As we enter the fourth and final week of our season of Advent, our journey and our preparations for the “advent’ of the Lord are nearly at an end. Not surprisingly, the scripture readings and the prayers and music at the Mass also have this atmosphere of breathless anticipation. Above all, there is a sense that God’s promises are now fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. The Prayer after Communion for this Sunday can sum up our thoughts and feelings well:

We pray Almighty God,
that as the feast day of our 
salvation draws ever nearer,
so we may press forward all the more eagerly
to the worthy celebration of the mystery of your Son’s Nativity.

Our First Reading (2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16) recalls the promise of God made through the prophet Nathan, that the Kingdom of David will be established forever. For us, this promise is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, “Son of David.” As we will hear in the Gospel, “the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David …” We know too that this kingdom and throne is not so much about a place, but rather that it extends to all places, all peoples and all times.

Our psalm (Psalm 88) takes up this sense of excitement as it sings of the mercy and goodness of God now made manifest. The Magnificat or Song of Mary that we heard last week is very close to this psalm. Both speak of God’s promise that is expressed in his relationship (or covenant) with his people and how God acts to bring about the fulfilment of his promise and the completion of the covenant. Likewise, St. Paul (Romans 16:25-27) reflects on how God’s plan and promise has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This “mystery” is now revealed in Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.
At Mass on the Fourth Sunday, our Gospel is always about one of the annunciations made in preparation for the coming of the Messiah (yes, in a way, there is more than one annunciation Gospel … not just the annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to Mary that we have this Sunday). In Year A, we would read about the angel of the Lord appearing to St. Joseph in a dream and telling him to take Mary for his wife. In Year C, we would hear what is called the Gospel of the Visitation, when Mary goes to meet her kinswoman Elizabeth. She recognizes the mother of her Lord and St. John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb; both therefore announcing that the Messiah is near. 

This year (Year B) of our three-year cycle, we hear the most familiar annunciation: the annunciation of the archangel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). This scene has been so frequently depicted in art (a favorite of mine is the Fra Angelico “Annunciation of Cortona”). If you have a few moments, look up one of the many paintings and spend a few minutes reflecting upon it in prayer. There is a beautiful movement or flow in the encounter: a greeting, a revelation and promise, a reaction to that promise and a promise in turn of saying “yes.”

Our readings then are not only about how God’s promises are fulfilled at Christmas, wonderful as this is. They also invite us to think about our response to this annunciation of the good news of salvation that certainly comes to us. We may not have an archangel visiting, but God does send his messengers to us. We are not asked to be the Mother of God, but we are asked to be our Lord’s brothers and sisters and to bring others into his family. Like our Blessed Mother, we can and should enter into a dialogue with the Lord (“how can this be …?”) for God’s visits are not always warm fuzzies; they can be troubling too! We can take a deep breath and say “yes” to what he asks of us: “be it done to me according to your word.”

As the season of Christmas fast approaches, let us indeed give great thanks for the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Let us recall that our celebrations are ultimately about how God’s promise has been fulfilled in what Jesus came and did for us. Jesus has been born for us and then he will also suffer, die and rise for us. Remember then that Christmas and Easter are closely bound together! The Opening Prayer for the Mass this Sunday puts it so well:

Pour forth we beseech you O Lord, your grace into our hearts;
that we to whom the incarnation of Christ, your Son
was made known by the message of an angel,
may by his Passion and Cross, be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.