December 19, 2019
Is there a special theme or purpose for the fourth Sunday of Advent?
Over time, themes have developed to assist the faithful in their spiritual focus in the run up to the feast season of Christmas. For some periods, especially in the Medieval period, Advent became much like Lent with fasting and acts of reconciliation. Traditionally the themes have arrayed themselves as: First Sunday of Advent-Expectation or Prophecy with readings associated with the Parousia, or Second Coming, Second Sunday of Advent-Preparing the way of the Lord, with reading about JBap, Third Sunday of Advent-with readings about JBap and other recognizing who the Messiah is, and Fourth Sunday of Advent—Mary and Joseph are the center pieces and their developing understanding of what God is about to do.
Therefore, in Liturgical Year A, we are offered a Josephan point of view about what is going on with his betrothed, Mary. In both stories, Joseph's and Mary's there is a moment of recognition, acceptance, and quite possibly adoration that occurs. Both of Jesus' parents were quite practical folks. Joseph, who Matthew tells us, is a righteous man. When he finds out that Mary is pregnant, and knowing the child is not his, he determines to break the betrothal quietly so as not to cause Mary embarrassment. Visited by an unnamed angel of the Lord (we usually identify this angel as Gabriel because that is the angel who visits Mary) in a dream, he told this is part of God's plan and that he should take Mary as his wife and the child as his son, effectively. Out of love for God, and his care for Mary, he does this thing that he is asked to do—an act of love and in that act, he adores God and his mighty works.
For Years B and C, respectively, we have the perspective of Mary, largely because Luke gives us more to work with. Therefore, Year B presents us with Gabriel visiting Mary to announce her selection by God and, in turn, Mary's to proclaim her agreement to God's plan. Year C, is the year we get to hear the Magnificat in its narrative setting as the Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday of Advent and as Mary and her cousin Elizabeth meet to rejoice in their good fortunes. The element of adoration is even stronger in these Lukan tales, especially in the Magnificat. With angels, the Holy, Spirit, and miracles abounding, the practical peasants of Palestine, Joseph and Mary chose God and express their awe in doing so.
As Franciscans come to this last time of preparation, let us remember that our joy, peace, and love in this season is part of God's character and let us adore the one who joined our experience through the incarnation.