Fourth Sunday of Advent Cycle B December 18, 2011
We are getting very close to the celebration of Christmas! Where did Advent go????
Such a beautiful season, over all too quickly.
Our Gospel, in preparation for the celebration of the birth of the Christ child on Christmas, is about conception. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”
This is a miracle. But the conception of every human life is a miracle. It was a miracle for the Virgin Mary to conceive; it was a miracle for the aged and barren Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, to conceive; and to my way of thinking it is a miracle - less dramatic but none-the-less real, in every human conception.
Luke’s portrait of the annunciation depicts it as a beautiful event. There is great decorum, but also tenderness expressed in these words. There is love there. It is the teaching of our church that every child should be conceived in an act of self-gift and of love, that every conception is called by God to be a beautiful event.
Fortunately, that is how I was conceived. I hope that is how you were conceived, and how your children were conceived.
There are other “concepts” besides the conception of human beings. I have been to Gettysburg, and visited the spot where Abraham Lincoln delivered the famous Gettysburg Address. He spoke those stirring lines: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty.”
There are other conceptions besides the physical. We conceive ideas, we conceive desires, we conceive plans and courses of action.
The English word “conceive” comes from the Latin: concipere, meaning: “to take fully, to take in.” Mary “takes in” the message of the angel. She “takes fully” God’s wonderful invitation to her to be the Mother of the Christ. She conceives in her heart and in her soul a full and wondrous Faith that indeed, “nothing will be impossible for God.” She conceives first faith in her heart before she conceives the inconceivable God in her womb.
And it is in this sense that Mary is a model for us. This Gospel is placed here today, I believe, not only to be a historical preparation for the birth that we celebrate in just a week. It is really much too late for that. It needs to be nearly nine months earlier.
That is why we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation on the 25th of March, nine months before Christmas.
Rather this Gospel is placed here on the Fourth Sunday of Advent as a spiritual preparation for celebrating Christmas. It is to remind and inspire us that we too are called to conceive Faith in Christ in our hearts and minds and souls.
Christmas is not just an excuse for parties and decorations, not only about gift-giving, not even concern for the less fortunate, and family togetherness: Christmas is first and foremost about Faith in a God who loves us so passionately and totally and indeed crazily, that God let go all His power and might in order to become one of us, to truly be God-with-us, Emmanuel.
This Gospel is an invitation to us to conceive the Christ-child in our hearts by Faith, and to live out His life in ours.
The Angel Gabriel speaks to each of us in today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid,” There is so much to fear: the economy, terrorism, old age and illness, the weather. But the Gospel tells us, “Do not be afraid,” Why? “For you have found favor with God.” Not by any of our own merits, not by virtue of any of our own worthiness, but rather by the redemptive life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like Mary, we too are now “highly-favored”. We are joined to Christ by baptism, made new people, given a new relationship with God and God’s people, and indeed we “have found favor with God.”
The Holy Spirit has come upon us at our Baptism and Confirmation, and at every Eucharist. We receive Christ’s life in Holy Communion so that His life may grow in us, transforming us more and more into His image and likeness.
This is the true meaning of Christmas. This Gospel reminds us to conceive in Faith, to take in fully the real meaning of Christmas, and so to grow in Christ.