Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year B

24 December 2023

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Year B


[2Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38]

Our mass this morning falls on Christmas Eve. I’ll go out on a limb and say that most people are now ready for Christmas. I know, the full parking lots at shopping malls indicate there are some people still frantically doing last-minute things, but by now I suspect that, for most, the house is decorated, the gifts wrapped, and the baking done. Preparations are complete and all is in readiness.

That is precisely the message of the scriptural texts for this mass: the period of preparation has come to an end, and everything is now ready. The reference, of course, is to the planning and action of God, readying the world for the gift of His Son. Pondering what the Scriptures are saying will not only help us recall the wondrous deeds of God long ago but also awaken hope in our hearts as we realize how God is at work in our lives right now.

Let’s begin with the passage from the Second Book of Samuel. It speaks of God’s preparation through prophecy. King David wants to build a magnificent dwelling for the ark of the covenant. But through the prophet Nathan, God replies that David is not to build a house for Him. Rather, God promises to build a “house”, an everlasting royal dynasty founded upon one descended from David’s family line. We have here one of the Old Testament’s principal prophecies, by which God prepared history to be attentive and ready for the wondrous gift of the Christ He would send.

The Gospel text proclaims that the time of preparation is complete and all is now in readiness for the long-awaited moment. Gabriel announces to Mary that she has been chosen to give birth to the One promised through Nathan, to a son of David’s family line. All that God had done throughout history was preparation for this decisive event. Yet, wonder of wonders, the accomplishment of God’s plan now hinges on a human response. As Gabriel awaits her reply, Mary considers carefully the meaning of the announcement, seeks clarification, and then gives her answer: she surrenders to God’s plan for her and the world, by saying fiat, “let it be done,” the word that brought to complete readiness God’s plan from of old to save the world in the gift of Jesus.

This all happened over two thousand years ago. How does it speak to us now? In our dwelling places, what we have done to prepare for Christmas is only for a short time – gifts will soon be unwrapped, the food consumed and the tree put away. Yet God’s preparation continues to unfold in the circumstances of our lives. Just as He prepared history for the gift of the Saviour, so, too, is God at work now to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord Jesus. And just as God relied upon the response of trusting surrender uttered by Mary, so, too, does He ask us to respond in faith to all that He wishes to do in us.

Here is why this is important to grasp. We are living in very troubling times. Wars and geopolitical instability leave us very worried. Polarization in society and division in the Church are an understandable cause for anxiety. We might also be carrying within us the burden of regret for sins and mistakes of the past. These can weight us down heavily and rob us of hope if they are all we can see. But the Scriptures today remind us that it was precisely in and through the tumultuous events of history and the sins and wrongdoings of His people that God acted to prepare the world for the Saviour. God loves us so much that He will not allow proud human folly to stand in the way of the accomplishment of His plans for us. Rather, He so acts in and through it all as to turn it to our good. This is what He did in human history; and this is what God wills to do in our own individual lives today. The evil we see around us, or the pain and regret we may feel within our hearts, are not the last word. If, in faith, we but give everything over to the Lord and His wondrous power, He can and will change our lot.

This is where the Blessed Mother is a necessary example for us. She would not have fully understood all Gabriel announced to her, but that did not matter. She chose to trust in the fidelity and power of God, and gave her response of total faith. We do not always see the whole picture of how God is acting in our lives, because we cannot. God asks us simply to trust that, in all the events that mark our lives, even those that are challenging or which we now regret, He is at work to heal the world, strengthen His Church, and lead each of us to salvation. All God asks is that we give our own fiat, surrender in faith the whole of our lives to Him, so that He might do for us and through us what only God can do, and for which He has long been preparing.

Our final act of preparation for Christmas will unfold throughout the remainder of today. This is a privileged moment to see beyond the wrapping, decoration, and baking to focus on making our hearts ready to celebrate the birth of our Redeemer. We celebrate in this Eucharist what God did through the prophets and Mary to prepare and make ready the birth of His Son in Bethlehem. May the grace of this sacrament awaken us to the wonder of God’s preparatory work now, in the events of our daily lives, as He readies us for salvation.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith

Saint Joseph Basilica

December 24th, 2023