Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 23, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This morning before the 8:45 Mass, at about 8:15,
the fire alarm went off in the church.
And after evacuating everyone, and having the fire department come and go,
and all the confusion in between,
before Mass in the sacristy I gathered the altar boys together for prayer,
and reminded them, “Let us place ourselves in the presence of God.”
Advent can sometimes be like a fire drill, with all the confusion of shopping and decorating and everything that goes with preparing for the cultural celebration of Christmas.
But then you come here to set things straights, to focus on the real meaning of Advent—to place yourself in the presence of God.
But really, all of Advent should be that way, continuously trying to place yourself in His presence.
And in these last few hours of Advent to help us with that, I encourage you
to also place yourselves in the presence of the 2 people
who understand what it means to prepare for the birth of Jesus
better than anyone: the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.
Not much is known about the early life of the Blessed Mother.
Scripture is silent about her childhood,
and for the most part, so are the early fathers of the Church.
Even so, Scripture and all the Fathers are unanimous
in their deep reverence and love for her,
and her unique grace and status in creation
is explicitly extolled from the earliest days.
And not all of the Fathers are silent about her childhood.
Some are very clear in their belief that she knew from a very early age
that God had a special mission for her in life.
Think about it: the Church teaches infallibly that
she was conceived in the womb of her mother
without the stain of original sin,
which means she never suffered from concupiscence:
she could see very clearly the difference between
the good and evil around her;
and she never once committed a personal sin.
This is, in part, what the angel Gabriel meant when he said to her:
“Hail, full of grace!”
This was no ordinary child.
So it’s no surprise that some of the fathers held
that when she was a very little girl
Mary made a vow of virginity to God:
consecrating and dedicating her whole life to Him.
Some say that from the age of about 3 years old she was
brought to the Temple where she was educated by the priests and scribes
until she was about 12.
Some talk about the fact that she would have had multiple experiences
of visions and inspirations from God.
In any case, between Mary’s
unique holiness, her clear intellect, and her complete love of the Lord,
combined with God’s unique love for her,
we can only imagine how splendidly she was prepared
to be His mother.
Think of God the Son, who existed from all eternity,
and imagine how sitting on His throne in heaven
He must have looked down with love and tenderness
on this young girl who He knew would one day become His mother.
Think of how He would
provide for her and protect her,
how He would send His angels to defend her,
how He would speak to her lovingly, even before He was born,
perhaps even more clearly and intimately
than He spoke to Moses and the prophets.
This is the girl, who, when the angel Gabriel came to her
and told her that she would be the Mother of God himself,
did not run and hide from her calling.
Instead she responded: “How can this be, since I know not man?”
–in other words, “I’m a virgin, what am I to do? tell me, and I’ll do it!”
This is something else we certainly know about this young girl:
she was a virgin.
The Gospels make it clear that she’s a virgin
because they want no doubt that that no mere man
is the father of this child, but that God alone is His true Father.
And when the angel told her this great news she responded:
“let it be done to me according to your word.”
Complete and utter faith, trust, and acceptance of God’s will.
This is the woman, who received her Lord in perfect faith and love.
Who held Him in her womb;
who cared for and worried for her baby
as only as an expectant mother could,
and waited for Him with joy and love beyond all telling.
What about Joseph?
If we know little about Mary’s childhood, we know even less about Joseph’s.
We know that, like Mary, he was a direct descendant of King David,
and that he was perhaps born in Bethlehem,
but more likely born in Nazareth
where he lived and worked as a carpenter.
His relative obscurity in Scripture leads us to conclude that he was humble man,
who taught his son, Jesus, to be a humble man
—to serve, not to be served.
Some of the legends about him say
that he was an old man when he married Mary.
Some suggest this as a reason he was able to be celibate with the Virgin
—but that degrades both the gift of celibacy and the virtue of St. Joseph.
So, another strain of the tradition, running through the great Augustine and Aquinas
holds that he was a young man of marrying age.
But above all, we know he was a righteous man,
which, in the language of Scripture,
means a man who was an exceptionally holy man,
always following the will of God.
And so, it shouldn’t surprise us that it is the tradition of the Fathers,
and the “common teaching” of the Church,
that like Mary, he too was prepared from an early age
for his role in salvation history.
That Joseph, who unlike Mary, was not conceived without original sin,
nevertheless, like Mary never committed a personal sin in his life.
Indeed, some even believe that Joseph was purified from original sin
after his conception in his mother’s womb, before he was born.
All of this because he had been chosen to stand in, on earth,
for Jesus’ Father in heaven,
to adopt Jesus, and to be a true father to Hhim.
To teach Jesus, insofar as he was human, how to be a man, a righteous man.
It is this Joseph who is married to the Virgin Mary.
These are the Joseph and Mary that were prepared for the birth of Christ
from the earliest days of their lives
—chosen by God to prepare a place for Jesus in the world.
To welcome Him with open and loving arms.
To serve Him, even as He was to serve them.
To worship and adore Him, even as they corrected His childish mistakes.
This is the Mary and Joseph who traveled on the rocky mountainous roads
from Nazareth in the North of Israel, to Bethlehem in the south,
during the cold month of December.
This is the Mary and Joseph, dedicated to their baby and to each other,
who wandered the streets of Bethlehem
looking for a place to lay their heads.
This was the Mary and Joseph who hastily cleaned the stable,
sweeping the floor, washing the dirty manger and laying out fresh hay.
This was the Mary and Joseph who watched in awe
the miraculous birth of God the Son
—who were filled with the immeasurable joy
at the coming of the Messiah.
This was the Mary and Joseph who loved our Lord
as only a new mommy and daddy can
—more than you and I could ever begin to.
While the best Christmas present is always saved for Christmas morning,
most of us get a few Christmas presents in the days before Christmas.
As we make our last minute Christmas preparations this week,
let us remember to open the wonderful gifts God gives us today:
the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
Gifts He gives us to help us prepare for His greatest gift of Christmas—His Son.
Let us turn to them as examples,
and ask them, who prepared so perfectly for the coming of their son,
to show us how to prepare.
And as we a move into these last few days before the birth of their little baby,
let us stay close to them so that they may show us
the wonder, the awe, the joy and love that Christmas means.