Advent Devotionals – Week Four
Saturday, December 19th and Sunday, December 20thClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25a; Psalm 71:3-6, 16-17; Luke 1:5-25; and, 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/121920.cfm and https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122020.cfm)
Reflection: The readings for the fourth and final Sunday of Advent include the story of the Annunciation of Christ’s birth. This passage was a reading on the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the third Saturday of Advent; however, this time the passage is set in the context of the Davidic covenant, which is narrated in 2 Samuel 7. Here, David comes up with the idea to build a house for God, a temple for the Ark of the Covenant, but God informs David that he will not build a house for God, rather God will build a house for him. God promises David, “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-14).
With Christmas less than a week away, the Church invites us to reflect on God’s promises and their imminent fulfillment. The fact that God promises things to humans at all is quite strange. Such a thing would have been unheard of among the Pagan gods of the Ancient Near East (the context in which King David lived). Such a thing would have been equally unheard of among the Greek and Roman gods (the context in which Christ and the early Christians lived). To these cultures, humans existed to serve the gods. The Pagan gods might command things. They might bless or curse people for various inscrutable reasons. They might reward human worship with bountiful crops, but they did not promise things. They did not bother to make mere mortals privy to the reasons behind their actions in the world, and they certainly did not rely on humans to cooperate with them and participate in bringing about the very purposes for which the world was created.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God that Jesus called Father, however, does exactly these kinds of things. This God seems not to regard humans as slaves to do his bidding. This God seems to care mainly that humans be just and kind to one another, that they follow commandments not for God’s benefit but for their own. This God seems unusually concerned to earn humans’ love and trust.
You do not make promises to slaves or inferiors. You do not promise an ant or a pine tree that you have a plan for their happiness. You promise things to loved ones, and to your children. You make promises to establish trust, to demonstrate goodwill, and to give people the gift anticipating good things. You make promises to build people’s patience, faith, hope, and love. The Church today thus calls us to reflect upon a God who makes promises, a God who cares enough about us to communicate God’s plans to us, a God who wants us to anxiously await the good things God has in store for us, and, moreover, a God whose promises come true. What do you make of this most unusual God?
Monday, December 21stClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-14; Psalm 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21; Luke 1:39-45. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122120.cfm)
Reflection: Song of Songs 2:8-14, set in the context of this final week of Advent, sets up a comparison between the coming of God into our world and the passionate reunion of lovers long separated. This passage finds its author fantasizing about the long-awaited moment when she first sees her lover approaching from a distance, when at long last the lover arrives on her doorstep, and when she finally hears his voice and is able to speak with him face to face. The author compares the lover’s advent to the first day of spring when, “the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land” (Song of Songs 2:11-12).
In grasping for language to describe its relationship with God, the Church has often employed romantic, and even erotic, love as a metaphor. The chief example of this metaphor is the sacrament of marriage, which the Church understands to be a sign illustrating, pointing us toward, and even analogically enfleshing the relationship between God and the soul, as well the relationship between Christ and the Church.
In marriage, two separate persons are so intimately united that they become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). They become different than what they were before. They become a family. In becoming incarnate, God reveals a desire for a similar relationship with every human person. God wants to be so intimately and lovingly united with us (the Christian Tradition has at times even used words like “interpenetrate”) that we become different than we were before. Through such a union with God, human persons become more than human. They become supernatural creatures in whom and through whom God lives. They become creatures capable of true and lasting happiness, creatures filled with a new, abundant, and eternal life. They become God’s family.
This is the gift and the transformation that the Church anxiously anticipates during Advent. It is frankly an outlandish and insane thing for which to hope. The best that most of us can think to hope for this Christmas is a new phone or some sweaters. Nonetheless, the Church remains firmly convinced that a totally transformative loving union with God is what is promised to us in Christ. Is it any surprise then, that in waiting for this kind of union, the Church is as excited as a bride on her wedding night? What is the last thing that left you trembling with anticipation? What kinds of things do you hope for this Christmas? How do these hopes compare with that for which the Church awaits?
Tuesday, December 22ndClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: 1 Samuel 1:24-28; 1 Samuel 2:1, 4-8; Luke 1:46-56. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122220.cfm)
Reflection: The New Testament reading for today, from the Gospel of Luke, is known as the Magnificat because it begins with Mary exclaiming “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46). After the angel Gabriel announces Christ’s birth to her, Mary visits her relative Elizabeth, with whom she undoubtedly found much support, because Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist, also under unusual circumstances. After finding refuge, acceptance, and understanding with Elizabeth, Mary bursts forth in song praising God for God’s favor and for the great things God had done. Mary praises God’s mercy, strength, justice, and fulfilled promises. She sings, “He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he remembered his promise of mercy” (Luke 1:50-54).
Mary’s song is an incredibly beautiful encapsulation of the Gospel. One of the most striking, and unsettling, characteristics of the hymn is that Mary’s understanding of the Gospel appears decidedly one-sided. Christ’s birth is fantastic news to those who fear God, to the lowly, to the hungry, and to God’s servants. The proud, the mighty, and the rich, on the other hand, do not seem to fare so well. Christ’s birth means they will be scattered, cast down, and sent away empty.
Let us reflect today, therefore, upon those who should not be anxiously awaiting Christmas and the coming of the Lord. Let us reflect upon those for whom God’s coming is less like the return of a long-awaited lover, and more like the early return of the parents of a teenager who, left home alone for the weekend, decided to throw a raucous party. If God showed up, in person, at your doorstep this Christmas, would you find yourself overjoyed, vindicated, and redeemed, like Mary? Or, would you find yourself ashamed, exposed, embarrassed, caught red handed, and in trouble? Would you need to do some quick housecleaning before you could invite God in? Who are the people in our world who should be worried about Christmas? Are we among the proud? Are we among the rich? Or, are we among the faithful who are responsibly caring for God’s house and God’s family?
Wednesday, December 23rdClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24; Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; Luke 1:57-66. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122320.cfm)
Reflection: Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke follows immediately upon Mary’s Magnificat from yesterday. Luke continues narrating the miraculous events surrounding Jesus’s birth. The passage today completes Elizabeth’s story. Like Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah receive an angelic and prophetic birth announcement. The angel informs Zechariah that Elizabeth will bear a son and that they are to call him John. Unlike Mary, who responds to Gabriel with faith, Zechariah answers the angel with disbelief, and he is punished with muteness. When John is born, Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives pressure her to name the baby after his father. Zechariah, however, insists that the baby is instead to be named John, and he is immediately healed of his muteness. Given the highly unusual circumstances of John’s birth, Luke tells us, the entire region recognized the Lord was with John, and they questioned, “What, then, will this child become?” (Luke 1:66).
In Luke’s Gospel, God seems to be particularly concerned with names. God insists that both John and Jesus be given specific names, and God goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure that they, even in the face of disobedience, sinfulness, and even at the cost of opposing societal norms, receive the names God has selected for them. It is as though God personally knows both John and Jesus, and that God gets offended at the notion of people calling his children the wrong name. It is as though God knew the answer to the neighbors’ question, “what, then, will this child become,” even before the child was born.
This personality quirk of God in Luke’s Gospel is reflected well in Christian beliefs about the nature of human persons. The Church believes that God creates each and every human being on purpose, with a specific identity, and with a specific role to fill. God not only knows all of us by name, but, according to Jesus, God even knows the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). Every human being, therefore, from the best to the worst, has as much value to God as every child has to his or her parents. Every human person is of infinite worth.
Our society often loses sight of this fact. Society often values people quite differently, based on their appearance, talents, productivity, wealth, connections, influence, family name, etc. In a society such as ours, with so many people who are so busy and so distracted, we treat a great many people as anonymous to us, which means that they are “without names.” As we approach Christmas Day, how can we do a better job of knowing people by name? How can we cease seeing others as people who are anonymous, unknown, unvalued, or unrelated to us, and start seeing others as beloved children of God with specific and important identities? How can we help those who do not have names in our society to become known, recognized, and valued?
Thursday, December 24thClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29; Luke 1:67-79 (Morning Mass); and, Is. 62:1-5; Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25 (Vigil Mass). (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122420.cfm and https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/122520-vigil-mass.cfm)
Reflection: Today is the final day of Advent. Tonight, at the Christmas Vigil, the Church will celebrate the arrival of its long-awaited Savior, and the fulfillment of its anxiously desired hopes. The Scripture readings for today, tonight, and Masses on Christmas Day revisit the themes and stories of Advent. The readings recount the full narrative of God’s promises, Israel’s hopes, John’s work to prepare the way of the Lord, and Mary’s willing heart, all of which culminate gloriously in the birth of Christ, the coming of the long-expected Savior.
As we end the Advent period of anticipation and enter into the joy of the Christmas season, may we reflect ultimately on the mystery of the Incarnation. May we contemplate the paradox of the infinite becoming finite and the Word becoming flesh. May we experience the joy of the light being brought forth into the darkness, even though by this light we see that the darkness does not understand the light. May we experience the hope of a child awaiting delight on Christmas morning, and the anticipation of a bride awaiting her husband on their wedding night. May we prepare ourselves for the Christmas season that God may find in us the spirit of Elijah, a people ready to prepare the way of the Lord. May we comport ourselves as willing handmaidens, fit to bear Christ to the world. May we busy ourselves with the work of God’s Kingdom, knowing that God has accomplished all that is necessary for us to realize true peace and true justice. May we recognize the name that God has given us and the infinite value of every human person. May we hear our calling to the supernatural destiny of eternal union with God. May we act like God’s family. And, may we all have a very, very, merry Christmas.