December 19, 2021 Father De Celles Homily

Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 19, 2021

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

One of the most memorable things about this season

are all the sights and sounds

that bring to mind so many wonderful things.

All the sounds of Christmas music or voices saying, “Merry Christmas,”

or at least “happy holidays.”

And almost everywhere you look it seems you see lights and decorations,

Christmas trees and poinsettias.

And of course, to many it wouldn’t seem to be Christmas

without all those classic “Christmas” movies,

like “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,”

and scores of other less edifying modern favorites.

Now, I realize that 95% of all these things make no direct reference

to the birth of Jesus Christ.

Even so, they do remind us of at least one of the key reasons

every year we Christians spend 4 weeks of Advent preparing for,

and 2 to 3 weeks celebrating, Christmas.

That is, they remind us that it is in and through our bodies

—and our bodily senses, like hearing, seeing, touching and speaking—

that we human beings express ourselves

and communicate with each other.

And that reminds us that Christmas is the day

the eternal son of God took a body to Himself to come to us

and to communicate to us how much He loved us.

The day God the Son was truly born a man,

a little boy who could see and hear and touch and smell

–and eventually speak.

Today’s 2nd reading makes this point when it says:

“a body you prepared for me.”

This “Incarnation” is part and parcel of what we celebrate on Christmas.

But the incarnation didn’t happen at Christmas

—it happened 9 months before that, on March 25,

what we call the Feast of the Annunciation.

We see this in today’s Gospel, as just after the Annunciation,

Mary travels to see Elizabeth,

and Elizabeth’s greets the newly pregnant Mary:

“blessed is the fruit of your womb,”

and calls her “the mother of my Lord.”

She knows the Lord Jesus is there, in His tiny living body,

already in Mary’s womb.

So it’s interesting that His birthday at Christmas is celebrated

with much more fanfare than the day of His actual Incarnation:

the Feast of the Annunciation, isn’t even a holy day of obligation,

much less have 4 weeks of preparation and 3 weeks of celebrating.

The reason is very simple, but profound:

God the Son took a human body as His own

not to be hidden in His mother’s womb,

but to come into the world to see and hear, and to be seen and heard.

The Word becoming flesh changes everything,

but it is not until that flesh, that body, is born

that so communicate, or reveal, Himself to the world.

Now, it is true, that He didn’t immediately start to talk and preach the beatitudes.

Even so, the sight of Almighty God becoming of a tiny innocent baby,

exposed in a manger to the cold and damp of the bitter world,

and worshipped by magi and shepherds alike,

speaks volumes to the world.

What a sight indeed, the all-powerful God

who makes Himself vulnerable to us to love us, and for us to love Him.


During Advent we prepare to celebrate this coming into the world and revelation.

But we also remember that when His earthly life was over He ascended

—with His body—into the glory of heaven.

And so in Advent we also prepare for Him to come again,

in glory, but still in His body, at the end of time.

But what happens in between the Ascension and His second coming?

His body isn’t on earth, it’s in heaven,

so how does He continue to reveal Himself to us today,

if His body is so essential to that revelation?

Let’s look back at today’s gospel:

The story is about Mary coming to see Elizabeth,

but Jesus is there, really physically.

But they cannot see Him—He’s hidden, in the womb of His mother.

And he comes to them in and through the body of His mother,

so that Elizabeth says to Mary:

“at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,

the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

In Mary’s voice they discover the presence of Jesus.

And His presence provokes a physical response:

both from Elizabeth and the infant in her womb, John.

John “leaped for joy,” and Elizabeth “cried out in a loud voice.”

And notice something else—Jesus and Mary do not come alone.

Just a few verses before this one in Luke’s Gospel,

as the angel Gabriel announced the incarnation to Mary, he said:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you…

therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

And Jesus and Mary bring the Holy Spirit with them to see Elizabeth and John.

Remember, the angel Gabriel promised Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband,

that John

“will be filled with the holy Spirit even from His mother’s womb.”

So that filled with the Holy Spirit in His mother’s womb,

John senses Jesus’ presence and “leap[s] for joy.”

And it’s not just John: scripture says that Elizabeth is also

“filled with the Holy Spirit” and so “crie[s] out in a loud voice.”


Then he comes into the world at Christmas,

no longer hidden but revealed for all to see,

and through His life, death and resurrection reveals

the depths of the love of God for man.

But then He seems to go away when He Ascends into heaven.

But is He truly gone, or is He once again merely hidden from our sight?

Does He not still come to us through a woman?

Not through Mary, but now through another woman, another mother,

of whom Mary is sort of the prototype, the example, the model

—the woman who is not the mother of Jesus,

but the Bride of Jesus, His Church,

whom we rightly call “Holy Mother Church.”

Like the Blessed Mother, Mary,

Holy Mother Church brings us Jesus really, truly and physically

–He is inside of her, if hidden.

And she brings Him to us through her presence throughout the earth.

And Jesus and the Church do not come alone:

they bring the Holy Spirit to us,

just as Jesus and Mary brought Him to Elizabeth and John.

So that even though Christ is hidden from our eyes

by the veil of the heavenly sanctuary,

His Holy Spirit comes to us and, as with Elizabeth and John,

He moves us to rejoice and proclaim Christ’s presence and praises

to the world


Earlier I spoke about all the sights and sounds of this season,

and their relevance in helping us to prepare for Christmas,

They set the season apart, by appealing to our senses

—our bodily senses—

and then lead us to contemplate the bodily birth of Christ.

But I also mentioned that most of those sights and sounds

very seldom mention Christ.

And to make matters even worse, they mention His Church even less.

But it can’t be that way for us.

How could there have been a first Christmas without the Mother of the Lord, Mary?

And how can we prepare for this Christmas, without Her, or Holy Mother Church?

How can we see Christ in the sights and sounds of the season

without seeing them in the light of Church customs and traditions:

-the advent wreath with its candles,

symbolizes in its circle the unity of the Triune God,

and in its light, the light of Christ coming into the world.

-the Christmas crèche reminding us of the Birth

-Christmas presents reminding us of the gifts of the 3 kings,

and of the most precious gift of all—the baby Jesus;

-angels on tops of trees,

reminding us of the angels appearing to the shepherds,

-the Christmas tree itself,

a sign of the tree of life in the garden of Eden,

and of the Cross of Christ,

-Christmas lights reminding us of the star of Bethlehem,

and that Christ is the light of the world

-and of course Santa Claus, or as the Church calls him, St. Nicholas,

the 4th century bishop who was tortured for refusing

to deny the reality of the incarnation!

And how can we prepare without hearing and singing or saying

the Church’s rich treasury of music, and prayers.

And how can we prepare without allowing the Church to bring Christ to us,

through His word.

2000 years ago, Elizabeth said to Mary:

“at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,

the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

It was the voice of the Blessed Mother that first brought the good news

of the arrival of the savior hidden in her womb.

And it is the voice of holy Mother Church, proclaiming the Gospel

that brings the good news of the savior hidden in her heart.

And most importantly, just as Mary brought Jesus to Elizabeth and John

and by the power of His Holy spirit transformed their lives,

Holy Mother Church brings Christ to us

by the power of that same holy spirit,

and transforms our lives in His sacraments.

How can you prepare for Christmas without coming to Holy Mother Church

for the sacrament of penance?

How can you prepare for Christmas, without coming to Holy Mother Church

as, like Mary, she brings the very body of our savior to us,

hidden not by the veil of a pregnant womb,

but by the veil of simple bread and wine in the Eucharist.

And finally, how can we prepare for Christmas

without allowing Holy Mother Church to bring us also to Mary,

who is not only the model and precursor of the Church,

but first and foremost, Mother of our Lord,

and so the Mother of Holy Mother Church herself?


The sights and sounds of this time of year

stir up important feelings and memories in all of us.

But they would nothing more than be a terrible distraction

if they didn’t remind us that 2000 years ago

God the Son came to us in a human body,

to show us His love and speak to us in the flesh.

The sights and sounds of this season must always lead us back

to the sights of sounds of Jesus Christ,

and remind us that He has come, and He will come again,

and yet He remains with us always.

As we enter these last days of Advent,

let us turn now to both our Mothers,

Blessed Mother Mary and Holy Mother Church,

and allow them they bring Jesus, their son and spouse, to us,

and us to Him.