Home » Gospel Encouragement – 19th December 2021 – 4th Sunday of Advent

Gospel Encouragement – 19th December 2021 – 4th Sunday of Advent

Dear sisters and brothers,

When we look back at the story of Christmas, we can often forget how enormous and momentous it was for the characters involved.  We look back at everything through 2,000 years’ worth of Christianity, and it can all seem very straight forward, but for Mary, Elizabeth and so many others they were responding to God’s will in the midst of the great unknown.  In their Jewish faith they were living within a strict set of laws and with specific expectations.  They never expected that a barren woman – Elizabeth – might become pregnant after the announcement of an angel, and give birth to the new Elijah, the last prophet of the Old Testament.  Even more so, they never anticipated that a virgin could become pregnant in the power of the Holy Spirit.  And they never envisaged that the Messiah – God’s emissary to Israel, who would liberate them from their oppression – would come in the vulnerability of a baby, the fruit of that union between the Holy Spirit and that virgin.  The day before the angel appeared in each situation, Elizabeth and Mary would never have thought that their lives might take these unexpected turns.

When you stop and think about these circumstances, it makes Mary’s ‘yes’ to the angel Gabriel, and ultimately to God himself, even more amazing.  As Elizabeth puts it to Mary: “blessed is she – Mary – who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”  What promise did Mary believe?  The apparently unbelievable promise of the Annunciation that:

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you…

and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow…

You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus…

The child will be holy and will be called Son of God…

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High…

And his reign will have no end.”

Imagine being a young teenage girl hearing those words, maybe no more than 14.  I can’t imagine having the faith for such a responsibility at that age, let alone the faith to believe that it was even possible.  And yet, we are called to similar faith today, to say a similar ‘yes’.

As I reflected on Elizabeth’s phrase, “blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled”, I was reminded of Peter’s phrase to the early Church on the day of Pentecost, passed down from them to us: “The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God will call to himself”.  What is this promise that is made to us?  Well, that the fruit of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and ascension – the reason he came and the reason that Mary said ‘yes’ – is that he has set us free from the fear of death; that he is forever sending his Holy Spirit, enabling us to live in his love, joy, peace and all the rest in the here and now; and that he is strengthening us to share this wonder with others.

In many senses this seems as initially unbelievable to us as a virgin birth did to Mary because we know our fears, we know the things that pull us down, we know our weaknesses and frailty.  But as we prepare to welcome the vulnerable Christ child into our midst next Saturday, let’s stand before him in our own vulnerability and step out with the faith of Mary.  Like her, the world may condemn us, or laugh at us, or belittle us, or ignore us for our faith in God made man, but let’s trust that the words of Scripture apply as much to us today:

The Holy Spirit is within each of us…

and the power of the Most High is covering us with his shadow…

We carry Jesus with us wherever we go…

Jesus who is the Son of God…

Jesus who is great and is the Son of the Most High…

Jesus, whose reign will have no end.

And blessed are we, the Church of the 21st Century,

who believe that the promise made us by the Lord

is being fulfilled today…

the promise that the Holy Spirit is constantly being sent to us

every day of our lives.

With Mary, Elizabeth, Peter and the Church across the centuries let us pray:

Come O Holy Spirit!!!

With every blessing,

Simon (and Deacon Liam)