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The Fourth Sunday in Advent (Year B) is a great reminder of why we are so anxious for Christmas to come. It’s because we need Christ, and nothing less will do.
Today’s Gospel places a rare exclamation mark after Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail, full of grace!”
If Gabriel was excited about the message he was entrusted with, it is understandable. Mankind had been waiting a long time for this.
Think of all that came before this visit of the angel to Mary: There was the terrible fall from grace and expulsion from the Garden of Eden, there was the Tower of Babel, the flood, the years of slavery, the Exodus, the rise and fall of the kings, the Babylonian exile … and through it all the Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah. You can understand if mankind got a little sick of waiting. Is he coming or isn’t he?
Eventually the waiting became unbearable. God had given his people the Temple, and that was a great thing. But it wasn’t Jesus Christ. He gave them the Torah, the great books of the law and they meditated on it and loved it. But that wasn’t Jesus Christ. They had the Psalms, the Prophets, the Proverbs, the Sacrifices and Seders and Scriptures, and they had come to realize that even all that was not enough.
It had come to a point when all of the substitutes were exhausted and they knew only Christ would do.
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” said the reading in the first week of Advent. Four weeks later we’re still saying the same thing: Please, just come already.
In fact, not just four weeks later but two millennia later, we are still waiting.
We have seen so much go wrong in the world. There is abortion, a killing of innocents on a massive scale. There is marriage redefined, stripping procreative couples of any special status. We have an epidemic of pornography. We have violence growing in the streets, and wars overseas … and we are a little bit sick of waiting for the grace of a triumphant God which will bring a New Heaven and a New Earth and a peaceable kingdom.
But the real problem is that we not sick enough of waiting. In America, we have big heated houses and lavish meals and high-speed Internet and 24/7 entertainment. Like the Jewish people before us, maybe we are being made to wait. Maybe we still need to learn the lesson that none of these things are Jesus, and nothing will do but Christ.
When Christmas comes, we will learn the lesson we have to learn every year: That the peace of God-become-man is what we are missing — that it is enough to attract shepherds from the fields, magi from the Far East, and angels from heaven.
We will fall in love again with this man who brought heaven to earth, and earth to heaven.
But first, we have one more Sunday Mass of it not being Christmas yet — and another chance to learn how nothing but Christ will do.