Fourth Sunday of Advent: Christ is coming; are you ready? (Reflection)

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year C

Micah 5.1-4a, Ps. 80.2-3, 15-16, 18-19

Heb. 10.5-10, Luke 1.39-45

Christ is coming; are you ready? Oh, we are getting ready for many things in these last days before Christmas: family, celebrations, gifts… But are we ready for what, for who, really matters: the coming of Jesus Christ?

Visitation, from Altarpiece of the Virgin (St Vaast Altarpiece) by Jacques Daret via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Visitation, from Altarpiece of the Virgin (St Vaast Altarpiece) by Jacques Daret via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

In the Gospel today, we read the story of the Visitation, one of the events on which we also meditate when we pray the joyful mysteries of the rosary, where the Virgin Mary, who has been visited by the angel Gabriel, travels “to the hill country in haste,” seeking her cousin, Elizabeth.[1] We see this young girl, perhaps riding a donkey, moving quickly along, looking forward to visiting her cousin, as she approaches a small house. Then another woman, older than Mary, comes out. This person, Elizabeth, is understandably excited to see her cousin and opens her arms in welcome. But then we see something else, something more: Elizabeth, who is by this time visibly pregnant, feels the child in her womb, John the Baptist, leap for joy. This is the same John the Baptist whom we heard last week announce, “one mightier than I is coming.”[2] Elizabeth, immediately recognizing what is happening, exclaims those words that are so familiar to us: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”[3]

What if Mary, with the Christ-child in her womb, were to come to our door? Would we leap for joy like John the Baptist? Would we react in wonder and gratitude, asking, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”, like Elizabeth? Or would we notice at all, absorbed with all of the busy details of the Christmas season?

In other words, would we react to the coming of Christ with hospitality or indifference? As we grapple with how we would react, we can take our cue from one of the great saints in Western civilization, Saint Benedict, who told his followers, “all should be received as Christ.”[4] I think this is what we should strive for in this Christmas season: we must strive for true hospitality, whether we are receiving others or receiving Christ Himself, since as believers, we know we are indeed receiving Jesus Christ when we encounter those around us in our daily lives. In the person of Elizabeth, and even in John the Baptist who was still in her womb, we see a striking example of hospitality: there is no trepidation, no fretting over this or that detail, just pure joy and wonder. Granted, they had the privilege of literally welcoming Christ.

Then again, we have that privilege too. We encounter Christ in an intimate and miraculous way on the Cross. That child in Mary’s womb, the one that will “stand firm and shepherd his flock, by the strength of the Lord” and whose rule “shall reach to the ends of the Earth”[5] will one day leave Bethlehem and enter Jerusalem, giving Himself up on the cross, dying for us. That small infant who is to be born in five days, who we are called to welcome with open arms, the child for whom the Innkeeper didn’t even have hospitality for, will offer His body once for all[6], destroying sin, opening up to us the gates of heaven. Even in this early moment with Elizabeth, we get a glimpse of the true nature of the child who will make the journey from womb to manger to cross and finally to the tomb. Let us remember all of this when He approaches us!

And He does approach us! We encounter Him on the cross, and so we encounter Him now in the Eucharist: in humility and mercy, he entered Mary’s womb, in humility and mercy he died on the cross for our sins, and in humility and mercy, he comes to us today, “just as He filled with His power the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”[7] Let us open the doors of our hearts in hospitality, seeking to embrace His presence, welcoming His “humility who bears witness to the truth.”[8] Let us follow the example of Mary, who “most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith” by welcoming “the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel”[9] as we seek to invite Christ into our lives.

In these final days of Advent, the Holy Spirit prompts us to welcome the infant Christ with open arms and hospitality, calling upon His name, so that He will give us new life.[10] As Christmas draws near my friends, “may we press forward all the more eagerly”[11], inviting Him into our hearts, even leaping for joy, knowing that in five days, our God will be born in a manger, He who “shall be peace”[12], in the anticipatory hope that one day we will hear the words, “Blessed are you who believed.”[13]

Christ is coming. Are you ready?


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