by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
These two texts from the Hebrew Scriptures (Proverbs 29:18 and Habakkuk 2:2-3, seen in the box below), which are the headings for these weekly reflections, have no greater relevance, I believe, than during these last Advent days. Each speaks of the need for a guiding vision and of trustfully waiting for its fulfillment. Advent attitudes.
The fourth Sunday and week of Advent generally pass almost unnoticed, given their usual brevity. Some years they hardly make any impact at all, when, for example Christmas happens to fall on a Monday or Tuesday of that fourth week. By that time both the proximity of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have totally occupied our attention, especially in this secularized culture with its frenetic commercialization of the Christmas event. Holier reflections get overwhelmed.
This year can be different. As we see, this fourth week of Advent is almost a full week, running from Sunday, the 19th to Friday, the 24th. This is an advantage for us who are keeping our eyes on “the vision which still has its time”, together with the inspiration we have in the week’s Sunday and weekday readings.
A short summary, then, of the Gospel readings from these days. They move back and forth between events which might be called “the first Advent”, and they nurture our thoughts.
Sunday: We hear of the tender encounter between Mary and Elizabeth and the older woman’s grace-filled acceptance of her young, unmarried cousin’s pregnancy. (Luke 1:39-45)
Monday: There is a flashback to Mary’s humble acceptance of the angel’s message that she will conceive and bear a son. (Luke 1:26-38)
Tuesday: We swing back to the visit of Mary to Elizabeth: (Was Mary checking the angel’s claim that as proof of his message her older cousin would also conceive?) (Luke 1:39-45)
Wednesday: Mary’s glorious prayer of praise, the Magnificat. (Luke 1:45-56)
Thursday: The birth of Elizabeth’s son John the Baptist and the neighbors wondering what this miracle child will be. (Luke 1:57-66)
Friday: That wonderful morning as Christmas Eve dawns: The very human experience of Mary’s betrothed, Joseph, being assured by an angel that her pregnancy was of God. (Matthew 1:18-25)
The other readings for liturgies of the Word in these days reinforce the tone of patient expectation. The Savior’s coming was predicted by Isaiah 600 years before it occurred. Generations of faithful Jewish people lived their lives inspired by this promise – food for meditation as we “joyfully await the (second) coming of our Savior, Jesus the Christ”.
Central to the infant narratives of Luke is obviously the figure of Mary. For too long Marian devotions have exalted her almost beyond recognition as a human being, and this despite her entirely normal experiences as she awaited Jesus’ birth. It got to the point in the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II that he had considered naming the Virgin Mary “Co-Redemptrix” – co-redeemer with her Son. Providentially we have finally come to accept what Pope St. Paul VI called Mary in a pastoral letter: “Truly our sister”. She was amazingly favored by God, but always “truly our sister” – one of us.
Reflecting on Mary’s prayer, “My Soul Exults in God My Savior” (the Magnificat), is a fitting way to wrap our thoughts of this week around the woman who gave birth to the Savior of the world.
Mary proclaims her prayer as a woman of the people, like poor women forever oppressed, and declares a transformation of this demeaning order of things.
She celebrates God’s justice being exercised: dispersing the arrogant of mind and heart, throwing down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly; filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty. Her prayer anticipates the words and actions of her Son when years later Jesus proclaims his validity as the long-awaited Messiah by pointing out the fact that “the poor are having the good news preached to them”.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.