Fourth Sunday of Advent: Faith & trust - the best Christmas gifts we can give
Posted: Wed, 16 Dec 2020 15:56
On the last Sunday of Advent, Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB encourages us to be inspired by the faith and trust of Mary and of Joseph, in what will be a very different Christmas season. (Image: Fra Angelico, Annunciation, via Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons)
Well here we are, ready to light the fourth candle. Only last year, this day would have been that opportunity to complete that needed last minute shop. Perhaps your parish might have had a Christingle Service or a nativity play with the children. Personally, I will miss the traditional carol service at the local Anglican Church, with wonderful ecumenical hospitality afterwards—the homemade mince pies were always my favourite of the season. On this Sunday, there was a general feeling that we were almost there! The tree was up, the lights shone brightly on the streets and in our homes; airports and transport hubs were packed as families were travelling home. We were nearly there!
While many of those events that we took for granted were important 'traditions' in our regular lives, we will probably have to scale back the on the celebrations. However, the reality is that Christmas WILL take place. We, as Church, will still offer the Christmas liturgy either in person or online. We can still exchange gifts, cards and greetings; traditional Christmas lunch will take place—the celebration of Christmas has NOT been cancelled. Other faith groups have had to experience the same problems when Eid and Diwali were compromised, and as Christians, we faced similar challenges at Easter.
Christmas will need to be different, especially for the most vulnerable and lonely, but many of us have amazing technology available to be connected in another way. These next few days will help parishes and local communities to see if there any gaps in provision and to ensure that all are supported as best we can. It will mean that we move out of our comfort zones And we may need to make new plans and invent new strategies to celebrate the feast, but these last few months have proved that each of us have a strength that we didn't know we had.
Our Gospel today takes us to the home of the teenager, Mary, in Nazareth. Gabriel, the messenger from God, asks her a favour—even in her fear, she is willing to take a risk. The favour involves her and Joseph, her betrothed, giving themselves fully into the hands of God and trusting in that WILL in a very difficult human situation. Mary and Joseph remain our icons of trust for us today too: we have all experienced a global hurt and have had to put our faith in the experts—those who have spent their lives preparing for such a terrible global pandemic. There will be those attracted to the latest popular conspiracy theories or the latest edict from the 'University of Twitter', but the scientists tell us that this virus can only end if we wear masks, continually wash and sanitise our hands, and observe a strict protocol over distancing. It really is up to you: do you trust a trained and practising epidemiologist or 'Kevin' down the pub who heard from his cousin, who had it on good authority from someone who works for a doctor?
A simple "YES" from a young Palestinian peasant girl changed our history. Your "YES" can make a real difference today and change your history or the life of another; your generous response can transform lives for the better. Your faith and trust can be one of the best Christmas gifts you give today: tell your family and friends how much they mean to you! Pick up your phone or write a text and tell them if they are far away and you cannot be with them in these strange times. Your "YES" to Christmas 2020 will impact others in ways that you will probably never be aware of-so, thank you!
The Good News in today's Scripture message is not only that God is making provision for the His people, but also that He has a plan for each individual person. Just as God called Mary, we too are called to move forward with unconditional love and guidance. In many cases, our work for God seems rather ordinary, but each ordinary task which we carry out fits into God's plan in ways that we perhaps cannot fully understand. God desires not the skill of our hands and talents alone, but the love of our hearts. The Babe in the Manger reminds us of what God has done and is still doing for us. What are we doing in return? Let us show our gratitude to God by living as true followers of Christ.
It is Mary's faith that makes the incarnation possible. And it is our faith that makes the incarnation possible in our own world. We can bring the Child to the world in our daily and simple interaction with others; Incarnation brings new meaning to our families, to grow with us, to be with us. And it is through the goodness of our own faith, one with him, that the love of God is to be radiated out into the whole world. The faith of that Holy Family shows that we are invited to be fully involved: our faith is something that we live fully, not just for a couple of hours on a Sunday. We are called to share the compassion of Jesus with those we meet today.
Even though it is going to be different this year, friends and family will still need help—washing up support in the kitchen will be very much appreciated. Christmas 2020 will certainly be different, but let us all make it memorable for the right reasons. As Pope Francis reminds us, Mary can help us deepen our faith and share it with others:
The gaze of Our Lady helps us to look at one another as brothers and sisters. Let us look upon one another as one family. Mary teaches us to have that gaze which strives to welcome, to accompany and to protect.
Pope Francis, Homily on 22 September 2013