Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C
December 24, 2006

Our Eucharistic Celebration this morning is not only the final Sunday Mass of this Preparation-Season, it is also the final-moments Mass of our Advent pilgrimage to Bethlehem. The festive beauty of our sanctuary anticipates this eveningís liturgy in which we put aside our seasonal purple and intone again the lovely carols which have lifted up our hearts for a life-time of Christmas celebrations.

To what best purpose can we put these final Advent moments? How better can we use them than to find our place there on the Bethlehem road, waiting to meet the Holy Couple as they draw near to their journeyís end. Imagine how crowded that road must have been with census-summoned pilgrims pushing and shoving, hurrying to claim for themselves the few remaining places for a safe nightís shelter. Calling upon our creative imagination, can we not see, coming slowly toward us on that long-ago road, a man leading a donkey and on it a woman, just a few years from her own childhood but already a mother-to-be - Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth and Mary, his espoused wife who is with Child. As they come closer, we see the lines of fatigue on her face and the dust of the road on her garments and we realize how weary and uncomfortable she must be and how slowing they must pace themselves to accommodate her condition. The Babe to be born enters totally into our human condition and already the weariness and discomfort of the Bethlehem road are part of the story of the truly human Son of God.

But, since we are really trying to meet the travelers and to walk with them to Bethlehem, suppose we go right up to the Expectant Mary and ask her: "How best can we prepare for the coming of your Son - His coming now and to us? What do you suppose her answer would be? I think that she would tell us that things are not all that different. Christ comes to us when we are ready for Him, as she was ready. And if we were to ask her further: "Mary, how can we imitate your readiness?", I am sure she would answer: "Dare to offer to Him a Welcoming Heart." Isnít that the reason why God looked with favor upon Mary? Wasnít that the real meaning of her freedom from sin? She was a woman totally turned toward God, completely His to command. Her life was in His hands. Our Alleluia verse gives us her answer: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Her "Yes" to God was the pre-condition of Christís coming.

And so, too, with us. If Our Lord is to enter into our lives really and completely, it can be only because God sees in us something of the open-heartedness and total gift of self which He saw in Mary. We speak of "A Welcoming Heart." But isnít it true, there can be no real welcome when the door is opened only a cautious part-way? Our Lord never forces Himself in where He is not really wanted!

I think the second thing Mary would tell us would be: "Dare to walk trustingly into the darkness." Isnít that what she did? She could not have known all that was involved in her mysterious motherhood. She must have known that it would not be an easy road to which God had called her. Already there had been the ordeal of misunderstanding about her mysterious pregnancy when even Joseph agonized over the decision to put her aside quietly. It had taken an angel from heaven to resolve for him that dilemma. And even now, Mary could only guess what lay at the end of the Bethlehem road. The town would be crowded. The mystery of birth would be upon her, far from home, among strangers, without even the assurance of a shelter against the cold. Yet she was not afraid. She did not know what the future would hold. But she knew Who holds the future. And for her, that was enough.

The road to Bethlehem was a dark road. But Mary went forward into the darkness. And so too, with us. We all have our dark times when the stressful situation in which we find ourselves really seems too much for us. Weighed down with our own inadequacies, we feel that we simply cannot cope with all the fears and frustrations of our own dark road. How can we find our way out of the darkness?

We find our answer there - on the Bethlehem road, in the final secret Mary would share with us. She would reassure us: "Whatever the darkness in which you find yourself, dare to believe that you are not alone. Dare to believe in Godís protecting love." Surely this is the answer straight out of her own heart. She was a woman who believed that God could so love us that He would send His very Son to rescue us from darkness. She could believe that God could so love her that out of all the women in the world, she was to be the Mother of Our Savior. No wonder Elizabeth had cried out in reverent wonder: "How blessed are you to believe that Godís message to you would be fulfilled!"

God never leaves off looking for people who really believe in His love. And in those who do, He is still doing "great things". The deep-down problem with so many of us - we have never allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed by the wonder of Godís love for us - the Love made visible and believable in Jesus - Son of God and Son of Mary. And so, we may miss out on so much of the Joy - the Enduring, Everlasting Joy of Christmas which is really Our Celebration of Godís Love.

And so we have Maryís message for us on the Bethlehem road:

Dare to offer to God a Welcoming Heart.
Dare to walk trustingly into the darkness.
Dare to believe that God really loves you.

Dear friends, if we do really dare, then we will walk with Mary all the way to Bethlehem and our hearts will overflow with the joy of that Holy Night when the light of a Star shone over a hillside cave and an Angel Choir hymned the Wondrous Good News of Godís Enduring Love.