December 23, 2012 - Fourth Sunday of Advent
Mi 5:1-4a; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-45
Dawn of a New Beginning
The fourth week of Advent is upon us! This year's fourth Sunday of Advent gives us only a brief time (less than 48 hours) to make the final preparations for the birth of Jesus. The last Sunday of Advent barely ends before we move to Christmas Eve on Monday, then Christmas itself on Tuesday. Indeed, Christmas this year will come swiftly; nevertheless, the Scripture readings are pregnant with meaning and significance, for we are at the threshold of a new beginning. The readings therefore invite us to embrace the joy and fulfillment found in unexpected people and events.
The first reading from the prophet Micah provides the people living in a time of imminent siege and foreign military invasion a glimmer of hope that comes from an unlikely place, Bethlehem of Ephrathah. Although Bethlehem is a tiny place, the future king will come from there. Different from his predecessors, the coming king who is like a shepherd will gather the scattered people and restore true peace (shalom) to the ends of the earth. The prophet is convinced that Israel is at the threshold of fulfillment, found in unusual circumstance and place. Micah's vision surprises his listeners and at the same time gives comfort to those who are living in a very dark time.
The meeting of Mary and Elizabeth in today's Gospel is a beautiful portrayal of unexpected joy, hope and excitement. The encounter of the two pregnant women is often depicted in art. My favorite representation is a sculpture of two statues with their bellies almost touching one another. It is found in the courtyard of the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, a Judean village outside Jerusalem, Israel.* The two statues-Mary (with a smaller belly) and her cousin Elizabeth (with a much bigger belly for she is six months pregnant)-depict simplistic beauty and incredible realism. Their faces radiate joy and excitement that is mixed with anxiety. I will never know what it's like to be pregnant, but I can imagine that their lives must have radically changed. They had to be careful with what they ate and how they walked. In time of pregnancy, every decision or action is made in light of the child. For mothers-to-be, it is a time of tremendous sacrifice, vulnerability and waiting.
We too are living in a pregnant time of the year. As daylight shortens and darkness lengthens to its capacity, we long for the light to dispel the darkness and bring in the dawn of a new day. Our world too is walking on eggshells. Global warming is threatening our planet. Conflict and killing persist in various places. People are living in fear and even hopelessness. Amidst these sad and worrisome realities, we continue to hope and yearn for the arrival of the Light-Emmanuel-to dispel the darkness and bring in the dawn of a new beginning. May God's visitation give us comfort and joy during this darkest time of the year.
vanThanh Nguyen, S.V.D.
Associate Professor of New Testament Studies
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