23 Dec 2017
4th Sunday of Advent, Year B
We’re right in the middle of the holiday season. And this time of the year is characterized by people getting together. You know, we make a special effort to invite friends and family over, even if it’s just for a short visit. And, of course, we accept others’ invitations as well. It’s a time for renewing connections. And we make those connections gathered around a turkey at Thanksgiving, around the Christmas tree on the 25th of December, and then around the clock as it strikes midnight on January 1st. And, of course, there’s a little bit of gathering around the television to watch football, too.
And all these gatherings take some preparation: going shopping, decorating the house...preparing a place for people to gather. You know, it would kind of silly to invite somebody over, and then not to prepare for them to come over. “Come on over for Thanksgiving, we’d love to have you!” And then they get to your place...and there’s no food. “Come on over for Christmas, we’d love to have you!” And then they get to your place...and you’re not even there; you’re at somebody else’s house! That would be kind of silly. It would defeat the point of making an invitation.
The holiday season—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years—is so much about renewing our connections with others. And it takes some work and preparation to make those connections happen.
Within the stories of Scripture, we see the long-awaited coming of the Messiah. The people had been waiting and waiting for him to “come over.” They very much wanted to connect with him, and to welcome him into their lives. But, you know, their preparations weren’t the best. I mean, God told them how to “prepare a place” for him, but they didn’t always follow through with it.
It’d be like somebody saying, “Ok, in order to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need: a turkey, cranberries, potatoes, stuffing, green beans, and some gravy.” But, then, instead of getting all that, you just get green beans and potatoes. Well, there’s more to it than just beans and potatoes. You haven’t really prepared for the guest come over and have Thanksgiving dinner.
So God told his people how to “prepare a place” for the Messiah—he gave them the “menu”—but they didn’t quite get everything. And so, they were unprepared. But then along came Mary; a young girl between twelve and fourteen years old, who was “betrothed to a man named Joseph.” Only now God had done the preparations. God was bringing himself and humanity together—he was “coming over for a get together,” but this time he had done the preparations.
He prepared Mary by having her immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother, Anne. And then when the Archangel Gabriel came to her, Mary was able to say, from her purity of faith: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” That complete openness to God was the perfect preparation for the “coming of the Guest.” It was the most perfect invitation to God. In effect, Mary had said, “Come on over, God. The house is ready. My soul is laid open to you. I’m home, the lights are on, and the door is wide open.” And she had support, too, which was really important.
And that all sounds very idyllic, but at that time in ancient Israel, it was a very dangerous thing for a young woman to be unwed and pregnant. From the Book of Deuteronomy the law said: “If a man marries a girl who is claimed to be a virgin, and then finds that she is not, ‘they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsmen shall stone her to death’” (22:20). So, Mary’s preparation for the Lord’s coming wasn’t necessarily a happy thing: she risked execution for it. But, God had prepared for that as well...he gave Joseph to be Mary’s husband.
Joseph was also a man with purity of faith. And so, when Gabriel told him what the deal was, he trusted God’s word and welcomed Mary (and God’s plan) into his home. And, then, long before that, God had destined Joseph to be of “the house of David” which, as we know, was the ancestral line the Messiah would come from. So God himself made the preparations so the Messiah could come.
Since that first Christmas, however, when Jesus came to the house of Mary and Joseph, God has asked each of us to prepare a place at the table for his Son. And this is what Advent has been all about. We’ve sent the invitation to Jesus. We’ve prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” “O come, o come, Emmanuel.” Even in our private prayers we may have said things like, “Jesus, help me; Lord, show me the way; Lord, be my peace, be my happiness.” We’ve sent the invitation to Jesus many times. We’ve asked him to “come over and get together.”
But what kind of preparations have we done to welcome him, into our homes, into our hearts? Have we “laid our souls open to him; are we at home, with our lights on, and the door wide open,” like our Blessed Mother had? If not, don’t worry; Jesus only comes to those who’ve opened their hearts and homes to him. And, for most of us, that’s a project we’ll always be working on.
And so, don’t worry. Even after Christmas, it’ll still be Advent—in our hearts, as we continue our lifelong work of “preparing the way of the Lord.”