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December 23, 2018: The Fourth Sunday of Advent [C]

First Reading Micah 5:1-4
Second Reading Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel Luke 1:39-45

“‘…behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”

In today’s Gospel passage we hear about the second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary: the Visitation. In the person of Mary we see someone bearing her Lord and God within her. We also see Mary as someone who brings Him into the lives of others.

This scene, as simple and joyous as it is, preaches two powerful messages for those who want to be faithful disciples of Jesus. These messages lie at the heart of Advent.

The first is a call to recognize the role that our Blessed Mother played from the very beginning of Christ’s life. If she was Christ’s protector, she is ours, also. If the Holy Spirit moved her to bring Jesus to Elizabeth and John, why should she not continue to bring her Son to others in our own day? Her role did not diminish as Jesus grew older. Neither can we ever outgrow our devotion to our Blessed Mother.

We honor Mary not because of her own power, but because she bears Christ within her. What was physically true for nine months is spiritually true forever. This is a Gospel truth, recorded by St. Luke the Evangelist in the hymn called the Magnificat, where Mary proclaims: “all generations shall call me ‘blessed’” [Luke 1:48]. She is blessed through all generations, because through all generations she continues to bear her Son to those whose live in Christ through Baptism.

The second message Mary bears is that Christ must be received in the flesh. Our Second Reading reveals what this means. God took no delight in the sacrifices of the Old Testament. The sacrifices of the Old Testament had no more power to save a person’s soul than the sacrifices of the Aztecs of Central America. Even if the Jewish priests of the Old Testament were sacrificing to the right God, they were still offering the wrong sacrifices.

The Jewish priests of the Old Testament offered bulls, rams, and cereal grains. They offered things other than themselves, things that God has no interest in. God only takes interest in what is inside a person, in what is part of a person: indeed, ideally, one’s very person.

Even when we as Christians make sacrifices, we don’t give up things because God somehow wants those things. God doesn’t need or desire meat, candy, coffee or tobacco. The only way that a practice of penance is pleasing to God is when you sacrifice a desire: a desire that’s so rooted within you that it’s part of you. God wants the desire that you sacrifice because—even if in small measure—it is a form of self-sacrifice. Eventually, all our desires must be sacrificed to God, either before or after death. If we willingly offer our desires to God in sacrifice, such offerings are a means to sanctification.

This is what Christ proclaims to God the Father in the Second Reading: “Behold, I have come to do your will.” If we were to use our imagination, we could hear God the Son saying this at the “moment” before the Annunciation. Imagine: God the Son had lived with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Paradise of Heaven from before time began. But when the Father was ready to send His Son to earth, to enter Mary’s womb in the flesh and to begin the life that would end some thirty years later on Calvary, God the Son, knowing everything that was to come, said “Father, I have come to do your will.” Then he descended from Heaven, to be conceived and born as one of us, and for us and for our salvation.