2022 FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (Year A; usus recentior)
A long expected Jesus
Expectations are important: they excite the heart, and can prevent disappointment. We know this from our Christmas meal, where we expect certain people to come over – and we’re sad when they don’t. We also have expectations of the meal: trouble and rage will reign in some places where the menu is altered or the venue for the meal is changed. People have expectations, and they have feelings about it when it’s not fulfilled. Even the Christmas Scene here is a little empty for now: the Magi have a long journey to make from the Sacristy at Epiphany (with their camel!); the Christ Child will be solemnly placed before Midnight Mass. And, when all the figures are in place, our expectations of the scene, the start of our salvation, will be fulfilled.
The People of Israel had expectations, too. Since the Fall, when Adam and Eve chose their own will against the Will of God, the Lord did not leave them hopeless or without solution. Rather, he promised that, one day, a descendant of the woman would arise and destroy the Serpent forever. He would have His heel bitten, enduring suffering on our behalf. Through this, He would set us free from sin and death forever.
The Hebrews lived with this expectation of a Chosen One, a Messiah-Saviour, who would come to liberate them from spiritual dominion. They thought he would be a king, ruling sovereignly over the nation of Israel. They had asked for a king to be like the other nations; Saul was anointed and then supplanted by the shepherd-king David, in whose line would arise the One of the earlier prophecy, the One Who would vanquish the Devil. And so the kingly state was honoured as the place where the Messiah would reign forever and ever.
But then the kingdom weakened, and split. Through many exiles, brought about by the worship of idols and abandoning God’s love, the expectations of the people shifted too. They no longer looked so much to a kingly saviour; the Messiah would be one of the prophets, those great, charismatic figures who spoke truth to power. Rather, they spoke in witness of Truth; that is powerful enough. They called the people back to the One True God, the real King of Israel, and urged them to give up their empty idol worship. They urged the people to repent – and they were persecuted for it. Being a prophet presumes suffering: no one likes being told they’re wrong, or that they need to change. What is easier than conversion? To remove the voice that calls for change. And so Israel’s expectation deepened: the coming Messiah would be a Suffering Servant, Who would not only speak in favour of true worship, but (as a result of it) the right treatment of the poor and outcasts, also beloved of God.
But the words of the prophets seemed forgotten in a series of calamities. Doom and gloom seemed to follow the words of these voices in the wilderness. Israel failed to see the hope that prophets attempted to bring. Who would the Messiah be? Who would come to save them? It seemed naturally impossible now; only some supernatural aid would be sufficient to set Israel free. Impossibilities mounted around them; the Messiah would have to do the impossible to liberate them. And to you, Bethlehem Ephrata, least of the clans of Judah: in the backwater Bethlehem, a field for pasturing sheep, the Saviour would be born. This prophecy troubled the Jews; it took them by surprise. And then, even more unsettling, a prophecy heard today, from Isaiah: A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son. Naturally, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible. Israel couldn’t depend only on her kings or prophets: God Himselfwould come to save them. And you shall call His Name Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”… He will be called Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.
In Our Lord, the King of Kings and Suffering Servant, God Himself has come to save us. He has not only fulfilled our expectations, but exceeded them, giving life, wholeness and holiness to all of creation that willing accepts His grace.
And He has given us, in Our Lady, a glorious Mother and powerful intercessor. She had expectations, too, of the Messiah. She, like all Jewish women, longed to be the Mother of the Messiah: she longed for Him with a love beyond all telling, we hear in the Preface of the Mass today. Her faithfulness to God, Who keeps his promises and fulfils expectations, was fulfilled in her virginal womb. She chose to cooperate well with God, Who is King, Truth and Incarnate amongst us for us men and for our salvation.
Where does this leave us, one week before Christmas? How can we allow God to fulfil our expectations too?
- We might do well to welcome the King by having audience with the Divine Majesty as often as we can in the last week of Advent. We do this in prayer; we do this especially well when we hear Holy Mass. We must give to the King the priority and the prominence that He deserves: this means planning, even now, which Christmas Mass we will hear, and trying this week to come to Mass even on weekdays if we can.
- In honour of the truth, Who is Christ Himself, we might be attentive to the words of the prophets, who in their oracles, foretold Him. We might be a bit more attentive to the Scriptures this week, reading (with love) the daily readings in anticipation of the coming of the Lord at Christmas. The words of the prophet will kindle in our hearts a longing for the Saviour, Who will be born for love of us.
- How can we prepare for an encounter with God, Who has chosen to be with us – our Emmanuel? This happens for us whenever we come to Holy Mass. On our altar, God wills to be present in the simple forms of bread and wine; it’s a type of Christmas every day at the altar. Truly, God Himself is present in the Offering; how can we be ready for Him? By making a good, full and integral confession. We might especially do this before Christmas, with confessions being available before all the Christmas Masses.
May the Lord, Who fulfils and exceeds all of our expectations, have mercy on us. Amen.