St. Mary of the
Angels: Sun Advent IV A
7:10-14; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew
In the opening
prayer this morning, we prayed: “Pour forth, O Lord, your grace into our hearts
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the
message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of
his Resurrection …”
This prayer reminds
us powerfully that, even as we celebrate joyfully God’s birth among us in
Jesus, Jesus’ journey will lead to the Passion and Cross before it culminates
in the glory of the Resurrection. The
road to Bethlehem and the road from Bethlehem was not an easy one.
the only time that angels appear in the Gospels is around the birth of Jesus
and around his resurrection from the dead.
In the infancy narratives, angels appear to Zechariah, to Mary, to
Joseph in today’s Gospel and to shepherds in the fields. In the resurrection
stories, angels appear to
the women in general and to Mary Magdalene in particular.
Why do angels
appear only at the beginning and the end?
Perhaps, it is to let us know that these two events are so miraculous,
so amazing, so filled with God’s intimate presence, that we need angels to
prepare us for the unbelievable mysteries about to happen. And these angels all
have the same message, “Do not be afraid,” and they express the same hope,
namely: the promise and presence of new life.
And both stories end in unsurpassable joy.
About a month
ago, we read of that horrific typhoon, Haiyan, which devastated Tacloban City
in the Leyte Province of the Philippines. The statistics are overwhelming. As
of a week ago: 5,982 dead, 1,779 missing, 27,000 injured, 12.1 million people
affected, 3.9 million displaced, 94,000 people still living in some 300 centers. But,
wondrously, last week, a huge Christmas
tree was raised up in that city, a Christmas tree made of twisted pipes for
trunk and branches, and empty water bottles for ornaments. It symbolizes the
resilience of the Philippino
people in the face of such a tragedy and so much suffering. It is a sign of
their faith in God. And it is a sign of hope that new life will emerge out of destruction
reminds me of a pilgrimage I made last summer while working in Lithuania. A
mile or so outside a city in the center of
Lithuania stands a hill called “The Hill of Crosses.” On this hill
I saw over a million crosses, some
new and some old, many small, but some 10, 15, 20 feet tall, and all sizes in
between. During the long, cruel Soviet
occupation of that country, crosses began to arise on this hill as a sign of
the faith of the Lithuanian people and as a message of protest. Three times,
the Soviet authorities bulldozed
the hill and destroyed the crosses. And
three times, in the dark of night, over time, the hill was built up again, and again
crosses began to appear.
Both stories are
stories of resilience and courage. Both
stories are stories of great faith. And
both stories express the same hope: the rebirth of life, the return of light,
and the triumph of love.
Whether at Christmas
or at Easter, we celebrate the same: life, light and love.
At this Christmas
time, we celebrate the life of the soon to be born Jesus.
light, that light which came into the darkness 2,000 years ago and the darkness
still has not overcome it. And we celebrate love: God so loved the world that
God sent his only Son into it to make it whole and holy.
At this time, we
rejoice at all the blessings we have received from God through Jesus. We celebrate
those blessings. But, we also
have compassion for all the suffering people of the world, from the Philippines
to Syria, from the Republic of Central Africa to Iraq and Afghanistan. And we
know that, if all the world is to have
hope, we must be part of that hope by offering our life, our light and our
love, as small as they are, to as many people as we can.
And so we end as
we began, praying, “Pour forth, O Lord, your grace into our hearts that we, to
whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an
Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his
Resurrection…” The glory of the
Resurrection begins with the story of Christmas. We must hold both stories together
if we are
to glimpse and grasp the depths of God’s love.
God will always be Emmanuel: “God
J. Hughes, SJ
Brighton, Mass. 12/22/13