FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
(II Samuel 7: 1-5.8-12.16; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38)
A medical intern attests to the loneliness felt in the Covid pandemic. She writes of a woman having problems visiting her newborn son who remains in the hospital. She tells the story of a dying man whose family cannot say “goodbye” due to visitor restrictions. She describes the frustration of a woman not allowed to accompany her elderly mother to the emergency department. These stories help us understand why the gospel today constitutes "good news."
Christmas helps us overcome the sense of loneliness. It is particularly beneficial when there are acute restrictions as this year. The feast celebrates the coming of the Savior who lifts spirits to new hope and consolation. To appreciate how this happens, we have to probe who the Savior is. Fortunately, today’s gospel identifies him for us. More than telling us how the birth of Mary's son took place, it proclaims him “son of David” and “Son of God.”
When the angel Gabriel addresses the virgin Mary, he echoes God's words to David in the first reading. Gabriel says God will give his son "the throne of David, his father." He adds that "his reign will have no end." David was the greatest king in Israel’s history. He was invincible in battle. But he submitted to God in the fight against sin. Although he sinned grievously, he possessed the humility to ask God’s forgiveness. However, the glory of Jesus surpasses that of David. With the nations of the world supporting him, he overcomes all evil. As deadly as Covid is, he will beat it.
The victory can be detected in the production of vaccines. Technical ingenuity is a sign of the Lord’s activity in the world. His victory is seen as well in front-line workers who refuse to leave their jobs. Doctors, nurses, and their assistants risk their health every day in the battle against Covid. Many of these were trained in Christian institutions with a tradition of selfless service. Others who show the Lord at work are the volunteers who help the marginalized. The human response to the threat fills us with hope. Because he is "son of David," Jesus can be identified as the leader of the movement.
As significant as it is that Jesus is “son of David”, it is more advantageous to us that he is “Son of God”. His birth means that God will accompany his people forever. He consoles us in setbacks as we strive for justice. A psychiatrist endured the Nazi concentration camp. After living the horror, he analyzed how some could survive it while others gave up. He concluded that the difference between the two groups was the presence of meaning. Those who found meaning in their life were more inclined to endure the pain. God's presence provides such meaning. Knowing that He is with us, we trust in his support.
The gospel further indicates our response to God's human initiative. Mary does not deny the call to be the mother of Jesus, the Savior. She accepts it resolutely. She tells Gabriel, “’I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’” If the measure of a disciple is to put into practice what the teacher says, Mary demonstrates perfect discipleship. We too can follow “God-with-us” with such determination. Discipleship these days requires, first, that we give homage to the new-born Jesus like the shepherds of Bethlehem. We want to pray at home and, if possible, attend Mass on the 24th. It also obliges us to support family and friends in the healthy celebration of Christmas. Much more than Santa, Christmas presents an opportunity to forgo grudges and seek reconciliation. Finally, we cannot ignore the poor in this time of joy. We should do something to help a person in real need.
It seems right when it snows on Christmas. Pure and fresh, snow falling to the ground signifies the coming from heaven to earth. It is a fitting symbol of God's coming to us.