December 19 – IV Sunday of Advent

My Dear Friends:

There’s a word that should jump out at all of us as we read/listen to today’s readings: the word “small.” Today we gather on this last Sunday of Advent to celebrate, to rejoice in, and to remember that salvation came from a small town and from a small human being who also happened to be God. That is the beauty and mystery of Christmas. The small, the meek, the innocent can teach us so much during this blessed season. This past Tuesday our school children put on their annual Christmas Pageant and each of them were so proud of the parts they played: Mary, Joseph, shepherds, kings, stars, and even the animals in the manger. I remember one time asking a child what role they were playing. He was a first grader and he proudly asserted, “I’m the donkey!” We all have a part to play in salvation…especially the small and especially our children. It’s as if they understand Christmas on another level, perhaps they understand what we have forgotten as adults.

Mary, who calls herself the “little one of the Lord” during the Annunciation, visits her cousin Elizabeth in today’s gospel, and their children are the protagonists of the story while inside the womb. An unborn child, John, is filled with the Holy Spirit and leaps for joy in the presence of the unborn Christ Child. Yes, Elizabeth’s words are powerful, “blessed are you among women,” as are Mary’s words when she “proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” but these two extraordinary women are only too happy to let their children teach us how joyful we should be this time of year as we leap for joy as our salvation draws near.

Last month at the Children’s Mass, I brought the children up to the sanctuary to preach to them for the first time since the pandemic started. It was the Solemnity of Christ the King, and the children were so happy to take an active role in the homily. I love preaching to the children because in their innocence and in their responses to the questions I ask them, we all are given valuable insights into our faith. I remember one Advent Sunday years ago when we were a couple of days away from Christmas where I was preaching to the children, and I pointed out to them the empty crib in the Nativity scene in the church and asked them what it meant. One little girl very astutely explained that it represented our hearts that are preparing to receive Jesus this Advent. This is why I love preaching children’s homilies, especially around Christmas, because they “get it.” As I asked them if they were excited for Christmas, you could see the excitement and sense of wonder in their eyes, and not just for the upcoming presents, but they boldly explained that it was because Jesus was coming. Our hearts should be as empty, and free from sin, as the empty crib as we grow closer to Christmas to allow the light of the newborn Christ to totally transform us. We need to recapture that childlike innocence as we approach the Nativity of our Lord.

To that end, I invite all of you to take the opportunity to cleanse your hearts in the Sacrament of Reconciliation this coming Wednesday, December 22 at 7:00p.m. We will have plenty of priests available to hear your confessions so that your hearts will be ready to receive the Lord. Yes, confession is difficult, but take a cue from the children and from the theme of “smallness” that runs through today’s readings. We must humble ourselves and recognize our sinfulness in order to allow Christ to do great things in us. Jesus being omnipotent became small and frail in that crib at Bethlehem to show us the path to salvation: we must be like children! So, are we filled with childlike joy as Christmas approaches? We should long to see our God as the shepherds did on that first Christmas night. If not, our prayer these final few days of Advent should be today’s psalm response: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” (Psalm 80:4)

God bless you all,

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