Mystery of Advent, Part Four: The Things of Christmas

 The Bridegroom Whispers

To what shall we compare the Fourth Sunday of Advent? It is like a bridegroom whispering in the ear of his bride a promise of things delightful and near. In the liturgy of the Fourth Sunday, Christ whispers into the ear of His Church the things of Christmas. And with what desire does the bride desire them!

Our Lord always tends to arouse within us desires for things that are beyond us. He makes our hearts thirsty, yet for a drink that the earth does not provide. He makes our souls hungry, yet for a food that grows in no earthly field. He makes us long for a happiness, a goodness, a life, a truth, a joy, and a peace that surpass all our experience and all our powers to obtain. These are the things of Christmas. 

What is it like to hear Him whisper of the things of Christmas? The whisper of the Lord is an instinct of the heart. A French priest of the mid-twentieth century described the whisper well. The Lord's whisper is "always troubling us in secret, ennobling our dreams, like a mysterious and irresistible call from unknown lands which send us their perfumes and beckon to us, but do not send their fruits, while we ourselves have neither oars nor sails to reach them… We have the idea and the desire of a happiness, a knowledge, an immortality, which surpass our human possibilities."[1] By His grace, the Lord plants within us a deep instinct for higher things — the things of Christmas. God plants within us an instinct for Himself — an instinct to seek Him, cleave to Him, belong to Him, live with Him, indeed, see Him.

 The Lord plants within us this thirst for Himself so that He might slake this very thirst by giving us Himself. He awakens our desire for the things of Christmas so that Christmas itself might be his gift to us — the gift of His very self revealed through flesh.

All the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent combine to reveal just how close God wants to be with us and how close He wants us to be with Him.

Emmanuel On My Lap

In the first reading, we hear the great prophecy of Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel." The Gospel reading tells us the meaning of the name 'Emmanuel.' It means "God with us", and that is what the child born of Mary really is. He is God with us. As Pope St. Leo the Great put it, "by giving birth in this wonderful way, the holy Virgin brought forth in a single offspring both a truly human nature and a truly divine one."[2]

Jesus is God with us. Perhaps we have heard this truth so many times that we have become thoughtless about it. Perhaps we have never really explored its depths. It is time to ponder the mystery anew so that on Christmas day we may live it anew.

The child to be born of the Virgin will be both a dweller and a dwelling. Jesus is God dwelling among us: "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…"(Jn. 1:14). And Jesus is a dwelling for us: "Abide in me…abide in my love" (Jn. 15:4,9). The first one to dwell in this Dwelling was Mary.

St. Ephrem the Syrian considered the possibility that Mary had heard the prophecy of Isaiah. In that case, she must have looked upon her own situation in light of Isaiah's prophecy.

With this possibility in mind, St. Ephrem meditated deeply upon the birth of Christ from Mary's point of view. At the birth of Christ, Mary recalls the prophecy of Isaiah and says to herself "Am I having a dream or a vision, that behold, upon my lap is Emmanuel? I shall cease all else and give thanks to the Lord of the universe each day."[3] Should we do anything less on this Fourth Sunday of Advent? Let us cease all else, and give thanks to the Lord of the universe.

The responsorial Psalm and the Epistle to the Romans take us deeper still. They reveal even more of the meaning of "God with us."

The Psalm speaks of the "clean of hand and pure of heart, who are not devoted to idols." The Roman Breviary's translation of the same verse is more revealing. It speaks of "the man of clean hands and pure heart, who desires not worthless things." Who is the man of clean hands and pure heart except Jesus — the "Holy One of Israel" (Is. 1:4)? And why does God the Father give the man of clean hands and pure heart to us? Why does the Father send the Holy One of Israel to us?

The Father has given Jesus to us so that we might belong to Jesus.

Belonging to Jesus Christ

St. Paul says this in the second reading. We "are called to belong to Jesus Christ." Calling is another word for vocation. And what Blessed Teresa of Calcutta says about her sisters' religious vocation is equally true of every Christian's baptismal vocation. "Our vocation is the conviction that we belong to him," that is, belong to Jesus.[4] St. Paul writes elsewhere that "I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want" (Phil. 4:12). What is his secret? His secret is his conviction that he belongs to Jesus. "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rm. 8:38-9).

Do I have the same conviction? Does my heart cry out to Jesus "I belong to You"? Does absolutely every part of my life belong to Jesus Christ? Can I say to Jesus in prayer, "Let anything whatsoever happen to me, only let me belong to You"? If not, then it is time to surrender to Jesus. It is time to belong completely to Christ. It is time to welcome the Presence. For the Presence will create the belonging. 

As I meditate upon them, the point of all the readings of the Fourth Sunday of Advent is that we are called to share absolutely everything with Jesus — even to unimaginable depths of union.

Jesus wants us to share in His peace. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you…" (Jn. 14:27). Jesus wants us to share in His joy. "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you…" (Jn. 15:11, cf. 17:13). Jesus wants us to share in His life. "I am the vine; you are the branches" (Jn. 15:5). Jesus wants us to have a share in His Spirit. "I will put my spirit within you" (Ez. 36:27). Jesus wants us to share in His mission. "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn. 20:21). Jesus wants us to share in His fate. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you…But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings" (1 Pet.4:12-13). Jesus wants us to share His God, that is, His Father: "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (Jn.20:17). Jesus wants us to share His glory: "Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory" (Jn.17:24). And beholding His glory will make us share in His glory. "And we all, with unveiled face beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another…" (2 Cor. 3:18).

Earlier we spoke of a higher kind of peace, a higher kind of joy, a higher kind of life, truth, goodness, and happiness. We spoke of how Christ whispers into His bride's ear of these higher things — the things of Christmas. And now we know what He whispers.

He whispers of His peace — peace divine. He whispers of His joy — joy divine. He whispers of His life — life divine. He whispers His word — "shining as a lamp in some dark place" (2 Pet. 1:19). The only appropriate way to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent is to yield to every desire for these things of Christmas. "O God, you are my God, for you I long, for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water" (Ps. 63:2-3, Breviary).

For Christmas is nearly here now. That day is upon us when Christ will put Himself as a babe into our hands, and say, so to speak, "welcome to my world."

The fourth video presentation accompanying this Advent series is available here or by clicking on the front page button in the right column under CE Faith Factory.

[1] Masure, Eugene. The Christian Sacrifice. trans. Trethowan, Dom Illtyd. London: Burns Oates & Washburn Ltd., 1947, p.57 

[2] St. Leo the Great, as excerpted and translated in Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, ed. Wilken, Robert Louis. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007, p.105

[3] St. Ephrem, as excerpted and translated in Wilken (2007), p.105

[4] Teresa, Mother. Total Surrender. Ed. Scolazzi, Brother Angelo Devenanda. Cincinnati, OH: Servant Books. 1985, p.38

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