Sunday, Dec. 24, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Mass Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38.
Christmas is on a Monday this year, which makes for a strange Christmas Eve.
We will celebrate the penitential waiting of Advent in the morning, but then the joy of Christmas in the evening. In the morning we will hear the Gospel about the earliest moments of Mary’s pregnancy; in the evening we will hear of the birth of Christ. In the morning we will light a fourth Advent candle; in the evening we will venerate the Christ Child.
This is a far cry from last year. Last year was the longest Advent possible; this year, it is the shortest. Last year the fourth Advent candle on our supper table melted down for days; this year, we might not light the fourth one at all as we have a hurried dinner to get ready for the Christmas vigil Mass.
This is all highly unusual, and yet we can learn so much from it.
First, we can learn not to take our waiting for granted.
We know Christ the Judge will come again someday, but we figure it will be a long way off. We think the period of waiting will last indefinitely.
But what if Christ’s plan to return and bless or condemn the nations is as unexpectedly short as Advent 2017? What if Christ comes for good in 2018? What if he comes today? Are we ready?
In our Gospel, Mary was. Gabriel surprised her by announcing the Messiah at an unexpected time. But she was ready.
Second, we can learn that time doesn’t matter to God.
A day is like a 1,000 years and 1,000 years are like a day in heaven. God doesn’t have any of the limitations of time that we have. He can reach out and bless us and bring his work with us to completion in a day. Or he can demand patience as we undergo years of work for him.
We could be remade in a day because, as the Gospel says, “nothing is impossible for God,” or we could keep waiting. Either way, we can say with today’s Psalm, “Forever I will sing of the goodness of the Lord.”
Third, we can learn that penance and joy go hand in hand for Christians.
Christians are constantly in a state of tension between training ourselves for wariness to the allures of the world and for joy in the face of the mystery of Jesus Christ.
We are always living the ironies of St. Paul’s reading today: The “proclamation of Jesus Christ” lives beside “the mystery kept secret for long ages”; the “obedience of faith” sees but does not see the “glory forever and ever.”
So if the double meaning of the day seems confusing or even irritating, that’s not so bad. The whole Christian life is that way: a continual penance at a party; a continual celebration of a victory we haven’t yet seen.
Purple in the morning, white in the evening; longing in the morning, gratitude at night — Christians are always in the Advent of hope and the Christmas Eve of faith. This Dec. 24 is just more of the same.
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at
Benedictine College and
author of The Fatima