December 24, 2018
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 4th Sunday of Advent (Year C) on December 23, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Micah 5:1-4a; Psalm 80; Hebrews 10:5-10; and Luke 1:39-45.
After weeks of praying for patience, it’s ironic that many of us now wish we had more time to get ready for Christmas. The fact of the matter is that time waits for no one. Life rushes at us, and there are times when we simply cannot get everything done. But despite what many of us tell ourselves, running out of time is not the end of the world!
Our gospel today takes us to a time when we would expect a sense of anxiety. The angel Gabriel has already told Mary that she will bear God’s son, so the clock is ticking. The entire cosmos is rushing towards the destiny that God had set in motion at the creation. Will Mary be ready in time? But Luke tells us that both Mary and Elizabeth are prompted by an emotion very different than anxiety. They respond to the unexpected with joy. They are filled with the Holy Spirit. Today, with this gospel, we have a magnificent opportunity to reflect on the role that the Holy Spirit plays in our lives.
A lot of us are probably worried about what still needs to be done in the next 36 hours. We’ve made lists, and we’re checking them twice. For the next hour, can we to be truly present here? Let us mentally take a moment to put our lists away, and promise ourselves not to take them out for the rest of the Mass.
Jesus Christ has already saved the world. We simply gather and celebrate that!
Our understanding of the Holy Spirit is largely based on St. Luke’s “sequel” to his gospel, the Acts of the Apostles. That book begins with the familiar story of Pentecost, and then the rest of it tells how the Holy Spirit guided the early church. In fact, as the Acts of the Apostles goes along, Jesus is mentioned less and less frequently. Instead, we hear stories of how Jesus’ disciples are able, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to do things just like Jesus did in the Gospel of Luke. Some scholars have suggested that we should rename the book “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”
A lot of us have a concept of the Holy Spirit based solely on Pentecost. We think that we suddenly received the Holy Spirit for the first time at our confirmation. That is an overly simplistic understanding of the third person of the Holy Trinity.
The person that has best helped us form a more sophisticated understanding of the Holy Spirit is St. Luke himself. A quick look at his gospel reveals that it, too, is drenched in the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Greek word for spirit, pneuma, is used 11 times in the first two and half chapters of Luke, and none of these references refer to Jesus being filled with the Holy Spirit. Instead, we hear the angel predict that John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit. The angel explains to Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her. And even before the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, the angel says that she is already “full of grace.” In our passage today, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. In the Magnificat, Mary speaks about how her spirit rejoices in God. At John’s birth, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit. At the presentation, we’re told in three consecutive verses about how the Holy Spirit has guided Simeon.
So, our gospel passage today features four people filled with Holy Spirit: Elizabeth, Mary, John the Baptist, and Jesus. And two of them haven’t even been born yet!
Christians see many references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. At the creation, we believe that it was the Holy Spirit of God that blew on the waters. Human beings came to life when God breathed into them. Joshua was “a man of spirit.” Saul had “the spirit of God rush… upon him.” The great 20th-century theologian Karl Rahner says that we are each born with something called “the supernatural existential” – in simpler terms, that simply means that we are born with the Holy Spirit already dwelling within us.
As I’ve said before, and you’ll undoubtedly hear me say again, sacraments are not a reward for a job well done. They are graces, extra doses of the Holy Spirit, for the journey ahead. The Eucharist is not a reward for those who act in saintly ways; it’s a grace for those who still battle with sin. Confirmation is not the reward for finishing Sunday school; it’s the grace to be strengthened for the complexities of life as an adult. The sacrament of matrimony isn’t a ceremony celebrating that the couple no longer has to hit the singles’ bars; it’s gathering of friends and family to pray for the graces for the difficult journey ahead.
Advent is the season of the unexpected. On December 23, I bet no one was expecting a homily on the Holy Spirit and sacramental theology! So, in these last few minutes before the busyness of Christmas overwhelms us, let’s ask the more appropriate, quiet questions of Advent one last time. [Pause.]
- At this moment on your spiritual journey, what are you waiting for? [Pause.]
- At this moment, what are you anxious about? [Pause.]
- At this moment, what are you hoping for? [Pause.]
- At this moment, what are you praying for? [Pause.]
The specifics of our prayer may change, but the general hopes and dreams of our prayer are timeless. Our prayer today is no different than the one prayed by our Jewish ancestors 3000 years ago when they first wrote Psalm 40. This is the same prayer that the letter to the Hebrews says was fulfilled at Christ’s birth. It’s the same prayer I offered thirteen and half years ago on the day that I learned that the Paulists had accepted me into the novitiate: “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”
The Holy Spirit dwells within each of us. May the Eucharist that we share today give us additional graces to carry out the will of our heavenly Father!
We come to do your will, O God. We are baptized in order to carry out your will, O God. We receive the Eucharist in order to carry out your will, O God. We come to do your will with same joy and grace as the virgin Mary, O God. We come to do your will as it has been taught to us by your Son, Jesus the Christ, born in lowly Bethlehem-Ephrathah more than two thousand years ago. Behold: we come to do your will.