Fourth Sunday of Advent
Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
The readings for the day can be found here.
As Christmas draws closer, we want to make sure that our children receive gifts—we are obsessed that they receive the right gifts, ones they will enjoy. We even go further and worry about poor children, who may not receive anything, and whole organizations go about providing gifts for those who otherwise would receive nothing. It is as though, children, and, in particular, poor children, have a claim on us, as if those who are most vulnerable, those who can do nothing for themselves, solicit our care.
Today’s readings, which address the Messiah’s coming, the immanent birth of Jesus, show us that our care for those who are most vulnerable in our midst is but a shadow of God’s intense care and mercy. God chooses the least among Judah’s clans to be the origin from which the Messiah emerges. God chooses a poor, humble virgin, someone who would have meant nothing to the mighty Roman Empire, to be the Messiah’s mother. This love for those who are little in the eyes of the world is so characteristic of God that God could not remain distant from the human race as a whole in all its vulnerability; instead, God becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. When God looks upon the human race, which Ignatius Loyola describes in his meditation on the Incarnation, God sees “men and women being born and being laid to rest, some getting married and others getting divorced, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the happy and the sad, so many people aimless, despairing, hateful, and killing, so many undernourished, sick, and dying, so many struggling with life and blind to any meaning.” God’s response is not to flee this chaos, but to draw closer, to become part of it out of love for us.
Christmas reveals God’s love for the weak and the vulnerable—a love that characterizes all God’s dealings with us, always. At this Christmas, may we grow in God’s love for those who are needy and vulnerable, not only innocent children, but also those who are broken by social and economic structures, the poor, victims of discrimination, the unemployed, those who may not be able to do much for themselves. May we also allow God’s love to embrace all of us, sinners in all our own ways, who in our sinfulness may be unable to do much for ourselves other than depend on God’s faithful, unmerited love.
Finally, when God draws near, the response of John in Elizabeth’s womb is to leap for joy, and even the mountains will skip like rams and the hills like lambs (PS. 114:4). Beneath human consciousness, infants in the womb and mountains and hills leap for joy. Would that we, with our sophisticated consciousness, might gradually increase our awareness of God’s closeness to us, know that we are loved as we are, build a more just world that cares for the most vulnerable—in brief, leap for joy.
Fr. Michael Barber, S.J. is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.