear you will hear the vibrant whisper of the eternal world.
The world is filled with the sights of Christmas. If you look with your outer eyes, you will see tinseled trees, glowing candles, blinking stars and, perhaps, even a cardboard nativity scene. If you look with your inner eyes you will see the light of love in your own heart.
The Church invites us to spend this fourth Sunday of Advent waiting with Mary for the birth of her child. This is a wonderful gift, because right at the time when most of us feel a great weight of things still to be done, preparations still to be made, food and gifts to be bought and so on, we are gently summoned to stop and be still for a while with the mother of Our Lord. Surely we cannot miss the irony of the fact that just as we are rushing about, the one person who plays a key role in the Christmas story seems remarkably tranquil. Mary has an extraordinary instinct for knowing how to act, for showing us the way to authentic human living, the sort of life that brings serenity and joy. It could quite easily not be so; she has received earth-shattering news, her whole world has been turned upside down and all of the normal expectations of a young girl have disappeared in an instant. But in spite of all this she knows just what to do. She is the great teacher of simplicity, the great teacher of how to cut through the panic, and the anxiety, and the business and the pressure. So let us turn to Mary this weekend, and see what she might have to teach us.
Anyone who knows about the building of structures will understand the concept of FINISHING or FINISHING TOUCHES. It is often said that the beauty of a structure lies mostly on the finishing. The finishing of any undertaking whatsoever shows the dexterity, competence, patience, and expertise of those who were involved in the undertaking in question. There is always a finishing in everything; sports, education, travels, relationships, and ultimately in religious creed. If I may use a common saying in competitive sports: “it is not over until it is over!” Put in another way we can say: “it is not over until the finishing is done!”
Attentive to the description above, we can say that the advent period can only be over when we do the finishing touches. The readings today draw our attention to the needful finishing we need to do before we launch into the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Particularly, our attention is drawn to the inputs of two women who stand close to the nativity, that is Mary and Elizabeth. Last Sunday we were asked to rejoice because he is near; today on the other hand we have been called to share that joy with others. We are told not only to accept this divine invitation to rejoice, we are also asked to become vehicles for the spread of this message of hope and joy. The best way to enjoy anything is to share the thing in question; after all it is often said that: “THERE IS JOY IN SHARING!” In other words, one of the finishing touches we are required to do is to spread this joy we have received to others.
A certain mother told a story about her five year old son Patrick, that drives home this point. The mother had used a simple manger scene to teach Patrick about Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. She told him that the child born in Bethlehem was some one very special in the Christmas celebration. One day Patrick went on a shopping trip with his mother. One salesperson showed him a sparkling display of Santas, toys, and decorations. He was fascinated. But when he looked around and did not see the baby Jesus he spoke up and said “But where is the baby Jesus?” Every person was surprised at his wisdom. This is exactly the message of the second reading. Here Paul tells us that what we celebrate at Christmas is all about the good news of what God has done for us in his son, Jesus Christ. That is to say that Jesus Christ is the reason for the season.
In the First Reading today, the Prophet Micah, speaks about a future ruler of Israel who will come from Bethlehem. The reading further points to the Promised Messiah who will himself be peace to all who accept him. This brought about among some of the chosen people an understanding that a Messiah, a Savior, would come from Bethlehem. Thus when the three Magi ask, they are directed to Bethlehem.
The Second Reading, the Letter to the Hebrews, confirms that Jesus came to do his Father’s will and reconciles us to God and each other on the cross. It is not some external reality that God wants. God wants our hearts and our beings, completely. God wants us to seek him and to do his will. Not only that, God’s plan is a plan of pure joy that the world cannot offer.
As our world is bursting with excitement these last days before Christmas, the Church, in today’s Gospel, presents us with two expectant mothers, bursting with the excitement of their pregnancies. We refer to the scene as the Visitation. Spiritual writers have often said that Mary’s first act as the mother of the Savior is to bring his love and kindness to her kinswoman, Elizabeth, the Visitation being an act of charity. There is far more to this meeting than that. After all, Elizabeth was the wife of Zechariah, a Temple priest whose rank was so high that he was chosen that year to be the priest to enter the innermost chamber of the Temple, the Holy of Holies. Certainly there were plenty of women around Elizabeth to help her through her pregnancy and childbirth.
This meeting of the two expectant mothers has a deeper significance than just being an example of charity. It is the Old Testament pointing to the New Testament. It is John within Elizabeth, leaping for joy, pointing to Jesus within Mary.
The Gospel begins with the journey Mary made to the house of Elizabeth upon hearing the good news of God’s divine intervention in the family of Zacharia and Elizabeth. Mary’s visit was divinely motivated as we know that she was already filled with the Holy Spirit. Her visit to Elizabeth is one of the major finishing touches needed on the road to the nativity of the Lord. The necessity of this journey was confirmed when Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary. She testified under the influence of the same Holy Spirit that overwhelmed Mary that as soon as she heard the voice of Mary the Child in her womb leapt for joy. Some theologians would say the Spirit-filled voice of Mary brought about (through God’s grace) the untying of John from original sin; hence he leapt for joy at being liberated. Others would say that at the greeting of Mary John could see his mission as forerunner very well and could not wait to start announcing the filling of valleys, leveling of mountains and hills and smoothening of rough paths (Luke 3:4-6).
Mary’s visit on the other hand was a mission to share a two-fold joy. The joy of her cousin in view of the blessing with a child as well as the joy God had put into her by choosing her to be the mother of the Saviour. Elizabeth’s response to Mary’s greeting as well as Mary’s song (the Magnificat) is an indication of the sharing of this joy. It seemed that all this had to take place before the birth of our Saviour as a confirmation of God’s hand in the plan of salvation.
Today’s message is an ardent call to put finishing touches before the Saviour is born. John had earlier called for the construction of a spiritual super highway that will usher in the Messiah. Now we are called upon to put the finishing touches on the spiritual construction work we had done. Some things may still be out of order, some edges may still need more straightening, some beautification may still be lacking. This final finishing touches need to be done in Bethlehem as the location of this birth. Obviously Micah in the first reading is actually referring to our hearts not just the town of Bethlehem. That small hidden part of our being (like Bethlehem little to be among the clans of Judah) namely our hearts will become the birthplace of our Saviour. To make this to become more effectual we need to go back to the First Reading and replace Bethlehem with “my heart” and Judah with “my being”.
There may still be some imperfections in your life, there may still be some attachments to inordinate things, and there may still be some elements of unforgiveness in your life and so on. This is the right time to do the needful finishing touches in your life so that your heart will be ready to accommodate the birth of the Saviour. At this point we could ask ourselves some questions like:
1. “Have I gone for confession in order to be worthy enough to celebrate with Christ at Christmas?”
2. “Have I made peace with my neighbours and those whom I perceive or who perceive me to be their enemies?”
3. “Do I have room for Jesus Christ to be born in me?”
4. “What gift will I offer to the new born king?”
5. “Will his coming at Christmas make me better or worse in my relationship with him and my neighbours”?
By the time we give answers to these questions we would be better placed to know our strengths, weakness, opportunities and challenges in view of celebrating a blissful and Christ-centred Christmas. As we light the fourth candle, may God give us the grace to see clearly the areas in our lives that need to be amended before Jesus Christ is born in us!
Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of us all, pray for us in these last days of Advent; help us to see beyond the hustle and bustle of daily life, so that we never lose sight of the real meaning of the coming feast. Help us to see your Son present in everyone we meet, and most particularly in the visitors we welcome; and help us to bring the presence of Christ into every home we visit, so that in all we say and do, God’s holy Name may be praised
and blessed. We ask this in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.