Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 19)

Day will soon have its way over night. Since June 21 the nights have been getting longer. All is about to change on Dec. 21. We go through this pattern every year. The celebration of Christmas comes only days after the southern solstice. The timing reminds us of the “light” who comes into the world to take on and triumph over “darkness.”

We celebrate this every year as a reminder that, in the words of St. John’s prologue, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We are days away from our celebration of the nativity of Jesus. The “darkness” we experience comes in all shapes and sizes. It could be related to suffering or pain, sickness or disease, relationship troubles, pressures at work or school, worries or anxieties caused by any number of reasons.

For some it may be related or accented by the busyness of the season or the depression that greets a fair number of people this time of the year.

As a people, the “darkness” may, once again, be related to COVID-19. The media report rising numbers of cases, some schools and businesses are contemplating another shut-down, countries are putting in travel restrictions and so forth. It is into this “darkness” that Christ comes to bring light.

This Sunday we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent, our final Sunday before Christmas. The celebration points ahead to the dawn of salvation. The Gospel account is from St. Luke and recalls Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

The first reading is from Micah which speaks of a future leader who, born in Bethlehem, will shepherd the people Israel leading them out of their troubles. The second reading is from the Letter to the Hebrews which recalls Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father in taking on flesh and living according to his will. The readings remind us of the importance of faith as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth once again.

Elizabeth says to Mary at the end of her greeting: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary accepted the word of Gabriel in faith. Her openness to God’s will is reflected in her fiat – “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Through faith Mary accepted the light who would be born to overcome darkness. Her faith would be tested over and over as the darkness tries to overtake her Son. She remains true. The words of Elizabeth, her cousin and friend, encourage her along the way.

The passage from Hebrews highlights Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father. He takes on flesh and offers his life — ultimately, but not only, in his death. His entire life he seeks to do the will of the Father and in this he offers a pure sacrifice of praise. His life is a life of thanksgiving to the Father by the way he lives. Jesus’ faith in the Father is complete. Faith and life are seamlessly united in Jesus.

One of the themes we celebrate at Christmas is “peace.” We see the word in posters and banners, on Christmas cards and in our prayers. Micah in his prophecy gives us an insight into peace that may be helpful as we face the challenges of these days. He says that the shepherd to be born in Bethlehem “will be peace.”

It may be helpful to think of “peace” (which represents harmony and integrity in relationships) in terms of Jesus himself. He is “peace.” Most times we think of him bringing peace or establishing peace. He does this in the most fundamental and often unseen ways. He is peace because of his faithfulness.

Peace lies in him because it is part of him. He offers peace to us and invites us to share in that peace. We do this by allowing him into our lives through faith. We have faith in him and in that faith lies our peace.

Four weeks ago we began our celebration of Advent preparing for the Lord’s coming. As the weeks went by we saw the light of the Advent wreath grow brighter. Light is coming into the darkness.

In these final days before Christmas we have the opportunity to open our hearts to the light who is coming. He is the one who comes into the world and into our lives to dispel the darkness with his light. He comes to us now to offer us peace in troubling times. He comes to lead us on this journey of life. He comes to fill our hearts with joy.

Faith is our response, our welcome and our thanksgiving.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.