4th sunday of advent
19th DECember 2021
Year C – Psalter Week 4
Our readings today are filled with hope, expectation, and joy. Micah prophesies that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, where king David had been anointed king, and that his reign will be glorious and bring abundant blessings: ‘He will stand and feed his flock with the power of the Lord, with the majesty of the name of his God. They will live secure, for from then on he will extend his power to the ends of the land. He himself will be peace.’ In the gospel we have a joy-filled encounter between two pregnant women, Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, both of whom are filled with the Holy Spirit at the presence of Jesus, and even John the Baptist jumps for joy in his mother’s womb.
Helping us to take a step back and to see the bigger picture is our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. Here, the author is drawing out that the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus in order to save us and to bring us back to the Father. The implication is that the Son of God says to his heavenly Father, ‘Here I am! I am coming to obey your will’, and that ‘this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ’. We are reminded here that Christmas finds its ultimate fulfilment in Easter. In other words, the whole point of the Word being born of Mary, was to live his life in obedience to the Father, even to offering his body as a sacrifice on the cross for every person.
It is this aspect of obedience in the life of our Lord, and indeed of our Lady, that I would like to focus on. Going back to our gospel, Elizabeth says to Mary, ‘Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’ In his infancy narratives, Luke compares and contrasts the two stories around John the Baptist and Jesus, which include the annunciation to the parents, their actual births and the resulting joy on earth and in heaven, their circumcision and their mutual growth as children. In each case, Luke draws out that while John is great in the heavenly realm, Jesus is greater still.
It is the same when it comes to considering their parent’s responses to their conception and birth. Remember that John’s father Zechariah did not believe the angel Gabriel’s message that he and his wife would conceive a child in their old age. As a consequence the Archangel declared: ‘I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Listen! Since you have not believed my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.’ The next time that Zechariah could speak was at the birth of his son, when his tongue was loosed to proclaim the Benedictus. Mary, on the other hand, believed Gabriel’s message even though she did not know fully how it could come about. Nevertheless, she had a trusting faith that was completely open to what God wanted to do, and she gave herself completely into His hands.
The English word ‘obedience’ comes from a Latin verb which means ‘to hear’. In our context, this is not simply a hearing with our physical ears, but rather a hearing also in the depths of our being, where we place our trust in the message of the Good News and allow it to transform our hearts and lives. In this way, Mary was perfectly obedient to the good news the Archangel brought to her. Her response was not forced, as she could have said no. Rather, Mary said a ‘yes’ that was made in complete freedom, was trust-filled, and was ongoing throughout her life. One of the fruits of her ‘yes’ to God, made with all her heart, soul and body, was deep spiritual joy.
Jesus too, throughout his life, was completely devoted and obedient to the will of his heavenly Father, even to the extent of giving his body as a sacrifice for sins. Concerning this obedience of the Lord, the Letter to the Hebrews says: ‘As it was his purpose to bring a great many of his sons into glory, it was appropriate that God, for whom everything exists and through whom everything exists, should make perfect, through suffering, the leader who would take them to their salvation.’  We know that Jesus was sinless and already perfect, so it is striking that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews should say that through his suffering, Jesus was ‘made perfect’. The meaning here, however, is that the Lord’s obedience was proved to be perfect because he willingly underwent the passion for the sake of mankind. Jesus did not do this reluctantly, but rather with a love beyond our imagining. His bitter suffering was the visible proof of His love for us.
Obedience, then, is a quality of love. When we place our trust in God and are obedient to His will and promptings in our lives and to the teachings of the Church, we are demonstrating our love for God and for one another. In John’s Gospel, Jesus links this obedience to the reception of the Holy Spirit: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments. I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever… If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words.’
In our culture, where we are generally encouraged to follow our own desires, concepts like obedience seem antiquated. Most loving parents and grandparents, however, know how important obedience is within a family household, for example, and how difficult life can become when children are disobedient. Once again, this is because obedience is a quality of love. So children, if you want to love your parents and grandparents, try to be obedient to them, even when you might disagree, because through your obedience you will demonstrate your love for them. We know that Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph, because Luke tells us in his gospel that Jesus lived as a boy ‘under their authority’.
Christian obedience, then, is a quality of our love for God and for one another. It is through trust in God and our lived obedience to His commandments and the demands of the Gospel that our love for God and for one another is demonstrated. The closer we are to God, the more willing we will become to obey His will, even to the point of suffering for our faith and for our beliefs. The is the kind of witness to the faithful and sacrificial love of Jesus that the saints and martyrs have given over the centuries.
 Luke 1:19-20.
 Hebrews 2:10.
 John 14:15-16, 23-24.
 Luke 2:51.
Out of you will be born the one who is to rule over Israel.
God of hosts, bring us back;
let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.
Here I am! I am coming to obey your will.
Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?
I am the handmaid of the Lord:
let what you have said be done to me.