The lessons for the Fourth Sunday in Advent are: Micah 5:2-5a, Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45.
Next weekend, the final Sabbath/Sunday in Advent, is a time of excitement as it moves us from anticipation of God’s coming to a near realization of God’s appearance. The fulfillment is almost here but not quite present! Micah 5 expresses difficult times for the people of God, perhaps the invasion by the Assyrians in 701 B.C. Or perhaps, it was the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Whatever it was, it was horrible, hopeless, tragic and traumatic. Micah 5:1 describes the predicament of the people. The citizens are penned up in the city, and the king has been humiliated. In such a terrible situation, is there any reason to hope that the future will be better? It seems like there will be no future that is open to the besieged people of God who are being battered by the angry artillery of adversity.
But as long as God is not outdone, the people of God are not destroyed. God opens the future at the very place that the future seems to be locked, sealed, closed and shut against hope and promise. Bethlehem, the ancestral home of King David, will yet bring forth a powerful and loving King, and “he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.” Though the kingdom of this king is yet to come, its joyful advent is already felt in the hearts of those who can sense that the Lord is very near to those who live daily in anticipation and expectation of God’s coming to earth. Advent is an attitude of anticipation that should always prevail. Expect to meet God today, and your life will be strangely illumined and warmed by the nearness of God’s advent.
Psalm 80:1-7 is an advent prayer that rises out of deep distress, the dark and difficult night of the oppressed soul. The resources of the people of God are not adequate to meet the demands of life, unless God intervenes directly in their circumstances. The Psalm shouts with several urgent imperatives, “Give ear, save us, let your face shine that we may be saved.” W.H. Auden said in his poem, “Christmas Oratorio,” “Nothing but a miracle can save us.” Unless God brings divine help to bear powerfully on the human situation, there is no hope, no answer, no help and no relief. This Psalm sets the stage for our most meaningful and mature celebration of Advent and Christmas.
Hebrews 10:5-10 is a wonderful lesson that attaches Advent to Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem to die on Calvary and rise on Easter in order to redeem all human pain and suffering by making them preludes to power and resurrection. When one can see all the way clear from Bethlehem to Calvary, Christmas is transfigured and revealed to be our ultimate hope, our highest help and our certain future. God is coming into the world to do battle with the strongest and fiercest enemies of humankind. He, who was born in a stable, died on Calvary and rose on Easter to give us the hope and the victory of everlasting life.
Luke 1:39-49 takes humankind “fetus to fetus” into the vicinity of the God who is almost but not quite here. Yet, we feel the strong embrace of Perfect Love because the Lord is at hand! Something in us is stirred and activated when God is anywhere in the vicinity of where we happen to be. The story of the Gospel lesson tells us of the face to face meeting of two pregnant mothers, Mary and Elizabeth. As they embrace and rejoice in their miraculous conceptions, the unborn fetus of Elizabeth, John the Baptist, salutes the unborn fetus of Mary, Jesus the Christ. John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb because Christ is so near and so real, so wonderful, so powerful, so awesome and so joy-inspiring! This is the joy that the perfect love of God makes real to us even when our tragic and traumatic circumstances have not yet been resolved, our prayers have not yet been answered and our perplexities have not yet been clarified. Still, we rejoice because we know that Perfect Love is near, and that Love never fails!
Read and rejoice in Perfect Love!
C. G. A.