21 December 2007

Where's your Christmas face?

3rd Week of Advent(F): Zeph 3.14-18 and Luke 1.39-45
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Serra Club & Church of the Incarnation

Joseph is worried because his wife, Mary is pregnant. They have yet to consummate their betrothal. An angel appears to Joseph is a dream and says, “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.” Zechariah, while serving his allotted time before the altar of incense in the temple, is greeted by an angel. The angelic greeting troubles him and “fear came upon him.” The angel tells him that his elderly, barren wife, Elizabeth will conceive and bear him a son, John. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Hail, Mary! Full of grace. Blessed are you among women!” And Mary ponders what sort of greeting this might be. Mary travels to the hill country of Judah. She enters the house of Zechariah and greets Elizabeth. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting she is filled with the Holy Spirit, and the infant in her womb leaps with joy. Elizabeth must have pondered what sort of greeting might cause her child such joy. She asks, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” What better place for our infant Lord to be than with his infant herald, John? Elizabeth concludes her greeting: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Joseph worried and then believed. Zechariah doubted, at first, but he came to believe. Mary, afraid and anxious, not only believed but gave her body so that the Word might gestate within her womb and be born from her. And Elizabeth believed in virtue of her infant son’s witness to her: “For the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped with joy.” Each of our gospel witnesses were greeted and given a revelation. Each received the revelation. And each obeyed the Lord’s message. Notice this difference: Joseph, Zechariah, and Mary were all greeted by an angel of the Lord. At first they were anxious and afraid. But the angelic message soothed their fears. Elizabeth, however, was greeted by Mary, who carried our Lord in her womb. No angels here. No fear or anxiety. No doubting or hesitation. The direct testimony of infant John’s leaping in her womb told Elizabeth what she needed to know: she and her child were in the presence of the Son of God. Before John is born, Mary serves as the Lord’s herald, announcing with her presence—not by any word or any deed—just by merely being there with Elizabeth and baby John, Mary announces the coming of the Lord. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Let me ask you: how are you arriving at Christmas? I mean, Christmas is just four days away…in what state will you greet the birth of our Lord? Will you stumble into the manger loaded with shopping bags? Cookbooks? Will you glide in, smooth and sleek like a reindeer? Will you fall on your face, exhausted and mean from all the work you think the holiday requires? Will you greet the Infant Jesus smiling, laughing; pinched and grimacing; eagerly, sullenly, joyfully, reluctantly? Will he look back at you and ponder what sort of greeting you have given him? Will he think: “I am welcomed here!” Or, “Geez, I landed at the wrong barn.” Will it be: “These people love me.” Or, “These people fear me.”

To be on the safe side, use the words of the prophet Zephaniah to greet our Lord: “The Lord, your God, is in our midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over us with gladness, and renew us in his love!” How odd that our Lord should rejoice over us. Not really, no: “Blessed are we who believed that what was spoken to us by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Our Lord is coming! Prepare your face so that when you greet him, he might see himself in you.

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