TEXT: 4th Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 20, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In the last few weeks many of us have spent considerable time with packages
–wrapping them, mailing them, giving them or receiving them.
And I think everyone–from the smallest child to the oldest grandparent–
finds a certain thrilling fascination with all these packages
–wondering what’s inside.
That fascination is often enhanced by the package itself
–the huge box under the Christmas tree
with the bright shiny paper and the gold and red ribbons and bows
is always a conversation stopper.
But perhaps even more fascinating because of the mystery it presents,
is the small tiny package wrapped in plain paper without a bow.
Because as we all know: “good things come in small packages.”
Today’s readings present us with 5 small packages, very humbly wrapped.
5 small humble packages in which very good things come.
The first package is the town of Bethlehem.
A small little backwater village,
where nothing terribly important had happened for over 1000 years.
And yet Scripture tells us that the gift that is in her
“shall reach to the ends of the earth”.
The second package is the child in the womb of St. Elizabeth:
St. John the Baptist.
A child that even when he grew into a man wouldn’t be much to look at
in his very humble wrappings of animal skins.
But a child of whom God Himself would say:
“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.”
The third package is a young woman from Nazareth: the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Perhaps a uniquely beautiful, intelligent and virtuous girl,
yet still humble in manner and origin,
living a life completely self effacing and self-emptying:
one who called herself:
“the handmaid of the Lord”, and “his lowly servant.”
And yet, St. Elizabeth tells her in today’s Gospel:
“Blessed are you among women,”
and Mary herself will respond:
“all generations shall call me blessed.”
Each of these three figures from Scripture
is recognized as being good in and of themselves.
But the most important and best thing about all three of these packages
is not who they themselves are,
but what they contain.
In fact to the extent they are good in themselves it’s because they were specially prepared to be containers for the
greatest gift the world has ever known.
–Bethlehem is the City of David in order that David’s greatest descendant
might be born there
–John is “the greatest man born of a woman”
so that he could prepare the way
for the one whose sandals he was unfit to unstrap,
–Mary was “full of grace,” and “blessed among women,”
so that she could be the Mother of the baby
who was Grace and Blessing himself.
A great thing comes in these small packages in today’s Scriptures:
each in a unique way contains God the Son, Jesus Christ.
But for each of these packages to contain Jesus they must first receive Jesus.
And to receive him they must be prepared to do the will of God.
In today’s first reading we read the ancient Prophecy of Micah
that promises Bethlehem that she will be the birth place of the Messiah:
so for hundreds of years this tiny village
prepares and longs for that day when she can fulfill God’s will.
In today’s Gospel St. Elizabeth tells us that St. John is so eager to get on
with doing the will of God that he “leapt in my womb for joy”
when he found himself in the presence of Jesus for the first time.
And finally, today’s Gospel tells us that Mary
–after surrendering herself completely to the will of God
–“let it be done to me according to your word”
and receiving the child Jesus
into her heart and into her womb
–she almost immediately
“set out, proceeding in haste into the hill country”
to visit Elizabeth
–wasting no time to begin doing the will of God.
These three figures of Scripture, “packages”, come to contain Christ
only by eagerly seeking to fulfill the will of God.
I mentioned before that there are 5 packages presented in Scripture today,
but so far I’ve only mentioned 3.
This same desire to fulfill the will of God also brings us to what–or “who”
–might be called our fourth “package”: the tiny Baby Jesus himself.
Jesus is sort of the invisible character in today’s Gospel. But he’s there.
The Jesus we find in today’s Gospel is the tiniest and most humble of packages.
He is a package smaller than the head of a pin,
only a few days after his conception in Mary’s womb.
But even so, it can be said,
as the adult Jesus says to his Father in today’s second reading:
“a body you have prepared for me.”
It is this body which is the package of the greatest gift of all.
Of course we don’t think of this body as a mere package
that Christ will some day throw away as unimportant.
Because this body doesn’t just contain God the Son
–and it doesn’t just conform to the will of God
–this body is God the Son made flesh,
and the will of God made really personally present to the world.
And so it’s not just a mere package.
But in a certain sense it is the perfect package.
Because the reason for packages is
to contain things so that they can be brought as presents to others.
Bethlehem brings a savior to the Jewish shepherds and the Gentile magi
to come to adore Christ, and then to the whole world.
John brings the Word of God to Israel and prepares his way.
The Blessed Mother brings her son into a home and a family, to her people and into the world,
and presents him to all who will to welcome him and love him.
And through the incarnation and birth of Christ, God brings himself bodily,
presenting himself and his will in a living breathing and complete way
for all mankind.
As the second reading reminds us:
“we have been consecrated
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
This last quote from today’s second reading leads us to the 5th “package”
presented in today’s readings.
St. Paul tells us WE have been sanctified by Christ’s body,
which was offered once for ALL.
The fifth package is us–all the members of his Church.
In this Advent season we’ve been preparing ourselves to receive Christ
by trying to more and more to conform ourselves to the will of God.
But once we’ve received him into our lives,
we’re also called to be packages
which carry the gift of Christ to all we meet,
so that through us the prophecy made to little Bethlehem
can be fulfilled:
“From you shall come forth… one who is to be ruler in Israel;
….And…his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth..”
We are the packages that contain Jesus, to bring him to the ends of the earth.
Today when you go home and you see the packages under your Christmas tree,
remember Bethlehem, St. John and the Blessed Mother.
Ask yourself if you’re prepared to receive Christ into your heart this Christmas:
–have you, like Bethlehem,
held firm for all these days and weeks and years
believing God’s promise would come true?
–have you, like John, leapt at the chance to do the will of God?
–have you, like the Blessed Virgin, set out in haste to do the will of God,
blessed because you trusted that the Lord’s words
would be fulfilled?
And have you prepared yourself so that once you have received Christ
you will be ready to carry him and present him to all those you meet,
in every situation.
As you contemplate the packages bearing gifts, think:
what is the greatest gift I will receive,
and what is the greatest present I will give this Christmas?
And if the answer to both isn’t “Jesus Christ”
then all the shiny bows and bright paper,
and all the expensive toys and watches and books they contain
and your Christmas will have no meaning.
Because at Christmas, and every day of every year,
the greatest gift comes in the smallest most humble package
–a baby wrapped in the womb of his mother for nine months
and presented to the world on the first Christmas day.