4th Sunday of Advent- Gospel of St. Luke 1:16-38
Driving home from church last week Kristina said to me, “I just want to go a Christmas party. At a house full of people talking and having fun.” She paused and then said quietly, “Stupid COVID.”
For the rest of the drive home, I thought about what she said. I imagined what it would be like to in and amongst a crowd of people? With people I knew and people I did not know very well, drinking spiked eggnog and sampling plates of sweets and deep-fried appetizers. Rubbing elbows, stepping on toes, bumping into people, and every time you turn around somebody greets you with a hug, a kiss, a vigorous handshake, and not a single mask in sight. Sure maybe, Uncle Joe has a lampshade on his head, and maybe Aunt Mary’s red lipstick can be found on just about every cheek in the room, but no one cares. Criticism, harsh words, and disparaging looks are outside, left in the cold. Warmth, sincerity, and merriment fill the room.
Wouldn’t that be fun?
Now… let me be clear! I am not advocating for such a gathering. I am not asking anyone to ignore the reality of the current health crisis in our community. Christmas is not a justification to cast common sense and compassion for our fellow man out the window by organizing, let alone attending such an event. Instead, I am asking you to take a minute and reflect upon that unique characteristic of humanity that we all share… our desire to be together. To be a part of community. Our human need for meaningful, authentic, well intentioned interaction.
What struck me so significantly about Kristina’s comment on our drive home was that the source or her “want” came from a place of intense longing and need. A need essential to our humanity. A need to be together in community.
God created us to be in community. He created us to be in fellowship. Our divinely designed human nature is such that we can only find true joy in fellowship with God and with one another. Wealth, fame, possessions are a poor substitute for this relationship.
Charles Dickens exemplified this truth in the Christmas Carol when he personified the misery of human isolation in a man named Scrooge. Dr. Suess, embodied the unhappiness of selfishness and the pain of loneliness in a green Grinch, with a heart that “was two sizes too small.” In the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Potter, a miserly, frustrated, lonely old man whose greed and denial of human dignity, is one of the most notorious on-screen villains of all time.
These characters, though fictional, portray all the twisted and perverse aspects of our humanity. Their self-imposed blindness to God and their fellow humankind stand in stark contrast to the beauty and divine love that we read in today’s Gospel. From Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you”, too Mary’s fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”, we are presented with the glorious truth of our God, his unquenchable desire to be in relationship with us.
This 4th Sunday of Advent, as we dutiful prepare ourselves for the celebration of the coming of our Lord, let us take a moment and reflect upon what it is that, for which we are preparing.
We admire and are inspired by Mary’s response of faith yet let us not overlook the very meaning of the message brought forth by the angel Gabriel. A message not only for her but for all humanity. A message of salvation.
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
In this proclamation, we find the fantastic truth that God, through his infinite love, with his ultimate power, and in his unfathomable mercy, came to his creation, which he intended for salvation through his ultimate humiliation, and became fully man, so that we might be in relationship with him.
Therefore, our challenge today, as followers of Christ, in this time of loss and limitations, is to manifest this joy… this gift… this truth… with one another, and with the whole world.
As we desperately long for the “way things used to be”, we cannot abdicate our calling to be the voices shouting, “Joy to the World”. We cannot stifle our happiness and hide the truth of the wonderous gift that God has given to all of humankind. Yes, our celebrations must look different for sure. For we cannot find excuse in the traditions of Christmas to model the misery of Scrooge, the selfishness of The Grinch, nor the lack of compassion for our neighbor, like that of Mr. Potter.
Though we may not gather in one place rubbing elbows, or hugging strangers, or kissing friends, we must double our efforts through cards and cookies left on doorsteps. With phone calls, texts, and emails reminding others that though their physical presence is missed they are ever present in our thoughts. We must not cease our acts of charity. Rather endeavor in our service of love by shoveling our neighbors’ sidewalks and driveways, leaving generous tips at drive-thru’s, and rigorously look for opportunities to serve and help someone with their unique need.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this year’s Feast of the Nativity of our Lord will be unique in that our traditions may have to be altered. Our usual ways of doing things may not be appropriate for the circumstances. However, what it is not unique is our responsibility in celebrating and sharing the joy of the coming of the Savior of the world.
This Christmas we joyfully proclaim, Jesus came! Jesus is in fact here! Jesus is coming again! AMEN!!!