As we approach the feast of Christmas, the Birth of Jesus Christ, the liturgy of this Fourth Sunday of Advent gives us a sense of urgency and purpose. Today’s readings help us better understand the feast we are about to celebrate and so make a more fitting preparation for it.
Speaking through the prophet Micah in today’s first reading, the Lord God tells us about the purpose of the Birth of the Messiah for whom we are preparing and waiting. The prophet reports to us that the Messiah “shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD… he shall be peace.” Given this prophecy, it is no surprise that at his birth a great throng of the hosts of Heaven will praise God with the words: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14). When the Messiah comes, he will favor all the peoples of the world. Hence, we read: “his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth.” His mission of peace is a universal one; he will gather to himself all the scattered children of God (cf. Jn 11:52).
Fulfilling the prophecy of Micah, the Messiah will identify himself as “the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11). This is how he will shepherd his flock. This is how he will bring peace – how he will embody peace, how he will “be peace”! The Messiah to be born will bring peace through the act of laying down his life, that is, through his redemptive Death on the Cross and by the shedding of his precious Blood. This is the purpose of his Incarnation and the Birth, as is made clear to us by today’s second reading. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes that Jesus Christ offered, not simply the usual “sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings,” but instead sacrificed his human will to the Father, through the offering of his body – and the fruit of this supreme offering is our consecration. “By this ‘will,’ we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
The Birth we are about to celebrate, then, has the Passion and Cross as its purpose. It is through Jesus’ self-offering, the offering of his body on the altar of the Cross, doing the will of the Father, that he will fulfill the prophecy of Micah and bring us to the glory of the Resurrection. Fittingly, today’s Collect (Opening Prayer) articulates this point, which is truly the heart of the mystery we celebrate: “Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.” The mystery of the Lord’s becoming man for our sake is contained in this prayer, which is familiar to all who pray the Angelus regularly. Christ is coming to lay down his body on the Cross, so that through his death we may enjoy the glory of Resurrection with him.
When we recognize the purpose of the Birth of Christ, we also recognize more fully why the Advent season of urgent preparation is important. Jesus demonstrated the urgency of love through his willingness to offer himself for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls. To derive every spiritual benefit from his coming, we need to prepare with a corresponding love, and therefore a corresponding sense of urgency.
Urgency in relation to the things of God is crucial in the spiritual life; it is the antidote of the sin of sloth. All through Advent, we have been urged to be awake and vigilant. This season is not a time to be lukewarm but rather a time for us to get our priorities in order, giving primacy to the things of God. This is what the Blessed Virgin Mary, an eminent Advent example for us, does in today’s Gospel. St. Luke tells us that after the Annunciation, “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste….” As soon as she received the message of the Incarnation, she began to participate, without delay, in the redemptive work of her Son Jesus, even before he was born. Through her presence, John was sanctified by our Lord in his mother’s womb.
Mary moves “in haste” because the work of God, the work of redemption and salvation, cannot tolerate delay. Blessed are we when, like our Mother, we believe that what has been spoken to us by the Lord will be fulfilled – and when we act on this belief with the urgency of love.
In what ways do I die to self to bring peace in imitation of Jesus? How does the self-offering of my will to the Father bring me to the glory of the Resurrection? Being urged to be awake and vigilant during Advent, have I given priorities to the things of God?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.