Reflection on the Fourth Sunday of Advent
The readings today talk about things that we are familiar with and that are an integral part of Christmas. They are the parts of our faith that we need in difficult times. The readings speak of signs and wonders, calls to discipleship and our human response, prophets and prophecies fulfilled, gifts and grace. Advent is a time to take the long view of our history.
The story of Jesus’ life and especially the Christmas story are filled with examples of prophecies fulfilled. We have heard the genealogy of Jesus and know what promises were made to his ancestors. We have all heard the many references to Old Testament passages that have seen their fulfillment in the person of Jesus and his life, death and resurrection. I imagine that many of the early followers of Jesus were moved by the prophecies coming true with the person of Jesus and had a glimpse of a new world being created as promised.
Each of us knows how moving it can be when hopes and dreams become reality. The Jewish people maintained hope over a very long period of time in spite of very difficult circumstances throughout the Old Testament and in historical time. Joseph was no exception, and he was moved to make radically new plans as the result of a dream and a reminder of a prophecy foretold in Isaiah generations earlier.
In the first reading, Ahaz is identified as a true believer in God’s promises when he remains hopeful and refuses to ask God for another sign. He has seen the signs and wonders God has provided in the past and has no need of further assurances. Each of us is called to be like Ahaz since we, too, have seen so many signs and wonders in our own lifetimes and throughout the history of Loretto.
Christmas is a time when we can be more aware of the many gifts and graces that God has already provided. When I can tap into the ever-present gift of God’s generosity, I can honestly say that I don’t need anything more. The gifts of family, faith, community, education and health truly are priceless.
And, unlike Ahaz and Isaiah, we now have 2,000 years since the birth of Christ and Jesus’ example of life lived here on Earth to keep us going. We have been given that same grace of apostleship that Paul received and is described in the second reading. So we are not merely commemorating the birth of Jesus. No, we are celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that has come to humanity from that single life lived in communion with God.
While I often mourn some of what has happened in the name of Jesus or God by the Catholic Church as well as other religions, Advent feels like a time to take the long view and celebrate the love, the community and the care for all that Jesus lived during his life and that continues today as a result of his life and example.
Perhaps the waiting that I associate with Advent is waiting for a deeper understanding of all that has happened and all that can be that is not yet. I have friends who see the signs of our time as proof that the prophecies of the end times in the Book of Revelations are coming to fulfillment. I do not know if that is true, and I don’t have any way to come to a better understanding of that for myself.
Last week I watched the Earthshot Awards given by a charity established by Prince William and the Royal Foundation. Listening to the work of the 15 nominees for the five significant monetary prizes was inspiring, and I found myself with an improved sense of optimism that we – the people of Earth – can choose to act to repair the planet in the next decade. They are much like the early disciples finding their way to bring about something new. Through examples like this I am able to understand new possibilities for the future that are radically different from our current reality.
Each of us has to take the time during Advent and put ourselves in that place where we can experience the signs and wonders and the promises fulfilled so that we can be a contributing part of the ongoing gift of God’s promises to the world. Earlier promises were brought to reality by willing human beings, such as Mary and Joseph, and God is in need of more human beings who are willing to play a part in the sharing of divine love for the world