Hear the Word of God and Keep It

On this fourth Sunday of Advent we have one final time to reflect on the Scriptures and in some way determine how we're going to prepare for the coming of Jesus. Remember, during this season of Advent we prepare for three comings of Jesus. First, his coming because it was so prominent in the early church, his coming to bring to fulfillment the reign of God, which he had been preaching -- his return, the end of times.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Micah 5:1-4A
Psalms 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45
Full text of the readings

Those first Christians thought that was going to happen very quickly. But then also there is the coming of Jesus when we recognize him in his presence among us, in his Word, in our brothers and sisters, in the events of our daily lives. We are always ready or try to be ready for that coming of Jesus at any moment, at any day, at any time in our life. But then also now as we come very close to the Feast of Christmas, we are preparing once more to remember, celebrate, and give thanks for that coming of Jesus into human history when Jesus became part of our human family and became one of us, like us in every way except sin.

So we listen deeply to today's Scriptures to be ready to welcome that Jesus, the Jesus of history, as we sometimes speak of him, the Jesus who was part of human history, part of the human family. The Scripture lessons today give us two or three different ways in which we can try to be more ready to respond to that coming of Jesus when Jesus walked among us, when Jesus was part of our human family, to celebrate, give thanks for, but especially to be prepared to listen to Jesus.

Our first lesson today, I think, reminds us that the Jesus who comes among us, one like us in every way, but is still the Son of God. But that Son of God enters into human history in a very unobtrusive way. He doesn't come as a warrior king. He doesn't come as someone powerful and wealthy and prominent. Micah the prophet tells us that Jesus is going to be born in Bethlehem, one of the out of the way places in the Holy Land, a very small town.

Even though it had been the birthplace of David, nevertheless, it was still very small, unknown, unremembered very much. "But thou Bethlehem, least of all the cities of Israel, from you shall come forth the One who is to be the Savior of God's people." Jesus comes in an unobtrusive way, almost not to be known, you would think. There's no big crowds, no people clamoring to be around him. He comes from this tiny town of Bethlehem. It reminds us of something that St. Paul said later in his letter to the church at Philippi when he had been reflecting on Jesus and his coming into our midst.

He proclaimed to the church in Philippi about Jesus who though he was God, did not think his divinity something to be clung to, but emptied himself. God emptied himself, entered into human history, became one of us, became human, even became a servant, a slave and gave himself over to death, even the ignominious death of the cross. This is the Son of God in our midst. The Son of God is one who is ready not to cling to that divinity, but to become totally one of us and even the least among us, not clamoring for adulation and glory and acclaim -- none of that.

Can we begin to follow that Jesus, welcome that Jesus into our midst and try to imitate that Jesus? That's one of the things that we ought to be thinking about these last few days of Advent as we're getting ready to welcome the Son of God, to remember that moment when the Son of God first came into our midst, to celebrate it, but then also to follow that Jesus. But then also in the Gospel lesson, we're reminded of Mary, "Blessed are you among women because you trusted, you believed, you accepted what the Lord had said."

Mary was astounded at what was being asked of her, but she was ready to say, "Be it done to me according to your will." In fact, one time later in the public life of Jesus, you may remember there was that moment when people were so impressed with his teachings and with the beautiful things that he did, the way he reached out to touch the poor, the afflicted, to be in their midst, to welcome them, to lift them up and a woman in the crowd cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you."

Remember what Jesus said? You see, this person was trying to raise up Mary as one to be acclaimed as blessed. Jesus said, "Rather blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it." That would be all of us. We become truly blessed if we're ready to hear that Word of God deeply within our spirits, within our hearts and keep it, follow it, live according to that Word of God. We won't do it all at once, of course, but as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, his coming into our midst, we remind ourselves that now we have to try to watch Jesus, listen to Jesus, and imitate Jesus.

In the letter to the Hebrews that makes up our second lesson today, it gives us a most important clue of how we are to follow Jesus. It's a Jesus who pours forth love upon the world, the universe, every creature -- all that God has made. In that passage today we hear how Jesus went beyond all those sacrifices that the priests of the Old Testament offered time after time after time. Jesus offered himself, gave himself over to God's will, poured forth love upon the world and drew all people to himself by that one sacrifice when he gave himself up to death on the cross. While doing it, he poured forth love on all.

Especially we notice even on those who tortured him, put him to death, living out what he had preached, "Don't just love those who love you, love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you." Probably the most challenging teaching of Jesus, but it's a teaching that climaxed his life. He showed us the end of his life, what his whole life was about. It was about loving, about mercy, about forgiveness. If we listen deeply to these lessons, surely we will be challenged.

I believe every one of us will understand that. We live in a world where something tiny and unimportant doesn't seem to draw us. We want to be among the great, the glamorous, those who are really important. Jesus says, no, just be with the little people, if you will, those who don't have the acclaim of the world. Or as Pope Francis always keeps saying, "Go to the peripheries, to where the poor and the oppressed are. Be among them, that's where you'll find God."

That's one of the lessons we learn and we have to go against the culture in which we live. Jesus came into the world with nothing, homeless. Very soon after his birth he became a refugee fleeing violence for his life. We have to accept that kind of Jesus, a Jesus who is among us in our world today, the stranger, the refugee, and the immigrant. There's so much in our culture, our society where we hear the opposite.

It will be difficult to follow this Jesus and the values that he comes to teach us. Isn't it true also there's fear among us. Jesus, many times in his life, kept telling his disciples, "Don't be afraid. Don't be fearful. Trust in me. Follow my way and you will overcome that fear. You will be at peace." As we reflect on this, as we hear this, I think it's very difficult to readily accept that the way of Jesus is the way to peace of mind and heart and spirit, peace in our community, peace in our world.

But that's the Jesus who is coming to us in this Feast of Christmas, the Jesus who tells us to reject violence, reject war, reject hatred. The Jesus who tells us to go out into our world in the same spirit with which he poured forth his love upon the world, reaching out, sharing, blessing, comforting the poor, the afflicted, the oppressed and bringing healing within our own families, our own communities, into our world.

Yes, we're getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but I hope we will listen deeply to these Scriptures of today that give us some of the ways in which we will be trying, I hope, all of us, to be following Jesus as he becomes one of us, enters our human history, becomes part of our human family to transform it. As we deeply listen to his Word and follow it, we'll then surely, what Elizabeth said to Mary will be said to all of us, "Blessed are you who have trusted in God's Word and blessed are you who have heard that Word and have kept it."

[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]

Bishop Gumbleton's homily for Dec. 20, 2015

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