Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
By Deacon Scott D. Gilfillan
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. Lk 1:45
Several years ago, I went to the Biltmore House on a field trip with students in the fifth grade. The Biltmore House is a mansion in Asheville with over two hundred rooms. In the months before Christmas, they decorate the rooms with poinsettias, Christmas trees, and a huge variety of elaborate Christmas decorations. I was assigned a group of six boys to chaperone, including my son. With boys that age, however, I had no time to ponder the impressive decorations in each room. The boys would enter a room, look around furtively, and then at the first opportunity, race to the next room. They cared more about what is next, not what is here. I felt a little breathless after the tour. In their haste to see what is next, they missed what is here and now. They missed the moment that mattered the most.
Too often we go through life with the same breathless pace, especially a few days before Christmas. What is the next present I need to wrap? The next place I need to go? The next bit of décor I need add? We spend little time pondering what is here and now. Even worse, when Christmas arrives, we sometimes miss the significance of the moment that matters the most – the entrance of Jesus into our lives – because we’re too exhausted, distracted, or disappointed from our efforts.
God does not speak to us in the ‘what is next’. God does not speak to us in the ‘what was before’. God speaks to us in the ‘what is here and now’, the present moment. As we enter this Christmas week, don’t miss the moment. More importantly, don’t miss the significance of the moment.
Elizabeth provides a good example of being mindful of the significance of the moment. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was going to conceive a child, Mary went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When Mary greeted Elizabeth, the infant leaped in her womb. Many women who are in their sixth month of pregnancy often feel the infant leaping in their womb. Elizabeth could have ignored the movement and simply invited Mary in. Instead, she saw the extraordinary hand of God at work in this ordinary movement of the infant. At that moment, she was open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. She realized that her infant son was leaping for joy before his Lord, just as King David leaped for joy before the ark of the covenant.
What are some reasons we miss the moment of God’s revelation to us? Like the boys at the Biltmore House, we convince ourselves that the extraordinary is not in the room we are in, but be somewhere else. We leave the present moment behind and frantically search for something bigger, more impressive, or more dazzling
Society today urges us to make Christmas fabulous, magnificent, glorious, and perfect. The perfect appetizer, the perfect gift, the perfect table setting, and the perfect tree. Society says all of these are needed to create the perfect family, celebrate the perfect Christmas, and find perfect happiness.
We strive for the extraordinary, miss the mark, and end up predictably disappointed.
God is not found in the extraordinary. God is found in the ordinary, the ordinary moments of everyday life: a simple greeting, an infant moving in the womb, and a visit between two cousins.
God is also not found in the large and dazzling, but the small and overlooked. Listen to what the prophet Micah says about Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Savior:
You, Bethlehem too small to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel. Mi 5:1
The birthplace of the savior is ‘too small’ to be among the clans. God chooses the ‘too small’ to bring his light and salvation into the world.
Mary and Elizabeth are also what would be considered ‘small’ in their time. Mary was a young teenager, maybe from the poor village of Nazareth. Elizabeth was a barren old woman that lived in the hills. Neither would have much of a voice in their culture. It was these two ‘small’ women that God chose to continue the story of salvation.
God’s story of salvation didn’t end at the birth of Jesus. It continues on through you and me, and people throughout all generations. You are the light of the world. You are part of God’s story. By staying focused on the present moment, the same words Elizabeth spoke to Mary can ring out in your life: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Lk 1:45
You won’t find your part in this story in ‘what is next’ or ‘ what was before’. God will reveal your part in the story of salvation in the here and now, in the small moments of everyday life. Cherish these moments.
As you prepare for Christmas, look for God in the simple and the ordinary events. Spend some time listening intensely to that person that God puts in your present. If you have some time alone, clear your mind of anxious thoughts of ‘what’s next’ and pay attention to what God is saying to you in the present moment. Like Elizabeth, be open to the inconceivable possibilities of the Holy Spirit.