4th Sunday Of Advent
23rd December 2018
Luke 1: 39-45
Deacon Tony van Vuuren
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Words uttered by Elizabeth greeting her young cousin Mary. The same words that are to this day recited by millions of people night and day when praying the Rosary. You could say that the central theme of the Gospel is the blessedness of those who believe.
All of Jesus’ preaching had as its aim to elicit faith in people’s hearts. However, it is not simply a matter of believing, but of believing and acting on that belief. It is a question of hearing the word and doing it—taking risks on it, and making sacrifices because of it. Remind ourselves that; “we should not bother proclaiming that we believe unless we act accordingly.” We sometimes hear people say, “It’s easy for you; you have great faith.” But it’s not like that. Faith doesn’t always make things easy.
In fact, the opposite is more likely to be the case. It’s because one has faith that one refuses to give up. Faith impels us to persevere, to struggle on, often with no guarantee of a happy outcome. A person with faith never gives up.
Mary is blessed because she not only believed, but also acted on her belief. Immediately after the visit from the angel Gabriel, she went with haste to visit Elizabeth. A long and hazardous journey. From this we see that her religion was not a matter of mere sentimentality. It was something she converted into deeds. Mary was the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus. That is why the Church proposes her as a model for us. We too will be blessed if, like Mary, we hear the word of God and act on it.
We are a couple of days away from celebrating Christmas. Christmas can be a great help to our faith. Dare I say that somehow we find it easier to believe that we are in touch with God at Christmas than at any other time, maybe because we feel that God is very close to us and very loving to us at this time. Our celebration of Christmas has many layers. The top layer is the hustle and bustle of the consumer Christmas from which there is no escape even if we don’t go near a shopping centre.
Next is the Charles Dickens layer. The decorations, the laden tables of delicious food. Good will to all men. Gifts given and received. And then everything goes on as before. The third layer is the Nativity scene, which depicts for us what this is all about. The school nativity play; the nativity scene here in church; reminding us of the first Christmas celebration of the birth in the stable. The fourth and deepest layer is the spiritual one. The story of this baby; God’s son, who was born and took our nature upon himself and entered our world in weakness and in love.
There is sometimes a tendency to dismiss or even condemn the first three layers and see the spiritual layer as the only true one when celebrating the birth of Jesus. This is based on the supposition that the spiritual and the material are opposed to one another. But this is not entirely so. Christianity includes matter and spirit.
There can be no such thing as a purely spiritual Christmas. What we have to do is find a connection between the secular market place and the spiritual content of the feast. Much of the buying and selling that occurs at this time results in giving and receiving gifts; good works, joy and affirmation of family ties. An opportunity of sharing the priceless gifts of Love, Gratitude, Honesty, Forgiveness and Reconciliation.
Mary did not withdraw from the world to treasure the gift she had received. We learn from Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth to go out to meet another in need: share with them a gesture of welcome, care and love.
Judging from Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting today such encounters are potential moments of grace, blessing and joy. Before Christmas arrives is there someone we should visit? Is there someone we have been avoiding and need to spend a little time with?
This approach helps us to see the close kinship between the spiritual and the material; between heavenly and earthly things.
We must learn how to integrate the two. The core religious problem is: how to reconcile spirituality and materiality, flesh and spirit, the inward and the outward.
There are those who insist on a clear division between the divine and the human, the sacred and the secular. But we won’t find that in Christmas. At Christmas these are so interwoven that they seem to be one and the same thing.
Now is a time for us to stop focusing on how stressed we are and remind ourselves how Blessed we are. It is when we serve others that we encounter Jesus Christ. It is when we give ourselves in love that we find that we are loved!