Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
We are in the final days before Christmas and the Church is using many voices of her sacred tradition to prepare us for the coming of Christ. St. Paul reminds us that we have to preserve faithfully the doctrine that we have received. St. John the Baptist invites us to conversion. Last but not least Our Lady and St. Joseph are asking us to meditate in the sufferings they had to endure just before the birth of Christ.
In the epistle St. Paul is underlining that he is a minister of Christ and dispenser of the mysteries of God. As a minister he is a servant that manages the affairs of God’s household or in other words of the family of Christ, which is the Church. He is a servant of God and second and as a consequence he is a servant of the children of God. He dispenses to the ones that are ready to listen the revealed truth of both testaments. Those revealed truths nevertheless remain a mystery because a number of them are beyond the comprehension of our reason and we can accept them only through the gift of faith. His duty as it is the obligation of all the descendants of the apostles is to transmit faithfully what he has received without entering into any sort of compromises with the world that would dilute the doctrine of Christ or falling in the opposite direction to try to make this doctrine more “perfect” with a rigorist approach. Both compromise and a rigorist position come from the same source which is the enemy of mankind. At the same time we have to be aware that some members of the Church call rigorist, positions that are just in total coherence with the constant magisterium of the Church as Cardinal Ratzinger warned us. The shifting towards rigorist positions is a trap of the enemy because he will pile impossible obligations that we will not be able fulfil and when we fail he will tempt us with despair. He will tell then the ones that he entrapped with a rigorist approach, you see you are incapable of following the path of salvation abandon all hope of following Christ.
In the gospel we have a magnificent description of the mission of St. John the Baptist and how he preaches a baptism of penance to prepare the people to be properly disposed to receive the Lord. The Gospel identifies with historical precision the time and place of the public appearance of the precursor of Christ. Tiberius Caesar was the second emperor of Rome and the fifteenth year of his reign corresponds either to the 27th or 29th year of his reign depending in the different calculations. Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea, Samaria and Idumea between the years 26 and 36 AD. Herod Antipas a son of the so called Herod the Great, succeeded his father only in part of his reign in Galilee and Philip his brother was tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiphas were high priests but it should be noticed that all the tetrarchs and even the high priests were subordinated and in many ways controlled by the Romans. St. Gregory the Great sees in this historical presentation the prophetic meaning that the gentiles also are called to conversion. In the same way that the Romans were gathering all the nations into one, Christ comes to unify all nations under Him.
St. John the Baptist quoting the words of Isaiah is speaking of a new exodus. An exodus that will not be led by Moses but that will be conducted by Jesus Christ as Brand Petri explains. This pilgrimage would lead to the new Promised Land which is Heaven. There we will encounter the new and definitive creation. To enter into this new pilgrimage we have to be filled with the grace that Christ is offering us, but in the same way mountains and hills should be brought low we have to accept with total humility the grace that Christ is offering to us. St. Gregory the Great points out that the crooked places are to become straight, when the hearts of wicked perverted by injustice, are directed by the rule of justice. The welcoming smile of Jesus in the manger will give us a foretaste of this new creation.
In the Advent liturgy the Church proclaims the coming of Jesus Christ as Our Savior, who is our only source of hope and exhorts every Christian to purify his soul by a new interior conversion, or by a deepening of a previous conversion. Because the coming of the Lord is about to happen, we must prepare ourselves spiritually by doing penance for our sins and receiving the sacrament of confession to be properly prepared to receive the shower of graces that the Lord is bringing for us. That is what St. John the Baptist is meaning by leveling the mountains and making the Lord’s path straight.
Today it is more than appropriate to meditate in the sorrows of Our Lady and St. Joseph that preceded the birth of Jesus. Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to be inscribed in a census for tax purposes. Most likely Joseph owned in Bethlehem some small pieces of land that he had inherited from his ancestors and for tax purposes he was required by the Romans to be inscribed as tax payer in that town, as Benedict XVI explains to us. Probably his land was very small and produced little or no income. Just think of the difficulties and discomforts of winter travel in particular for a woman that was close to given birth. Remember that no one of their relatives was ready to lodge them and they did not find a place in the inn. Most likely all the places in the only inn in town had already been taken by the crowd of richer people who were flocking there for the census. In the Hispanic popular piety there is a traditional late Advent celebration called Las Posadas (the inns) that is inspired in this fruitless effort of the Holy Family to find logins. Because they could not find any other place they had to settle in a cave that served as a stable in the outskirts of Bethlehem, that somebody allowed them to use. The Holy Family who were bringing the Savior of World suffered loneliness, disappointment and rejection. Just use your imagination to depict the frustration of St. Joseph as protector and provider of his family. At the same time he accepted all these sufferings with the patience of a humble man. These sufferings of the Holy Family had a clear redemptive value because they were part in many ways of the sufferings that Christ was going to endure for our salvation. Most likely Jesus in the womb of her mother had a sense of the suffering of His parents and shared their anguish. Extra biblical tradition points out that after the visit of the shepherds their relatives came to their assistance. Sufferings give birth to joy and we will experience that in Christmas.
Today through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist and St. Paul let us ask for the grace of being properly prepared to receive the graces of Christ at Christmas, always remaining faithful to the doctrine that we have received from Christ.
May the Lord Bless you and Keep you.