Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fourth Advent

 Micah 5: 2-5, Luke 1: 39-45

Grace and peace, as we turn the corner to what is this year to be just about the briefest excursion possible into the last week of Advent. There has been so much all in the air around us this year.  Election.  Fiscal Cliff.  The horror and heartbreak of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut.  And the hundreds of stories that have touched our lives more personally.  In our relationships.  Our families. School, work, career.  Life and death events, or perhaps of smaller scale, but still profoundly significant.  Highs and lows.  To think about how one phone call, one word can be so powerful sometimes, even to change the direction of our lives.  All of that.  

Just to take a deep breath here, as the fourth candle completes the wreath and as the Prophet’s familiar words are written out in the sky overhead:  But you, O Bethlehem . . . who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  

We’ll hear this passage from Micah quoted again a few weeks from now, in St. Matthew, as Epiphany approaches, and as we trace the Journey of the Magi as they follow the Star from the distant East to find the Holy Child, the one “born King of the Jews.   You, O Bethlehem . . . from you shall come forth . . . one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

And the story of the Visitation.  Another deep breath, as we watch that scene play out on the stage of our imagination:  the young woman Mary, radiant with the light of the angel, heading up into the hill country to be with her cousin Elizabeth—we would say both of them “expecting,” as we too are leaning forward with anticipation this Sunday morning.  A gestational convergence, in a season that is for us all about gestation. 

And I think what we might not be stretching things too far to describe as the first genuine act and service of Christian prayer, devotion, worship, a kind of Eucharistic moment, a pure expression of adoration, as the one not-yet-born who would be known to the whole world one day as John the Baptist leaps for joy, leaps for joy,  in the real presence of Jesus, who is within the womb of his human mother.  

Call it  liturgical dance.  High Mass, with triumphant pontifical processions, clouds of incense. Word made flesh on the altar of the world.  I’m sure it’s Rite One and Merbecke and great trumpets at the offertory, but you can let your own preferences and imagination design the liturgy, selecting only the most wonderful and elegant and beautiful of fabrics for the vestments and paraments, glistening white and gold.  

Even then John knows who it is, in his presence, and offers joyful worship: conceived by the Holy Ghost, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made.  I don’t know how he knew, but he knew.  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

That is just a great moment to hold before us, this Fourth Advent Sunday, and Christmas Eve tomorrow and then Christmas Morning, and the eight days and twelve days and forty days ahead, as we mark this great season of Incarnation.  As we celebrate with joy Emmanuel: God with us.  Something that might not be for us just this one season, but 24/7/365.  Ask him, invite him, welcome him, who stands at the door of our world, of our lives, of our hearts.  For all that is going on in our hearts and our lives and in this broken world--welcome him.  As we like John the Baptist quicken with a new life, as we would greet him, and as we in turn like Mary would say yes, yes, yes-- as she said yes first to the Angel, and open our hearts for him.  Yes.  That he might dwell in us, and we in him.

Blessings and peace and joy.  This Advent, this Christmas, this New Year of our lives.

 Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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