22nd/23rd December

posted 1 Jan 2019, 02:03 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C (22 & 23/12/18)


Over the past three Sundays, I’ve managed to make a link between some aspect of the day’s readings and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Now that we’ve reached the Fourth Sunday of Advent, you might be wondering what I might say this time.  Well, you’ll have to wait.  Let’s have a look at the Gospel.


The event we heard about today is sometimes called The Visitation, obviously because Our Lady goes to visit Elizabeth.  We don’t know the exact time between the archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was with child and Mary then arriving.  But we do know that, at the time of the Annunciation, Our Lady was told that Elizabeth was already in her sixth month.  If you don’t know much about babies, well, it normally takes nine months before a baby is born.  Elizabeth was six months’ pregnant, and it says that when Our Lady went to visit Elizabeth, that she stayed for about three months (see Luke 1:56).  If we do some primary school maths, 6 + 3 = 9.  That means that she may have been there when John the Baptist was born.  She’s not mentioned, but she may have been there.  Either way, three months is quite a long time to stay with someone.  If you have relatives coming round for Christmas, having them visit for the day is fine, and if they have to stay a few days or a week, because they have to catch a flight, then fair enough, but to stay for three months might stretch some people’s patience.  You would hope in this time that they would make themselves useful, rather than just expecting to be served and entertained all that time.


What do we observe about Our Lady?  Well, firstly, there were no telephones.  So she wouldn’t have phoned Zechariah and Elizabeth and asked how they were, and then been invited round.  It was a different way of life, and I presume the norm was for people just to drop in.  Our Lady went, not for free board and lodging, but out of concern and joy for her cousin Elizabeth.  Unlike some visitors we may receive at our doors, perhaps people trying to sell us something, Our Lady’s visit was a real source of grace and joy – John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She was also, of course, bringing with her Our Lord – just think of the sense of joy and hope: people had waited for hundreds of years for the Messiah.  It had been spoken about by the prophets.  There may also have been a sense of expectation that He would come soon, by calculations from the prophecies in the book of Daniel.  It says later on in the Gospel that when John the Baptist was born, “All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. … ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered” (Luke 1:66).  Just imagine, then, how Mary and Elizabeth must have discussed the coming of the Lord.


So God was working in amazing ways in their lives.  But there were still the ordinary tasks to be done.  Somebody had to go and fetch the water, prepare the meals, wash up, put things away, sweep the house, wash the clothes and so on.  Elizabeth was in the last three months of pregnancy, so she probably wouldn’t have been particularly mobile and agile.  Maybe the neighbours helped her.  Maybe Our Lady also helped out as well.  Despite the extraordinary ways in which God was at work, the ordinary things did not go away.  The dinner didn’t cook itself.  It reminds us that our homes, too, are holy places, with God at work in so many good things and different acts of kindness that often taken for granted:  the fact that we have a roof over our heads, that the heating works, that we have food to eat.  Even if we have problems with some of the neighbours in our street, things could still be so much worse.  Perhaps we do have good neighbours, or at least neighbours that don’t cause us too much trouble.  We have so much to be grateful for, even if our lives aren’t totally perfect, or maybe even far from it.


I mentioned at the beginning about somehow fitting A Christmas Carol into all of this.  At the beginning of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge sees people, especially the poor, as a nuisance and an inconvenience, threatening his beloved money.  The poor?  Are there no prisons?  And the union workhouses?  Are they still in operation?  He suggests that if the poor would rather die than go to the workhouses, then they should do just that, and help decrease the surplus population.  As time goes by, he sees the fruits of his attitudes, brought home especially by the character of Tiny Tim.  His heart goes out to someone who is poor, weak and defenceless, and decides to become something of a good uncle to him.


Who do we need to look after and help in our local area?