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Bulletin: December 19, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Advent

For years, Catholic spiritual writers have drawn our attention to the Christmas liturgy’s subtle—and not-so-subtle—linking of Christ’s incarnation with his paschal mystery. In the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, there are countless intimations of the Passion and cross. The saints of the Christmas octave, dubbed “comites Christi,” Christ’s companions in suffering, form a royal honor guard of martyrs and others who bore witness at great personal sacrifice to the Child we hail as “Prince of Peace,” while the wood of the manger evokes the wood of the cross. But these days, sadly, in the wake of seemingly endless mass shootings at schools, we need no reminders of how close in real life are the cradle and the cross. May our hearts find, if not answers, at least comfort in the prophet Micah’s reminder that, from the pain of a woman’s labor came forth the Child who is our incarnate peace.


All of today’s scriptures seem to declare Christmas’s “comfort and joy.” Micah declares that, as small as Bethlehem is, the child born there will bring peace that “shall reach to the ends of the earth.” Hebrews proclaims that, despite pain and suffering, the “offering of the body of Jesus Christ” saves us all.

In today’s Gospel, bearing the Christ Child within her, Mary, barely more than a child herself, immediately, unselfishly sets aside her own preoccupations—and as a betrothed but as yet unmarried mother-to-be, how many they must have been—to travel in haste, over dangerous terrain, a four-day journey (the scholars say) from Nazareth to Ain-Karem, to the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah.


Then, just as David leapt and danced before the ancient Ark of the Covenant that bore precious signs of God’s abiding presence, so John leaps in his mother Elizabeth’s womb as Mary arrives, a living ark bearing God’s living presence. Elizabeth joyfully greets Mary in words that we pray daily in the “Hail Mary”: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Why Mary is so “blessed” Elizabeth then explains: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Likewise, we may dare hope to be “blessed” for “believing that what was spoken” to us “by the Lord”—Jesus’ promise of mercy—will be fulfilled as we share God’s mercy with everyone. For by reason of our baptism and, more immediately and repeatedly, because of our participation in the Eucharist, we too bear within ourselves the living Christ. To whom, or to what situation, do we need to bear Christ this Christmas? Indeed, throughout the year, how selflessly do we set our own concerns aside? How eagerly—“in haste”—do we, disregarding difficulties, traverse whatever dangerous terrain needs conquering to be of service to another?

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